Somewhere in the rustic foothills of Jamaica, Norma Bell (pictured, photo by Max Blau) longed to leave her parents’ sugarcane farm near the rural village of Catadupa. And eventually she did.
Norma found her way to Montego Bay around age 17. She got a job at a jewelry store. There she met a man named Charles, a Holiday Inn security guard, who asked her on a date. Nine months later, on Dec. 29, 1974, their first son came into the world. To Norma, O’Neil was everything. Charles wanted everything for his family — including a small slice of the American Dream.
Charles moved to Delaware, where he toiled on farms and in factories, and returned home about once a year. In his absence, he mailed presents to O’Neil. One stood out from the rest.
Even today Norma lights up at the thought of 5-year-old O’Neil, clad in a red jumpsuit, running out their front door toward the street with those boxing gloves. This was long before he grew into a force of nature, a champion. She can still picture him, standing atop the light post, posing for passersby like he was on top of the world.
A gentle giant
In 1982, Norma boarded a plane with her boys, O’Neil and baby Omar, to join her husband. They settled into a three-bedroom ranch in a middle-class neighborhood in Dover that seemed as quiet and safe as Montego Bay. Delaware’s similarities, though, only went so far. Snow never covered Jamaica’s white-sand beaches. The word “jerk” never referred to selfish people — just spices. O’Neil never had to be held back a grade, now he did, as he adapted to this new American life.
Still, boxing consumed O’Neil’s waking thoughts. Charles fed him tales of boxing greats like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. But there was nowhere to box, so he got involved with other sports like football, wrestling and track and field.
O’Neil grew to over 6 feet tall and nearly 200 pounds by his sophomore year at Polytech, Delaware’s first full-time technical high school. He hit like thunder and ran fast like lightning. Teammates remember O’Neil hooking a harness onto a car and trying to pull it down the street for conditioning.
“He stood out like a beacon in the night,” said Polytech football and wrestling coach Eric Buckson.
O’Neil eventually caught the eye of recruiters. But one night sophomore year, he and his friends played a game called “knockout.” The rules were simple: Pick a target, throw a sucker punch and run away. They cruised around town, taking turns, before arriving at the Dover Skating Center.
His friends who threw punches likely caused nothing more than a shiner. A jab from O’Neil, landing just right, knocked a kid into a coma. The police sent O’Neil to juvenile detention. He faced expulsion and a year behind bars if convicted.
His friends said the incident wasn’t characteristic of O’Neil: He was a kind-hearted person, one who occasionally found his way into mischief but never meant harm. To save O’Neil, they collected hundreds of signatures from classmates who attested to his character.
“He had this balance,” said Chenneil Brown, the football team’s equipment manager, who briefly dated O’Neil in high school. “There was something about him that was very sweet, but at the same time everything he did had a very physical component. He was a gentle giant.”
Photo: Eric Buckson coached O’Neil in wrestling at Polytech High School in Delaware. Contributed by Max Blau
The family court judge assigned to O’Neil’s hearing was David Buckson, the former governor of Delaware and father of O’Neil’s wrestling coach.
Look, Eric Buckson told his dad. This kid could be saved. Not long after, O’Neil was back at Polytech and, under his coach’s wing, seized his second chance. He nabbed all-state football honors and won a state wrestling title. His laurels landed him a wrestling scholarship with Delaware State University.
O’Neil commuted from home during college. A true mama’s boy, he always told Norma where he was going on Saturday nights and escorted her to church on Sunday mornings. He also helped look after his siblings. However, O’Neil never got along with Charles, his strict father. The two butted heads in a long string of arguments, ending in a blowout fight in 1995. Neither backed down. O’Neil packed a few bags, hopped on his Suzuki Katana and headed to Georgia, leaving his family and scholarship behind.
He reconnected with an old high-school girlfriend, Ashlei Davis, who had moved to Marietta with her family. He worked for UPS to pay the rent for a place in Roswell and, later, provide for their newborn baby girl. O’Neil watched his first-ever boxing match in person during the 1996 Olympics. He wouldn’t stop talking about the sport as he handled packages during night shifts. One of his coworkers knew of a nearby boxing gym in Doraville. O’Neil jotted down the name and address and decided to visit.
