MAY 4, 1981
As gentleman Gerry Cooney strolled down crowded Mulberry Street in New York City's Little Italy during last month's Feast of San Gennaro, he shook numerous hands, signed the memo books of two NYPD officers and posed for photographs with revelers. Then Cooney was given an unsolicited raffle prize—a $200 dinner from Da Nico Ristorante—for FIST (Fighters' Initiative for Support and Training), his foundation that provides job training and, in some instances, financial help to retired boxers. "There comes a time when a boxer has to hang up the gloves," Cooney said, "but they don't know how to replace the roar of the crowd."
A promenade among his fans wasn't in Cooney's plans when he came to Little Italy from his home in suburban Fanwood, N.J. He was in the neighborhood to pick up a sculpture valued at $50,000—The Discus Thrower by DeWeldon—from Chuck Huller, co-owner of the Benedetti Gallery, who was donating the piece for an Oct. 5 FIST fund-raising auction. "I should hang out here more often," Cooney said, puffing on a cigar. "It's nice that people can still remember you."
What people remember most about Cooney is his 1982 loss, a 13th-round TKO, to heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and his teary postfight remark to fans, "I'm sorry I let you down." Cooney, who earned $10 million for the Holmes fight, had a 28-3-0 record with 24 knockouts before retiring in '90. Having saved some of his boxing millions—he had two managers who "watched each other," he says—Cooney wanted to assist fallen pugilists, and with the help of his wife, Jennifer, a small-business appraiser, and friends Joe Sano and Norman Weiss, he founded FIST in '98. To date the foundation has aided 32 boxers. "We help the fighter help himself," says Weiss. Cooney himself admits to having had a drinking problem during his boxing career but says he's been clean since April 21, 1988, when he awoke and thought, What's going on?
Gerry, 44, and Jennifer have a 2�-year-old son, Jackson (Gerry has an 11-year-old son, Christopher, from a previous relationship). Cooney keeps busy helping raise money for 25 charities, Make-A-Wish and the American Heart Association among them. "I've learned to laugh at life," he says, which is important to a man who has taken many punches—in the ring and otherwise. "I regret not developing my potential," he says, "but I'm proud of my fight with Holmes." As another admirer clicked a photograph, Cooney joked, "Wait, I wasn't ready," and the crowd roared.