Tommy Gunn Drifts Away

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 12.34.54 PMTommy Morrison died today.

To many, he was the so-so heavyweight fighter who bounced around for a decade; yet another white hope with OK skills.

To many others, he was the guy who had HIV, then said he was cured of HIV.

To me, he is Tommy Gunn.

In case you forget (or had the good fortune not to know), in 1990 Morrison played the character of Tommy “Machine” Gunn in Rocky V. The film was just brutal; having experienced one too many beating at the hands of Spider Rucco and Apollo Creed and Mr. T and Ivan Drago, Rocky has lost all his money and much of his brain functionality. He’s poor, washed up and training Gunn—the next big thing. Only, as Gunn rises through the ranks, he’s wooed by a Don King-esque figure, who offers money and (jarringly un-sexy) women for the kid to leave Balboa.

Ultimately, Gunn turns evil, and he and Rocky engage in a street fight that would be entirely laughable, had it not (in roughly five minutes of screen time) diminished all the good of the four previous flicks. To watch Rocky and Tommy throw air punches and slam into garbage cans is a thing of unrivaled shit, and must be witnessed to be understood.

Years later, when he released Rocky Balboa (still bad, but better than Rocky V), Sylvester Stallone admitted Rocky V was a terrible mistake; a movie that should have never been made. No one, he admitted, wanted to see a brain-damaged Rocky.

I wondered how Morrison felt about those words. Rocky V, after all, had been his big cinematic shot. And even though he was a brutally terrible actor, he tried and showed up and, by most accounts, handled himself well.

Now he’s gone.