Statue honoring Joe Frazier is in the works

Joe Frazier , who died in November, was a heavyweight boxing champ who embodied the city's fighting spirit. File photo
Joe Frazier , who died in November, was a heavyweight boxing champ who embodied the city's fighting spirit. File photo
Posted: September 06, 2012

This story has been corrected. The original version misidentified the title of Richard Hayden.

A statue honoring the late Joe Frazier, the former heavyweight champion and Philadelphia sports icon, appears to be on the way in what many say is a long-overdue tribute.

The statue honoring Frazier will be located near the Xfinity Live! complex in South Philadelphia. It will be unveiled in 2013, according to Richard Hayden, who is is a liaison between Frazier's estate, the city and Xfinity Live, which is his client.

An official announcement is scheduled for next week; Hayden said he is waiting for Mayor Nutter to return from this week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Frazier died in November 2011 after a brief battle with liver cancer. He was 67.

The project is being completed with the support of the city. Donations are being accepted through the Fund for Philadelphia. A website, FrazierStatue.com, is set to launch Friday to provide information and solicit donations, Hayden said.

There is also an effort to turn the former location of Joe Frazier's Gym on North Broad Street, now a discount furniture store, into a historic site.

After Frazier's death, many complained that Philadelphia had a statue honoring the fictional Rocky Balboa but not Frazier. The city, however, did not erect the Rocky statue, which now stands near the Art Museum. It was left as a gift by actor Sylvester Stallone after he shot the third installment of the Rocky series.

"Rocky is fictitious. Joe was reality," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said at Frazier's funeral. "Rocky's fists are frozen in stone. Joe's fists were smokin'."

The Frazier statue is not likely to be a part of a walkway near the Wells Fargo Center that already includes statues of other sports figures. Concerns about stormwater management and the likelihood that the project will contain more than just a statue are issues to be addressed.

"We have a whole generation of Philadelphia sports fans who need to be educated on Frazier's career," Hayden said.

The idea for the statue originated with Joe Hand, a prominent city boxing figure and a friend of Frazier's. But Hand was removed from the planning this summer as Frazier's family decided it would like to do it alone.

In 1964, Hand, then a city police officer, bought stock in Cloverlay Inc., a group of wealthy businessmen who supported Frazier after the South Carolina native and Philadelphia resident captured an Olympic gold medal in boxing that summer.

Frazier "was a very generous guy. He was a very Philadelphia guy," said Hand's son, Joe Hand Jr. "Anytime we ever asked him for anything he never said no."

After Frazier's death, Hand set out to honor the boxer with a statue in Philadelphia.

"This was my father's opportunity to make sure this really happened," the younger Hand said.

While speaking at a January event at City Hall honoring Frazier's 68th birthday, the elder Hand promised that a statue would be erected by January 2013.

The Hands received support from Frazier's daughter, Jacqui Frazier-Lyde. A former boxer, she is now a municipal court judge.

In a meeting with the city, the Hands learned that the Cordish Companies, which developed Xfinity Live!, would welcome the statue there.

"It's the heartbeat of the sports scene," Joe Hand Jr. said.

However, in a second meeting, the city informed the Hands that the land was city owned and that any statue would need to be approved by the city's Art Commission.

Although the Hands had received offers from potential sculptors, the Art Commission said it would require a formal bidding process.

The city arranged a meeting with Frazier's other children, who had learned of the project and were concerned about their father's likeness. It had to be arranged that any money earned from the statue would be directed to the estate, Hayden said.

Four days later, Hayden called Joe Hand Sr. to inform him that the family no longer needed his organization's help. The Hands removed themselves from the project and returned money they had raised.

Hayden said the family was appreciative of the Hands' work in generating interest in the project.

"Our feelings for [Frazier] have not changed," Joe Hand Jr. said. "We're still the family we are because of my dad's relationship with Joe. We're still grateful because of what he did for us."


Contact Matt Breen at 215-854-2814 or mbreen@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @matt_breen. 

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