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An Interview with Legendary Singer Robert Goulet

by Barry Lindenman

When the words "boxing" and "great voice" are used together in a sentence, most people might only think of famed ring announcer Michael Buffer saying his familiar, "let's get ready to rumble." However, there is another great voice out there among the many fans of boxing. The vocal talents of singer Robert Goulet have entertained music lovers through every medium of the entertainment world. What some people may not know however is that the Grammy, Emmy and Tony award winning singer and actor is also a huge boxing fan.

Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Robert Gerard Goulet was the only son born to his French Canadian parents. At age thirteen, following his father's death, he moved to Canada with his mother and sister. It was there where Goulet's rich baritone voice first gained national recognition. His illustrious career, now spanning over fifty years, includes numerous Broadway appearances including playing Sir Lancelot in the original Camelot, as well as the play The Happy Time for which he won a Tony Award in 1968 for Best Actor. He has recorded over sixty best selling albums as well as winning the 1962 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. More recently, his career has also included roles in some popular motion pictures such as Beetlejuice and The Naked Gun 2 . His recent television appearances include roles on the popular sitcoms Just Shoot Me and Two Guys and a Girl. In addition, the popular commercials he filmed promoting NCAA college basketball on ESPN garnered him an Emmy award.

His on-stage presence which exudes charm, charisma and humor, has made Robert Goulet an international superstar, so much so, that not one but two different countries, the United States and Canada, claim him as their own.

BL: Although you were born in Massachusetts, you grew up in Canada. I would imagine that hockey was probably your sport of choice. When did you first become a boxing fan?

RG: I've been a boxing fan ever since I was a kid. I would listen to the fights over the radio. Joe Louis was one of my first heroes. And of course coming from Massachusetts, Rocky Marciano was my favorite. So I've been a fight fan for a long time.

BL: Are there any fighters that you have come to know as friends over the years?

RG: Ali and I have become friends over the years. I was on a plane with him one time when he was the champion. I went over to say hello to him and his assistant asked if I'd like to sit down and I said, "you bet." So I sat down beside him and we talked for about an hour. We talked mostly about his religious beliefs. It was a delightful conversation. He wasn't as brash as he was when he wanted to make a point of saying "I'm the greatest" and that sort of thing. I never thought he was much of a braggart. I think he was just trying to create some noise out there. He was a very gentle soul. I had a tendency back in those days when I was talking with somebody to playfully hit them in the chest with the back of my hand, as if to say to them, "yeah, that's it." So I did that to Ali once and he just looked at me and I said. "sorry about that." We kept on talking and a little later on, I gave him another good shot in the chest as I said "yeah." And he looked at his chest and looked at me and gave me such a look. I said, "I'm sorry champ, it's just a bad habit of mine." I eventually went back to my seat and when we landed, Ali was right behind me as we were getting off the plane. I told him how delightful it was to talk with him and as I did, I gave him a gentle shove on the chest. With that, Ali turned around to Bundini Brown and said, "if he hits me one more time, I'm gonna whoop him!"

BL: Who would you say is your favorite fighter of all time?

RG: There are so many to choose from. I only saw Sugar Ray Robinson fight on film but I'd say that he is one of them. Rocky Marciano had such guts and heart. He was something special. I loved Sugar Ray Leonard. I saw him jump on "The Hitman." My wife, who is not much of a fight fan, was standing on top of her chair screaming and yelling! Sugar Ray Leonard was a great boxer, just like his namesake. But in the Hearns fight, he was a slugger. I also like Oscar De La Hoya. Right now, I like Sugar Shane Mosley. I like his style and the way Mosley uses his jab. I like his style and the way he fights. His punches are compact and he doesn't flail about.

BL: Is there a particular weight class that you prefer watching?

RG: Of course we all like the heavyweights and want to see what's happening in that division. I don't watch a lot of featherweight fights yet some of those fights are the best fights ever.

BL: The commercials that you made for ESPN college basketball tell me that you are both a sports fan and have the ability to poke fun at yourself. With this in mind, I have to ask you about Lewiston, Maine in 1965 before the Ali - Liston fight.

RG: I was born in Massachusetts and lived there until I was thirteen years old. I knew the Star Spangled Banner somewhat but I never sang it. I moved to Canada and of course you don't sing the Star Spangled Banner in Canada. In 1965 I was living in Los Angeles and I told my manger I'd like to go to the Ali - Liston fight. As it happens, Lewiston, Maine was my mother's hometown. She was born there. My manager called me one day at 7:00 in the morning and said he had two tickets to the fight and two rooms at the Poland Springs Hotel if I would sing the national anthem. That was the only hotel in that little town and the world was coming to see that fight. Even though I had never sung the national anthem, I said OK because I wanted to see the fight. So I went and I had dinner with the Governor of Maine that night. I left the table three times to go the porch and practice "oh say can you see by the dawn's early light." When I sang it before the fight, I said "night" instead of "light." I said one wrong word. The fight lasted a minute and a half and they blamed me. I walked into Lewiston, Maine a hero because I had a French Canadian background and I spoke their language. The fight lasted a minute and a half. They blamed me and I walked out of the town a bum.

BL: Have you ever sung the national anthem again at any other fights?

RG: A thousand times. I've also done it before baseball games and football games and God knows what else. And without a glitch!

BL: Living in Las Vegas as you do, do you ever attend fights live at the casinos or are you more of a TV fan?

RG: I used to go to all the fights. They used to charge me $650 - $700 per ticket and they wanted the cash right then and there. They don't fool around. And you have to pick them up yourself. You can't be a big shot and say, "just send me the tickets." And when the fight is over, coming out of the arena, they funnel you down into a tiny little area. You have to fight your way out of there like minnows out of a can. I was always afraid that somebody was going to pick my pocket. I told my wife, "this is ridiculous." For $45 bucks, I can see everything, the close-ups, the replays, etc. on pay-per-view in the comfort of my home. It's a much better view than actually being there. The only good thing about going to the fights is you can go into the green room and you can see some of your old friends that you haven't seen in a long time.

BL: What are your thoughts about the current popularity of women's boxing?

RG: Ali's daughter is fighting and Joe Frazier's daughter is fighting as well. It's obvious that they're going to want Ali's daughter and Frazier's daughter to fight it out. They're tough! I wouldn't go near them. Imagine being married to one of these gals and they ask you to help with the dishes. If you tell them you're too tired, you'd be in a lot of trouble! It would be kind of frightening to be married to a woman like that. Yet, I imagine that a woman like that can be just as feminine as anybody.

BL: If you were part of a celebrity boxing match, what celebrity would you want to get in the ring with and mix it up with for a few rounds?

RG: There's nobody in show business that I dislike so I wouldn't want to get in there to hurt anybody. I think I'd probably like to get into the ring with Raquel Welch. I'd like to get into a clinch with her!

BL: Being an accomplished actor as well as a singer, what would you say is your favorite boxing movie of all time?

RG: My God, there are a ton of good boxing movies. I especially I liked Kirk Douglas in "Champion" and Robert DeNiro in "Raging Bull."

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