Death of a Fighter : Boxer, Trainer, Pritikin Acolyte, as Taut at 65 as He Was at 30, Eddie Andrade Embodied the Fitness Movement. Then His Sweat Suit-Clad Body Washed Ashore in Santa Barbara. 'Too Much Pain' Read the Note He Keft Behind. Or Was This His Way of Beating Death to the Punch?

Michael Fessier, Jr. is a writer living in Santa Barbara. His last piece for the Magazine was on the killing of Malibu recluse Donal Scott in a drug raid

"Eddie," we would say, "you're looking good , man." And Eddie Andrade would smile behind his jazz musician's goatee--a smile that said he knew important things you didn't--and say it right back to us on another perfect blue-sky day at the city college stadium in Santa Barbara where we all ran and worked out.

But the truth was, Eddie always looked better. Much better. The man had style--his sweats were always color-coordinated and so spruce that we accused him of pressing them--and he carried about him an aura of affable superiority. He'd been a successful boxer in the Air Force (150 wins, 84 of them knockouts, and only one loss) and even now, in his 60s, still had the lean, quick body of a fighter at the top of his game. He owned no car and went everywhere on a bike he groomed like a cavalryman's horse--to the martial arts studios and boxing clubs, where he tutored a select group of clients that included actor Fred Ward, to the swimming pools, weight rooms and running tracks.

Eddie and Santa Barbara were a perfect match. This is, after all, a city where the downtown library carries 374 volumes under "Physical Fitness" while "Christianity" gets along with 270; where, if the Church of Ultimate Fitness is not headquartered, it is certainly well attended; and where the dream of achieving what Jack London called "transcendence through the physical"-- creating a kind of impregnable fortress within one's own physical being--is truly taken to heart.

Eddie Andrade certainly did. And the odd thing, the truly astounding thing, was how close he actually came to achieving it.. It was as if Eddie was the genuine article, the fitness fanatic who'd won the big bet, the man on whom age hadn't laid a glove. Eddie was the guywho could enjoy all those years that apostate Americans--the smokers and beer drinkers and gluttons--had thrown away, gorging themselves into early graves.

Then, at just the moment he seemed to have won, Eddie Andrade quit the game and left the arena for good.

*

Eddie's suicide on the night of May 18, 1993, reached the city college running track two days later. We were stunned. It was, on the face of it, not credible: Eddie? His method--a bullet to the temple while standing on a bluff above the pounding Pacific--made it all the more unlikely. For all his pride--he liked to pull from his ever-present black fanny pack a moldering clip from the Los Angeles Times sports page, showing him, at 18, standing over the fallen body of Arturo Cruz in the first round of the Olympic welterweight boxing trials--Eddie always had a self-effacing side. His death seemed almost operatic, as if at the end he was attempting a communication that we were not able to grasp.

Eddie had left his bike at his mid-city apartment and taken a cab to Shoreline Park, on the mesa up the hill from where we ran. He arrived just after sundown and walked across the grass to a spot called Lookout Point--a kind of scenic overlook built into a break in the chain-link fence that runs along the cliff. He wore his usual sweats and Windbreaker, the gray Adidas and the fanny pack around his waist, though this time he'd brought only some money, a card identifying him as a member of the Neptune Burial Society and a .380 Italian semiautomatic army pistol.

The tide was high against the rocks 50 feet below, and there was no moon. No one can say how long Eddie stood there--the rollerbladers, Frisbee gymnasts, runners and fast-walkers clutching sacred bottles of mineral water were gone. There were no witnesses and no one heard the shot. Still, it's hard to imagine Eddie standing there long. He was decisive in all things and had come to accomplish a task. He wanted to die, and that's what he did. "Based on the scene and circumstances and the history of the victim and his concern about his physical being . . .in conjunction with the note found at the apartment this death will be classified as a suicide," the coroner's report noted. The time of death was placed between 8 at night, when Eddie arrived at the park, and 7:30 the next morning, when his body was found by two joggers where the tide had taken it a quarter mile down the beach.

