Joe Frazier’s youngest son: My family didn’t let me say goodbye

When Derek Dennis Frazier looks back on the months last year when liver cancer stole away the life of his father, former heavyweight champion of the world “Smokin'” Joe, what he sees is anger.

From the back windows of Derek Dennis Frazier’s condo just beyond Cheltenham Avenue, it’s easy to see the church where thousands of people turned out to celebrate the life of his fallen father, “Smokin'” Joe, who died Nov. 7, 2011.

Derek, 20, often catches himself looking at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. Sometimes he thinks his father is looking back.

“My father was always there for me, always there when I needed him to be. He surrounded himself with happiness,” Derek said.

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But when Derek looks back upon the months last year when liver cancer ate away at the former heavyweight champion of the world, finally taking him away from family, friends and fans across the globe, what he sees is anger.

Hidden away

This is because, in a series of recent interviews with NewsWorks, Derek — a sophomore at Rowan University in South Jersey who attended St. Francis Xavier in Fairmount as a youth — claimed family members and others hid from him the news that his father had taken ill.

Unable to find out where Smokin’ Joe was for the last two months of his life, he took to YouTube a day before his father’s death with a video called “Looking For My Father (Smokin Joe Frazier).”

He’s angry with relatives for not telling him where Frazier was being treated, particularly since he claims that the boxing legend worried that he’d been poisoned. That’s what Derek recalls about a September phone call that led to a doctor’s visit at which the physician deemed Joe Frazier to be OK.

One of Joe’s closest friends said he never heard him speak of poisoning suspicions. Speaking about those ailments in general, Anil Rusgti, Chief of Gastroenterology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said liver-related illnesses can be associated with brain dysfunction.

Derek said he and his mother still don’t know where Joe was while his son searched for him. (When asked Tuesday, Frazier’s business manager readily shared the fact that he was at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.)

What tears Frazier’s youngest son up today is the fact that he never got to say goodbye.

“I love my brothers and sisters … but as I got older and started listening to their conversations, I felt like I was getting pushed to the side,” he said. His older brother Marvis, who was also close to his father, did not return an e-mail seeking comment this week.

Ongoing infighting

The object of much of Derek’s derision is Les Wolff, Frazier’s business manager of the past seven years, whom he claimed helped keep a son from seeing his father.

“Nothing that comes out of [Derek’s] mouth is true,” Wolff said. “Joe had been misdiagnosed for months, at least six months. He was finally diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer on Oct. 6 and died on Nov. 7, so that tells you all you need to know.”

Responded Derek: “Les is clearly upset that the truth has been exposed. … He broke my father’s heart by not allowing us to be together. Who are you going to believe: an agent or the son who just wants his story out there?”

To be sure, there has been much Frazier family friction in the time since Joe’s passing, with litigation surrounding his will, and letters requesting that Derek’s mother, Sheri Gibson, return property to the estate. The legal issues are just starting to surface.

Wolff, who no longer works with the Frazier family as of last month, rued all the infighting.

“This was a hell of a gentleman. He deserved better,” said Wolff, who continues to work to honor Frazier’s legacy.

On that, Derek agreed.

“He was my rock, everything that a father should be for a son,” he said during an interview he granted last week to address the “lies” of family togetherness. “That people got in the way, purposefully, to make sure I couldn’t see him in those final days, that’s very messed up.”

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