Lawrence Nowlan, the Philadelphia-raised sculptor who was creating the statue to honor late boxing great Joe Frazier, has died. Nowlan, 48, passed away of natural causes last Tuesday.
According to the Rutland Herald newspaper, he had finished a mold of Frazier’s face in the days prior to his unexpected passing.
“Horrible, horrible, horrible,” said Richard Hayden, spokesman for the Frazier estate. “We had just spoken last week and we were getting ready to go to the Art Commission [with his final plans for approval].”
On Monday, Hayden recalled Nowlan’s excitement when he learned he’d been selected to create the Frazier statue, which was scheduled for completion and installation on the site of the old Spectrum next Spring.
“The Frazier family found him very engaging. Not only was he interested in the piece itself, but he was clearly a Philadelphia sports fan. Everybody who heard him make his pitch came away with that impression,” he said. “He saw this as an important part of his life’s work.”
In the artist’s words
In an April interview with NewsWorks, Nowlan left that impression as well.
“I was born and raised in Philly, so this is a dream job,” said Nowlan, who lived in New Hampshire at the time of his death.
He spoke about the inspiration for his winning bid, which captured the punch that knocked Muhammad Ali down in their “Fight of the Century.”
“I didn’t want a posed picture, like you’d see on a baseball card. I didn’t feel that’d be appropriate for me, or anybody, to make up a pose,” he explained. “We have all these great fights to watch, and I’d seen them a million times, but that great image from the first Ali fight, when Ali’s about a foot off the canvas, Joe’s right hand is cocked back, he’s on his toes, looking.
“That’s the Joe Frazier I know and loved, the one who came out of the corner like a pitbull. That image encapsulates his power.”
Neither Hayden nor Erica Atwood, who helmed the statue project from a City Hall perspective, could say what Nowlan’s passing meant for the statue itself on Monday morning.
“The group just, frankly, feels really feels badly for him and his family,” said Hayden, noting that a scale image of a statue that the family received could well be Nowlan’s last work. “We’ll figure it out at a later point.”
Atwood said “the news took us all by shock. He was a really nice guy. I feel for his family.
“The options we’re exploring are seeing how far along in the process Larry was, to see if we can continue with his staff. We are fairly confident that’s not a viable option, so the alternate plan is to engage one of the other artists that submitted in the original request.”
Nowlan was also responsible for the statue of famed Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas in Citizen’s Bank Park.
Plans for a memorial service in Philadelphia have not yet been announced.