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"I don't live there anymore because when I'm there they make me crazy," says Griffith. "When I come there they want me to leave, but when I go over to my own pad they all say they miss me."
They miss him especially when he's reaching the peak of his conditioning for an important fight and should have no distractions. Nevertheless, they call about the most inconsequential matters. "Don't I tell you not to bother me in training?" Griffith will shout into the phone. But they still insist upon telling him that the $2,000 worth of carpet just purchased doesn't fit. Or Joyce tells him Franklin just beat up Tony.
"Stinky used to call me," said Griffith, using his pet name for Joyce, "to tell me Franklin was wearing my clothes and she'd beat him up. He doesn't wear my clothes anymore since he got married and moved out. I'm glad."
Franklin is 23, the first of the family Griffith put into college. He went to Hampton Institute for two years. "I'm so proud of him," he said of Franklin in 1963 while training for the fight in which he regained the title from Rodriguez, "that if he were going to graduate the night of the fight I wouldn't be in the ring. I'd be at the college to see him get his diploma. That piece of paper is the most important thing in my life."
Most of the pieces of paper Emile gets from his family, however, are bills that he turns over to Howard Albert for payment. "We never give his mother any cash, just checks," said Albert. "Last year they mounted up big. I won't tell you how big. Of course, that doesn't figure the cash Emile throws them, $200 here, $300 there. Once we had to shut off the phone. They were running up bills of $400 a month."
"Maybe I give too much," said Griffith. "Maybe I'm a little nut, but I tell you, I love my family. I remember when they had nothing. The children have to be taken care of. The grown-ups, well, blood is thicker than water. Even if I'm bankrupt, it is better than having my family running the streets and getting into trouble."
With all of these expenses, Griffith is not nearly as well off as a fighter whose bouts have earned close to $1,000,000 should be. "If he ends up with a net of $55,000 a year," said Albert, "he breaks even." Griffith's net worth today is approximately $100,000. This includes $10,000 invested for him several years ago in a mutual fund, the house in Hollis and its furnishings as well as the furnishings of his apartment.
Sometimes it seems to be a race between Griffith and his mother to see who can spend money faster. He has more than 50 suits and eight tuxedoes. He owns five heavy 18-karat-gold bracelets, two of which spell out "Emile" in diamond chips. One is completely encircled with diamonds. He has more fancy sports jackets than he remembers, at least 25 pairs of shoes and at least two dozen sweaters. He drives a tan 1966 Lincoln Continental, complete with tape recorder, stereo and TV. "If I see somebody wearing the same suit I'm wearing," he says, "I take it off and never wear it again."
Emile Griffith was not always a spendthrift. Just three years ago he did not own a car because he thought fighters ought to save their money. "I decided to take care of myself," he said, explaining the sudden change. But there may be a deeper explanation that goes back to his youth in the Virgin Islands. His mother and father separated when he was 8 years old, his father going to New York to work as a mechanic and his mother to Puerto Rico as a cook. Except for brief argument-torn periods when Griffith was able to join them in New York, they were never together again. The father died in 1959.
As Griffith vaguely remembers it, things were pleasant enough when he boarded with his grandmother in St. Thomas for a year. "When my mommy would come to visit, I'd walk in and see her sitting there and I'd flip. I'd follow her around like a puppy dog." But his grandmother was taken sick, and at the age of 9 Griffith became a sort of Cinderella. He was passed to an aunt who had two children of her own. The four of them lived in a tiny house that overlooked Magens Bay. Griffith arose at 6 each morning, carried an oil drum down the side of the mountain for water, and then up the mountain again with the filled drum. He then escorted the children to school and finally made the long climb up the mountain again, where he was awarded breakfast.