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Arthur Curry: His Life and Legacy
Arthur Curry: photo by Holger Keifel
By Thomas Hauser
A lot of people liked Arthur Curry. Almost everyone else loved him.
Artie’s mind was filled with wonderful thoughts and his feelings were founded on love. He was about giving. He enjoyed doing things for people and took care to never hurt anyone. He was a man of integrity who radiated truth. He spoke his mind and didn’t hide his feelings. “Being real,” he called it. But he was always kind.
Given the childhood that Artie endured, it would have been easy, even natural, for him to grow into a bitter angry man. But he fought back from an ugly start, never used his origins as a crutch, and spent his adult years teaching people about character by the example of his conduct. He was the embodiment of the idea that the reward one gets for being good in life is that one takes pleasure in being good.
Arthur Sheppard (which was Artie’s name as a child) was born in Harlem on February 18, 1960. His life began in a single-parent home with his mother and two older sisters. A younger brother was born in 1962.
“I have no idea what my mother did,” Artie said ten years ago, reflecting on his early childhood. “She was just a lady I saw from time to time.”
When Artie was four, he and his siblings were placed in separate foster care facilities. Two years later, his natural mother was brutally murdered. Not long after that, his father (who Artie met once in his life) drank himself to death.
For thirteen years, Artie was shuttled from home to home. Later, he recalled, “I was in group homes; I lived with families; I stayed with friends. There was a lot of pain. But one thing I remember was, every summer, the foster agency sent us to a summer camp, where they had arts and crafts, chess, canoeing, activities like that. Each year, that camp gave me a vision of hope; a belief that life could be better than what I was going through. So even at a young age, I felt there was a better way.”
Years later, Artie was asked, “Why are you so happy all the time?”
“Because I cried so much as a child,” he answered.
Artie’s life changed dramatically when he was seventeen years old and scheduled to be discharged from foster care within a year. A jazz singer named Edward Curry and his wife Lise (a small-business administrator) wanted to adopt a newborn child. The Currys were an interracial couple (Lise is white). An agency supervisor who had previously worked with Artie asked if they would consider taking him in as a boarder.
“This man believed in Artie and didn’t want him out on the streets or living with the wrong people,” Lise explains. “We didn’t have it in mind to take in a young man that age. My husband said, ‘Okay; we’ll spend some time with him and then decide whether to do it with him or an infant.’ And I told my husband, ‘No. This is someone who has been treated so badly in his life. He doesn’t need another rejection. If we meet him, it’s to take him.’”
The Currys agreed to take Artie in as a boarder. On the day that the arrangement was finalized, they treated him to a celebratory lunch before bringing him home.
“We sat down in the restaurant,” Lise remembers. “Artie looked at the menu but he was reluctant to order. I told him, ‘You can have anything you want,’ and he said, ‘I’ll have what you have.’ I tried to tell him differently; that he could make his own choices. Then I realized that he couldn’t read the menu. Seventeen years old and he couldn’t read or write. He had so many needs, and the challenge that my husband and I faced was to motivate him to fill those needs without destroying his self-esteem.”
The Currys lived in a meticulously-kept three-bedroom row-house in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
“We had been married for ten years when Artie arrived,” Lise recalls. “And there were adjustments to be made. Edward had always been the center of my life. Now he was sharing me; not with a child, but with an adult man. Artie was eager to please, but he wouldn’t do a song-and-dance to please us. They locked horns from time to time.”
But Artie never took the good things in his new life, for granted, no matter how small or commonplace they might have been. And later, he spoke of the gratitude he felt, saying, “For the first time in my life, there was someone who had confidence in me and believed in me. I experienced love for the first time, and everything changed. Without my new parents, I don’t know what would have happened to me. Before them, I’d been in constant pain. I’d always felt that I had an inner beauty, but I’d never had a foundation to build on. There was so much I had to make up for, and they opened a whole new world for me.”
At Lise and Edward’s urging, Artie took adult education courses at Kingsborough Community College. There, he met Isaac Daniel, (“Frisco”) who would be his friend for the next three decades.
Frisco is now a security guard on Wall Street and runs a youth basketball league. “Artie was such a good friend,” he says with a smile. “Whatever was going on in our lives, he always kept things between us so simple. Sometimes he’d tell me, ‘Damn, you got a good job, Frisco. If I wasn’t working at what I do, I’d want to do what you do. I’d just walk around the building like you do and look at pretty women all day.’”
After Artie developed basic reading and writing skills, he enrolled in an art class at Fashion Institute of Technology. “He doodled artistically all the time, and I saw that he had talent,” Lise says. “No one had told him that before. He did well at FIT and that built his confidence even more.”
Then, when Artie turned twenty-one, he asked Edward and Lise if he could change his name to Curry and if they would legally adopt him. “That was important,” he said later. “It erased a lot of negatives. I wanted to honor my parents and I was proud to be a Curry.”
The legalities were concluded at Surrogate’s Court in Brooklyn. The judge told Artie that he’d once presided over the adoption of a forty-year-old nun but that Artie was the second-oldest person to receive the honor. Then, following standard procedure, he gave Artie a lollipop.
At age twenty, Artie took a job in the mailroom at the media conglomerate then known as Time-Life. Co-workers from that era remember him as a soft-spoken young man with a warm smile, a big cuddly bear with no claws. In July 1980, he met another of the people who would change his life.
