Emanuel Steward, who built Detroit's Kronk Gym from a local recreation center into a boxing powerhouse, died after a sudden illness. The Hall of Fame trainer, who also was celebrated for his work as an HBO boxing analyst, was 68.
Steward was hospitalized in September and underwent surgery for what his sister, Diane Steward Jones, described as diverticulitis, a disorder of the digestive system. Many associates, though, said it was cancer. Victoria Kirton, Steward's executive assistant, confirmed his death at a Chicago area hospital to The Associated Press afternoon.
A former national bantamweight champion as an amateur boxer, Steward was working for Detroit Edison as an electrician when he became a part-time boxing coach at the Kronk Gym in 1971. Lightweight Hilmer Kenty became Steward's first world champion in 1980, but he rocketed to prominence as the cornerman for welterweight Thomas (Hitman) Hearns on the way to a legendary fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981.
"I remember him training with Tommy right up to the day before the fight," said Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, who handled public relations for that fight while working with her late husband Dan. "It was unconventional. We were worried about an injury. Dan was holding his breath."
Hearns lost that fight but went on to a great career in which he won titles all the way up to light-heavyweight. Along with fellow Kronk champions Mike McCallum and Milton McCrory, the gym's red and yellow jackets with blue lettering became a fixture on the fight scene and attracted many other fighters to work with Steward.
Known as a clever strategist, Steward worked with a long list of champions rated among the best of their time, including Oscar De La Hoya, Julio Cesar Chavez, Wilfred Benitez, Miguel Cotto and Michael Moorer, but he also enjoyed some of his greatest success with heavyweight champions Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko and Evander Holyfield.
"I will miss our time together," Klitschko said in a statement. "The long talks about boxing, the world, and life itself. Most of all I will miss our friendship."
One of the most accessible major figures in boxing, Steward was enormously popular with the media. As Duva said, "He was a nice, positive spirit. To have a personality like that was an asset. When you asked him to do all those interviews, it was always, 'Whatever you need.' He did a good job of explaining the sport on HBO and making it accessible."
Steward was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997, and while he continued to train, his television career with HBO was launched in 2001.
"There are no adequate words to describe the enormous degree of sadness and loss we feel at HBO Sports with the tragic passing of Manny Steward," Ken Hershman, president of HBO Sports, said in a statement. "Manny was a respected colleague who taught us so much, not only about the sweet science, but also about friendship and loyalty. His energy, enthusiasm and bright smile were a constant presence. Ten bells do not seem enough to mourn his passing."