October 10, 1977
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank you for being here—because you paid. Earnie Shavers always slips a little humor into his after-dinner speeches. He wants to make sure he earns the $1,500 to $2,000 he receives for 40 minutes of Muhammad Ali and Don King anecdotes at fancy English dinner parties.
Shavers never won a pro championship but still lives off the sweet science. In addition to his speaking engagements, he runs a boxing memorabilia business, is paid for the use of his image in video games and greets patrons of the Yates's Wine Lodge in Liverpool, 15 miles from his home in the small town of Moreton. "They call the '70s the golden era for heavyweights," says Shavers, 54, whose continuing popularity with power-loving English fans lured him from the States last year. "So if you did halfway decent, people always want you to do something later."
Shavers's punching power was legendary. He delivered 67 knockouts in a 73-14-1 career that saw bouts in four decades. After winning a title decision over Shavers in 1977, Ali joked that the shots he took had shaken up his kinfolk in Africa. Two years later, in the seventh round of his second loss to Larry Holmes, a wobbly and half-blind Shavers floored Holmes with a Hail Mary blow so violent and unexpected that King leaped from his ringside seat and stuck a cigar in his mouth lit-end first. Unfortunately, overspending on wine, women and his Mecca, Ohio, dream house became Shavers's Achilles' heel. When the IRS demanded $172,043, he fell into debt. In addition, he pleaded guilty to falsifying his '77 income tax return and served two years' probation.
Shavers had to parlay his fame into cash to pay the tax man, but not all his appearances these days are for money. He appears at numerous charity fund-raisers and since 1987 has regularly spoken at prisons in the U.S. and, recently, England. He tells inmates of his own salvation at a small church in Warren, Ohio, in '86, when, says Shavers, "The minister preached that worldly values never pay what they promise, and I said to myself, How well do I know."
He'll greet his final customer in January, which should give him time to travel and see his family. He'll need it. Shavers has eight daughters and a son, ages 13 through 35, in five U.S. states, and is negotiating his fifth divorce. Next year he will split time between California and England, juggling quality family time with speaking engagements, prison visits and a book tour for his upcoming autobiography. "The peace of mind I have now is worth more than the money," says Shavers. "My needs are met, so I'm happy."