Sugar Ray Leonard Faces His Deadliest Battle Outside The Ring
By the time he was 20 years old, Ray Charles “Sugar Ray” Leonard had won an Olympic gold medal, three National Golden Gloves titles, two Amateur Athletic Union championships and the 1975 Pan-American Games crown. Then he turned pro, winning world titles in five weight categories. Today he’s a man who takes a more moderate approach to physical activity. Even former high-performing athletes feel their age at some point. Now running the Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation, which raises funds for juvenile diabetes research, giving motivational speeches and doing some acting, Leonard talks about his life, how aging affects athletes and what it’s like to be Sugar Ray.
“There’s nothing I can’t do. I do things more in moderation. I listen to my body a lot more than I used to. When my body tells me to slow down, I heed that advice.”
But back in his heyday, Leonard was living two lives.
The 61-year-old told Oprah on “Where Are They Now?” the he was essentially living two different lives during his legendary boxing career.
“There was a part of me that’s Ray Leonard, that’s a good man, that’s an honest man,” he tells Oprah. “And there’s Sugar Ray Leonard, who is ego-driven, who’s a tough SOB in the ring, who had money, who had fame — and at some point, didn’t really appreciate it and took advantage of that.”
Sugar Ray was known by his charm, but he says that there was also a much darker side to his personality.
“My first wife, Juanita, she always said, ‘You’re two different people,’” Leonard says. “I’d just get angry about that. And go and have a drink.”
Little did the public know, but Leonard abused alcohol — and also turned to hard drugs after an eye injury forced him into a short-lived retirement in 1982. Leonard says he used for the next few years, stopping his drug use in 1986. Alcohol, however, remained a part of his life.
In the 1990s, after Leonard got divorced and married his current wife, Bernadette, he began to realize the toll his drinking was taking on his life.
“I would wake up and not remember what the hell just happened that night,” Leonard says. “I always knew I had a problem. Just never admitted it to myself. I never believed it. That’s deadly. That’s wrong.”
His new wife, along with rehab and his faith helped Leonard to get back on track.
“Mentally, spiritually, I’m in a very good place right now. I have been years sober,” Leonard tells The Washington Post. My relationship with my kids is wonderful, and with my wife, it is amazing. I am in a good place. You know what I found out? That the simple things are the most important things in life. I really smell the roses.”
He’s also dedicated to keeping himself in shape mentally and physically.
“As a boxer, as an athlete, I was in super-superb shape. I think I feel that we as individuals, if we took better care of ourselves,…