Curt Viebranz was a newly-minted MBA who had just began work at a fledgling cable company called HBO that was part of the Time-Life empire.
“Artie ran a cart up and down the hall, delivering the mail,” Viebranz recalls. “We both liked talking with people. So when he finished his deliveries, he’d come back to my office and we’d talk. People ask ‘how are you doing’ all the time. Artie really wanted to know. But we also talked about where he was in his life and what he thought he could be. He was eager to better himself. At some point, he wanted to do more than deliver mail.”
“I liked Artie,” Curt continues. “He was such a nice guy and there was a magnetism about him. After he’d been delivering mail for a while, he decided to interview for a job in creative services at HBO. I knew Mary Dickey, who was doing the hiring, put in a word for him, and he got the job.”
“Artie had taken a few courses at FIT, so he had a bit of an art background,” Dickey says, picking up the saga. “Curt thought that creative services would be a good place for him to take an entry-level job as a first step on a career path. One of the things we assigned him to do was create camera-ready mechanicals. This was before everything was done on computers. It was very precise deadline-oriented work, and Artie did it extremely conscientiously. In some ways, he was like a big kid, but he took his responsibilities seriously.”
A big kid. The phrase rang true.
“If you put Artie with a group of children,” Viebranz says, “an hour later, he was the recreation director.” And Dickey recounts a moment that spoke volumes about the kind of person Artie was.
One day, Mary brought her son (who was four years old) to the office. “John disappeared with Artie,” she reminisces. “And by the end of the day, he absolutely adored him. On the way home, I asked what they’d done together, and John told me that Artie had taken him around and introduced him to some of his friends, which meant just about everyone in the building.”
Two of Artie’s “friends” made a particularly favorable impression on John. One was a woman who worked in the cafeteria. Her job was to take used trays off a conveyor belt, dump the garbage, and hand the trays to a man who washed them (John was fascinated by the conveyor belt). The other friend was someone whose job wasn’t as much fun as taking trays off a conveyor belt, but he was “very nice.” John identified him as a man named Michael Fuchs.
That was Artie’s world. He knew everyone in the cafeteria on a first-name basis. Michael Fuchs was the chairman and chief executive officer of HBO.
“Artie was special,” Dickey says. “He made you feel good about yourself. He respected boundaries, but he was always willing to reach across boundaries to shake hands. He never demeaned people. If he played a joke on someone, that person would be laughing too. Everywhere he went, he left something positive behind. There was a light in him that shone on everybody he met. People say that I played a key role in Artie’s life, but he played a key role in my life too.”
Then a problem arose. Potentially, a big one. Computers were making many jobs in creative services obsolete. And at the same time, HBO was experiencing a budget squeeze.
“Artie was on the list of people to be let go,” Viebranz remembers. “Mary and I agreed that justice would not be served if that happened. So I went to Michael Fuchs, and he said, ‘You’re right; let’s keep the guy.’ It’s remarkable, really. Michael was a relatively new CEO. He had so many fish to fry. But not only did he keep Artie; he took the time to look after him and find a place for him at HBO Sports.”
Seth Abraham (then president of HBO Sports) continues the narrative.
“The sports department was very small when Artie started working there,” Abraham says. “It was nothing like what it became later on, and we didn’t really have a job for Artie. But there was always work to be done in production, and I asked Ross [executive producer Ross Greenburg] to find something for Artie to do. Ross had a view of what he wanted his staff to be, and Artie didn’t fit the mold. The work Ross gave him was menial and largely unfulfilling. But it was an opportunity and Artie made the most of it.”
Brien McDonald (who now produces Friday Night Fights for ESPN) remembers those times.
“I met Artie his first day on the job at HBO Sports,” McDonald recalls. “I was a production assistant. Artie had been assigned to work for me. He had no television or production experience, and I had to figure out what he’d do. We didn’t get along at first. We met for the first time in the hallway. Artie seemed very defensive and let me know who he was and who he knew. I was like, ‘I don’t know who you are. I just know you’ve been hired and you’ve got a job to do and I have to show you how to do it.’ We left mad at each other. Later on, I started to understand the sort of person he was. We worked closely together and a real friendship developed. At one point, Artie apologized for that first day. We both remembered it. He told me that he’d been apprehensive and nervous about starting in a new job and he knew that he’d come on too strong. I wish there were more people like Artie sprinkled around the world. I’m sure there are some, but not enough.”
Artie’s primary responsibility in sports production involved clipping newspaper articles. HBO subscribed to newspapers from around the country. His job was to clip items that related to boxing. Then, when the network licensed the rights to televise a fight, he’d gather the relevant articles together and put them in a production folder. Over time, he developed a system that co-workers recall as being organized and very neat. But he didn’t want to clip articles for the rest of his life.
“Artie never complained,” Seth Abraham says. “But after a while, I could see that he wasn’t happy. Lou [HBO Sports vice president Lou DiBella] and I talked about it. Lou was HBO’s point person on boxing at the time. And we decided that, with Artie’s people skills, he was the ideal person to interface with the fighters. He could represent our position to them and, at the same time, explain their needs to HBO. So we moved Artie from production to the business side of things. He began reporting to Lou instead of Ross. And very quickly, he created a totally unique role for himself.”
