Many knew him from his role as Tommy “The Machine” Gunn in the 1990 film Rocky V. But for true fans, Tommy “The Duke” Morrison was one of the greatest heavyweights to ever box, though one who never realized his full potential.
A small-town kid from Oklahoma with a devastating left hook, Morrison enjoyed a cliched celebrity lifestyle of too much, too soon. In 1996, before his career was even close to reaching its pinnacle, he contracted HIV.
After testing positive, Morrison freely admitted he’d been living a reckless lifestyle. In March 1996, he fought in Japan, scoring a first-round TKO. He said he’d never fight again.
As the years passed, he became became a conspiracy theorist about HIV and AIDS. He suggested AIDS was a governmental hoax, and eventually got involved in Internet-based education that attempted to paint HIV and AIDS as nothing more than myths. He continued to do his own research and subjected himself to additional HIV testing in an effort to prove his original tests were false positives.
As Morrison approached his 40s, he started planning a comeback. In 2007, he submitted two negative HIV tests, both examined by experts, to suggest his 1996 test was a false positive. These findings were followed by a third test, specifically for a story being developed by the New York Times. Again, the test was negative. In total, he offered four negative tests in 2007.
Boxing doctors remained skeptical. They claimed there was no way to know if the blood being tested was actually Morrison’s. The only way they could know is if he agreed to a supervised test.
Regardless, Morrison was able to find two opponents and two venues that would allow him to fight: he scored TKO victories in 2007 and 2008, fighting at a casino in West Virginia and an arena in Mexico. These turned out to be his final bouts, ending his career at 48-3-1 with 42 knockouts.
In 2011, Morrison hoped to make another comeback, this time in Canada. The boxing commission governing fights in Quebec required him to undergo a supervised HIV test before taking part in a scheduled bout. Morrison declined. Instead, he suggested the commission attend a public test administered by medical professionals he trusted. He looked to be in excellent health, though it’s the humble opinion of this writer that Morrison’s impressive physique was, in part, a product of readily available HGH.
After the fight fell through, Morrison’s public presence began to rapidly wane and reports of his ailing health began to surface. According to his mother, as his final year passed, he became too weak to speak, and was being kept alive by a feeding tube and respirator.
Morrison died late Sunday night, his wife Trisha by his side. His cause of death has officially been listed as Miller Fisher Syndrome, a rare variant of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.