A few facts and rumors dribbled out in the wake of Eddie's death. Two days before he had undergone a hernia operation. It had been quick and successful, but there had been some pain. It was known that in the taxi on the way to the park Eddie had said to the driver: "Be careful going over the bumps, I just had an operation." Yet there was no satisfying explanation of why. No one was more widely known in Santa Barbara's diverse fitness community, and speculation about Eddie's suicide--and its possible motives--continued to circulate. The note he left seemed only to raise more questions. In it he thanked a few good friends for all they'd done for him. About his impending suicide, Eddie offered only three words: "Too much pain." Whether he refered to psychological or physical pain, no one could say. There was something incomplete--a void in the middle of the story of Eddie's suicide, which is to say in the story of Eddie himself. It was as if the marathoner had stepped off the track 10 feet from the wire. We wanted to know why, and we wanted to know what it meant.

Largely unstated in the speculation was a challenge to fitness orthodoxy: the idea that perfect fitness somehow equals perfect happiness. Some saw in Eddie's death a sort of samurai nobility--that taking his own life was better than surrendering it to the enemies of age and the body's inevitable decay. Still others saw Eddie as a fitness victim, trapped in a narcissistic dead end in which living with physical imperfections becomes intolerable.

Setting off to learn what more I could about Eddie's suicide, I doubted if I'd find a single answer. I was right about that. I was also right in thinking we hadn't known Eddie very well. The truth was we'd hardly known him at all. *

Eddie had made an instructional boxing video a year or two before he died, so I could watch him crouching, moving and throwing his quick combinations, and hear his familiar, encouraging, slightly Texas-accented voice: "Come on, come on, wait for it, wait for it . . . now. " I could talk to the small circle of people who had known Eddie well--or as well as Eddie would let himself be known--mostly his devout boxing pupils. I felt the absence of family members to talk to, wherever they might be--Los Angeles, San Diego or Houston, as rumor had it. But Eddie had done a masterful job of cutting them off, eliminating any mention of them in his address books, expelling them from his life. "I have no contact with nor do I acknowledge any next of kin," he had stated in the will he wrote six months before his death. Leaving nothing to chance he added: "If there is any claimant, I do not want them to have anything to do with the disposition of my will or disposition of my assets." He left everything--his few possessions and some money--to two of his pupils: Noah Rolland, a young Gold's Gym fitness director, and to Santa Barbara businessman Michael Amenola.

The source I missed most of all, of course, was Eddie himself, and I was eager to read any letters or journals he might have left behind. I heard he'd left some sort of "diet diaries" that were being held by Santa Barbara officials in case family members ever did show up. When eventually I reviewed them (Eddie called them his "health journals") they turned out to be much more than I had expected, running some 300 pages and covering the last 20 years of his life. Though they cover diet in great detail (at times Eddie seems to have recorded every single thing he ate or drank), the journals offer far more: a record of a philosophy, an extraordinary personal mission. In them, Eddie is a detached scientist, keeping an exacting record of his research: himself. They aren't always easy to read, not because of Eddie's handwriting--which is as upright and forceful as the man himself--but because it becomes obvious where he is headed, and you want to jump in and tell him where he's gone wrong. Not that he would have heeded the advice.

Actor Fred Ward trained with Eddie for five years and had great affection for him--"an impeccable human being," he says. Yet Ward sensed frustration. "There was something out of balance with Eddie," Ward says. "He needed to listen to other voices . . . he'd get angry very quickly and then pull it back, but it was always there and I didn't know where it came from."

There were two fights in Eddie's life he talked most about. One happened outside the ring, when he was 17, in the tough Houston neighborhood where he grew up. Four men with knives jumped him and put him in the hospital. He still had the scars. His father, a Jamaican with a famously volatile temper, went looking for his attackers. "He intended to kill them," Ward remembers Eddie saying. "But he never found them." Eddie told other friends that it was his sister's fault he got into the fight and that he never forgave her.

