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There is a perception out there that Joe Frazier was a man utterly beset with bitterness, a tortured soul who could not process the mythologizing of his rival for eternity, Muhammad Ali. The press would pass on some of his barbs at The Greatest, and many fight fans would assume that Smokin' Joe did nothing but sit and stew and rue the day Cassius Clay was inflicted upon the planet.
That perception isn't reality, according to Frazier's niece, Dannette Frazier.
She told ESPN New York that while her uncle Joe -- who was the younger brother by two years of Dannette's late mother, Rebecca -- did get some things off his chest regarding Ali now and again, he didn't truly hold a grudge against the charismatic trash talker.
"He'd say, 'I pray for him,'" Dannette told me Tuesday morning, when she was kindly taking the time to chat about her uncle and his legacy. "I don't think it was ever forgiving. He'd get mad in the moment, but he never said to me, 'I can't stand Ali.' My uncle was a sincere speaker. I think the news blew that negative stuff up."
Dannette told NYFightBlog that the end was serene for the ex-heavyweight champion, who was taken out by liver cancer at age 67 on Monday night. Older sister Martha Rhodan, Dannette said, was with him, and she sang to him. "She said it was a very good transition," Dannette said of the time Joe spent with his sole remaining sibling. "I know he is going to heaven."
Dannette shared more of Frazier's softer side. "We'd drive and he'd stop the car if he saw someone, especially kids, walking without shoes, and try to help. Don't ask me what it was about shoes," she said, chuckling.
She also set the record straight about an inaccuracy that has been passed down for decades. "Joe's dad, Rubin, was not a sharecropper (a tenant farmer who gives up part of his crop as rent to the landowner)," she told me. "He was a farmer, he farmed his own property. He inherited land from his dad, Dennis Frazier. And Dennis was never a slave."
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