“Seth never gave Artie anything that he didn’t deserve one hundred percent,” DiBella adds. “And that’s not a knock on Seth, who understood how good Artie was and could be. That’s an expression of admiration for Artie. Anyone who spent any time at all with him knew he was special unless they were a moron. Artie brought out the best in everyone, even the creeps.”
In 1996, Artie assumed the newly-created position of “manager, HBO sports talent relations.” His primary responsibility was described in the corporate manual as “building and maintaining relationships with boxers, support staff, and entourage.”
“I had great teachers,” he later acknowledged. One of them was Janet Indelli, who worked directly for Abraham and, in Artie’s words, “taught me a lot about responsibility and accountability” and how to best make his spirit thrive in a corporate environment.
Indelli, for her part, recalls how, when she and HBO production coordinator Tami Cotel broke up with their respective boyfriends, Artie helped them through those trying, crying times.
“I can see it’s going to be long summer for both of us,” Artie told Janet. Later, he observed, “It’s a good thing that you and Tami didn’t break up at the same time. It might have been too much for me to handle.”
“When you were talking with Artie,” Indelli says, “you always felt that, in that moment, no one else mattered to him. He wasn’t one of those people who’s always looking over your shoulder to see if there’s someone better to talk with.”
In the ensuing years, Artie became part of the fabric of HBO. He had a love affair with the entire company because of the many wonderful people he met there and the opportunities that HBO gave him.
That love was returned in full. The era now thought of as the Golden Age of HBO Sports was also a golden age for Artie. He came into his own when Seth Abraham gave him the responsibility of dealing directly with HBO’s fighters. He had found the place where he was meant to be.
There was a special spirit at HBO Sports in the 1990s. The people who were there, particularly those involved with boxing, were a tightly-knit group and Artie was very much a part of that. It seemed as though someone was always in his office; an eighteen-year-old who had just started in the mailroom or an executive vice president.
“Artie was good for the morale of everyone at HBO,” says Larry Merchant. “I thought of him as a cross between a regular guy, a revered religious figure, and a comic-book action hero. Every time you left him, you felt good about having been in his presence. He could get a smile from anyone.”
Dave Itskowitch (now chief operating officer for Golden Boy Promotions) recalls, “I was twenty-two years old and clueless when I started working at HBO. Artie took me under his wing. Once a week, I’d sit in his office and we’d talk for an hour. It was like therapy for me. If I was stressed, he’d calm me down. If I was sad, he’d cheer me up. I asked myself sometimes, ‘What did I do to deserve this kind of love?’ And after a while, I realized that was Artie. There was no bad in him.”
Jon Crystal met Artie in 1992, when he was a summer intern at HBO. The following year, he began working for the network on a fulltime basis. He’s now a producer for HBO Sports.
“Artie was more than a hug and a handshake,” Crystal says. “He was much deeper than that. You’d talk with Artie about some problem you were having. And a few days later, he’d call and say, ‘I haven’t forgotten what we talked about. I’m still thinking on it.’”
“There was so much life in him,” Crystal continues. “He met my mother for the first time at a screening for an HBO documentary on Arthur Ashe. In a very nice way, he looked her over from top-to-bottom and said, ‘Damn! I’m glad I’m not Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder.’ Artie might have been a foster-care child, but he was the one who adopted people on a weekly basis. Whatever the hierarchy at HBO, we all reported to Artie.”
Thomas Odelfelt, another producer at HBO Sports, says, “You didn’t need to know Artie well to know what a warm people person he was. My office was two doors down from his. It was probably the most traveled corridor at HBO. Everyone would come by to see Artie. I’m surprised they didn’t have to change the carpet on a regular basis.”
“Years ago, we had a hockey team at HBO,” Odelfelt continues. “We played late at night. I was on the team. We were terrible; we lost every game. I mentioned it to Artie. And the next Tuesday night, eleven-thirty, we’re on the ice at Chelsea Piers. The game’s ready to begin. I look up and there’s Artie. Every time I was on the ice, I heard, ‘Thomas, bomaye! Thomas, bomaye!’ [patterned on the chant ‘Ali, bomaye’ shouted in Zaire]. Artie had nicknames for everyone. From that night on, he called me ‘Gretzky.’”
“Artie was goodness,” says Ray Stallone (HBO vice president for sports publicity). “You couldn’t meet a nicer person. There wasn’t a bad bone in his body.”
Artie could relate to anyone, whether it was Reggie (who shined shoes in the office) or the most powerful corporate executives.
Seth Abraham recalls, “Artie understood that people like Jeff Bewkes [HBO’s CEO in the 1990s, now CEO and Chairman of Time Warner], Lou, and I were his bosses. But he was never a sycophant. He straddled the line between deference and friendship perfectly. There was no sense of self-importance about him. He did things quietly and never bragged about his role. People trusted Artie.”
“Artie was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met,” says Mark Taffet (HBO senior vice president, sports operations and pay-per-view). ”And he saw the big picture in life. He asked me once how my son was doing in school. I told him, ‘Great; his grades are good.’ And Artie said, ‘No. How is he doing in school?’”
As Artie’s career progressed, he became a symbol for all of the young men and women in low-level positions at HBO. He stood for the proposition that, since he’d made it, maybe they could make it too. But his reach extended far beyond the walls of Time Warner.
