Former heavyweight boxing champion Tommy Morrison died Sunday in Omaha. He was 44. Morrison had tested positive for HIV when he was 27, but he later claimed he never carried the virus, and the cause of his death has not been disclosed:

His longtime promoter and close friend, Tony Holden, confirmed that “the Duke” had died, but his family would not disclose the cause of death. Morrison and his wife, Trisha, continued to deny that the former champion ever had HIV during the final years of his life.

“Tommy’s a very stubborn person and he views things the way he wants to view things. That’s his right and privilege,” Holden said. “All through his career, him and I would come not to physical blows but disagreements on certain things. We always ended up friends. That was Tommy.

“That’s the way Tommy took off after he was told he was HIV-positive,” Holden added. “When he first was told, I was taking him to seek treatment and to different doctors around the country. And then he started research on the Internet and started saying it was a conspiracy. He went in that direction and never looked back.”

Associated Press

Even before the positive test interrupted his career, Morrison was already an accomplished boxer:

As an up-and-coming fighter in 1989, Morrison was cast as Tommy “The Machine” Gunn, in “Rocky V.” He added to his legend by winning the World Boxing Organization heavyweight title in 1993 with a 12-round victory over George Foreman. But less than three years later, his license was suspended when he tested positive for HIV.His son, Tim, told Merrill that he hoped his family would be remembered for the excitement he brought to the sport, rather than for his downfall.

“Try being 20 and a millionaire,” Tim Morrison said. “You’re not always going to make the most wise decisions. Tommy was way too young to have all the money and fame that he had. That was his whole problem.

“He had the world by the [tail]. And he blew it.”

Cindy Boren

Find images of other notable people who have died this year in the gallery below.