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Nino Benvenuti, Boxer SEPTEMBER 25, 1967

Nino Benvenuti remembers the day in November 1995 when he decided
to change his life. The former matinee idol, who won a gold medal
in front of his countrymen at the Rome Olympics in 1960 and later
held the world middleweight title for most of three years, had
been beating himself up, guilt-ridden that for all his success in
and out of the ring, he hadn't done enough to help others. "I
felt I had so much more to give," he says. "I wasn't at peace
with myself. I wanted to do something to test myself."

Benvenuti, who'd been working as a boxing commentator, traveled
from Rome to Madras, India, volunteering to work for a church-run
charity as a caretaker for sick and poor people. When word came
after his first week there that members of the Italian press were
coming to see him, he fled seven miles by bicycle into the woods,
to Pope John's Garden, a leper colony run by the sisters of St.
Charles Borromeo and one that, Benvenuti says, even many doctors
and priests avoided for fear of contracting leprosy. For three
months Benvenuti bathed, bandaged and befriended the patients,
including a man named Amin, who used to kiss his hand each
morning and follow him around throughout the day. "Amin was
always smiling," says Benvenuti, 65. "I asked him why, and he
said because he was the fortunate one; others with the disease
didn't have medical care. I went there to shed some guilt. I
returned a rich man, rich in a way no money in the world can make

Benvenuti had already lived a bountiful life. He won two of his
three memorable title bouts against Emile Griffith in the 1960s
and was known as a refined boxer who read modern literature,
listened to Beethoven and trained at a gym in Bologna that was
adorned with Renoir reproductions and a carpeted marble
staircase. While still boxing, he served briefly on the Trieste
city council on a neo-Fascist ticket, saying that it was the only
party supporting the cause of the people from Istria, a
historically Italian region that was given to Yugoslavia after
World War II. But after being booed at bouts, he resigned his
post and renounced the party. Toward the end of his career he
costarred in a spaghetti Western, Alive or Preferably Dead, and
started an aluminum-production business, which he sold after 18
months. After retiring in 1971 with a career record of 82-7-1, he
appeared in commercials for Cinzano beverages.

These days Benvenuti lives with his second wife, Nadi, in Rome,
where he hosts a weekly television show called Non Solo Calcio
(Not Only Soccer) and runs a company that organizes sporting
events. He's also in negotiations with an Italian TV network to
make a movie based on the autobiography he wrote two years ago,
entitled Il Mondo in Pugno (The World in Your Fist). Earlier this
year he launched a program through the Italian Boxing Federation
to teach the basics of the sport to students in 12 high schools
in Rome. In other words, he's still giving. --Brian Cazeneuve

COLOR PHOTO: HERB SCHARFMAN BRAVO Benvenuti's rich life story may soon be a movie.


The former world champion, who enjoyed modern literature and
classical music, now hosts a sports highlights show in Rome.