Officials in Nicaragua have ruled the death of Hall of Fame great Alexis Argüello a suicide following an autopsy yesterday. The triple crown champion, who was 57, was found dead in his home just outside of Managua early Wednesday morning. Dr. Zacarias Duarte, Director of the Institute of Forensic Medicine, reported that Argüello shot himself in the chest with a 9mm pistol.
Argüello, whose battles with depression and substance abuse were widely documented, lived a turbulent life outside of the ring. “Everybody has to go through their own hell in order to see if you are willing to come out of it,” he told The Nica Times in 2007.
His last year of life was no less tempestuous than those that preceded it. In November 2008, Argüello was hospitalized for undisclosed reasons during his mayoral campaign. He was registered under a false name at Carlos Roberto Huembes Hospital in Managua where medical staff denied his presence to reporters on site. Argüello recovered and went on to win the mayoralty with only 51.3% of the vote in an election marred by accusations of fraud and corruption. Ballot-rigging and intimidation were some of the methods allegedly used by Sandinista supporters to manipulate the election. In addition, polls were reportedly shuttered before official closing time.
The United States, along with several members of the European Union, suspended financial aid to Nicaragua because of voting impropriety. Riots and violent demonstrations broke out in the wake of the election results, with supporters of the defeated Conservative Liberal Party clashing in the streets with FSLN adherents.
Despite international outrage, the Supreme Electoral Council, controlled by President Daniel Ortega, ratified the vote without a recount and Argüello was sworn in as mayor of Managua.
While in office Argüello was accused of misappropriating 180 million cordobas (approximately $9 million) from public works projects, pushing through illegal pork barrel earmarks and misusing municipal funds for private travel. Argüello was also under investigation for allegedly using a public loan of 1.8 million cordobas (approximately $90,000) to build a home in Valle de Ticomo while he was Deputy Mayor of Managua from 2004 to 2007.
Argüello denied any wrongdoing.
These ongoing investigations and accusations, however, painted his mayoralty as a continuation of historically crooked government practices. According to the 2008 Corruption Perception Index issued by Transparency International, Nicaragua is ranked as the most corrupt nation in Central America and is ranked 134th out of 183 nations listed on the Index.
Still, Argüello was an idol to Nicaraguans. His thrilling achievements in the ring, combined with a numinous grace and a genuine love of his country, gave Argüello a cultural status surpassed only by Augusto Cesar Sandino and, perhaps, Ruben Dario. Thousands crowded the streets to say goodbye to Argüello in a chaotic procession on Friday. Sirens, whistles, and car horns pealed through the day, and the hearse carrying Argüello to Memorial Gardens Cemetery was followed by motorbikes, bicycles, pickup trucks, and stragglers on foot.
“I cannot believe how much the people loved my father,” said Alexis Argüello, Jr.
With his good looks, charm, professionalism, and consummate skill, Argüello was one of the superstars of boxing during its last heyday in the 1980s and a symbol of opportunity to Nicaraguans. A crushing knockout of Ray Mancini in 1981 made Argüello a household name in America, and his breathtaking first fight with Aaron Pryor, before a crowd of nearly 24,000 at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, was, like Argüello himself, the stuff of legends.
Originally published on July 4, 2009.