A legendary United States Summer Olympian has reportedly passed away at the age of 86.
Rafer Johnson, a former United States gold medalist and Hollywood actor, reportedly died on Tuesday in Los Angeles. No cause of death was given.
UCLA, where Johnson starred in college, released a statement on his passing.
“We are devastated by the news of the passing of Rafer Johnson. Words cannot sufficiently express what Rafer means to this athletic department, to this university and to our greater community. A true humanitarian, Rafer’s profound impact transcends sport. He will forever be remembered not only for his historic athletic achievements, but also for his heart and for the tremendous example he has set for all Bruins. Today, we mourn the loss of a legend. Our heartfelt sympathy is with the entire Johnson family, including his wife, Betsy, his children, Jenny and Josh, his son-in-law, Kevin, and his four grandchildren,” the school announced.
Johnson, a Texas native, won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1960 Olympics.
A recipient of both academic and athletic scholarships to UCLA, Johnson arrived in Westwood in 1954-55 and made an immediate impact, captaining UCLA’s freshman track & field team. That summer, he won a gold medal in the decathlon at the Pan American Games. In 1956, he led UCLA to its first-ever NCAA Track & Field Championship and also won the Pacific Coast Conference low hurdles title. Johnson competed for two legendary Hall of Fame coaches in Elvin “Ducky” Drake, who he credited as the most influential coach of his coaching career, and John Wooden. Johnson played for two seasons with the men’s basketball team under Wooden and a starter in 1958-59, when he led the team in field goal percentage (.507) and ranked third in scoring with an 8.2 average.
An all-around student-athlete, Johnson was UCLA’s third African-American student body president in 1958. He also participated in numerous activities and organizations, including the Air Force ROTC, the community-focused Yeomans club, the spirit-oriented Kelps and became the first African American to pledge a national fraternity at the University (and potentially the first west of the Mississippi) when he joined Pi Lambda Phi. Johnson graduated from UCLA in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science in physical education.
Rest in peace, Rafer.