Kenneth Howard Norton Sr. was born to John and Ruth Norton on Aug. 9, 1943, and was raised in the small central Illinois city of Jacksonville.
Kenneth Sr. was an outstanding athlete and graduated from Jacksonville High School. Upon graduating, Kenneth Sr. earned several scholarships - football, basketball, and track - to Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University), where he studied elementary education.
During his sophomore year he joined the United States Marine Corps, it is there that he started boxing. As a Marine, he compiled an amateur record of 24-2 and won the All-Marine Heavyweight Championship three times. Kenneth Sr. won the U.S. trials for the 1967 Pan American Games and began his pro career after his release from duty in 1967.
Kenneth Sr., known for his distinctive cross-armed defense, was nicknamed the "Black Hercules" until he cracked Muhammad Ali's jaw in their 1973 bout, when he then got the nickname "Jawbreaker." Kenneth Sr. finished with a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992, and ranked 22nd among the 50 greatest heavyweights of all time.
Kenneth Sr. appeared in various films and television series. He also worked as a television and radio sports commentator and was a member of the Sports Illustrated Speakers Bureau. His greatest achievement was being twice-named Father of the Year in 1977, by both The Los Angeles Sentinel and The Los Angeles Times.
Kenneth Sr. was preceded in death by his parents, John and Ruth Norton.
Left to cherish his memory are his wife, Rose Contant-Norton; his children, Keith, Kenneth Jr., his wife Angela, Brandon, Kenisha and Kene Jon; his grandchildren, Brittney, Sabrina, Kenneth III, Michael, Kameron Nicholas, Kayliana, Havana and Kene Jon II; his stepchildren, Fabian and Chelsea; his sister, Sandy Verlinden; former wives, Jeanette Henderson and Jacqueline Norton; his uncle, Abe Brown; and a host of loving family and friends.
Funeral services will be held 11 a.m. Friday at Buchanan & Cody Funeral Home in Jacksonville. Friends may call after 1 p.m. Thursday at the funeral home, where members of the family will meet friends 4-7 p.m. Memorials are suggested to Pathway Services. Condolences may be left at www.buchanancody.com.
Published in Jacksonville Journal-Courier on Sept. 24, 2013