He says, "That's what I want, that's what I want, I want to marry you."
Cooler heads prevail. He returns to America.
They get married two months later. Smokin' Joe Frazier makes a smokin' best man. So maybe all the whispers are wrong. Now Howie Albert has a retort for writers who nudge him and ask The Question: "Go ask his wife."
They move into an apartment and he adopts her daughter, Christine. Emile goes and goes, to training camp, to fights in Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Paris. Sadie and Christine stare out that apartment window at Weehawken, N.J. Less than two years into the marriage, they're gone.
"Emile said I was a distraction because he had to keep his mind on what he was doing," says Sadie, "but we remain friends."
What else could anyone be with Emile? He doesn't just cry, "My pleasure!" when he's asked by strangers for autographs. He writes "(Smile)" beneath his name and thanks them. Benvenuti, after they fight a third time, flies Emile to Italy so his newborn son will have the world's sunniest godfather, then keeps flying him back, just to feel the sunshine again.
Color, nationality, status, sex, age ... none of it matters to Emile. It's a beautiful thing, and a blurry thing too: Nobody can tell anymore who's a friend, who's a lover, who's a "son," who's a sponge. It maddens his family, never knowing who'll be at Emile's elbow when he materializes at 5 a.m., whom he'll leave in their house when he vanishes again. He'll just sit there, smiling blankly at everything his brother Franklin hisses at him until finally he hisses that word, and then Emile nearly loses his mind. Off he goes again, looking for family someplace else.
He finds it in 1979. Finds it two years after Clancy calls him to his home and tells him it's over, at age 39, after 111 pro fights and more main events--26--than anyone else in the combined history of the old and new Madison Square Gardens. Finds it at the Secaucus youth detention facility in New Jersey, where Emile, having burned up most of his ring earnings, works supervising wayward boys. Every day Luis Rodrigo, a 16-year-old whose father died 15 years earlier in a four-story fall at a construction site, runs to the front door to hug him. When Luis finishes his punishment for breaking and entering, he asks Emile to be his father. Of course, says Emile. He takes to calling the boy Emile, the way his own father, Emile Sr.--long ago and far away and never often enough--called him. Luis moves into Emile's apartment. When administrators find out about their relationship, Emile loses his job.
That's how he ends up training boxers in New York City by day and tending bar at Jack Miller's Pub in Jersey City by night. Of course, somebody has to yell Stop! every time Emile pours a drink for a customer, then Emile has to test that drink to make sure he didn't stop too soon, then Emile has to take a gulp from every bottle on the wall to make sure inventory's up to snuff. They all fall in love with him, the Irish and Scottish regulars, but none more than the man's man who owns the place: big, silver-haired Jack Miller. He takes Emile's five world title belts from a paper bag under Emile's bed and displays them on the bar's wall. He makes sure Emile has money and a warm place to sleep. He becomes Emile's "poppy," as Clancy and Albert were before him. His wife, Alice, becomes Emile's "mommy," as Clancy's wife, Nancy, and bar owner Kathy Hogan once were.
On good nights, Jack and Emile turn out the lights in the pub, strip off their shirts, put on wigs, dial up Kate Smith on the jukebox and lead the boys--two-deep around the bar holding up cigarette lighters--in singing God Bless America. On the best nights, Emile leaps onto the bar and keeps stripping, down to his briefs, blonde wig and granny glasses, while whooping wives stuff fivers in his wriggling waistband and he yelps, "Oooh-la-la Sasson!"