Mon, 18 Jan 2021

Rafer Johnson, 1960 decathlon champion, dies at 86

Field Level Media
03 Dec 2020, 06:40 GMT+10

Rafer Johnson, the 1960 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon, died on Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles at age 86.

His family confirmed his passing.

Johnson was the flag bearer for the U.S. delegation at the 1960 Summer Games in Rome, the first Black American to receive the honor. He defeated UCLA training partner C.K. Yang of Taiwan and Vasily Kuznetsov of the former Soviet Union to win the gold medal.

Johnson had won the silver medal in the decathlon at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.

Johnson also played basketball at UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden and was drafted by the NFL's Los Angeles Rams as a running back in 1959.

On June 5, 1968, Johnson was working on Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign when the Democratic candidate was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Johnson, along with former NFL star Rosey Grier and journalist George Plimpton, helped to subdue the assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, moments after he shot Kennedy, who died the next day.

Johnson was chosen to light the torch to open the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Johnson retired from competition after the 1960 Olympics and went into acting. His film credits include "Wild in the Country" with Elvis Presley in 1961, "None But the Brave" with Frank Sinatra in 1965, and the 1989 James Bond film "License to Kill."

--Field Level Media

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