Despite its drab exterior, the Doraville Boxing Club had everything O’Neil needed inside: two boxing rings, punching bags and a wall full of free weights. The posters on the walls seemed the size of boxing legends. Flags of fighters’ homelands draped from the rafters. And the sounds, man those sounds — rapid-fire swoosh of jump rope, the steady rhythm of fists on speed bags, the thumps of gloves echoing off sparring pads — were music to his ears.
O’Neil always seemed to be training: morning laps in the pool, afternoon runs at Stone Mountain and weightlifting sets at night. “Gym rat,” one ex-fighter called him.
Willie Perkins, one of O’Neil’s first trainers, recalls O’Neil bringing his daughter to the gym so he wouldn’t miss a sparring session. The trainer often babysat more than he coached.
“I was willing to do whatever it took to pay the bills and box,” O’Neil told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2001.
O’Neil fought amateur for two years, winning two Golden Gloves, and went pro after only 13 matches. In February 1998, O’Neil “Give ‘Em Hell” Bell made his debut at a black-tie fundraiser inside the Georgia World Congress Center. Stale cigar smoke hung in the air as more than 1,300 people mingled with models, bid on auction items and watched the five-bout spectacle. His light heavyweight fight was third on the card, and his opponent had an instantly recognizable name: Holyfield — Quinton Holyfield, former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield’s nephew.
Evander sat at a table with his lawyer, Jim Thomas, and fellow boxing legend Joe Frazier. The younger Holyfield, fresh off his debut victory, brimmed with confidence. He landed a hard right punch to start off the fight. O’Neil, weighing a lean 176 pounds, closed his eyes and swung freely. Missed punches soon connected. In a few minutes, down went a dazed Holyfield’s head; up went O’Neil’s arm.
Shocked, Thomas thought to himself: Wow, who is that guy?
Inside the ring, O’Neil lacked the grace of a fighter like Floyd Mayweather, but he developed into a power puncher who dared to go the distance.
After losing his second fight, O’Neil won 11 straight matches, each one against increasingly tougher opponents, in increasingly larger venues. In his 14th fight, O’Neil earned his first crack at a minor title against Michael “Gold” Rush. At 6-foot-2, the Tampa-born fighter had draped himself in all gold — his robe, his shorts, his boxing gloves — for his entrance to the ring in Columbus. Thousands in the stands, some clad in gold T-shirts, chanted his name: Gold Rush! Gold Rush! Gold Rush!
Early on, O’Neil fell behind and few seemed surprised. However, his off-kilter style gave Rush fits, and in the fourth round, momentum shifted.
“As a fighter, you’re used to a sequence of punches, like the one-two jab, or the hook,” said boxer Cedric Boswell. “With O’Neil, you didn’t know what punches he’d throw.”
One round later, O’Neil launched a brutal assault that forced Rush against the ropes, and then, somehow, through the ropes. Rush tumbled off the mat, out of the ring and onto the boxing commission’s table. The crowd hushed.
“I’ve watched boxing my entire life,” Atlanta promoter Dave Oblas recalls, “and I had never seen someone get as brutally knocked out. I kept thinking: There are no cameras here.”
The cameras soon followed.
Fight of his life
By late 2005, O’Neil strung together 24 straight wins; notched an International Boxing Federation title, one of boxing’s three biggest belts; and found himself fighting for boxing’s rarest prize: an undisputed championship. Only one fighter, Evander Holyfield, back in 1988, had done so as a cruiserweight.
For all of O’Neil’s success, his path to the top was slowed by promoters who squabbled over contracts, the kinds of disputes that gave boxing its shady reputation, the kinds that made O’Neil lose trust in others.
“People just saw him as a money machine,” Norma said. “They weren’t interested in him.”
Following each fight, O’Neil grew distrustful and slowly pushed people out of his inner-circle. He gave ultimatums to associates like his attorney Jim Thomas, who had negotiated many of Holyfield’s contracts, including what was then the largest in history for the second Holyfield-Tyson fight in 1997. Pay me $50,000 or I’ll find a new lawyer, O’Neil said. Thomas balked.
Worst of all, he severed ties with his old Dover friends — even Coach Buckson.
“I couldn’t explain it,” Buckson said. “I never took anything. I was always there to help him.”
Eight weeks before the big title fight, O’Neil’s trainer James “Pops” Plenty launched his most intensive training camp ever: agility drills in Piedmont Park, weightlifting near Perimeter Mall and underwater boxing drills at the East Lake YMCA. O’Neil would then spar 25 full rounds at the Art of Boxing Gym on Spring Street. Six days on, Sundays off, repeat.
