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He miscalculated the heat of the TV lights and the Caribbean night, the cunning of Young, and found himself in his dressing room, the loser of a 12-round decision, subject to alternating waves of heat and cold, gasping, throwing up. He heard a voice in his head say, "You might as well die."
Suddenly he couldn't shake the thought of death. He felt blood trickling from his forehead, as if there were a crown of thorns on his temples. He felt life oozing out of him and he struggled to keep it in. Every sentence he uttered contained the word "death." He began babbling passages from the Bible he didn't know he knew. His skin felt like rubber. His handlers looked at each other, terrified. " Jesus Christ is coming alive in me!" he shouted. He fought off his handlers and ran into the shower.
"Hallelujah!" he hollered. "I'm clean! Hallelujah! I been born again!"
Foreman called it a miracle.
The doctor called it heat prostration.
On the kind of Sunday morning all Sunday mornings want to be, filled with sparrow soprano and sunlight and a soft spring breeze, the Reverend George E. Foreman stood outside his tiny metal prefab church admiring the potted hibiscus he had brought from his house just to borrow the blossoms' beauty for the day. The three-year-old nondenominational Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is on a one-acre plot in an old middle-class neighborhood on the northern rim of Houston, and the sign out front makes no mention of its famous preacher's name.
It was 15 minutes past 10 a.m. service time and there still weren't enough folks to work up a good gospel-hymn sweat, but Reverend Foreman didn't much mind. "Everybody's groggin' around, they may get here at 10:30, but that's O.K. I don't chastise them—they might chastise me. We want 'em to like church. We'll do a few songs, a sermon, and then when the little kids get itchin', we'll sneak 'em all out. I thought people would knock down doors to come, but now it doesn't bother me. I just wanna be in it. Go on in, make yourself at home. It's not Madison Square Garden, but I like it."
In a small room with bare white walls, two small flower stands, a podium, bongo drum, electric guitar, two speakers, five rows of wooden pews and 13 people, the service began. Foreman's nephew, James Steptoe, played guitar and began singing I Woke Up With My Mind on Jesus, and George pressed a trumpet to his lips. Sincerity and serenity oozed out the other end, along with some of the worst notes anyone had ever heard. But the music caught hold and the congregation began to stand and sway, augmented by twos and threes with each squeak of the door. A lady in the second row was rapping a tambourine, and a little boy near her was beating drumsticks on the head of a little girl, and children were scrambling on the floor. George was up front, an arm around his daughter, Freeda, leading everyone through "Yes, Jesus loves me, this I know, 'cause the Bible tells me so," and a lady in row three calling out, "Say it, child, say it for Jesus!" and everybody clapping in rhythm except George's daddy, J.D., who couldn't seem to get it right, and George moving over to pound the bongo drum, smiling and hooting, "Hey, all right! Amen!"—in short, everything religion was meant to be before the white man got ahold of it.
"They found that King Toot over there in Europe," Foreman boomed in an anecdote-filled, life-affirming sermon, "but how'd they find him? Dead. We're all gonna die, and if all we think about is new cars and houses we've missed the whole boat. I don't wanna just lay in that coffin and have nobody meeting me on the other side. Jesus is not dead. He's just as fat and proud as ever, hasn't lost a pound in 1,900 years.
"...You got a dime, a nickel, a quarter? That's good," he said at collection time. "The smaller the better. The Lord doesn't want your money. He want you." The service ended, and everyone walked back into the sunlight smiling.