“You couldn’t be in boxing and not know Artie Curry,” Bob Arum observes.
Newcomers to the boxing scene were warmly greeted. Artie would take it upon himself to find out who they were, introduce himself, and make them feel at home. There were no pretensions. He didn’t push himself on people. But he could always find a common thread that enabled him to bond with anyone of any race, creed, color, or station in life.
There were a lot of things that Artie didn’t like about boxing. The shady side of the business and the brutality of the sport were in conflict with his nature. Frisco, who shared similar values, recalls, “In all the years that Artie and I were friends, we never went to a fight together. He asked me lots of times, but I didn’t want to see guys hitting each other. That’s not my thing.”
But Artie loved fighters. Their struggle reminded him of his own.
Artie described his role at HBO Sports as follows: “I’m the hands-on guy with the fighters. Whatever they need, I’m there for them. Part of it is entertainment; taking them to ballgames, shooting pool. But it’s also listening to them, helping them. I’ve been a fighter all my life, so I understand these guys. I’m real with people all the time, so the people who know me trust me. That’s the strength of my position.”
Larry Merchant later observed, “Artie took that job and made it his own. The fighters depended on Artie. Men who were fighting the next night would call him at one o’clock in the morning for inspiration.”
“Artie was the most consistent person I met in boxing,” says George Foreman. “The thing that bothers boxers more than anything else is fair-weather friends. Artie was the same with you whether you were on top of the world or down-and-out. If a boxer was down, Artie still treated him like he was big-time. Come to think of it; Artie treated everyone like they were big-time.”
“Artie could always turn a negative into a positive,” Foreman continues. “If you were down about something, just getting a call from Artie would lift you up. He was always thinking about other people. If he asked me for something, it was always for someone else. Artie would text me from time to time and say, ‘George; so-and-so is down. Why don’t you give him a call.’ Even after I retired from HBO, Artie kept me working. People cared about Artie because he cared about them. And the more you spoke with Artie, the more depth you found. He was very important to me, and I’m not just saying that because he’s gone. Artie was one of my heroes.”
When Roy Jones was HBO’s flagship fighter, Artie was the network’s primary pipeline to Jones. Ten years ago, Roy declared, “Artie Curry is one of the best friends a person could have. He does his job. He’s a true professional, but he’s a whole lot more than that. Sometimes, when it feels like the whole world is against me, Artie will say, ‘Look, brother; keep your head high; do what’s right and everything will be okay.’ And he tells me what he thinks is right, whether or not he agrees with me, which is the way friends should be. Artie is never this way today and another way tomorrow. There’s no slippin’ and slidin’, no games; just straight-up real honesty. The man is family. Artie Curry is a blessing to me.”
“The dude was cool,” Jones says today, elaborating on that theme. “If a person was down, Artie would bend over and pick him up. He was the one guy at HBO that, no matter what, the fighters could go to. He was always there for me, and he was always there for a lot of other people too. You didn’t have to call Artie when there was a problem. He’d call you.”
“The bosses at HBO say we’re a team,” Roy continues. “But they don’t always treat you like teammates. Artie was with you every step of the way. It’s not like, when there was a problem, he favored one side over the other. That’s not the way he was. He just wanted everyone to see the other side’s point of view and help everyone get along.”
Tony Walker (director of affiliate relations for HBO-PPV) recalls a day when Lennox Lewis became aggravated during an HBO production shoot. “Lennox was at his peak as heavyweight champion,” Walker remembers. “And he’s a big guy, very physical. He got up to leave. Artie stood right in front of him and said, ‘No, brother; this is one you’ve got to do.’ And Lennox did it.”
“Oh, yeah; I remember that,” Lennox says with a smile. “HBO had some people getting me ready for an interview and there was a problem. It was a question of my hair and how to present me. Some people aren’t known for tact. I talked to Artie. You could always talk with Artie. And right away, he was on the phone saying, ‘Send someone who knows how to do black hair.’”
“Artie helped a lot of fighters, including me, adjust to HBO and learn how to deal with things that came up along the way,” Lennox notes. “People are complex; people have different personalities. And Artie could always bridge the gap. He’d say, ‘Maybe you aren’t making your point right. Let’s try it a different way.’”
Ronnie Shields was one of Artie’s closest friends in boxing. They often had three-way telephone conversations with Jolene Mizzone of Main Events that lasted for hours.
“I met Artie in 1988,” Shields recalls. “We just hit it off. A lot of people and Artie just hit it off. He was fun to be with, but he had a serious side too. He’d tell you stuff that you didn’t want to hear but he thought you should know. And almost always, he was right.”
“There’d be situations all the time” Shields continues, “where a fighter wouldn’t want to do something and HBO would want him to do it. And the fighter would say, ‘If Artie asks me to do it, I’ll do it.’ So Artie would come down and sit with the fighter. But he wouldn’t just say, ‘I want you to do it.’ He’d explain how, ‘This isn’t only for HBO. It will get you exposure that will make you bigger and get you more money down the road.’ And if you heard that from Artie, you knew it was true. He never acted like he was special, but he was. He wanted to make people happy. That was his joy. Whenever I spent time with Artie, I walked away with a smile.”
