Gerry Cooney had finally had it. The months of drift and chaos were nearing an end. Slightly wild-eyed, he turned his back to the fire and hollered across the room, "I don't care what you say about me anymore! I don't care what you write about me anymore. I don't care! This is my life. I can't have anybody messing with my life. I just want to be Gerry Cooney, doing what I want to do. I want to be what I am. A fighter. Do you understand that?"
It was far into a cold February night, and Cooney was in the living room of his new home in Huntington, Long Island. Now the house was almost empty. For three nights, family and strangers had been coming and going, and Cooney had been the obliging host. "Would you like a drink?" the fighter would say. "There's wine in the fridge and vodka or rum on the counter. Help yourself. Where do you want to eat tonight? You like Italian? You like Chinese?"
He had also been the entertainer, reciting dozens of lines from movies he had been showing for weeks, over and over, on his Betamax. He was Rodney Danger-field in Caddyshack, an inebriated Dudley Moore taking a hooker out to dinner in Arthur, Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, holding an armed killer at bay with his .44 magnum. Bill Murray in Stripes and Charles Bronson doing his macho number in Death Wish.
And he was John Lennon singing. Ever since WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes stopped Cooney in the 13th round of their title fight in Las Vegas last June 11, Cooney had listened endlessly to Watching the Wheels, Lennon's song about his dropout from the entertainment world. It sustained Cooney through his dropout from boxing. "Listen to this," he said one day, springing to his feet. "This was just like me the last nine months, right down to the end." He sang along:
I'm just sittin' here watch in' the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go....
But now the wheels had stopped for Cooney. In three days he would be leaving Long Island and its intrusions, and flying to Palm Springs, Calif. to begin training at the posh Sundance Resort at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains. He'd been consumed with guilt for losing the Holmes fight, and his life since then had been an exercise in seclusion and self-abasement. He had ballooned to 246 pounds, 20 more than his fighting weight, but the trip to Sundance would be for more than melting the fat away; it would be a last chance. There was a hint of panic in Cooney's voice that night on Long Island as he said. "I have no time to play no more. I have no more time! No more. I'm not 21 anymore. I'm 26! Get out! Leave me alone! I have no more time. I'm not Ali and I'm not Joe Frazier. Do you understand that?"
He didn't wait for a reply. "I ain't coming back for no glory. This is my last hurrah. This is it! I want to fight Holmes again and win the title and take my family and friends to Europe and have a few fights over there and get out. I don't want [Renaldo] Snipes and [Michael] Dokes to make money off me. This is it for me! Do you understand now? I ain't got no more time...."
Cooney stood up straight. The light from the fire cast his shadow on the far wall. For the first time since he had cried in the Caesars Palace ring after losing to Holmes, he finally seemed at peace with himself.
A few weeks after the Holmes fight, Cooney telephoned from Long Island to one of his co-managers, Mike Jones, in New York City. When Jones answered, Cooney said, "Michael, hold on a second." He stepped to a window and pushed it open, loudly.
"Mike, I'm going to jump!" Cooney cried.