Around New Year’s Day 2006, O’Neil flew to New York for the biggest bout of his life. He chatted with the press, watched his diet before the weigh-in and did a bit of rope work. The boxer also decided to shed his moniker “Give ‘Em Hell.” To him, it seemed unlucky.
“I didn’t want to associate myself with Hell,” Bell told the AJC in 2006. “You attract bad company, bad things, with a name like that.”
He opted for something more celestial: Supernova.
On Jan. 7, 2006, O’Neil sat inside the bowels of Madison Square Garden, his shoes laced, gloves taped and green silk robe with gold trimmings draped over his shoulders. After waiting through nine undercard fights, the sound of Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel” blared from the Garden’s loud speakers. As its familiar chorus kicked in — I’m a rebel, soul rebel. I’m a capturer, soul adventurer — Jamaica’s native son walked out with the Jamaican flag at his back. At 199.5 pounds, O'Neil weighed in right below the 200-pound maximum for a cruiserweight. Even with two dozen straight wins, O’Neil remained an underdog, like always, against Frenchman Jean Marc “The Marksman” Mormeck.
Inside the red-roped ring, O’Neil raised his gloves high in the air as the announcer introduced him. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the hard-hitting IBF cruiserweight championnn of the worlddd, introducing, O’Neil Suu-per-no-vaaaaa Bell.
Thousands cheered at the opening bell’s sound. Mormeck outslugged O’Neil with a vicious combination of left jabs and right uppercuts at first. He pinned O’Neil against the ropes, unleashing more flurries and knocked his neon green mouth guard out of the ring. Undeterred, O’Neil struck him with calculated jabs as he struggled to take control.
Halfway through the fight of his life, O’Neil’s rigorous training kicked in: The Jamaican landed vicious body blows on a fatigued Mormeck. O’Neil’s punches grew more precise, and late in the 10th round, he buttoned Mormeck into a corner. Without warning, O’Neil unleashed more than a dozen punches — hooks to the face, a few uppercuts and a direct shot to the top of the head — in just 10 seconds to send the Frenchman crumbling to the canvas. The ref raised O’Neil’s fist high into the air and, with three gaudy title belts strapped to his body, a giant grin washed over the boxer’s face beaming brighter than a supernova.
In the world of Atlanta boxing, the win was huge. Some of O’Neil’s associates believed he should follow Holyfield’s footsteps and move to the heavyweight division, which had potential for marquee money and prestige.
But on the verge of six- and seven-figure purses, the fights stopped. Some were scheduled, but they were either canceled or postponed. He didn’t fight for 14 months at the pinnacle of his career — losing one of his belts because of inactivity.
Instead of fighting boxers, O’Neil brought the fight home, unleashing hell among his loved ones. Ashlei Davis, first attracted to his handsome smile and warm heart, saw him snap into fits of fury that were preceded by episodes of paranoia. His anger showed in small bursts — he once tossed an exercise bike across a room — followed by apologies. Then they grew bigger, like the time he attacked a neighbor’s friend, breaking his jaw and throwing him in the car trunk, because he falsely believed the man kidnapped O’Neil’s daughter. Another time he threw an uppercut at Ashlei, the mother of his child, because he didn’t know her whereabouts when she went to pick up a custom order of “Give ‘Em Hell” T-shirts as a surprise.
“It was like looking at the devil,” Ashlei said. “His eyes would be blank. There would be no person or soul behind it.”
Ashlei left O’Neil in 2006 after he tossed her clothes into the fireplace, threatened to burn down the house and battered her body with a pellet gun until it snapped. She escaped by jumping out the second-floor window, fearing he had a real gun. O’Neil spent three days in jail.
“I couldn’t do it anymore,” Ashlei said.
O’Neal’s pattern of violence puzzled his friends and fighters — even the ones who saw it first-hand. It made the news the following January while he trained for his rematch against Mormeck in the secluded California mountain town of Big Bear City. He had a heated argument with his sparring partner and threw a hatchet at him. Local authorities arrested O’Neil, but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence, allowing him to resume training.
In March 2007, O’Neil squared off against Mormeck in front of a 4,000-person sold-out crowd in a Parisian suburb. The Frenchman got off to a fast start. Still rusty, O’Neil tried holding his own and went the distance, but the judges sided with Mormeck, handing O’Neil his first loss in nearly a decade. He had no more belts. He felt robbed.