“I have two older sisters,” says Shane Mosley. “Artie was like my big brother. When I was younger, he gave me advice about how to conduct myself around HBO staff, how to dress, things like that. If I had a question about anything – life, boxing, whatever – I’d go to Artie. He’d give me his honest opinion, and then he’d do his best to see that things worked out right. He used to tell me, ‘Don’t forget where you came from.’ He was big on that. And he always told me how lucky I am that my mother and father are still in my life; that I should always remember how special that is.”
“We talked about boxing sometimes,” says Winky Wright. “But it was more about life; making sure I didn’t mess myself up. If a fighter did something out of place, Artie would tell him because he cared about us as people, not just as fighters. And it wasn’t just the fighters. Artie showed respect for the little people in boxing; the ones that the suits at HBO don’t even know their name. That’s the way he was with people. Artie showed respect for everyone.”
“Every now and then,” says Mark Breland, “Artie would talk with me about what he went through when he was young. But he never dwelled on it. He was about now and the future and the good things in his life. One time, he saw me; I was walking around with my head down. Artie took one look and asked, ‘What’s the matter, brother.’ I told him, and he started talking to me about life. ‘Things aren’t as bad as you think they are. There’s people that care about you. There’s no problem that you can’t overcome.’ Artie had a way of making you feel good. And I was like, ‘Wow; I can deal with this thing.’ He was always so nice.”
“Artie came to my house in Arkansas,” says Jermain Taylor. “He had this old music that we were listening to. The Temptations, Four Tops, Supremes; stuff like that. Artie got up and did a few dance steps. He was a better person than he was a dancer. But I remember thinking; not that many people at his level take the time to come to your home. Artie made you feel special.”
“To us young guys,” says Juan Diaz, “Artie was a cool old head. He’d call me from time to time to give me words of inspiration and tell me how important it was for me to not get down about things that didn’t go my way. He was one of those people who, just knowing him, makes you appreciate life a little more.”
“Artie had no enemies,” says Oscar De La Hoya. “And in boxing, to have no enemies, you have to be special. One time, he asked me if I’d go out on a double-date with him. He told me that, if I said ‘yes,’ he could get any woman he wanted to go out with him that night. But whether I was up or down in my career, he treated me the same. And when I was down in my life, he was there for me. To us fighters, Artie was The Greatest.”
One of Artie’s closest friends was Brian Adams. They met in 1994, three years before Brian embarked on a ring career that saw him compile a record of 17 wins against 4 losses with 8 knockouts and 1 KO by. Adams now runs the Golden Gloves for the New York Daily News. Artie called him “my little brother.” Brian’s nickname for Artie was “The Wise One.”
“Artie didn’t care about what he got,” Adams says. “It was all about what he could give to you. Some people call to see how you’re doing when they need something. With Artie, it was the opposite. He’d call to see what he could do for you. He didn’t like it when someone came to him with their hand out. But if he saw that you were in need, he’d help you.”
Other people in Artie’s position might have tried to build financially on the friendships that they’d developed with elite fighters. They would have made side deals to steer fighters to a particular promoter or, more ambitiously, tried to establish their own promotional company.
Artie wasn’t like that. He was content with his life the way it was. He had a passion for backgammon and the New York Knicks. He also liked playing basketball. One of his fondest memories involved a pick-up game in which he was guarded by Roy Jones.
“Roy was on me,” Artie recalled. “But he wasn’t guarding me that tight. I put two shots in from the outside and, after the second one, he moved in on me. I got the ball again, put up a jump shot . . . swish! Roy shook his head, smiled at me, and said ‘dang!’ I loved that moment.”
“Every memory I have of Artie is special,” Roy says in response. “Sometimes Artie would call me at three o’clock in the morning. He knew I was up then. He’d tell me, ‘Hey, Jones; I got someone who wants to say “what’s up.” Then whoever it was would get on the phone and they’d be asking, ‘Is this really Roy Jones?’ But because it was Artie who made the call, they’d know it was me.”
Those who knew Artie best also know that he was a “neat freak.” One of his proudest moments came when he bought a two-bedroom apartment with a large terrace in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn with a view overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Once a week, a housekeeper came in to clean the apartment. After she left, Artie would go around, moving everything an inch here or an inch there so it was exactly the way it had been before.
“Artie always said the best way to keep things is to take care of them,” Frisco recalls. “But sometimes he was a bit much. Once, when a girl was staying with him for a weekend, he called me and said, ‘Frisco, she moved the rug in the bathroom when she took a shower and didn’t put it back.’ I told him, ‘Hang in there, buddy. You can make it to Monday.’”
Lise Curry has similar memories and says, “Artie would have women as guests and call me and complain about the mess they were making. I’d say, ‘How much mess can one person make in a weekend?’ And he’d tell me, ‘She’s never coming back.’”
Carmine Gangone owns and operates Carmine’s Pizzeria on Graham Avenue in Brooklyn. He and Artie met in 1996 and became friends. Often, after work, Artie would visit a small bar owned by Jimmy Glenn. He’d have a glass of wine, talk with Jimmy, and take the subway home. Then he’d stop by Carmine’s, which was a few blocks from his apartment.
“We’d sit and talk,” Carmine remembers. “Hours would go by. After a while, everyone in the restaurant – the waiters, the busboys, the other customers – knew him. Artie talked with the old Italian guys, the young hip-hop guys, everyone. When he came by, it was like a movie star coming in.”
