Pernell 'Sweet Pea' Whitaker, Hall of Fame Boxer, Dies After Being Hit by Vehicle

Boxing legend Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker died on July 14 after he was hit by a vehicle in Virginia Beach, police said.

The Virginia Beach police department said in a press release following the incident that they received a call at 10:04 p.m. on July 14 for a vehicle/pedestrian accident near the intersection of Northampton Boulevard and Baker Road in Virginia Beach. “When officers arrived on scene they located an adult male victim who had been hit by a vehicle. The victim succumbed to his injuries on the scene,” the statement from the police department read. “The driver of the vehicle remained on scene with police.”

The case is still under investigation by the Fatal Accident Crash Team (FACT), police said. Whitaker, who was also known as “Sweet Pea,” grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, according to The Virginian-Pilot. The four-time world champion started his boxing career at 18 when he won the silver medal at the 1982 World Championships as an amateur, according to the US Olympic Committee website. Whitaker went on to win the gold medal at the Pan American Games in 1983 and then won a second gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He went on to win world titles in four weight divisions and his achievements were recognized when the Boxing Writers Association of America named him Fighter of the Year in 1989. When he retired in 2001, his record was 40-4-1, including 17 victories by knockout. Despite his victories, the boxer also struggled with drug addiction, which followed him into retirement, ESPN reported. Whitaker survived a cocaine overdose and was convicted of cocaine possession in 2002. Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, whose company promoted the boxer throughout his career, told ESPN that despite his struggles, “he was one of the greatest boxers of all time.” Duva’s late husband, Dan, signed Whitaker back in 1984 and the two had remained close friends.

"I loved Pernell Whitaker, and he loved me — there was no doubt," Duva told ESPN. "He was this person who was only comfortable in the ring. He had demons, but when he was in the ring, that was when he was in control and when he was happy and when he was the very best at what he did, and he wanted to show that to everybody."

In 2006, Whitaker was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The organization will fly its flags at half-staff to honor the boxing legend. "From Olympic gold to world championships in four weight divisions, Pernell Whitaker was one of the greatest boxers to ever lace up a pair of gloves," Hall of Fame executive director Edward Brophy said in a statement to ESPN.

"Everyone at the Hall of Fame joins the boxing community in mourning his passing and offers our condolences to his family."

Whittaker’s youngest son, Devon Whitaker, told The Virginian Pilot that he was still in shock after learning about his father’s death, but described his father as a “cool guy.”

"That's all I can say about him," he said. "I can't really say how I'm feeling because I'm feeling shocked. I'm still trying to process everything that's going on. But he was a cool guy."

Other boxing legends took to social media to mourn the death of Whitaker. Professional boxer Evander Holyfield wrote on Twitter that the two had shared “so many great memories.” “I am saddened to learn of my good friend and Olympic teammate Pernell Whitaker's untimely passing last night. We share so many great memories,” Holyfield wrote. “He was small in [stature] but yet so big in heart and skills inside the ring, there will never be another like him, he will truly be missed.”

Retired professional basketball player Earvin “Magic” Johnson wrote on Twitter that Whitaker was “one of the greatest boxers of my lifetime.”

“One of the greatest boxers of my lifetime and my good friend Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker passed away last night. During his long and successful career I never missed one of his fights. To me, he was one of the top five greatest boxers ever!” Johnson wrote.“Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker was in the class of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard as one of the most entertaining fighters in my lifetime. I’m praying for his family during this difficult time. Rest in Peace my friend,” Johnson continued in a second tweet.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.