Bert Sugar battled lung cancer and pneumonia

December, 16, 2011
12/16/11
11:59
AM ET
He was in the hospital for 15 days last month, and he got the sense from the people coming to visit that the doctors didn't think he'd be leaving the hospital of his own volition. But Bert Sugar, the 74 year-old fightgame raconteur extraordinaire, has defied the docs, and the lung cancer and pneumonia which put him in the hospital. He is back home at his residence in Chappaqua, lovingly sparring with his wife of 51 years, Suzanne, and told NYFightBlog that he is "feeling better every day," and doing some writing.

"I sort of fell apart," the writer-editor-lawyer-adman-madman told me. "You live like an idiot, it catches up with you. I had everything but terminal acne. I gathered they'd given up on me. You live like hell for all those years, it's going to be hell at the end.

"It was the end of November...My wife is going to correct me, she says it was October. The days start fading into one when you're housebound.

"I've learned that getting older means you get aches in places never knew you had. I had radiation, chemotherapy, chemo-sabe. The cancer is in remission. It's over, I've won. I'm back, by unpopular demand. I'm coming along."

Sugar was attracted to the fightgame because of the colorful personalities who live existences which fertile novelists couldn't invent, and over the years, the man with the omnipresent fedora and stogie became one of those characters. After graduating from Maryland, and then obtaining a law and business degree from University of Michigan, he passed the bar. ("Only bar I ever passed," he likes to say.) He came to New York, and soaked up the atmosphere, and whiskey, on Madison Ave. "You've seen Mad Men on AMC?" he asks me. "We were worse." He decked his last boss, and got deeper into the boxing scene. From the late 60s through the 80s, he edited Boxing Illustrated, Ring, and Boxing Illustrated again. In 1998, he edited Bert Sugar's Fight Game magazine, and along the way, he churned out books. He was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005, and made Hall head Ed Brophy chuckle when he took the call informing him he'd gained entrance. He asked Brophy to call back, because he was watching Michigan in the Rose Bowl against Texas. Reverence has never been his bag.

Today, he is working on a book of essays, called "The Best of Bert Sugar, The Worst of Bert Sugar, Don't Worry, It's the Same Thing." But he's not puffing stogies while composing. Ironically, he had given up cigars a few weeks before he was admitted to Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco. When I asked about his lung cancer and if he was a serious puffer, he answered, "Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back? Yes, I smoked."

In fact, the day he went to the hospital, he got in the mail a box of "Bert Sugar Premium Cigars," available at the finest retailers everywhere. So, does he still recommend people purchase a box? "Oh yeah," he said. "I just can't smoke right now, doctor's orders."

Fightgame people had noticed that Sugar hadn't been at some recent big fights, and wondered what he was up to. He said he'd aiming to get back into circulation, but is working to regain his strength. "If you don't walk for a few weeks, you have to reorient to walking, fer chrissakes," he said.

Sugar is one who looks for the laughs and doesn't dwell, at least publicly, on deep philosophical matters. But he does go there, a bit anyway, during our 20 minute chat.

"Half the people are rooting for me to recover, half are not," he said, perhaps joking somewhat. "I've been an editor, lawyer, adman, writer, announcer. I've gotten away with things. This has been fun but maybe I'm paying for it. Somewhere, some way, somehow, it's going to come back and revisit you. But I don't regret a step."

He intends to keep on hammering away, add to the 80-plus books he's put out, and won't concede to any inevitable deterioration. "A couple years ago, my son was asked about me retiring. He said they let me drink, smoke and bullshit, and I get paid for it. He said, what was I going to do, drink, smoke and bullshit, and not get paid for it? This is fun. I still got my writing boots on, I'm going to continue. I've spent lot of time becoming a pain in the ass, I don't want to relinquish that."
Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.

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