Hector “Macho” Camacho, one of the most colorful and charismatic boxers of his generation, who won world championships in three weight divisions but was continually shadowed by drug problems and legal entanglements, died Saturday at a hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 50.
He was shot in the face Tuesday while sitting in a car in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, the town where he was born. He never regained consciousness, and life-support machines were disconnected Saturday.
Another man in the car with him was killed during the armed ambush. Packets of cocaine were found in the car, according to police, but there have been no arrests in the shooting.
Camacho was one of the brightest stars of his era, with dazzling speed in the ring and an unorthodox, crowd-pleasing style that brought him his first world title when he was only 21. He had a dynamic, theatrical presence that added to his luster as one of the leading attractions of boxing.
Handsome, brash and uninhibited, Mr. Camacho entered the ring to chants of “Macho Man” and circled his fist in the air, leading the crowd in shouting, “It’s Macho Time!” He often wore outlandish costumes, from sequined loincloths to visored gladiator helmets and a full feathered headdress, making his fights a sartorial spectacle. A lock of hair curled boyishly over his forehead.
Larry Merchant, a boxing analyst for HBO, described Camacho in 1986 as a “Rambo-Liberace — he-man and showman.”
“He is one of those rare athletes, as Muhammad Ali once put it,” Merchant continued, “who dares to be great, his speed of hand matched only by his speed of foot — and mouth. A dynamic package of energy and talent and raw nerve and arrogance.”
In more than 80 professional fights, Camacho faced some of the most feared boxers of his time, including Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Felix Trinidad, Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya, but he could not vanquish the temptations he found outside the ring.
From his early teens, he was repeatedly arrested on suspicion of car theft, drug possession and weapons offenses. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and trying to take a rifle through airport security. He was often involved in altercations at nightclubs and was stopped for countless drug and traffic offenses. Once, he broke the leg of a police officer in a fight.
In spite of his criminal history, Camacho was glib and likable and always vowed to reform.
“I can’t be the Macho Man anymore,” he told the Miami Herald in 1986, when he was 24. “He’s too vicious, too awesome for people. All the girls go crazy, but all their boyfriends want to shoot me.”
Hector Camacho was born May 24, 1962. When he was 3, he and his mother moved to New York, where he grew up in the section of Manhattan known as Spanish Harlem.
He was caught up in street fights and shoplifting from childhood and stole his first car when he was 12. By the age of 15, he said, he had been expelled from six schools. He became a father for the first time at 16.
At 17, he spent three months in New York’s Rikers Island jail. Even though he weighed less than 130 pounds, he fought so often with other inmates that he was placed in solitary confinement.
Camacho won three amateur Golden Gloves boxing titles in New York before becoming a professional boxer at 18.
In 1983, Camacho became the World Boxing Council super-featherweight (130-pound) champion by defeating Rafael “Bazooka” Limon in a technical knockout. Two years later, he moved up to the 135-pound lightweight class, soundly whipping champion Jose Luis Ramirez in a unanimous decision.
After the fight, veteran referee Mills Lane said Mr. Camacho, then 23, “borders on greatness.”
At his best, Mr. Camacho displayed remarkable speed and movement in the ring, with the skills of a boxer far beyond his years. His opponents were baffled by his left-handed stance and overwhelmed by his rapid-fire punches.
“There’s a difference of opinion about where Camacho got his moves,” a Sports Illustrated article from 1983 declared. “They seem to be part oil slick, part fastest gun in the West, part Fred Astaire.”
In 1989, Camacho won a third world title by defeating former champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini to claim the vacant World Boxing Organization junior-welterweight crown at 140 pounds.
By the time Camacho turned 30, his skills were starting to fade. He lost a unanimous decision to Mexican fighter Julio Cesar Chavez in 1992, enduring a savage beating.
“No one ever lost with more courage than did Camacho,” Sports Illustrated writer Pat Putnam wrote. “Chavez pressed hard for the knockout, but Camacho took everything the champion threw at him, and at the end he was still firing back, snarling through the blood.”
Camacho continued to have a few more moments of glory, including two victories over an aging Roberto Duran and a technical knockout in 1997 over a 40-year-old Leonard in what was Sugar Ray’s final fight.
He earned his largest payday — $3 million — in a losing effort to unseat welterweight champion De La Hoya in 1997. Camacho continued to box occasionally until he was 48, compiling a career record of 79 wins, 6 losses and 3 draws.
Through it all, Camacho, who had homes in Florida and Puerto Rico, continued to have legal trouble. In 2007, he was convicted in Mississippi of burglarizing a computer store, but his seven-year sentence was reduced to one year.
His wife filed for restraining orders in 1995 and 1998 and divorced him in 2001. Survivors include four sons, including Hector Camacho Jr., a professional boxer; his mother; three sisters; and a brother.
During his 30-year boxing career, Camacho was often criticized for dirty tactics, such as grabbing opponents by the neck, spinning them around or hitting while breaking from a clinch. He never apologized.
“What do you expect?” he once said. “I’m just a gutter kid up to no good.”