Arturo Gatti's suicidal past revealed

CBC News has learned that Canadian boxer Arturo Gatti exhibited suicidal tendencies years before his 2009 death in Brazil, just one of several discoveries casting doubts on a private investigation that concluded he was murdered.

Canadian boxer attempted and threatened suicide

Arturo Gatti led a troubled life for years before his death. (Al Bello/Getty)

CBC's The Fifth Estate has learned that Canadian boxer Arturo Gatti exhibited suicidal tendencies years before his 2009 death in Brazil, just one of several discoveries casting doubts on a private investigation that concluded he was murdered.

Was it a tragic love story or a murder mystery?

For the full story, watch The Fifth Estate on Friday at 9 p.m. (9:30 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador).

Questions have swirled about whether the three-time world boxing champion hanged himself or was slain by his wife ever since his body was discovered on July 12, 2009, in the Brazil hotel room where he was vacationing with his wife, Amanda Rodrigues, and their infant son, Arturo Jr.

Brazilian authorities originally declared it murder and arrested Rodrigues in her husband's death. She was held in custody for nearly three weeks before an autopsy determined Gatti had committed suicide by hanging himself with his wife's purse strap.

Private investigators hired by Gatti's friends, however, concluded in a 300-page report that Gatti was murdered.

But The Fifth Estate has discovered that key facts were missing from the report.

"There are three investigations going on here," says The Fifth Estate's Bob Mckeown. "The Brazilians ruled it was suicide, the investigators hired by Arturo's friends said it was murder, and then there was ours. And we'll tell you what neither of the others did. Then — murder or suicide — you can make up your own mind."  

In court documents filed in 2006, a former girlfriend Gatti was living with at the time stated that he had "attempted suicide by overdosing on cocaine, alcohol and prescription drugs" the year prior. 

Hospital records from New Jersey, a state the Montrealer temporarily called home, say that Gatti arrived at an emergency department in an "unresponsive" state, testing positive for cocaine and alcohol.

Longtime friend Mario Costa told The Fifth Estate that a year earlier, in 2004, Gatti also threatened to commit suicide during a late-night visit to his home.

"He says, 'Please give me my gun,'" said Costa. "I was afraid. I had my gun there but I told him I don't have my gun.… I believe if I gave him my gun that night, he would probably blow his head off right in front of me. That's how bad he was."

A civil lawsuit over Gatti's estate, valued at $3.4 million, is currently before a judge in Montreal.

At the centre of the legal dispute are two wills Gatti left behind. The first, dated 2007, leaves Gatti's fortune to his mother, brother and a daughter from a previous relationship. However, the family has been unable to produce a signed copy of that will, leaving its legal status in question.

The other will, signed weeks before his death, leaves everything to Rodrigues and their son. The family maintains Gatti was pressured by his wife to draw up the new will. 

A Montreal notary who wrote the couple's wills, however, disputed that in his court testimony. Bruce Moidel said he suggested new wills be drafted once he learned of the couple's overseas vacation plans.

A troubled past

Gatti's family members interviewed by The Fifth Estate maintain that he was killed.

"I didn't believe it was a suicide," said his brother, Fabrizio. "I believe my brother got murdered. And you know what, nobody's gonna change my mind."

Shortly after Gatti was buried, his family had the body exhumed so a Quebec coroner could perform a second autopsy. More than two years later, its results have still not been released.

Gatti's widow, Amanda Rodrigues, was initially held by Brazilian police on suspicion of murdering her husband but they later deemed his death a suicide. ((Graham Hughes/Canadian Press))

Several friends of the former boxer, who was nicknamed Thunder, say Gatti partied as hard as he fought inside the ring and lived a troubled life long before his death.

"He lived in go-go bars," said Costa. "His life had no structure whatsoever. He would get up, he would say his breakfast was three Percocets and then he would go to these bars."

Gatti had overdosed on painkillers, engaged in numerous brawls with strangers and had run-ins with police. He was arrested for driving under the influence in three states and his driver's licence was cancelled for 10 years.

Gatti's former manager, Pat Lynch, acknowledges there were some troubles, but denies they were serious.

"We did seek help," said Lynch. "I did speak to him … but I don't think it was to the point where some people have blown it up to be."

Text messages between the three-time boxing champion and his wife, obtained by The Fifth Estate, reveal Rodrigues' growing anger over Gatti's drinking. The couple's relationship was on the rocks and their trip to Brazil was intended as a second honeymoon.

On the eve of Gatti's death, July 11, 2009, an argument broke out between the two.

Witnesses told CBC's The Fifth Estate that Gatti pushed Rodrigues to the pavement outside a nightclub and then ended up fighting with people in the street before he finally returned to the hotel.

Rodrigues says when Gatti arrived at the hotel, she took Arturo Jr. from his hands and turned to go up the stairs to the second floor of the suite. "And he said, 'So I guess it's over.' I look behind and say, 'Yeah, it's over.' Because at that moment, that's how I felt."

She says she discovered him dead on the floor the next day.

For more on the story, watch CBC's The Fifth Estate on Friday at 9 p.m. on CBC-TV and 9:30 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador.