Wilhelm von Homburg
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|Wilhelm von Homburg|
August 25, 1940
|Died||March 10, 2004
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Wilhelm von Homburg (born Norbert Grupe; August 25, 1940 – March 10, 2004) was a German wrestler, boxer, and film actor perhaps best known for his portrayal of Vigo the Carpathian in the film Ghostbusters II (1989).
Homburg was born in Berlin in 1940. As Allied air raids were occurring in Berlin, his family soon chose to move into what became West Germany. Over time, Homburg developed a muscular body, and his father Richard, who was a baker by profession, introduced him to wrestling. Homburg and his family moved to the United States in the 1950s, and he and his father fought across the states on some wrestling associations. It was in the U.S. where he dropped his real name Norbert Grupe for marketing reasons, and took the name "Wilhelm von Homburg".
He became interested in boxing after Emile Griffith's fateful third bout with Benny Paret. Homburg made his professional boxing debut on July 20, 1962, drawing (tying) over four rounds with Sam Wyatt in Los Angeles. Over the span of eight years, he had 46 bouts with 29 wins in the light heavyweight and heavy weight classes. Homburg adopted the nickname "Prinz" ("Prince"), in order to create an aura of royalty around himself in a similar manner later adopted by British boxer Prince Naseem Hamed.
Homburg's first boxing victory came on September 16, 1962, when he knocked out Bob Brown in the third round at San Diego. On October 25, he lost for the first time, being knocked out in round three by Freeman Harding in the third round at Los Angeles. Eight victories followed, including two over Clifford Gray, before he drew against Tommy Merrill, June 1, 1963, in Las Vegas. Homburg won three of his next five fights, then returned home with a record of 17-3-2. He settled in the city of Hamburg and was managed by Willi Zeller in Germany. Homburg held his German professional boxing debut on May 8, 1964, when he was held to a ten round draw by Ulli Ritter. However, he went on to win seven of his next ten bouts, being described by German press at the time as a "promising newcomer" and using his fight earnings to move to the Hamburg neighborhood of St. Pauli. During this period he and his lifelong friend, Texas heavyweight fighter, Buddy Turman shared billing on several occasions in Germany and Austria, until Turman's retirement in 1967.
Homburg got his first championship try on November 19, 1966, when he contested Piero del Papa for the EBU regional Light Heavyweight title in Berlin. Homburg was defeated by an eleventh round disqualification against Del Papa, who later lost by a first round knockout to Vicente Rondon in a challenge for the WBA World Light Heavyweight title.
For his part, Homburg returned to winning on December 9, only three weeks after his defeat against Del Papa, knocking out Archie McBride in nine rounds at Frankfurt. After winning three more fights, losing one and drawing one, he faced the well respected Gerard Zech, who sported a 33-8-3 record, in an eliminator for the German Light Heavyweight championship. That fight was held on November 8, 1968. Initially declared a loser by a ten round decision, Homburg nevertheless had his hands raised as winner of the contest when it was discovered that the referee, who also acted as official judge, had made a mathematical mistake when he tabulated his scorecard after the bout had finished, and he actually had Homburg, not Zech, as the fight's winner.
Homburg next faced Guido Rinaldi, who lost a fifteen round decision to Archie Moore for the world Light Heavyweight title, three times in 1969, beating him in their first fight by a fifth round knockout, losing a ten round decision and winning their third clash, by an eighth round knockout. The latter would turn to be his last victory.
Homburg went on boxing, but he lost his next four fights, including defeats at the hands of Oscar Bonavena and Jürgen Blin. On December 11, 1970, he held his last fight, losing by a ten round decision to Rudiger Schmidtke in Cologne. Homburg retired from boxing with a record of 29 wins, 11 losses and 6 draws in 46 bouts, with 24 wins coming by knockout.
Thinking of a future after boxing, he launched a career as an actor, debuting with a small role in the World War II related film Morituri (1965) starring Marlon Brando, and around the same time a bit part in the Hitchcock political thriller Torn Curtain (1966), with Paul Newman in the lead role.
After being defeated in the boxing ring by Oscar Bonavena in 1969, Homburg made an appearance on German TV the next day. After the reporter Rainer Günzler had made some snide remarks about his boxing career and his flamboyant lifestyle, Homburg sat through the 10 minute live interview not answering any of Günzler's questions, only putting on a sarcastic smile that he later used in the film Ghostbusters II (1989).
Homburg appeared in small roles in several films such as The Wrecking Crew (1969) with Sharon Tate and Dean Martin, in which Homburg plays the character Gregor. He appeared as a villainous pimp in the Werner Herzog film Stroszek (1977).
After 1977, Homburg's career in movies was in abeyance for a decade as he was given a prison sentence of two years and three months for "physical injury" (possibly assault) and "activities in prostitution". It has been reported that Homburg spent about five years behind bars during his life. Homburg made his big screen return in the action thriller Die Hard (1988) with Alan Rickman and Andreas Wisniewski. Homburg plays James, a member of the German terrorist group that plans to rob the Nakatomi Tower, meeting his demise courtesy of a DIY bomb from John McClane (Bruce Willis). From there, Homburg appeared in the movie sequel Ghostbusters II (1989) playing Vigo the Carpathian, a 17th Century Eastern European tyrant (based loosely on Vlad Ţepeş), the role for which Homburg is possibly best known (though he was dubbed by Max von Sydow). Homburg appeared in several films over the next few years including Diggstown (1992), with James Woods, and as Simon in John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (1994). The film with Woods centers around his character, Charles Diggs, who is a boxer who cannot speak owing to brain damage acquired in a fight.
Homburg led a very public life. Because of this, many of his affairs became scandalous.
Homburg was at various times nicknamed "the boxer Beatle" (because of the long hair he sported during his fights) and "the German answer to Muhammad Ali" (because of his takes on 1960s issues). His smoking habit was widely known; he entered rings with a cigar in his mouth many times, and smoking is unusual for professional boxers. Many German youths began to imitate his acts.
Homburg was a rebellious person, and he moved to St. Pauli's red district, becoming involved with drugs and sex. Homburg was constantly followed by papparazzi, who documented his life hanging out with drug dealers, pimps, and a local Hells Angels chapter.
Homburg was accused of a number of crimes, such as extortion, pimping and drug dealing. Far from the German limelight, Homburg tried to remake his life, restarting his career as an actor. He enjoyed the company of dogs and horse riding at the famed Griffith Park. In Los Angeles, he lived in an apartment which he decorated with mementos from his boxing career.
In his later years Homburg reportedly toured the surrounding area of Los Angeles with his dog in an old VW camper van. On 10 March 2004, after a brief stay with retired boxer Buddy Turman in Longview, Texas, a destitute Homburg died in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, of cancer, only a few years after German moviemaker Gerd Kroske produced a prize winning documentary on Homburg's life called The Boxing Prince (Der Boxprinz) which was released in 2002.
- Wilhelm von Homburg at the Internet Movie Database
- Professional boxing record for Wilhelm von Homburg from BoxRec
- The Boxing Prince