“Mormeck is a great champion, but I’m even greater,” O’Neil said.
Promoter Leon Margules quickly scheduled a fight for August 2007 with a conservative five-figure purse, but O’Neil never signed the contract and failed to return Margules’ calls. The fight went on with another boxer. Two weeks after the fight, O’Neil called Margules at his office.
When am I fighting? O’Neil asked.
You didn’t show up, Margules replied.
Well, I couldn’t show up, the boxer responded.
Why not? Margules asked. Why didn’t you call me?
The man said I couldn’t show up and I couldn’t call you.
Who’s the man? Margules asked.
You know who the man is.
I have no idea who the man is, Margules stated.
What the man say, I listen to.
Afterward, O’Neil sent Margules what he described as “crazy” letters that accused him of theft.
O’Neil failed to make weight for his next bout. In April 2008, he flew to Poland to face Tomasz Adamek, a national icon with a 33-1 record. The Jamaican had a swagger as if he were still champion, even demanding a luxury suite. He showed flashes of his former self in the ring, and though he fell to his knee early, he kept the bout close. But after round seven, O’Neil abruptly returned to his corner, his head hung low, and asked Pops to remove his gloves.
I don’t want to do this no more, he said.
O’Neil becomes Elyun
No one exactly knows why, but when those gloves came off, something changed inside O’Neil. He fell into a funk, cutting off communication with his family — even his daughter. Rumors circulated among his friends regarding the reason behind his disappearance. Did he fall in with the wrong crowd? Had he converted to Islam? Had he taken too many blows to the head?
Norma feared the sport had affected his mind. She could hear it in his voice over the phone. Was it a sign of mental illness? She didn’t know for sure. All she knew was that she was worried enough to fly to Atlanta for a week.
Son, we have to go to the doctor, Norma told him face to face. We need to check things out.
She convinced him to see a psychologist. However, O’Neil talked over the doctor, insisting everything was fine, never submitting to a full psychological diagnosis.
As a naturopath, he bristled at being prescribed medication. He said consuming drugs would poison his body and “dumb” his mind.
Ma’am, there’s nothing we can do for him, the doctor told her.
In 2009, as he tried to make sense of his fading boxing career, O’Neil left the country to spend time with his grandparents in Catadupa. His nonagenarian grandmother had lost a leg to poor circulation. O’Neil helped her however he could, lifting her out of bed, carrying her to the car so she could get to her doctor’s appointments. He started construction on an apartment for his mother attached to her brother’s house in the countryside.
He became a ghost to his friends, even with Norma, for several years. Then in 2011, friend and fellow boxer Cedric Boswell received a call from O’Neil. They hadn’t talked in three years. O’Neil was back in Atlanta. He was now vegan, recording rap songs and had rediscovered God. He had changed his name to Elyun El — “God Most High” in Hebrew.
Despite his name change, Elyun still wanted to fight. Boswell secured an undercard slot for his upcoming fight in Florida. Richard “The Destroyer” Hall, an aging former champion, had trained for nearly a year before the fight. Elyun only spent a month in training. No one seemed surprised that Elyun was a shell of his former self. In the second round, Hall landed a left, causing Elyun’s knees to buckle. He tumbled — suffering two more blows to the head before striking the mat. It was his worst loss ever.
In December 2011, Elyun knocked out Tennessee fighter Rico Cason in a mere 58 seconds at Fort Myer Joint Military Base in Arlington, Va. It wasn’t a marquee win — Cason had a 17-20 record — but it offered hope. Promoter Jerry Hall said Elyun received a few offers to fight, but the money wasn’t right. Instead, they trained for a bout in Villa Rica the following August. With four days to go, though, Elyun postponed the fight due to a minor head injury.
Life after boxing
During his comeback, Elyun reconnected with Chenneil Brown, his old high-school girlfriend who’d stayed in touch over the years. Brown — who had moved to Georgia, married and divorced — now worked for Atlanta Public Schools. She had last seen him in 2007 following the Mormeck rematch when she made an impromptu trip to Atlanta. She found him sporting a Mohawk and his normally spotless home was a mess. Even more surprising, he had suddenly gotten married but didn’t tell her until she arrived. She left, shell-shocked.
