The Inspiration for Rocky Balboa Died in Iowa
One of Iowa's unfortunate claims to fame is the death of Buddy Holly in 1959. The music star was killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake in the north central part of the state.
Another, lesser-known death is that of Rocco Francis Marchegiano, best known as Rocky Marciano. Who, strangely enough, also died in a plane crash in Iowa -- this time near Newton and ten years later.
Marciano, otherwise known as "The Rock," (nope, not Dwayne Johnson) is widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all-time, having held the world heavy-weight title from 1952 to 1956. He's also the lone heavyweight champion to have ever retired as the undefeated champion with a final record of 49-0. These accomplishments, along with an 87.76 knockout-to-win percentage (43 of 49 fights), landed him in the International Boxing and World Boxing Halls of Fame.
He also inspired the larger-than-life movie franchise, Rocky.
According to newenglandhistoricalsociety.com,
Like Rocky Balboa, Marciano had a sweet, unassuming temperament. Like Balboa, Marciano lived clean, worked hard and punched like a jackhammer. Like Balboa, Marciano adopted an unusual training regimen that gave him more stamina than anyone in boxing.
He ran uphill at full speed, then back down backward. He went shoulder deep in a swimming pool and threw punches for 45 minutes. Every day, including Christmas, he jogged six to seven miles.
Most of all, he had heart.
Marciano refused to believe he couldn’t win all the time, according to his biographer Emanuela Audisio. 'There are some who never give up,' he wrote. '[They] always win: with a broken nose, with closed eye, a blood-red mouth. Rocky was like this. Rough, wild, graceless.'
One of the greatest boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali said this of Rocky:
I don't know if I would've beaten him.
The Brockton, Massachusetts native (referred to as the Brockton Blockbuster during his career) was on a flight from Chicago, Illinois to Des Moines in August of 1969. He was traveling with pilot Glenn Belz, 37, and family friend, Frankie Farrell, 22.
According to iowahistoryjournal.com:
Farrell, a former Dowling Catholic High School sports star, was opening an insurance business and the former champ was slated to make an appearance. Farrell’s father, Lew, a former boxer in Des Moines, had known Marciano since his childhood. The Rock planned to return to his Florida home on the morning of Sept. 1 to celebrate his birthday that day with his family.
Unfortunately, the trio never made it to their destination.
Due to cloudy weather conditions and low visibility, Belz had trouble locating where to land.
The site continues:
At 9:05 p.m. the Cessna descended and hit an oak tree in a wooded pasture about two miles southwest of Newton Airport’s runway. The impact tore off a wing and the small plane bounced across farmland for approximately 250 feet before resting in a creek bed. All three men were killed on impact. Marciano was found dead under the fuselage.
The plane crash could have been avoided, as Belz, a relatively unexperienced pilot, flew despite the unsafe conditions. He had also only logged 31 hours of nighttime flying at that point in his career.