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SEND IN THE CLOWN
Ron Fimrite
March 20, 1978
Max Baer could bust them up with a right hand and then break them up with laughter, but his boxing career was overshadowed by tragedy
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March 20, 1978

Send In The Clown

Max Baer could bust them up with a right hand and then break them up with laughter, but his boxing career was overshadowed by tragedy

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Baer did not have to work, but he could not stay off the stage. Few of his films were consequential, and in the one that was, The Harder They Fall, a fictional version of the Carnera story, based on the Budd Schulberg novel, he portrayed a character totally unlike himself, a vicious heavyweight champion who took offense when the Carnera character, not he, was blamed for the death of the Schaaf character. The Harder They Fall is significant in film history as Humphrey Bogart's last movie. It was also Max Baer's.

On the morning of Nov. 21, 1959 Baer was shaving in his room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, preparing for some TV appearances that day, when he felt a sharp pain in his chest. He cut himself on the chin with his razor blade, and, alarmed as much by the sight of blood—which he abhorred—as by the pain, he stumbled to the telephone. "I need a doctor," he whispered. "A house doctor?" inquired the switchboard operator. "No. dummy, a people doctor." When the doctor arrived, Baer insisted that he had to telephone the studio and say he would be late. Finally persuaded to lie down, he suddenly turned ashen and called out, "Oh God, here I go." He was dead of a heart attack at 9 a.m. at age 50.

Max Baer left behind a legacy of love. On his eldest son's 21st birthday, less than a year earlier, Max had written him, "If God said to me at anytime, 'Max Sr., I must take your life so your dear ones can have health and happiness,' I'd kiss you all, if possible, and willingly go. You can't measure my love for you." Two weeks before his father's death, Max Jr. had written to his mother, "Sometimes I worry a lot about dad because he's still such a big kid at heart. He never really got off the farm, even though he made the top. He thinks just like a big kid and is the most gentle person in the world...."

More than 1,500 people, including some of the biggest names in boxing, attended Baer's funeral at St. Mary's Cemetery in Sacramento. A few years later, Jack Dempsey, who had been a pallbearer, provided an appropriate epitaph: "There'll never be another Max Baer." he began. Then he paused and smiled in memory of so exasperating and delightful a friend. "And that's the way it should be."

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