Former Canadian heavyweight boxing champion Ben Perlini was found dead in his Port Hardy apartment Saturday. He was 47.
“We understand it was a massive heart attack,” said close friend Kim Clarke.
“From what we can figure out, he just finished a workout when he died.”
Perlini — who won the Canadian heavyweight title in the late 1990s — was a man of sharp contrasts, said those who knew him best.
“Ben grew up with two of my sons and it’s hard to describe this guy because there’s a lot of good and a lot of bad,” said longtime family friend Joe Greif.
“He was a scrapper growing up here in Port Hardy, he was a tough kid, but he was basically a good-hearted guy as far as I knew, a personable guy.” he said.
Close friend Conrad Browne said his pal’s life was an open book.
“Benny was a different dude and I love him dearly, but he’d often do his own thing,” Browne said.
Perlini spent more than one stint behind bars because of drugs and he was shot and stabbed — once almost fatally.
But he was a survivor and recovered each time and became a reborn Christian as a result of it all, said Browne.
“There isn’t a person on the North Island who didn’t know he had demons he battled, (but) one of the things he worked hard at, especially after he won the championship, was to make amends for stuff he’d done in his past.”
Browne recalled a time in 2000 in Edmonton when he worked Perlini’s corner during a second fight with Rupert Thomas.
And, for the second time, Thomas beat Perlini.
“I couldn’t find Benny,” said Browne, who added he finally found Perlini locked in a stall of the mens’ washroom.
“He was absolutely devastated because he lost and that’s when you hug him and tell him everyone loses but he said, ‘You just don’t understand,’” Browne said.
“He couldn’t tell me what I didn’t understand, but he said, ‘You don’t understand.”
Perlini fought his last pro fight the same year.
As a younger man, Perlini had a shot as a kicker in the CFL, but that didn’t pan out.
He turned to a career in professional boxing 1995 after winning “tough man” competitions..
Browne, who sparred with Perlini and worked his corner in some fights, said the champ’s story mirrored that of the fictional Rocky Balboa, insomuch as both came out of nowhere to get a title shot.
Perlini made the most of his chance and won the Canadian heavyweight title in Nov. 16, 1997, according to Box Rec, a website dedicated to pro boxers.
He lost it five months later when Nanaimo’s Shane Sutcliffe knocked him out during a bout at Montreal’s Molson Centre.
It didn’t go well in the ring for Perlini after that — he dropped his last four fights, three by way of knockout. His final record was three wins — all by knockout — and seven losses, six by KO.
In 2008, Perlini — a self-published author of several books — had plans to buy a motorhome and take it across the country to sell his message of sobriety and “right choices” to Canadian children. And maybe sell a few books along the way.
That dream never panned out. But Ben wasn’t a quitter, said his pals, and always had something on the horizon.
Perlini leaves his mom and two sisters to mourn his passing.
Plans for a service were unknown at press time.