Poor Al. He was sitting up straight again, thinking of himself in Paris. "If I could find the money for the journey!" he went on. "But I have practically nothing. I've sold all my clothes. I've only kept three suits and this tuxedo that I wore at the Bal des Petits Lits Blancs in 1938. Paris seems so far away now." He told me about breaking his right hand in the Torres fight, about opening a bar and going bankrupt because he would not bother to collect when customers drank on credit ("I was not cut out for that kind of life"), about teaching in a government physical education school ("I was not cut out for that kind of life"), about coming to New York and working on a freighter.
"So there you are," said Al finally. "You know all about me and there is nothing more I can tell you." Mr. Small came and offered us a last round of Scotch, but Al was right. Tunis, Valencia, Paris, Harlem—and now nothing more to tell.
Thirteen months later Al Brown died of tuberculosis in New York's Sea View Hospital. He had fainted and fallen down on 42nd Street. A policeman had picked him up and, thinking he was drunk, had taken him to the station. When he did not regain consciousness an ambulance was called and he was taken to Bellevue. Lew Burston heard of Brown's illness. With the help of some sportswriters and friends, he got Brown moved to Sea View.
Brown believed, right up to the last moment, that he would be able to come back to Paris. One of the great French weeklies had, in fact, thought of organizing a fund drive to pay for his journey. But the subscription was still not initiated when Brown died on April 11, 1951. Cocteau, hearing of Brown's illness, had rushed a tape recording to him in which the poet talked of their days together. Brown listened to the tape the day he died.
As soon as the death of the onetime champion became known, Nat Fleischer and Lew Burston went to Sea View and told the director of the clinic that they wanted to bear the expenses of the funeral, which was fixed for the 14th of April. But that evening three Negroes turned up at the funeral home with a van. They said they were friends of Alphonse Theo Brown and that they wanted to take away the body.
No objections were raised, and they left with the white pinewood coffin. For two nights the friends, with the coffin on board their van, went the rounds of Harlem, collecting money for a huge funeral. Even when he was dead, Al Brown was not to get the dignified retreat from notoriety that Jean Cocteau tried to lead him to 13 years before.
When Lew Burston told me about the funeral, it conjured up an image in my mind of Harlem and the procession following that van, with Al Brown's coffin swinging about on it; of Harlem, the proud, the naive, the shameless, the pious; of Harlem, where they carted the dead champion about that night; of Harlem, the black city praying and weeping on the way to that burial pageant. And, finally, it conjured up the image I most wanted to recall—lean, lithe Al Brown, flicking his left again and again to the head of Balthasar Sangchilli on that fantastic night in Paris, while his adviser, manager and friend, Jean Cocteau, shouted his support and admiration.