Former KC boxer Tommy Morrison dies at age 44

Former world heavyweight champion boxer Tommy Morrison has died, according to one of his former promoters.

Tony Holden said Monday that Morrison, who won one of his titles in Kansas City, died Sunday night at an Omaha, Neb., hospital. Morrison, who was born in Arkansas and grew up in Oklahoma before moving to Kansas City, was 44.

“It’s true,” said Holden, who lives in Tulsa,

told the Tulsa World

. “He was with his wife, Trisha, when he passed.”

“You prepare for things like this,”

Holden told ESPN

, “and still you feel like you got hit by a truck when you hear the news.”

Morrison’s family has not commented and an official cause of death has not been released. Diana Morrison, who lives in Aurora, Mo., told ESPN last month that her son was “in the end stages” from full-blown AIDS.

In Feb. 1996, Morrison was suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission after it said he tested positive for HIV.

But 10 years later, Morrison attempted a comeback,

telling The Star

that a person can’t contract HIV from heterosexual sex and that the virus was a plot to control population. He said he was HIV free.

“You can look at me like I’m crazy if you want … It’s a latent virus that your body will get rid of on its own if you exercise and eat right,” Morrison told The Star in 2006. “It’s disappeared from my body twice where they can’t find the antibodies.”

Morrison came to Kansas City to train with John Brown and won his first fight here on March 29, 1989, knocking out Alan Jamison in the first round.

Then Morrison gained national fame even before winning the heavyweight title in 1993, playing the role of fictional boxer Tommy Gunn in “Rocky V.”

But less than four months after taking the WBO championship with a 12-round unanimous decision over 44-year-old George Foreman and winning more than $2 million, Morrison was knocked out in the first round by Michael Bentt in Oct. 1993, losing a shot at a $7.5 million payday against WBC champion Lennox Lewis.

Morrison won the IBC heavyweight title over Donovan “Razor” Ruddock with a sixth-round TKO at Municipal Auditorium on June 10, 1995, but was knocked out in the sixth round by Lewis later that year. His HIV diagnosis — and several brushes with the law — followed.

He was convicted of DUI in Feb. 1998 and sentenced to six months in jail and arrested in 1999 on drug and weapon possession complaints. In 2000, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison but only served a year before he was paroled.

Two years after his HIV diagnosis, various news reports had Morrison fading fast. One said he dwindled to 170 pounds, more than 50 down from his fighting weight. His hair was falling out. He had a persistent cough, and his doctor gave him a year to live if he refused to take his HIV medication.

“He’s an American tragedy,” Brown said at the time.

After announcing his comeback in The Star, Morrison beat John Castle with a third-round knockout in West Virginia on Feb. 22, 2007. Later that year, Morrison knocked out John Stover in a mixed-martial-arts fight.

In 2009, Morrison competed in his last known bout, a first-round knockout for the Wyoming state heavyweight championship.

In his later years, Morrison trained in Wichita, still claiming he was HIV-free and that he could still box.

“I think about boxing more now. I’m better,”

Morrison told The Star in 2011

. “They’re not used to that. A white guy that has hand speed, power, charisma, and can talk in complete sentences? (Shoot). Sounds like a gold mine to me.”