CBC Digital Archives

The biggest fight of George Chuvalo's life

George Chuvalo is the greatest Canadian Heavyweight champion of all-time. Noted for his toughness, he fought all the greats and nobody – not Joe Frazier, George Foreman or even Muhammad Ali – ever knocked him out. Outside the ring, however, life dealt Chuvalo several crushing body blows: he lost three sons to drug addiction and his wife to suicide. Yet, just like in the ring, Chuvalo has refused to go down by using his story of personal pain to help others fight drug addiction. Remarkably George Chuvalo, the People's Champion, is still standing.

media clip
George Chuvalo was considered a tough guy in the ring, able to absorb punishment like few boxers of his generation. But that couldn't prepare Chuvalo for the macabre series of tragedies that would dog him away from the ring. Drug addiction cost him two sons and he lost his wife to suicide. Despite all this, Chuvalo is still standing, an astonishing testament to the resilience and perseverance of the human spirit.

By the mid-80s, three of George's four sons were heroin addicts and regulars of Toronto's hardcore drug scene. They turned to crime to support their habit while their father chased after them around the city. Unable to deal with his addiction any longer, George's son Jesse shot himself in 1985. In this gripping CBC Television clip, a tearful Chuvalo recalls Jesse's suicide: "It's like everything you breathe in is grief.[and] you just can't believe your son is dead. You just can't believe your son has died."

In 1993 tragedy rocks the Chuvalo family again. George Lee, just days after being released from prison, is found dead in a seedy Toronto hotel with a needle sticking in his arm. His death is ruled an overdose but Mitch Chuvalo, one of George's two surviving sons, says George Lee wanted to die. "He often told us before 'I want to be with my brother Jesse.' Imagine wanting to die to be with your brother?" says an emotionally distraught Mitch.

But the pain and suffering of the Chuvalo family didn't end there. Two days after George Lee's funeral, George's wife Lynn wrote a suicide note and took an overdose of pills as she lay down on her dead son's bed. Mitch Chuvalo: "I think she poured so much hope, so much of her life into her children's lives that when the natural order was upset, when her two children died, she died. She was just crushed."

George's other surviving son, Steven, is in jail for theft and armed robbery. In this clip, George visits Steven in prison on his 35th birthday and they share a tender hug. Steven has only five months left on his sentence and feels reborn as a result of his father's unconditional love. "My father's never given up hope on me.[and] I think to myself I've got to be better, I've got to be well for him and the rest of my family." 
• On Aug. 17, 1996 -- eight months after this the fifth estate clip first aired -- Steven Chuvalo died of a drug overdose. His sister Vanessa broke into his apartment and found his dead body slumped over a table with a syringe hanging out of his arm.

• George and Lynn Chuvalo were married in 1959 and had five children: Steven, George Lee, Mitch, Jesse and Vanessa.

• In 1994 George Chuvalo remarried.   His second wife Joanne was a friend and a co-worker of George's first wife Lynn.
Medium: Television
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: Dec. 5, 1995
Guest(s): George Chuvalo, Mitch Chuvalo, Steven Chuvalo
Reporter: Trish Wood
Duration: 11:02

Last updated: July 8, 2014

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

1957: Canadian ambassador jumps to his death ...

Noted author E. Herbert Norman commits suicide after a U.S. Senate Committee accuses him of be...

Still Standing: The People's Champion George ...

George Chuvalo is the greatest Canadian Heavyweight champion of all-time. Noted for his toughn...

1987: Margaret Laurence dies at 60

On Jan. 5, 1987, after months of coping with advanced lung cancer, Margaret Laurence takes her...

Bob Hazleton: The price of 'roid rage'

Bob Hazelton lost a fight to George Foreman. Then he lost his legs, and nearly his mind, to st...

A true survivor: Mitch Chuvalo

The oldest son of George Chuvalo has gone down a different life path than that of his brothers...

Roméo Dallaire: The ghosts of Rwanda

Dallaire discusses his private struggle with demons, depression and post-traumatic stress diso...