"He became impossible to be around," Rita says. His one redeeming relationship was with Skylar. When the boy was 10 months old, Rita had found him sinking in their swimming pool and had him rushed to the hospital. (Pancho was asleep inside the house.) Pancho's daughter Mariessa had died at age 11 after being thrown by a horse. Pancho hadn't been close to her. He made sure, once Skylar was out of danger, not to be a stranger to the youngest of his children.
He opened himself to the boy as he had to no one else in his life. Most nights Skylar would stay with Rita or her parents, but he spent his days, while Rita was working, with Pancho. With Skylar, Pancho was warm and patient. They would ride dirt bikes and go-karts and hit golf balls into the desert. All the love Pancho had held back from his brothers and his women and his other children he poured into Skylar. The boy would curl up in a ball and nap by his side. Pancho's friends were stunned. "I just want to be around long enough to get him through high school," Pancho would say.
During the 1994 U.S. Open, as Andre Agassi was beating Michael Chang in the fourth round, Gonzalez lay in his hotel room in New York City, racked with back and abdominal spasms. When he returned home, X-rays revealed cancer in his stomach, esophagus, chin and brain. For the next few months, as he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, he kept saying he was going to beat the cancer, but he knew better. In March he told Laver not to feel sorry for him. He'd lived a good life. He was happy. He made peace with Kramer. "For the first time in my life, I'm open," he told a reporter. "I'm no longer selfish."
But flashes of the old Pancho remained. Ralph, too, had learned he had cancer—of the prostate—but he and his wife, Ona, moved into Pancho's house to help him. They soon chafed at his arrogance and neediness. One night the two stooped men in their 60s lunged at each other with their fists. "Die like a man, you son of a bitch!" Ralph yelled. Later that night the two brothers sat in the bedroom together and cried.
In late June, Pancho, his skin gone yellow, entered the hospital. After a few days he phoned Mike Agassi—whose house he refused to set foot in. The hostility between the two men had ratcheted down a level since Skylar's pool accident. "I cannot take care of my son," Gonzalez told Agassi. Sure that Skylar would carry some of his traits, Pancho added, "It's going to be hard for Rita because he's mine. Please raise him."
Mike came to tire hospital carrying a jug of mushroom tea. He told Pancho, "Don't worry. We'll take care of him."
"It was sad," Mike says. "A great man, flat broke; a great man, his life is finished; a great man, has no friends."
On July 2, the day before he died, Gonzalez tried to watch Wimbledon on TV. Skylar came to say goodbye. Pancho faded in and out of consciousness, pillowed by morphine. He and Richard Jr. hadn't spoken for a few months because of a petty argument, but now Richard came and sat with him. Pancho went to the bathroom but was too weak to clean himself, so Richard Jr. did the job as that loud voice barked out intricate instructions. "I never could say no to him," Richard Jr. says, "and there I was again at the end." Later he took his father's hand. For the second time in his life he felt like a son should. "I sat with him the whole night," he says. "He held my hand, and he just kept squeezing it."
Skylar Gonzalez is 16. He has spent most of the last seven years with Rita. Every year, from May until July 3, he falls into a funk. Occasionally he goes to his father's grave and stares at the stone as the sound of traffic rumbles over the grass.
Pictures of Pancho paper Skylar's bedrooms at Mike's house and Rita's house. "He says, 'Daddy, I love you' to the picture," Mike says. "Anytime there's something about Pancho on TV, he stands and watches with tears in his eyes. Skylar says, 'Everybody has a father. I wonder sometimes why I can't have a father.' " He dreams of his father still, and in his dreams the old wolf is always wise and kind.