And he hurt them back, usually with a left hook, and no one in Clahane's long memory ever did it more efficiently. "He was the best," says Clahane. "He would destroy you and love doing it. That left hand was a lethal weapon. Davey was a legend even then."
Jeannie Hilton saw little of the violent life her husband was leading, at least until the day he pulled over at a bar outside Montreal. A teetotaler, she waited in the car with the kids as a "quick beer" became several slow beers. Finally she walked inside to fetch her man. Davey argued with her to stay. At once this great mass of a man appeared behind Davey. He was wearing a tube hat, a plaid shirt and lumberjack boots.
"He looked like Sasquatch," Jeannie says. "The biggest man I ever saw." Sasquatch pounded on his chest and bellowed, in a thick foreign accent, "No argue with woman. Argue with man!" He then spun Hilton around in his chair. "He hurt my pride when he spun me around," says Davey. Hilton leaped from the chair, cracking his head on Sasquatch's nose, and then dropped him with a left hook. The lumberjack fell of a piece, thudding across the doorway of the saloon. Horrified, Jeannie only remembers Davey's cousin yelling, "You killed him, Davey!"
Together they fled out the door. "I was hysterical," she says. Two miles from the bar Hilton pulled off to a roadside stand and said calmly, "Let's stop here and get a hot dog." Sasquatch awakened sometime later, but the episode was all Jeannie ever needed to see of her husband's life away from home. For such improprieties Hilton suffered inconsolable remorse: "I'd drink so much and all of a sudden something happened to me I can't explain. I was another person altogether. I didn't know what I was doing at all. It wasn't me."
Of course the boys were aware of the problem. "We knew," Matthew says. "None of us liked it, to see him coming home and hear he got in some fight here or there. I didn't know what to say. But it didn't really bother me that much. I was too young."
By the time Davey retired, in 1976, at age 36, he had a pro record of 138-15 (70 KOs) and scrapbooks filled with his exploits. "I was proud of him," Matthew says. "I thought he was the toughest guy in the world."
For a time it looked as if the Hilton boys would collectively pick up the pieces of their father's pro career and achieve the fame that had just barely eluded him. One by one, as they turned pro, they started making money in the game. In January 1985, Davey Sr. sold the rights to promote the fights of the oldest three boys to Don King for $50,000, thereby giving them access to world titles that he never had. Surely it would just be a matter of time—and not long—until one of them claimed a belt of his own. Just as quickly, it all went sour, sadly and even tragically.
Alex, the second-oldest son (a daughter, Jo-Ann, 24, is the Hiltons' oldest child), who has a history of alcohol-related offenses, was arrested in February 1985 in a Montreal suburb on charges of negligent use of a firearm—having allegedly shot out the window of a hotel from a nearby parking lot'—and impaired driving. At one time ranked among the top 10 middleweights (23-2, 16 KOs), he has not fought since September 1985 and today is serving a six-month jail sentence for various offenses related to the use of alcohol, including an assault charge stemming from a barroom brawl last May 14.
Six months after Alex's arrest, Davey Jr. broke a leg and finger when the brakes on a dirt bike he was driving failed, causing him to crash into a tree in the backyard of his parents' home in Rigaud, 35 miles west of Montreal. The most naturally gifted of the Hilton sons—a quick, clever, charismatic boxer who seemed at the time a better bet than Matthew to win a world title—he left the game with a 24-0-1 record. He drifted for two years, his career on hold. In October 1985 he pleaded guilty to a charge of impaired driving and refusing to take a breath test, and was fined and had his license suspended. He has only recently begun to train again.
Davey Sr. blames himself for his sons' troubles. All their lives, total strangers have regaled the boys with the exploits of their father: the bar fights and the night lights and the left hook. "I was a hero to all of them," he says. "It wasn't good. They all wanted to be like me. They thought it was quite a life."