Many Americans follow the careers of sports figures such as professional boxers with great interest. However what frequently happens is that once their career is over these fighters often drop into obscurity and except for a few like Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali they are soon forgotten. Yet there are exceptions – such as the former boxer whose TV image and name is visible in many kitchens. This of course is East Texas Notable and grill master George Foreman.
Born in Marshall, Texas in January, 1949 George Foreman grew up in a rough section of Houston, along with six brothers and sisters. Raised by his mother and a stepfather whose name he took, George had, as he reported in his autobiography, a "troubled youth." He dropped out of school at age 15 and after a short time as a mugger, he finally asked his mother to enroll him in the Job Corps. This early 1960s government program, offering classes and job training, enabled George to get his high school degree as well as new job skills. He also became in interested in sports training specifically boxing which led him to compete in the 1968 Olympics where he won a gold medal. After winning various amateur competitions he turned professional in 1969, and by 1970 he was working toward achieving the heavyweight title.
In 1972 he defeated world champion Joe Frazier, and later beat future hall of famer Ken Norton. His next opponent was Muhammad Ali in a match set in Kinshasa, Zaire in a fight called "the Rumble in the Jumble." At this time Foreman suffered his first defeat. Then after taking a break, Foreman made a comeback in 1976 with more victories but then in 1977 there came a major life change.
At about that time George fell ill from exhaustion and he had what one source called a “near death experience.” At the time he “spoke of being in a hellish, frightening place of nothingness and despair and realized he was in the midst of death." Though he had not been previously spiritual, at that time he sought divine assistance and felt that God was calling him to change his life.
He felt himself “born again” and dedicated the next few years to God, though he did not formally retire from boxing. He became an ordained pastor, starting on street corners then in church with his congregation, family and then worked in a new youth center.
In 1987 at the unusual age of 38 George returned to the ring with the idea of raising money for the youth center. He also began to endorse products on TV, and this meant a change in his public demeanor. Previously the public George had been aloof and glum but now he became a friendly extrovert. Meanwhile he and former opponent Ali who had also become a public figure, became close friends. George then retired at age 48.
During his boxing career George had stressed his success came from healthy eating, so it was logical that he was interested in an offer from a company with a new product. This was of course a clamshell type of countertop grill that cooked on both sides and had been invented by an Illinois man. An added benefit was that as the meat cooked the drained fat dropped into a separate closely placed container.
Touted as the "Lean Mean Fat Reducing Machine" and bearing the Foreman name and endorsement, the grill first appeared in 1994. The product’s advantages, paired with George’s image and affability made it wildly successful. Ultimately the millions he gained were far more than he had ever earned during his boxing career.
Foreman has also become known for his large family, some 12 children from four marriages and he is particularly known for naming all his sons George Edward. Buy why? As he says on his website: "I named all my sons George Edward Foreman so they would always have something in common. I say to them 'if one of us goes up, then we all go up together, and if one goes down, we all go down together.’" Several of his sons go by nicknames - "Monk," "Big Wheel," "Red" "Little Joey," He also has seven daughters.
Rising from the mean streets of a major city to success in sports and later success in business and then service to his faith and community, George Foreman is indeed a memorable East Texas Notable.