Having a sharecropper and a slave as his ancestors, the eighth child of Munn and Lilly Barrow, Joseph Louis Barrow, was born on May 14, 1914, in a cotton-field country near Alabama. Belonging to a financially weak family, Joe Louis received little education as a child and worked odd jobs in order to support his family as a teenager instead of going to school.
Moving to Detroit, Louis briefly attended school at the Bronson Vocational School in order to train in cabinet making and took piano lessons in his free time. However, a friend recommended a completely different path for him and Louis soon turned towards boxing.
Louis debuted as a lightweight and faced knockdown three times in his first fight but showed great potential and by 1934 held the national Amateur Athletic Union light-heavyweight title. He finished his amateur career with a surprising 43 knockout victories in 54 matches. The following year, the young fighter lived up to his success and fought 14 bouts, earning almost $370,000 as prize money.
Living up to his nickname of The Brown Bomber, Louis defeated the defending champion, Jim Braddock, at 1937 heavyweight championship and rose as a sports icon for blacks and whites across America. Even though he had huge fan following, only 3 of Louis’ 25 title defenses went the full fifteen rounds.
Enlisting with the army in 1942 and donating money towards the military relief funds, Louis officially retired from professional boxing in 1949. Although he made a short comeback, the former boxer was unable to live up to his previous reputation and in 1951, put a complete end to his career as a boxer after he faced defeat at the Madison Square Garden.
Retiring from boxing led Louis back to the financial issues that he initially started off with. Desperate for a stable lifestyle, he tried working in a number of fields including wrestling and setting up interracial food shops. However, he was unable to achieve success in any of the fields and ended up in a psychiatric hospital due to his cocaine addiction and paranoia. He was later confined to a wheelchair after a surgery which aimed at correcting his aortic aneurysm.
Married four times and father of two, Joe Louis passed away from a heart attack in 1981 while he working as an official greeter at Caesars Palace, signing autographs and playing golf with special guests. Nonetheless, the star is still remembered for his contributions to the world of boxing and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal a year after his death. He was also inducted into the Ring Magazine Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 followed by the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.