If the ankle-length white fur coat and designer sunglasses didn’t grab your attention, the collection of gold and silver jewelry hanging from his neck and wrists did. Johnny Bos knew how to play his role.
To Maine eyes, he was the graphic vision of a New York City pimp. To Joey Gamache, the young boxer from Lewiston with dreams of becoming a world champ, Johnny Bos was his new matchmaker soon to become his trusted advisor and eventually, his close friend.
Bos died Saturday at his home in Clearwater, Fla. He was 61 and had been ailing with congestive heart failure for much of the past 10 years. The world of boxing is mourning his passing, the Gamache family in particular.
Joey Gamache realized his dream in 1991 in a ring at the old Lewiston Raceway. He beat Jerry Ngobeni of South Africa to win the World Boxing Association’s super featherweight title. Less than year later Gamache won again, beating Chil-Sung Chun of South Korea for the WBA lightweight title at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Bos got his fighter into position to win both fights. Tony Lampron trained Gamache and Joe Gamache Sr. did much of the promotional work. It was a team of personalities that sometimes clashed. Much more often than not the four men made it work. Then came the fight that defined Gamache’s career. Bos found an older but still formidable opponent for Gamache’s first title defense. His name was Tony “The Tiger” Lopez.
The world of boxing was turning its gaze to Maine for the first time since 1964, when Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston in the first round of their heavyweight title fight in Lewiston. That Gamache was from Lewiston didn’t go unnoticed.
Tickets to the Gamache-Lopez fight sold out quickly. More than 7,000 fight fans filled the arena. Thousands more tuned into the televised broadcast. Chants of “Jo-ey, Jo-ey” bounced off the walls. In his dressing room, Gamache could hear and feel the noise. Bos paced nervously. The fighter was no longer simply his meal ticket. Bos admired and liked the man he was about to send into the ring.
The fight was stopped in the 11th round. One of Gamache’s eyes had swollen shut from a head butt in the second round. Lampron told his fighter to move, move, move. But Gamache could no longer see clearly and Lopez knew it. Three successive left-right combinations put Gamache down. He struggled to his feet but the referee signalled the fight was over.
Later, Gamache needed nine stitches to close the cut over the eye. Only time could heal the wounds no one could see.
Gamache is in Copenhagen, training a couple of pro fighters, and didn’t respond to messages emailed on Monday. When Gamache ended his career in 2000, following the savage knockout by Arturo Gatti at Madison Square Garden, Bos was still by his side.
“Our family owes everything to Johnny Bos,” said Terry Gamache on Monday. “My brother won the championships but he wouldn’t have done it without Johnny.”
Joe Gamache Sr. argued with Bos and had their periods of angry silence but typically renewed their unique friendship. “I’m kind of shocked,” said the older Gamache, who has endured several operations for cancer and will turn 76. “Now I feel very sad. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”
Bos was a contradiction. He was Brooklyn brash but could switch from a growl to a purr quickly.
A truant as a schoolboy, he had boxes of his books shipped to his room at the Ramada in Lewiston where he stayed for weeks at a time. “What did you think of Walter Winchell,” he asked one day. He was reading a biography of the controversial gossip columnist who hung out with New York City mobsters.
He could walk down any street in Manhattan at any hour without fear, but wouldn’t fly or drive a car.
He accused me of trying to kill him when I gave him rides through some of Lewiston’s more interesting intersections.
He was an avid New York Mets fan. He loved Syracuse basketball. But his life was boxing. That the sport was changing hurt him.
“I’ve been shedding tears the past two days for Johnny and for our industry,” said Lou DiBella, the Tufts and Harvard Law School graduate who is a boxing promoter and film producer.
He was the promoter the night Gatti knocked out Gamache in 2000. Oscar de la Hoya fought in the main event on HBO that night.
“Johnny was a character in the best sense of the word. He was huge physically. He was Hulk Hogan and he was all heart. He was incredibly generous and had his own street sense of justice.
“Boxing is so much colder and meaner than it once was. Every year there’s less compassion. Johnny had that compassion. He was a symbol of an era gone by.”
Before Bos left his apartment in the shadow of the Empire State Building for Florida, he was nearly broke. He wouldn’t accept handouts, said DiBella.
“He’d sell me boxing memorabilia. I’ve got drawers full. Autographs he got from famous fighters. Bos knew everybody in the sport. And they knew him.
“Johnny and my brother got along so well,” said Terry Gamache, “because they’re both simple, down-to-earth guys who lived in a complicated world.”
Many people, she said, only knew Bos by his fur coats, bling and hair. She knew him as Johan Bosdal, his real name. Like her brother and DiBella and so many others, she knew the man who could walk away from the hype.
On his Facebook page amid many photos was this: “People cry, not because they’re weak, but because they’ve been strong for too long.”
Steve Solloway can be reached at 791-6412 or at: