Boxing legend Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker died after being hit by a car in Virginia, according to police.
Pernell, who won world titles in four weight divisions, was hit in Virginia Beach just after 10pm on Sunday (local time) and was pronounced dead at the scene, Virginia Beach police said in a statement.
“I guess he was wearing dark clothes, the road was dark and the driver didn’t see him,” his 23-year-old son, Devon Whitaker, told the Virginian-Pilot.
“I can’t really say how I’m feeling because I’m feeling shocked. I’m still trying to process everything that’s going on. But he was a cool guy.”
“Sweet Pea” Whitaker won gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and went on to become a champion in four weight classes in a professional career that spanned 17 years.
He finished with a record of 40-4-1 and was a first ballot selection into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
But Whitaker was also known as the victim of one of the worst decisions in boxing, a draw that allowed Julio Cesar Chavez to remain unbeaten in their welterweight showdown in San Antonio in 1993.
Four years later, Whitaker was on the losing end of another difficult decision against Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, a fight many ringsiders thought he had won.
Whitaker’s longtime promoter Kathy Duva said they were generally agreed to be the worst decisions in boxing.
“When you see the list of greatest boxing robberies in history they were both No. 1 and No. 2 on the list,” Duva said.
“And every list of top 10 fighters of all time he was on, too.” Former heavyweight champion George Foreman wrote on Twitter that Whitaker was one of the greats in the art of boxing.
“When I first saw “Pernell Sweet Pea Whitaker” in Training Camp; it was like watching a Cat with boxing gloves,” Foreman wrote.
“Best balance I’d ever seen in a Boxer.”
He was named Ring magazine’s Boxer of the Year in 1989 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006, five years after retiring.
Whitaker, who was divorced with four children, battled alcohol problems throughout his adult life, Duva said.
He also served time in prison after violating his probation in 2003 on a conviction for cocaine possession.
Whitaker, 55, grew up in Norfolk, not far from where he died.
“He was a legacy here,” Virginia Beach boxing gym owner Jake Wareing told the Virginian-Pilot. “I grew up watching him all the time.”
He said that Whitaker, who went on to coach after retiring from the ring, would stop in at Wareing’s Gym “from time to time” and give motivational talks to young hopefuls working out there.
Police said the boxing great “succumbed to his injuries on the scene.”
The driver remained at the scene.
“This remains an active investigation,” the department said in its statement.
His family issued a statement saying Whitaker’s death was “one of the darkest moments in our lives”.