The last time Jack Quarry saw his son Jerry was before Christmas 1997. They went for their daily morning walk, and Jerry sang the song he sang every time they walked together. “Whatcha going to do when the well runs dry?”
The well ran dry for Jerry Quarry on Sunday. The former heavyweight contender died in Templeton, Calif., at the age of 53 after being taken off life support. He had been hospitalized with pneumonia Dec. 28, then had a heart attack.
Jack Quarry, 76, got the call at his Savage, Md., home shortly before dinner Sunday. He thought about that song and his last days with his son. It was a silly song, the kind of song a kid would sing, Jack said.
But Jerry didn't sing songs to his father when he was a kid. He and his brother Mike, who went on to be a light heavyweight contender, followed their father, a former fighter who was training boxers, to a Los Angeles gym.
"I didn't play basketball or football or ride bikes or anything like that," Jack said. "I was a fighter, and I trained fighters. There wasn't much else I could teach him but boxing. I couldn't teach him Einstein's theory of relativity."
At the end, though, Jerry didn't remember much of what his father taught him about boxing. He didn't remember much, period, save for that song he learned somewhere along the way.
"He would sing it three, four times a day," Jack said. "He was in his own world."
Jerry Quarry was taken off life support Sunday, but his flame was dimming for quite some time, a victim of severe brain damage caused by too many blows to the head in the ring.
"I gave him the push," Jack said. "I guess I shouldn't have."
It was a push that left the Quarry family in ruins. Mike suffers from the same dementia pugilistica, and Robert, nearly 20 years younger than Jerry, also became a fighter and took a beating that left him damaged as well.
Jerry listened closely to his father's boxing lessons. He learned the Quarry way, what Jack called the family motto: There's no quit in a Quarry.
He learned those lessons too well. He never quit in the ring when he was taking beatings from Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Even when it was clear his brain was damaged, he tried to come back in 1992 in Colorado. There is no license needed in that state to take a beating, which he did for six rounds from some club fighter - 22 years after the man who wrote the Quarry family motto asked him to quit.
Jerry was a bloody mess in the Ali comeback fight in Atlanta in 1970, losing when the fight was stopped in three rounds. Jack had seen enough.
Jerry had been at the top of the heavyweight division during the three-year void when Ali was forced out for refusing induction into the armed services. The 6-foot, 195-pound fighter had a powerful left hook and was willing to take some blows to deliver it. He had beaten Floyd Patterson and Earnie Shavers, and he barely lost a 15-round decision to Jimmy Ellis for Ali's vacant title in 1968.
But when Jerry faced Ali in 1970, the heavyweight division was about to enter the Ali-Frazier era, a level at which Jack knew his son couldn't compete anymore.
"It was just survival after that," Jack said. "He was too tough for his own good. I told him he should quit. He kept getting cut, like he did in that fight, and I knew it would be one cut after another.
"He had a lot of money then, and I told him to buy a service station or a McDonald's or something. I said, `Jerry, you can't go on like this or pretty soon you'll be walking on your heels.' "
He didn't listen, though. It is the curse of fighters. The piece of them that gives them the courage to get into the ring blinds the sense of timing of when to leave. Patterson now suffers from the same dementia, and Ali is stricken with Parkinson's disease. Neither could hear the bell until it was too late.
Jerry continued to fight until he was walking on his heels, losing his balance, forgetting who he was and the others around him. He struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, and by the time he was 38, Jerry, who had a pro record of 53-9-4, was living on social security checks.
Jack and Jerry parted company after that first Ali fight - Jerry would fight Ali again, taking a longer beating this time, losing in seven rounds two years later - and their falling out would take its toll on Jack and his family. At one point, Jack Quarry put a gun barrel in his mouth and tried to kill himself. The .357 magnum misfired, and Jack took it as a sign he should build a new life for himself.
It took a long time for Jack and Jerry to be father and son again. A little more than a year ago, Jack went to California and lived with Jerry for several months. "We enjoyed our time together," Jack said. "We used to take walks every day. He used to tease me that I couldn't keep up with him. And he would sing that song."
The well ran dry way too early for Jerry Quarry, who sadly learned how to fight before he learned how to sing.