“But he did have this thing about neatness,” Carmine acknowledges. “Last year, he gave a party on his terrace so we could see the fireworks on the 4th of July. And the whole time, Artie was walking around with a big plastic bag, asking, ‘Are you done with that beer yet? Throw the can in here.’ You couldn’t even finish your beer. And he kept saying, ‘Damn! You guys are messy.’”
Artie also liked “downtime.” There were occasions when he just wanted to be alone. That was true whether he was in his apartment or surrounded by people. Once, he journeyed to Easton, Pennsylvania, for Larry Holmes’s fiftieth birthday party. It was a festive occasion with boxing personalities sprinkled throughout the crowd. For the entire night, Artie sat on a stool at the end of the bar, alone, with a glass of wine. He was content, thinking and observing, having a good time.
Some people thought of Artie as innocent. He wasn’t. There was an innocence about him, but he also had a way with women and enjoyed their company in many ways. He was engaged twice; once in his mid-thirties (they lived together) and briefly, years later, a second time.
“Artie liked his privacy and he liked his own space,” Brian Adams says. “I think that’s one of the reasons he never got married. He had his own life and his own rhythm. He wasn’t ready for marriage yet.”
But he wanted, someday, to have children.
“Artie loved being around children,” Brien McDonald remembers. “And children knew instinctively that he was warm and safe and good. He definitely wanted to be a father someday, but it was important to him that he not have children out of wedlock. When he had children, he wanted to be a father to them in every sense of the word. In his mind, that also meant being a good husband.”
Thus, Artie’s friends were his family. He was a good listener. People confided in him and he always kept the confidence. He accepted his friends the way they were and didn’t try to change them. He was constantly sending text messages (“If you love someone, you have to let them know you care about them,” he said). And he very quietly sent walking-around money to people who were down on their luck. An envelope would arrive in the mail with a note that made it sound as though the recipient was doing Artie a favor by taking the money rather than the other way around.
Artie didn’t send store-bought cards to commemorate occasions. He’d draw one. He was also a bit of a musician. On birthdays, he’d telephone, play Happy Birthday on the harmonica, and then sing it.
“Family wasn’t about DNA to Artie,” says Lou DiBella. “It was about loyalty and love.”
Of all Artie’s friends, no one was closer to him than Pam Waring (now manager of promotions for HBO Sports).
Pam began work at HBO in 1985 as a secretary in the finance department. She met Artie shortly after she transferred to building maintenance. In 1989, she took a job as a secretary in the sports department. That same year, she and her husband (Kenny) adopted a 17-day-old baby who they named Kevin.
Pam remembers a time when she, Kenny, and Kevin were with Artie and Roy Jones. Kevin had just done well on a difficult test, and Artie was proud of him.
“Tell Roy what you got,” Artie prompted.
“Eighty-five,” Kevin responded.
“Eighty-five,” Roy said. “The only time I saw an eighty-five was on a speeding ticket.”
“Kevin talked with Artie on the phone all the time,” Pam remembers. “If there was something that, for whatever reason, he didn’t feel comfortable talking about with Kenny or me, he talked with Artie.”
Artie, in turn, was thankful that Kevin was in his life. “It gives me a chance to do things I never got to do when I was growing up,” he said.
Over the years, Artie and Pam forged a relationship akin to the bonds between a brother and sister. “He didn’t cook,” she says, “so he came to our house for home-cooked meals all the time. Sundays, he’d come over and watch ballgames on television with Kenny and Kevin. He never had that family setting when he was growing up and he loved being part of a family.”
“I always felt safe when I was with Artie,” Pam continues. “When I was on the road at fights for HBO, I didn’t have to worry about being a woman alone in a strange town because Artie was there to take care of me. We’d eat all our meals together and go sight-seeing together. It got so Kenny started calling Artie my road-husband.”
But Artie lived in the real world. And no matter how harmonious an environment he tried to create, inevitably there were problems.
In early 2000, Lou DiBella left HBO to pursue a career in boxing promotion. Later that year, Seth Abraham departed to become executive vice president and chief operating officer of Madison Square Garden. Ross Greenburg was promoted to the top position at HBO Sports. Kery Davis assumed DiBella’s duties.
Seth had been a father figure to Artie. Lou was akin to a big brother. Artie had suffered more than his share of abandonment during his life, and their leaving added to the hurt.
George Foreman recalls, “The only time I saw Artie down was when Seth Abraham left HBO. Artie loved Seth and he wasn’t sure what it would be like for him after Seth was gone. That was the one time I gave Artie advice. I told him, ‘You’ve made something of yourself at HBO. People at HBO love you. Don’t give all that up because one person isn’t there anymore.’”
Abraham and DiBella understood Artie’s gifts. They’d created a role for him as a liaison between HBO and its fighters, and Artie had performed masterfully. But after their departure, he began to feel marginalized. There was a new attitude at HBO Sports: “We’re paying the fighters a lot of money. They should be happy and do what we want them to do.”
Carmine Gangone recalls, “Artie said that things changed for him when Seth Abraham left. Some of what he did was taken away from him and he understood that he was never going to be treated by the new guys the way he wanted to be treated.”
