Don King's wife, Henrietta, dies at 87

Updated: December 3, 2010, 6:05 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Henrietta King, the love of boxing promoter Don King's life and his wife for approximately 50 years, died late Thursday after a lengthy illness. She was 87.

She had been ill with a variety of ailments and was moved from a South Florida hospital to a hospice Tuesday before she died, according to King spokesman Alan Hopper.

Henrietta King
AP Photo/Gary I. RothsteinIn 1997, Henrietta and Don King donated $326,000 for a new fire engine in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

After her death, King called Dana Jamison, the vice president of boxing operations for Don King Productions, Hopper said.

"Dana called me just after midnight and told me that Don had called her to tell her that Mrs. King had passed away," Hopper said. "Dana said that all Don kept saying is that, 'I lost my best friend.' He always told me she was the rock of the family. Mrs. King had been sick for years. Don is with his family."

While Don King's public profile is larger than life, Henrietta King was the polar opposite. She never sought attention. She almost never accompanied King to his fights or on trips promoting fights that took him around the world, and she declined interview requests over the years.

But if "Henry," as he affectionately called her, ever came up in conversation with King, his eyes would light up.

"[She is] the woman behind whatever success and achievement that I have accomplished in the race of life in this great country of America and the world," King had said of his wife.

She was, King said, "most of all, a faithful, loyal, dedicated, committed wife. A grand and great woman. Truly a gift from God, whom I thank incessantly for."

King, 79, was in the office working for part of Thursday before going back to the hospice after dinner, Hopper said.

His wife's illness was one of the reasons King had been distracted in the past few weeks during the hunt for a venue for a Jan. 29 junior welterweight unification fight between Devon Alexander, whom King promotes, and Timothy Bradley Jr., who is promoted by Gary Shaw.

Shaw spearheaded the search for the venue, getting King to sign off this week on a deal to bring the HBO fight to the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich.

"Don has been in doing work this week, but, of course, he was also with his wife," Hopper said.

Henrietta King is survived by her husband and their three children, Eric, Debbie and Carl.

Hopper said funeral plans were pending. Although she had resided in Florida for years, she would be buried near Cleveland, their hometown, where King still owns a home.

Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.