The other fight was the only one of the 151 Air Force bouts he lost. His opponent was a German light heavyweight. "It was the one time Eddie had been talked into fighting outside his weight class and he always regretted it," Noah Rolland says. "He said he'd been given wet gloves--gloves used by a previous fighter. Eddie blamed the gloves and said there was never a day that went by that he didn't think about those gloves and the loss." Still, Eddie's perfectionism served him well in both the Air Force, where he made First Master Sergeant E-9, the highest noncommissioned rank, and in gaining his master's in public administration (his thesis was "Waste Water Disposal in San Diego").

Coming to Santa Barbara in 1978 from San Diego, Eddie was euphoric about his new home. In the postcard city between the mountains and the sea, he would have the time and, with his Air Force pension and what he could earn as a fitness instructor, the wherewithal to focus entirely on himself. "Just a super place," he wrote in his journal, "running, swimming, education . . . clear air in a beautiful setting. Outstanding." He was 48 and starting over--"a complete change of life, permanent break with the old group, no regrets . . . the best move of my life."

*

In his journals, Eddie set up a series of goals under the heading "Personal Guide to Optimum Health." Meditation was part of the program, as was something called "memory practice," and there was even a plan to teach himself to write left-handed (which he did; there are occasional monthlong entries in a shaky, yet doggedly legible hand). But it was finding an ideal balance between a rigorous and diverse athletic schedule and diet that claimed much of his attention. He'd come to distrust the Air Force's fat-laden "meat and potato" diet, which he felt, as many experts now do, was lethal. So Eddie set out to find an ideal alternative.

For some time he tried a diet of all raw foods and experimented with 48-hour fasts (which he would continue the rest of his life). But it was in his own vegetarian take on the Pritikin diet--which had been pioneered by Nathan Pritikin in Santa Barbara years before--that Eddie became a fervent believer. "A remarkable month," Eddie wrote in January of 1984. "Into Pritikin full bore . . . results were spectacular . . . weight 147, training upper body without pain, ran two miles in 13:08 . . ." Over the years, much like the sergeant he had been, Eddie charted his daily progress as he hewed to the standards he had set for himself. The last item on the chart was devoted to "Pritikin Compliance." A good day would get "100%"; the days he ate his once- or twice-a-year hamburger, a 30 or 40%. "General condition must be perfect," he wrote in 1985. "Will keep close watch . . ."

Eddie, hardly uniquely, had come to believe that there was nothing in his life he couldn't control with proper diet and exercise. He had been bothered all his life with headaches and back problems, and though curing himself was another of his goals, they would continue to plague him until the end. Still, there were many triumphs, and he took immense pleasure in the "good" numbers his diligent efforts produced. "Incredible pulse at 40 this morning . . . cholesterol 126, triglycerides 98."

"Finished up well," he wrote at the end of April in 1988, "despite back problems. Doing tremendously well with 90 pounds barbell curl on the bench . . . " There are just two brief mentions of family in the 300 pages ("self-serving relatives," seethed one) and no mention at all of the girlfriends he occasionally spoke of to friends. Instead, Eddie's strongest allegiance seemed to be the Pritikin dietary regimen. When Pritikin committed suicide in a New York hospital in 1985 following the re-emergence of the leukemia he had successfully fought for years, Eddie, friends said, was grief-stricken.

In 1992, Eddie Andrade turned 65. He still lived the sort of active athletic life most of his contemporaries had long since abandoned; he told friends that he felt better in his 60s than he had in his 30s. But now, inevitably, even his superbly maintained body began to betray him. In early 1992 he wrote: "Cardiac check at Goleta Hospital outstanding" and "took blood pressure and seemed stable enough. Not pleased with pulse. Up into the middle 60s. Hopefully shadow boxing will bring it down. Staying very close to Pritikin program and water fasting, had no headaches this month. Back feels very good and seems to be getting to 100%."

