This Day in Boxing August 31, 1969 Marciano Dies
Rocky Marciano, 46, dies in an airplane crash in Iowa
Rocky Marciano (born Rocco Francis Marchegiano; September 1, 1923 – August 31, 1969) was an undefeated American professional boxer and the World Heavyweight Champion from September 23, 1952, to April 27, 1956. Marciano is the only person to hold the heavyweight title without a bout tie or defeat during his entire career. Marciano defended his title six times, against Jersey Joe Walcott, Roland La Starza, Ezzard Charles (twice), Don Cockell, and Archie Moore. Marciano had a short, blazing career usually accustomed to pressure fighters, and at the end of it he retired with a record of 49-0, a record which stands to this day.
Known for his relentless style, incredible stamina and a cast iron chin, Marciano has been ranked by many boxing historians as one of the best heavyweight boxers of all time. He was also known for his ferocious punching power, for a man of just 190 pounds; his knockout percentage of 87.75 is one of the highest in heavyweight history.
On August 31, 1969, on the eve of his 46th birthday, Marciano was a passenger in a small private plane, a Cessna 172 headed to Des Moines, Iowa. It was at night and bad weather had set in. The pilot, Glenn Belz, had only 231 total hours of flying time, only 35 of them at night, and was not certified to fly in instrument meteorological conditions. Belz tried to set the plane down at a small airfield outside Newton, Iowa, but hit a tree two miles short of the runway. Flying with Marciano, in the back seat, was Frankie Farrell, 28, the oldest son of Lew Farrell, a former boxer (with alleged mob ties) who had known Marciano since childhood. Marciano, Belz and Farrell were killed on impact. The National Transportation Safety Board report said, “The pilot attempted an operation exceeding his experience and ability level, continued visual flight rules under adverse weather conditions and experienced spatial disorientation in the last moments of the flight.” Marciano was on his way to give a speech to support his friend’s son and there was a surprise birthday celebration waiting for him. He had hoped to return in the early morning for his 46th birthday celebration with his wife. He was coming from a dinner in Chicago at STP CEO Andy Granatelli’s home.
He is interred in a crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His wife, who died five years after him at the age of 46, is entombed next to him. His father died in March 1972 and his mother in early January 1986.