One incident spoke volumes. In April 2001, when Lennox Lewis fought Hasim Rahman in South Africa, Artie was on the list of HBO personnel slated to meet Nelson Mandela. Then, at the last minute, he was bumped in favor of Kery Davis’s wife. The incident upset him and left him feeling that he was devalued in the eyes of the people who ran HBO Sports.
“Artie was so sad and hurt,” one of his co-workers remembers. “There was nobody in the world he wanted to meet more than Nelson Mandela. It wasn’t that he wanted to tell people, ‘Guess who I met.’ Nelson Mandela had deep meaning to Artie; it was almost spiritual. And something that he had been promised, something important, was taken away from him.”
“This wouldn’t have happened a year ago,” Artie said.
More of Artie’s responsibilities were given to others. He was excluded from the meetings that the HBO announcing team and key production personnel held with fighters on the day before each fight. A new generation of boxers didn’t know him as well as previous generations had. “He was a bigshot who didn’t act like a bigshot,” says Paulie Malignaggi. “I wish I’d gotten to know him better.”
On May 3, 2008, Artie underwent knee-replacement surgery at Beth Israel Hospital in New York. He had a fear of doctors and hospitals but told Ronnie Shields, “I got to do it because I’m tired of limping.”
Frisco recalls, “Artie said to me that, when he was in the hospital, none of the bosses in the sports department called to see if he was okay. That told him a lot.”
There was more to come. On May 28, 2008, Ross Greenburg held a staff meeting. He was upset about leaks to the media (and this writer in particular) and told the dozen-or-so people in attendance that he was going to find out who the “moles” were and “destroy” them. Thereafter, according to sources at HBO, he ordered that the office computers and BlackBerries of five people be seized and searched.
Some of the targets of the searches didn’t seem to fit the profile of people likely to leak information to the media. Their inclusion on the list gave rise to speculation that a secondary purpose of the investigation might have been Greenburg’s desire to learn what people were saying internally about him. It would be instructive to know who in the corporate hierarchy at HBO and Time Warner knew of and approved the searches before they occurred.
The search of Artie’s computer and BlackBerry failed to reveal any improper leaking of information. However, there was an email in which Artie referred to Ross as an “asshole.”
On September 19, 2008, Greenburg called Artie into his office and confronted him with the email. Artie disliked confrontation. But in the face of assault, he would stand his ground. Later, in a moment of anger, he told a friend, “I’m glad they found it. I’m tired of the way Ross is treating me, and I’m tired of pretending one thing and feeling another.”
Still, Artie felt pressure that he hadn’t felt before. And because he was unaware that the computers and BlackBerries of other HBO personnel had been searched, he felt like even more of a target and alone.
Then Artie was confronted with an allegation that he had misappropriated HBO property. Eventually, it was determined that his FedEx account number had been compromised by a third party. But he was subjected to the indignity of being required to explain why he’d sent caps, T-shirts, and other HBO paraphernalia to various people in the boxing industry.
“The HBO family is getting a little dysfunctional,” he said.
Finally, in spring 2009, Artie was told that, in the future as a cost-cutting measure, HBO would only send him to four out-of-town fights a year.
Respect was enormously important to Artie. Respecting other people and being respected. Now he felt that his boss wanted him to quit and was humiliating him in the process.
“The hurt ran deep,” Frisco says. “Artie was so proud to be at HBO. There were so many people there that he loved. And to have one or two people treat him with such disrespect; that bothered him a lot.”
But the hurt was offset by the bonds that Artie shared with countless co-workers and friends. And at one point during his difficulties, he received a telephone call from Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes, who, in Artie’s words, “just called to say hello.” Whether by design or chance, that call lifted his spirits considerably.
On Thursday, April 2nd, after what he regarded as an unsatisfactory meeting with Kery Davis to discuss his future, Artie left the office and went across the street to Bryant Park. There, he called several friends to discuss his situation at HBO. He was at peace with himself and completely comfortable with who he was.
“They will never break my spirit,” he said.
On the afternoon of Saturday, April 4th, Artie and Brian Adams went to see the Yankees play the Chicago Cubs in an exhibition game at the new Yankee Stadium. That night, they partied together. On Sunday morning, Brian received the final text message that he would ever receive from his friend. Sent at 7:56 AM, it read in full, “Everything happens for a reason, my young brother.”
Later that morning, Artie had breakfast with Carmine Gangone at Carmine’s Pizzeria. On Sunday night, he and Frisco had dinner together.
“After dinner, we sat in the park for about an hour-and-a-half,” Frisco remembers. “Artie didn’t say much. He was more quiet than usual, but there were times when Artie liked quiet. You know how it is with a good friend. You can be together and not talk, but you’re happy just sitting together, knowing the other person is there.”
The last thing that Artie said to Frisco in the park was, “Do you remember the days when we just had a dollar in our pocket and how happy we were?”
Frisco drove Artie home. Later that evening, Artie telephoned him and said, “I took some medicine for a foot fungus that’s bothering me and I’m having a bad reaction. I’ll never take this medicine again.”
On Monday, Frisco called Artie at 7:00 AM. “I asked how was he doing,” Frisco says. “Artie told me, ‘I’m okay. I’m starting to feel like myself again.’ But he was breathing hard. And in the back of my mind, I was wondering, ‘Why are you breathing hard if you’re okay?’ So I called him again two hours later and he told me, really, he was starting to feel better, so that was all right.”
