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Arturo Gatti and Amanda Rodrigues on their wedding day. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Arturo Gatti and Amanda Rodrigues on their wedding day. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Arturo Gatti suicide skeptics evade boxer's dark truths Add to ...

They deny Mr. Gatti complained frequently about depression to several people in New Jersey, and that he threatened to kill himself more than once. Jacques Pothier, a Montreal boxing writer who spent 13 months in New Jersey talking to Mr. Gatti’s friends, associates, bartenders, strippers and drug dealers for his book, Arturo Gatti: le dernier round, says Mr. Gatti once asked a friend to lend him a gun so he could kill himself. Mr. Gatti overdosed on drugs more than once, Mr. Pothier says.

The family also denies Mr. Pothier’s account that some of the epic binges took an orgiastic twist that sometimes involved other men. “Lies,” said Mr. Gatti’s brother Fabrizio, when challenged with some of Mr. Pothier’s dark evidence in court. “Ninety-five-per-cent lies.” Ms. Rivera chips in her own assessment: “He loved women. He loved strippers.”

Even in Mr. Pothier’s intimate account, the root of all that pain is unclear. It might have started with the sudden death of his father in a construction site accident while he was just a boy, or a violent and boozy home life, or a twisted family background. Mr. Gatti’s sister was once married to Dave Hilton Jr., the Canadian boxing champ who was convicted of sexually abusing their two daughters over many years. The Gattis are no strangers to the most sordid family drama. Ms. Rodrigues said it in court last week: “That family is not normal. It’s just not normal.”

But perhaps most obvious are the scars from 1,000 punches.

Mr. Gatti had many epic fights, but not all of them should have been so hard. Even en route to victory, he had a knack for getting pounded to a pulp even by washed-up pugs. By the time he retired, Ms. Rodrigues said Mr. Gatti could barely make a fist with his arthritic hands. After moving back to Montreal, he took monthly vacations to sunny spots because his joints ached in the cold. He had triple vision in one eye and blurred sight in the other, according to Mr. Pothier. The boxer was 37 when he died.

“You don’t take that kind of punishment without consequences, and it’s well known boxers use pills, and pills and concussions often lead to terrible depression in boxers,” said Mr. Pothier. “All you have to do is look at what’s happened to a few NHL tough guys over the summer to see the potential result of pills and that kind of violence. And life after sport is never easy for a pro athlete.”

For years, Mr. Gatti seemed to live free of consequence. There were brushes with the law for assault, domestic violence and drunk driving. He lost his driver’s licence but never served much jail time.

It was a life riddled with contradictions. He could be generous and cheap, he sought drama but avoided confronting problems, he loved and charmed women but drove them away with his jealousy and rage. In many ways he was the prototype of the self-destructive boxer with drugs and booze, but he still managed to stash away millions and set up his kids before carelessly guaranteeing it would be frittered away in legal disputes after his death.

Take the last will and testament. Mr Gatti changed it weeks before he died to leave everything to his wife, just as he was also preparing to divorce. This will is at the root of the Montreal lawsuit and fuels doubt about Ms. Rodrigues. She says the timing is coincidence, or perhaps that Mr. Gatti knew what was coming and was tired of his family taking his money. His family says his wife pressured him to sign in the first step of a scheme to get rich. But why would anyone refashion his will this way while he had a divorce lawyer on retainer?

Just months earlier, in a lawyer’s office in New Jersey, Mr. Gatti had made a show of pretending to rip up his prenuptial agreement with Ms. Rodrigues, in an apparent attempt to please her. As he tore a copy of the document, he winked at the receptionist, an apparent acknowledgment that the original was safely locked away. His family laughs off the act as typically Arturo.

“In both cases, he may have just been trying to get her off his back,” said Joe Lynch, Mr. Gatti’s occasional New Jersey lawyer and long-time friend, who also denies Mr. Gatti could be suicidal.

It’s clear there were times Mr. Gatti thought he was being a clever player, and other times when he was being played. Years later, it still isn’t easy to tell the two apart.

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