Now, in a series of Skype calls, Chenneil heard about O’Neil’s name change, his hermitic life, his comeback attempt. His short-lived marriage had produced a son. O’Neil hardly even saw him. I’ve talked to you more in two days than I have to anyone in the past two years, he told her. Elyun seemed like his old self. He said an emergency room doctor had diagnosed him with bipolar disorder during his visit to Jamaica. He wouldn’t take the medication prescribed to maintain his mental health, but a simple acknowledgement of his condition seemed like a positive step given his past reluctance.
Chenneil did, however, grow concerned for his well-being after a doctor moonlighting as a fight promoter started to prescribe him pain medications. Chenneil saw Elyun down a cocktail of drugs. She feared they would have permanent long-term side effects.
You have to come off of all of these, Brown insisted.
By 2013, Elyun moved back to Georgia, staying at Brown’s house near Clarkston, after promising to detox. He helped out around the house, recording rap songs and growing sage and peppers in the garden. “He was like Tony from ‘Who’s the Boss?’” she said. He routinely cooked meals for her two daughters, none better than his signature Jamaican ackee and saltfish.
“He lived life one day at a time,” Chenneil said, “just trying to consider the possibility of reconstructing his life without boxing.”
Most days Chenneil saw the kind and caring man she loved. Without warning, though, his gentle demeanor would give way to occasional squabbles that, over time, escalated. One brisk December day, Elyun posted a message on her Facebook page that offended her so much that she asked him to move out. He refused. The police were called after the argument led to an altercation, during which Chenneil’s hand was cut. But no charges were filed.
They reconciled and moved out to Douglasville. There were good nights and bad ones. Brown had teaching experience in special education, and she felt like she had the tools to help stabilize Elyun. She felt obligated to get his life back on track and appeared to be successful.
Columbus Day 2013 started off a perfect day: Elyun tended to the garden, Chenneil lounged around, and they cooked dinner like usual. She fell asleep on the sofa and woke up just past midnight to find Elyun standing over her with a manic look on his face.
“It was like he was having a flashback to the ring,” she said.
They argued and it escalated to a scuffle that culminated with Elyun punching Brown’s forehead. One of her daughters, scared in the other room, called 911.
The police questioned each of them at the house. Chenneil, holding bloody napkins to her forehead, told officers that Elyun lacked proper medication and was experiencing a manic episode.
Elyun talked nonsense. I was sent from another galaxy, he told authorities. When he resisted arrest, sheriff’s deputies tasered Elyun and transported him to the Douglas County Jail. He faced a string of charges — aggravated battery, cruelty to children, obstruction of a law enforcement officer — and was denied bail.
Elyun later told Chenneil he had no memory of striking her but felt remorse for hurting her. He waited over a month for a public defender while facing a potential 20-year prison sentence.
No one would have blamed Chenneil if she’d left Elyun. But she believed him. More importantly, she believed incarceraton could be the best chance for Elyun to get the proper mental health treatment he long resisted.
“I looked at it like a blessing,” Chenneil said.
She urged the prosecutor for leniency — but only if Elyun would be open to treatment. The prosecutor offered a plea deal: Serve two years, plus 18 years probation, and pay a $500 fine. In addition, Elyun would be required to receive care from a mental health professional and “take all prescribed medicines as prescribed.” Lastly, he was banned from using drugs, drinking alcohol and visiting Douglas County — except on official court business. Elyun agreed.
Photo: A poster of O’Neil remains as a haunting reminder of his rise to glory at the Paul Murphy Boxing Club. Henry Taylorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Gentle giant returns
Elyun finally received a full psych evaluation during his time served in state prison. According to Chenneil, Elyun was properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety, and he received a regimen of treatments including counseling and medication. He told Chenneil his mind felt clearer and he wanted to repair a life that had derailed.
Elyun was released from prison in September 2015. He was 40, living in a halfway house, with the prime years of his fighting life behind him. But he’d started noticing benefits from the treatment he’d long needed.
Man, the medication calms me down, Elyun confided to Jerry Hall during a visit to the halfway house.
Chenneil watched Elyun become a gentle giant again — like he was before boxing — and start making amends with old friends. He lived simply and owned few possessions. He rediscovered his love for cooking. Together they decided he should pursue a restaurant career. Elyun submitted job applications at several restaurants, attended a job fair and chatted with a job outreach program.
