'Irish' Bobby Cassidy, pro boxer from Levittown, dies at 78
He was known as "Irish" Bobby Cassidy, the hard-punching pride of Levittown who at one time was the No. 1-ranked contender for the World Boxing Council light heavyweight title.
Cassidy was scheduled to fight for the title at Nassau Coliseum in 1975, but the fight fell through when his opponent was injured before the bout. He never received another title shot, and the crowd-pleasing southpaw finished his boxing career with a 59-16-3 record and 27 knockouts.
“Bobby was boxing on Long Island,” said Gerry Cooney, former heavyweight boxing contender from Huntington. “He paved the way for boxers on Long Island and New York. He was a real fighter. Very, very tough. I loved Bobby.”
Cassidy's wife, Becky Cassidy, said her husband suffered a stroke in 2020 and had dementia for more than a year. Cassidy died on Sunday. He was 78.
“I loved him so much,” Becky Cassidy said. “We’d been married 10 years, but it seemed like a lifetime. We were perfect for each other.”
Cassidy moved to Levittown from Queens at age 4 and graduated from Division High School in 1961. His son, Bobby Cassidy Jr., who is Newsday's executive director of multimedia, said his father's boxing career started after a series of street fights landed him in front of a Nassau County judge.
“My dad was told to go to a boxing gym or else the next time he saw the judge, he'd go to jail," Cassidy Jr. said. "He was 19 years old at the time and went to the Physical Arts Gym in Hempstead where he met trainer Johnny Sullo.”
Cassidy started training for the Golden Gloves, but the 1962 tournament was canceled due to a strike at the New York Daily News, which sponsored the tournament. He made the unusual move of turning professional without an amateur fight. He made his pro debut at Sunnyside Garden in Queens on March 19, 1963. He knocked out Bobby Noble in 39 seconds.
In a 1963 Newsday article by Bob Waters about Cassidy's decision to turn pro, Cassidy's manager John O'Rourke said, “He’d have won the Golden Gloves last year but there weren't any Golden Gloves. And anyway, he was good enough to turn pro, so I turned him pro.”
At the time, Madison Square Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner was asked to assess the future of a kid entering pro boxing without an amateur fight. "He's a million-to-one shot," Brenner said.
Cassidy defied those odds. He fought from 1963 to 1980 and was rated in the top 10 as a junior middleweight, middleweight, light heavyweight and cruiserweight. Among the top fighters he beat were Don Fullmer, Isaac Logart and Christy Elliott. In 1973, he fought Jimmy Dupree three times, winning one, losing one, and battling to a draw. He headlined cards at the old and new Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum and the Long Island Arena in Commack.
Cassidy Jr. said his father's greatest disappointment was that he never got a shot at the world title. Cassidy fought five fighters who challenged for the title and beat four of them.
In 1975, boxing promoter Don King signed Cassidy to challenge WBC light heavyweight champion John Conteh at the Nassau Coliseum, but Conteh broke his hand in a tuneup fight a few months before. Cassidy instead took a fight with Ramon Ranquello, which he lost.
According to The Ring magazine, Cassidy was among the top ticket-sellers of his era. He had a legion of Levittown fans who followed all his fights.
“When I was a kid, me and my brother Chris would walk to the Village Green and hang his fight posters in all of the stores,” said Cassidy Jr. “It was an amazing childhood. We'd go to church, we'd go to the diner, it didn't matter where we went, people would ask him for his autograph or just want to shake his hand."
Said Chris, “Our dad was supportive of everything we did. He took me to my first several job interviews as a freelance photographer. He wanted us to be happy in what we were doing. He didn’t want us to box because it was a rough life.”
Cassidy would forge friendships with a wide range of people who had come to see him fight, including actors Burt Young and James Caan and former congressman Peter King of Seaford. Young helped Cassidy land a part in the original "Rocky" movie and would occasionally work in Cassidy's corner.
Cassidy was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in New Jersey, Florida and New York.
“I gave his induction speech for the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017,” King said. “He had come from a rough upbringing, found himself on the wrong side of the law and got into trouble. He’d really straightened himself out and turned his life around. He was well respected within Nassau County and got involved with different youth groups and impacted so many lives in a positive manner. And despite the tough knocks in his life, he never pretended to be a saint and proved you could overcome those days.”
Cassidy was convicted of perjury and insurance fraud in separate cases after he left boxing and spent 13 months in prison.
Cassidy Jr. said his father quit drinking in 1975 and started helping other inmates who were struggling with alcohol and addiction while in prison. After his release, Cassidy was hired by the Nassau County jail with help from Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, who twice prosecuted Cassidy. Cassidy worked for the jail for 10 years.
Cassidy also worked as a boxing trainer. He led two fighters to the world title. The first was WBC light heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde in 1987 and then WBO middleweight champion Lonnie Bradley in 1995. He also trained Rocky Point's Peggy Donovan Ward to a Golden Gloves crown in 1995, the first year women competed in the tournament.
“He was one of the best trainers,” Bradley said. “He said the little things that made a big difference."
Cassidy is survived by his wife, Becky Cassidy, of Levittown, his brother, Neil Cassidy of Florida, son Robert Jr. and daughter-in-law Leslie Cassidy of Wantagh, son Chris Cassidy and daughter-in-law Shelley Lapcevic of Maplewood, New Jersey, and grandchildren Kristen, Matthew, Finn and Rose.
A viewing will be held Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Thomas Dalton Funeral Home, 2786 Hempstead Tpke., Levittown. There is a funeral mass Monday at St. Raphael Catholic Church in East Meadow at 9:45 a.m., with burial to follow at St. Charles Cemetery on Pinelawn Road, Farmingdale.