At 8:40 PM, shortly before the start of the NCAA basketball championship game between North Carolina and Michigan State, Frisco sent Artie a text message that read, “I hope you’re OK, brother. Love you.”
“After the game, I texted Artie two or three more times,” Frisco says. “But he didn’t answer. I figured maybe he was sleeping. On Tuesday, when I still didn’t hear from him, I started to get nervous. I called and texted and said, ‘Just text me that you’re okay.’ Then I thought, ‘Well, maybe he just wants to be alone.’ But on Tuesday night, I was worrying a lot. On Wednesday, I asked some people if they had heard or seen Artie since Monday, and everyone said no. Carmine and Brian said the same thing, so I went by Artie’s place and spoke to the landlord. He lived on the same floor as Artie, and I begged him to open the door. The landlord said, ‘I can’t let you in.’ I said, ‘I don’t have to go in. You go in and tell me. All I have to know is if my friend is okay.’ I was praying that maybe Artie fell and broke his leg and couldn’t move or he was so sick that he couldn’t call but we could get him to the hospital and he’d be all right.”
The landlord entered Artie’s apartment. Artie was lying in bed. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary except for a glass that had fallen onto the floor. Artie looked to be sleeping. He was dead.
Frisco couldn’t bring himself to call Pam Waring. Instead, he called Carmine, Artie’s mother, and Marvelle Southerland (a friend of Artie’s at HBO). Eventually, Brian Adams called the Warings.
Carmine, Brian, and Lise Curry came to the apartment.
Brian looked at Artie and said to himself, “This isn’t happening. It’s not real.”
Lise refused to believe that Artie was dead until a police officer told her that it was true.
“I cried like a baby,” Frisco says. “I couldn’t stop. I sat there, looking at Artie till two o’clock in the morning; thinking about all the years we spent together, looking over him the way so many times he looked over me. Then they took his body away and I followed the ambulance to the morgue. I don’t know why. I guess I just wanted to make sure he got there safely.”
Artie’s death sent a wave of grief through the boxing community. The news hit particularly hard at HBO, where he’d touched so many lives. Artie was proud of having worked at HBO; and to many, he was the heart and soul of HBO Sports.
On the first World Championship Boxing telecast after Artie’s death, Larry Merchant addressed the tragedy and began his remarks with the words “a good man died young.” He ended in tears. Jim Lampley was also unable to maintain his composure.
On May 13th, the HBO community came together at Madison Square Garden for a memorial service. Jeff Bewkes and Bill Nelson (the current chairman and CEO of HBO) were among those who addressed the gathering.
Now Artie’s friends are reaching out to each other to share memories. There’s a void where he stood, but his mantra (“peace and love, brother; peace and love, sister”) lingers in the mind.
Jon Crystal speaks for many when he says, “It seems like, in death, the outpouring of love has done justice to Artie. And I’m very happy about that. It’s not often that an actual one-of-a-kind person comes into your life. We don’t meet many people like Artie. There aren’t many people like Artie.”
Artie considered himself spiritual, not religious. He didn’t adhere to the rituals and teachings of any one denomination.
“But Artie had God in his heart,” Roy Jones affirms. “He was an angel that God sent to heal souls.”
“Artie is what religion is all about,” says George Foreman. “He was a walking Sunday school lesson. He treated people the way he wanted to be treated. The Golden Rule.”
“Artie opened up his arms and his heart to every person he met,” says Jolene Mizzone. “He gave me a positive mindset and changed how I feel about life.”
“Artie was music,” says Dave Itskowitch. “Right now, I just feel like I haven’t seen him for a while. But he’ll always be with me.”
“Artie was a miracle,” says Lou DiBella. “He conquered a childhood that was full of unimaginably bad things and turned himself into the person he wanted to be. My life is better because I knew Artie.”
And Jim Lampley reminisces, “Several years ago, I asked Artie why he thought we were such good friends. We came from such different worlds. Artie said, ‘Soul,’ – sometimes he called me soul -- he said, ‘Soul; real knows real. It’s as simple as that.’ I’ll go to my grave thinking that, coming from Artie, that’s the highest compliment anyone has ever paid to me.”
“The best memorial I can think of,” says Mary Dickey, “would be if we all tried to be a little more like Artie.”
The beauty of morals is that each person can control his or her own destiny. We’re all at the mercy of external forces. Our personal lives and jobs are dependent in varying degree upon the will of others. Morality is the one area where every person is endowed with absolute power to be the person that he or she wants to be.
Artie Curry understood that principle and made the most of it. He was more than a nice guy. He was an extraordinary spirit who never stopped trying to help other people the way a few special people had helped him find his way.
Reflecting on their thirty-two-year friendship, Frisco says, “Artie’s birthday was on February 18th and mine was February 24th. Every year, we celebrated our birthdays together. Next year was going to be fifty for Artie. That would have been a big one.”
“Artie loved it that he did things his way. I know, if he was here, he’d tell everyone, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me because I had a great life.’ I keep saying that to myself so I’ll feel better. But I’m hurting because he’s gone.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* A scholarship fund in Arthur Curry’s honor has been established at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. Contributions in support of this worthwhile endeavor should be made payable to “St. Francis College - Arthur Curry Scholarship Fund” and sent to Sharon L. Kerrigan, Vice President for Development & Alumni Affairs, St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201, USA.
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