He called Norma just about every day.
Two days before Thanksgiving, Elyun and Chenneil got into an argument at her south DeKalb County home over him having one too many drinks.
I don’t want you to be in a space where you can’t regulate yourself, she said.
I’m a grown man, he snapped back.
I just want it to be a safe space, she said.
Elyun decided to return to his apartment off Campbellton Road.
I’ll see you tomorrow, he said.
Chenneil pleaded for him to stay.
Don’t worry, I’m good.
He left around 10 p.m. Elyun called her from the Panola Road bus stop to say the bus had pulled up. As he collapsed in his seat, he cracked a couple jokes and told her goodnight.
After they hung up, Chenneil texted him an old picture of them with the message: Even in the moments when you’re mad at me, or when I’m mad at you, or disappointed, I still love you.
As Chenneil got ready for bed, her phone lit up. She smiled at his response: Love is the thing that matters the most, not the moment.
On a westbound MARTA train, Elyun passed by the Georgia World Congress Center, the place where his career began, on the way to the last stop at the Hamilton E. Holmes station. He made one last call to his ex-wife, who now lived on the West Coast, so he could talk to his 8-year-old son. He then boarded a bus that snaked through southwest Atlanta. A few minutes past midnight, Elyun tugged the cord and hopped off the bus near the Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, a short walk from his apartment.
As he walked south on Harbin Road, three teenagers — Quintavis Robinson, 19; Tycorion Davis, 18; and Cortez Williams, 16 — barreled north in a 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser. They had started their day by allegedly stealing the car from a Wal-Mart customer before committing robbery in East Point. Just past midnight, they caught sight of Elyun and a man dressed in drag who had also gotten off the bus. According to Atlanta police, the teenagers tried to steal the other man’s purses and shot him once in the hip. Then, police say, they snatched Elyun’s black bag that contained his passport and prescriptions. A single bullet pierced his right shoulder, his heart and both lungs before exiting his body. The teens fled the scene and left Elyun, his white T-shirt and black denim soaked in blood, down in the road for one last count.
Photo: O’Neil with his three championship belts at the height of his career. Contributed
A hundred family members, friends and associates from Georgia’s boxing community gathered at the Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home to pay respects to the former world champion. His kids were there. So were all the women in his life — Norma, the mothers of his children, and Chenneil. In one corner, there was Pops, his former trainer, who bawled his eyes out. In another, local promoter David Oblas, who gave Elyun’s son a signed pair of his dad’s gloves.
The walls Elyun had erected to keep people at arms-length suddenly crumbled. For the first time, people discussed him — not just the famed boxer O’Neil, but also the human, Elyun. The friends who felt abandoned saw the boxers he inspired. The boxers saw his family, including the daughter he brought ringside so long ago, now a young adult. They slowly pieced together the mysterious decline that beset one of Georgia’s most promising pugilists.
The month after Elyun’s death, Norma was told the Atlanta Police Department had arrested all three suspects. Last year she was pleased to see charges filed, but to date there has been little movement on the case. Dontaye Carter, a spokesperson for the Fulton D.A.’s office, said prosecutors have “actively pursued the case” but declined to comment further regarding a potential trial. For now, the teenagers are still in prison waiting for their day in court, a day Norma and Chenneil hope will bring O’Neil justice.
Following the funeral, Norma flew back to Montego Bay with her son’s casket. She held a second memorial service for her family and had Elyun’s remains cremated. Then she took him back to the foothills of Catadupa to bury his ashes near those of his grandparents. There, Norma hoped her son, who punched his way to minor glory, would finally rest in peace — the ultimate prize after the fight of a lifetime.
ABOUT THE STORY
I initially wanted to know why a champion boxer was slain on a quiet residential road in southwest Atlanta. That search took me from Doraville to Douglasville to Delaware to learn about O’Neil’s life. In the process, I found an untold tale about O’Neil that proved bigger than any sports tragedy. His fight against mental illness – an ugly battle that hurt the ones he loved – had nearly knocked him out. But he clawed back to a life worth living in the months before he died. That story, ugly as it got, needed to be told.
ABOUT THE REPORTER
Max Blau is an award-winning Atlanta-based journalist. He is a Southern correspondent for STAT, the Boston Globe Media’s national health and life sciences website, and has written for CNN, the Guardian and Atlanta magazine. His stories often focus on health care, mental illness and addiction.
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