Ken Norton in MANDINGO
Ken Norton in MANDINGO

Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton passed away today at the age of 70.

The former WBC World Heavyweight Champion was best known for his 12-round victory in March 1973 over Muhammad Ali, when he broke Ali's jaw during the fight.

Despite his prowess and remarkable physique, as you can tell from the photo above, Norton had been in ill health during his few last years, weakened by a series of strokes.

But, of course, for a lot of people (brothers especially) when they think of Norton, it’s not for his skills in the boxing ring but instead his role as the slave Ganymede, or simply just Mede, in Richard Fleischer’s brilliant, lurid and  violent 1975 antebellum anti-epic Mandingo.

Before Django Unchained and 12 Years A Slave and even Roots, there was Mandingo.

I’ve been meaning to write am extended piece on the film that I perversely  love to death (I even have the blu-ray) and I still plan to one day, but if you have seen the film, then you klnow that it is the clear inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Django.

The film tells the story of a depraved father and son team (James Mason and Perry King) who don’t raise crops, but instead breed slaves to sell to other plantations. The decrepit, rotten, festering plantation they live in mirrors their own rotting, festering depraved souls, which all slave owners had.

Throw in insanity, perversion and even incest and you have a very volatile mix. The film is the perverted, repulsive, and one can argue, more accurate, other side of the usual Hollywood portrayal of “genteel” plantation life in the South, such as  Gone with the Wind, Song of the South and Raintree County.

However, when the son buys Mede at a slave auction it sets off a chain of events that eventually leads to the entire downfall of the family.

Norton himself, one can rightly say, wasn’t much of an actor and, not surprisingly, his acting career didn’t go any further than Mandingo, but his powerful presence alone  was more than enough.

I still vividly remember the first time I saw the film in the theater when it first came out (yes, I was around even back then) and when the BIG SCENE happens when Norton and the white wife of the son (Susan George) finally have sex (they almost leaped into bed), literally every black guy in the theater was so caught up in the film they all jumped out of their seats applauding and screaming: “YEAH! YEAH! RIGHT ON! RIGHT ON!”

Yes I know sisters are going to be upset when they read this, but what can I say? It was a different time and a different place back then. All I can tell you is that you had to be there.

All right, maybe not.

But I can’t think of another film that has gotten brothers so riled up until, maybe, Django or Goodbye Uncle Tom, which was actualy banned in some cities when riots occured after filmmgoers saw the film.

What can I tell you?  I love this film. And no you can’t borrow my blu-ray. Get your own. God speed Ken Norton.

Here’s the trailer: