Jay Larkin, 59, dies of brain cancer

Updated: August 9, 2010, 6:33 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Jay Larkin, once one of the most powerful people in the boxing industry as head of the franchise for Showtime, died Monday after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 59.

Larkin spent 22 years with the network, rising from junior publicist to senior vice president and executive producer until he was fired in November 2005.

He ran the boxing department for more than a decade until losing his job during cutbacks by parent company Viacom.

Larkin was involved with boxing at Showtime since it first began televising the sport in March 1986, when it aired Marvelous Marvin Hagler's middleweight title defense against John Mugabi.

He was the driving force in deciding which fights Showtime would buy and was the chief negotiator in those deals.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend, Jay Larkin," Ken Hershman, the executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, who worked closely with Larkin and eventually replaced him, said in a statement. "His remarkable enthusiasm, his insatiable zeal for life and esprit de corps that he left behind at [Showtime Sports] will always be with us. He will be missed by the countless people that he met and touched including all of us here at Showtime who've had the pleasure to work with him. All our thoughts and prayers are with his family."

During Larkin's run, Showtime emerged as a challenger to HBO's boxing dominance by televising some of boxing's biggest events, including numerous fights involving Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Julio Cesar Chavez.

He was the network's key negotiator for the 2002 heavyweight championship bout between Lennox Lewis and Tyson, which was, at the time, the biggest money fight in boxing history. The fight finally came about after Larkin's tireless efforts to cut a deal with HBO, which had Lewis under an exclusive contract while Showtime had Tyson under one. The result was a landmark joint pay-per-view telecast.

Under Larkin's watch, Showtime got away from multi-fight contracts that tied the network to lesser bouts with a particular fighter or promoter. He famously dubbed his philosophy as "great fights, no rights."

Larkin came into boxing by accident. A mild fan who had attended a handful of fights, Larkin was trained with a background in theater. But he loved to tell the story of how he wound up with his high-profile job running the boxing department for the network.

Before the Hagler-Mugabi fight, Showtime executive Fred Schneier asked Larkin if he knew who the old man standing near them was when they were on site. Larkin got it right. It was former light heavyweight champion Billy Conn and, on the spot, Larkin was made head of boxing for the network.

The punch line was that Larkin hadn't really known who it was. Somebody had told him earlier that it was Conn.

"I wouldn't have known Billy Conn if he had punched me in the face," Larkin once said. "I didn't know the IBF from the FBI. I guess I had pretty good timing didn't I?"

In 2005, Larkin, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who lived in Sparkill, N.Y., after leaving Showtime, was a co-winner of the Sam Taub award for excellence in broadcasting, sharing the Boxing Writers Association of America honor with broadcaster Rich Marotta.

With Larkin at the helm, Showtime televised fights from around the world, including live events from five continents. It also aired the Don King-promoted Chavez-Greg Haugen junior welterweight title bout, which drew an all-time record of more than 132,000 to Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in 1993.

"We had a tremendous relationship even though we were competitors," said promoter Lou DiBella, the former HBO executive who ran the network's boxing franchise for many years while Larkin ran things at rival Showtime. "We had an unusually good relationship. The entire time he was there and I was at HBO, we rarely had dates that clashed. We used to talk a couple of times a week and talk about what was going on so as not to jump on each other. There was a lot of depth to Jay. He was into theater and art. He loved the arts, so we used to talk a lot about stuff that wasn't boxing.

"So for competitors, we had a very good relationship. We stayed in touch over the years after he left. It's too soon. Jay Larkin was a good man."

After leaving Showtime, Larkin worked as president for the now-defunct mixed martial arts promotion International Fight League.

Larkin attended the Boston Conservatory of Music, UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, and received a degree in theater and directing from C.W. Post College on Long Island University.

Larkin is survived by his wife, Lisa, and their teenage sons, Ryan and Gabriel. A funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday in Elmont, N.Y.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.