Rafer Johnson's life is a story that transcends sports

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; 12:42 AM

A New York P.R. guy whom you lost track of reaches out, wants to know if a story about an old track star is worth something.

"This man has had an incredible life," he says.

"Let me see what the editors say," you respond, politely.

But deep down, the cynical part - the "If It's Not Redskins Related, No One Cares" part - makes you wonder about news value, who will read that story.

Really, what can a guy who will turn 75 this week possibly say to put Albert Haynesworth, Brett Favre or, heck, even a presidential pickup game with Magic Johnson and LeBron James, on hold?

And then Rafer Johnson speaks.

About Muhammad Ali, whom he met as "Cassius."

About John Wooden, whom you forgot Rafer played for at UCLA.

About Kirk Douglas, who had cast him in "Spartacus." (Well, until the Amateur Athletic Union forbade an Olympian from taking money, so he had to settle years later for James Bond's "License to Kill.")

"I believe I was killed in that movie just before the credits finished," he said, chuckling.

Fifty years after he won the gold medal in the Olympic decathlon and was proclaimed the greatest all-around athlete in the world, Rafer also speaks about Robert F. Kennedy, his friend and the man whose campaign he championed.

Until the night he was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, the night Rafer Johnson heard that disturbing noise.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company