Mayor Nutter said the city will proceed with plans for a statue of Philly's most revered boxer, but how that will be accomplished is uncertain.
"We as a city are committed to the creation of a statue to honor Joe Frazier," the mayor said. He said Nowlan's "untimely passing will not deter us from honoring a great Philadelphian."
Whether another sculptor will follow Nowlan's plan for the statue is, of course, an open question. When finished, it will be installed outside the Xfinity Live entertainment complex near the stadiums in South Philadelphia.
Frazier, who died of liver cancer in November 2011 at 67, fought Ali two more times, including the "Thrilla in Manila" in 1975, losing both by decision. Frazier was world heavyweight champion from 1970 to 1973, and compiled a record of 32 wins, 27 by knockout, four losses and one draw.
City boosters pointed out that a statue of Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone's movie boxer, is a big tourist attraction outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and he existed only on film.
Nowlan, known to family and friends as "Doobie" from a song his grandfather used to sing to him, was a lifelong Philly sports fan and was best known locally for the imposing bronze statue of beloved Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas installed at Citizens Bank Park in 2011.
Nowlan's first commission was for a group of figures for the National Wildland Firefighters Monument in Boise, Idaho. A copy of one of the figures was installed this month in Prescott, Ariz., where 19 firefighters died in June while battling a wildfire.
At the time of the commission, Nowlan was an artist in residence at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, N.H. He was greatly influenced by the works of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), the Irish-born American sculptor.
"Larry studied flat sculpture and using light and shadow to simulate depth," said Rick Kimball, superintendent of the Saint-Gaudens Site. "He really studied the works of Saint-Gaudens and became a master at it. There aren't that many like Nowlan."
While at the site, he met Heather Wiley, who was serving as a Student Conversation Association intern. They married in 2003.
Nowlan was born in Philadelphia to Lawrence and Jeanne Nowlan. His grandfather Philip Nowlan, Philadelphia-born science-fiction writer, created the character Buck Rogers.
Larry was raised in Overbrook and later moved to Merion. He graduated from Archbishop Carroll High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from Millersville University in 1987, and a master's from the New York Academy of Art, Graduate School of Figurative Art, in 1996.
After leaving Saint-Gaudens in 1997, he established a studio in a former church in Windsor, Vt., where he created his most famous sculptures.
He built a statue of Ralph Kramden, Jackie Gleason's character in "The Honeymooners," for the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City.
He created a 16-foot-high sculpture of 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick, of the University of Iowa, and an 18-foot-long relief of a Kinnick touchdown against Notre Dame. They are on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. Kinnick was killed in World War II.
Other works include a life-size bronze angel fountain at the Cornish Colony Gallery, a monument for the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., a series of bas-relief portraits for the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, Calif., a commemorative plaque for Saint-Gaudens in Dublin, Ireland, a bronze wildcat unveiled in June at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H., and last year, a life-size monument to track and field coach Bill Bergen, at Iowa State University.
Richard Hayden, project manager for the Joe Frazier statue, said he learned of Nowlan's death from Robert Silva, a lawyer for Frazier's family. He said the Fraziers "were stunned."
"Nowlan was very excited about the project, and so was the city and the Frazier family," Hayden said. "We were finally at the point where we were going to commemorate the life of a boxing legend as opposed to a fake character from a movie. It's just stunning. It's very tragic."
Besides his wife, Nowlan is survived by a daughter, Monet; a son, Teelin; two brothers, Peter and Joseph, and four sisters, Jeanne, Susan, Nancy and Danielle.
Services: Memorial service 4 p.m. Friday at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, N.H. A Philadelphia memorial service will be scheduled later.
Donations in his name may be made to an educational fund for his children at People's United Bank, FBO Heather Nowlan, 50 N. Main St., Windsor, Vt., 05089.