Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer who was wrongly convicted of murder and inspired a massive campaign to see to his release, has died, according to several reports. His plight inspired Bob Dylan song “Hurricane” and Denzel Washington-starrer “The Hurricane.” He was 76.
According to The New York Times, the cause of death was prostate cancer, which he had been battling for some time. He died Sunday morning in his Toronto home.
Carter was a crowd-pleasing boxer, known for his charisma and fierce left hook, and earned a world title fight in 1964, which he narrowly lost. However, his boxing career was cut short when he was charged of killing and shooting two men and a woman in Paterson, New Jersey in 1966. His was eventually released on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct and the determination that he did not get a fair trial, but spent 19 years in prison beforehand.
His murder charges thrust him to center of a worldwide campaign championing his innocence. A defense committee organized for the cause, comprised of many political and famous faces at the time. He was described by Amnesty International as a “prisoner of conscience.”
Involved in the long legal battles were allegations of racial bias against Carter, along with recanted testimony and a failed prosecution appeal. There were times when it seemed his legal battles could not be won, but he still attracted legions of supporters. Carter himself spoke out for civil rights and against police brutality.
Bob Dylan furthered the cause greatly when he released the song “Hurricane,” which spoke for Carter’s innocence against the police. In 1976, it became a Top 40 hit. The song came after two witnesses recanted their testimonies in 1974 and his trial became a major civil rights issue.
His pop culture influence surfaced again years later in 1999, when his life was made into a film, “The Hurricane.” Washington starred as Carter in the Norman Jewison-directed movie, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal. Carter also released an autobiography, “The 16th Round,” in 1974 while in prison.
Carter was released for good in 1985 with the help of Canadian activists. Prosecutors chose not to pursue a third trial.
Carter became a strong advocate for the wrongly convicted after his release. He served as the executive director of Toronto-based Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, a post he held for 12 years. He also founded Innocence International in Toronto, a nonprofit organization which worked to free prisoners the org considered to be wrongfully convicted.
Carter is survived by his two children.