A few months later, however, Eddie suffered two immobilizing back spasms that left him helpless on the floor of Gold's Gym. The spasms continued off and on through July. "Could not stand total breakdown," he wrote of the incidents. "Felt like muscle out of line." (At one point he admitted in his journal that, unable to give up boxing, many of his problems seemed to be traceable to a bruising 15 rounds he fought in 1985.) "Body must be getting out of good function," he wrote this same month. "Started last night and will now strive to get back to pure diet normalcy . . . can't deviate from strict Pritikin regimen. [Early evening] blood pressure 140 . . . Taken again at 22:15 [is]--125/86. What's going on?" In his last six months, Eddie seemed profoundly isolated within his own failing physical self. He began to describe his body as if it were an old house whose need for repair--most of it minor--was gradually overwhelming him: There was a lesion over his left eye, bruises on his arm from a fall, trouble with his jaw, leg cramps, "swimmer's" ear, a sense of "something wrong." In January he wrote: "Felt very strange after workout and shower . . . kind of numb with eyesight and hearing not normal . . . right on edge but nothing definitive happening . . . went to bed at 20:30 . . . awoke at midnight feeling normal. What was that all about."

He told friends he felt as if he were "falling apart" and worried about prostate cancer despite several negative tests. But the need for a hernia operation was confirmed by several doctors and scheduled for May 16, 1993, a Monday. "He's calling me 10 times a day," says his friend Mike Amenola, "asking should he do it or shouldn't he. He's read everything there is to read on hernias and still he's undecided."

After Eddie's suicide, one of the things that most puzzled those around him was why he would go through with the operation if he had already decided to end his life. (The weekend before the operation, Eddie fired for the first timethe .380 army pistol he'd owned for eight years.. "I wanted to see if it still worked," he told friends.) Amenola, who is still emotional about Eddie's death, has thought a lot about that question. "I think Eddie was on he fence," he says. "It depended on how the operation went."

By most accounts the operation was routine, and Eddie was released the same day. To Amenola he seemed upbeat despite considerable postoperative pain. "He talked as though he had a new lease on life and said he wanted to go sailing on my boat and he was thinking of running again." On the other hand, Eddie had told Dr. David Davidson, who performed the operation, that he wasn't pleased with his body's reaction. "I guess he thought he should have sailed through it easier," Davidson says. Eddie did not record in his journals his thoughts at the end. The man contemplating his death seemed separated from the diligent record keeper who continued recording vegetable soup and yams eaten; his weight (a steady 143); the five minutes a day he meditated (down from 30 minutes in previous years). The notes and comments became briefer, almost perfunctory. On the last day, Eddie left the final column, for Pritikin compliance, blank. It's almost as if the objective scientist, looking at the data, had decided that he had taken the experiment as far as he could, and, dropping his pencil on the desk, concluded: "That's it."

*

In his book on suicide, "The Courage to Live," Ari Kiev writes: "For many the suicide crisis is a positive turning point. Once it is past they find they can direct their self-destructive impulses towards positive self-renewing activities." Eddie may have teetered, but in the end he took the cab to Shoreline Park. Santa Barbara building contractor Geoff Lancaster, a friend who lived on the same block, saw the cab pass by with Eddie sitting in the front seat and tried to wave to him. Eddie didn't see him. "I thought to myself, 'Eddie looks like death,' " Lancaster says.

Of the lessons that Eddie's friends took from his suicide, Noah Rolland seems most apt: "Do not put everything into the physical . . . let people into your life. " Eddie had become too much the monk, too distrustful of pleasure, Mike Amenola thinks. "Eddie didn't have enough fun. Now I think maybe it's no great sin to be a non-practicing vegetarian."

A lapsed Catholic, Amenola has since started going to Mass again. From the estate money Eddie left him and Roland, Amenola paid for his daughter Kimberly's wedding. She and Eddie had become good friends during the many Christmases and Thanksgivings Eddie spent with the family. After he died, Kimberly wrote a poem to Eddie. It concludes:

He made a mistake that we wish

we could somehow unmake

Friendship has unwanted consequences

Let us claim forgiveness and lay no blame

We shall carry the burden, share the pain

We will all remember the trainer, once boxer, with love.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°