Rafer Johnson passed away yesterday at the age of 86. Rafer was born in Texas, but at the age of nine moved to California. A multi-sport high school athlete, he won back-to-back California State Decathlon Championships before attending UCLA on a track scholarship. He won the Pan American Games in the Decathlon as a sophomore in 1955. He also started for legendary coach John Wooden on the UCLA basketball team.
In 1956, Rafer won the silver medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, despite being hampered by a lingering injury. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams as a running back in 1959, but continued to pursue his dream of Olympic gold. The pursuit became a reality the following year at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, when he won the Decathlon gold medal. Rafer was chosen to ignite the Olympic flame at the 1984 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Los Angeles.
Rafer had a successful acting career, but famously had to turn down a significant role in the Kirk Douglas film, Spartacus because of his amateur status. He worked on the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy, and also apprehended Sirhan Sirhan immediately after Sirhan assassinated Kennedy in 1968. Johnson helped organize the very first Special Olympics in 1968, and continued to be involved with the organization for the rest of his life.
We know this is just the tip of the iceberg, but what a life?! Rest In Peace, Legend!