Boxer Hector "Macho" Camacho was a champion until the appetites that consumed him cost him his life.
Credit: Lane Stewart / Sports Illustrated / Getty Images

He certainly owned New York; the city was Macho's oyster in the 1980s. Don King gave him an Eldorado when Macho was still a teen, and he used it to drive half the hood to the clubs, the lot of them piling out in skintight leather to get busy with the B-girls at Roxy or Xenon or the Underground. "He'd come from hard times and wanted us all happy; the dude was mad generous," says Rivera. "Champagne, clothing, help with the rent – couldn't no one go in their pocket with him there." He was especially kind to the neighborhood beauties, buying them wardrobes and jewelry, playing Santa with a red-nosed hard-on. "He always had girls willing to do whatever, but that was just the deal of being with Hector," says his ex-girlfriend, Keisha Colon. "He was sweet and funny and never did it to hurt you: He just needed to be out there day and night. It's like he couldn't be still for one second."

By 19, he was a national featherweight champ and by 21, world titleholder. "He had good, not great, power, but his footwork was genius and, Christ, was he fun to watch," says Katz. "He'd miss intentionally with the right and use that hand to pull your head down into his left, or bait you into a wild swing, then spin around and dry-hump you in the middle of the ring. The crowd ate it up, so he'd do it some more. You might not get a brawl, but you'd get a show."

Macho wasn't yet the rump-shaking, drag-wearing fop he'd become in the early 1990s. He didn't need flamboyance; he was the best small fighter in the world. He went 36-0 in the 1980s and won most bouts by whopping margins. A huge draw on CBS and HBO, he built his fan base and earnings profile when he became lightweight champ in 1985. Heavier fighters – Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran – were earning tens of millions in pay-per-view wars that the whole world stopped to see. Macho ate like mad to join them but had trouble putting size on; he simply lived too fast to muscle up. "I'd scoop his shoes into a pillowcase and hide 'em before a fight so he wouldn't break curfew to party," says Velez. "Didn't matter to Hector: He'd wear his girl's shoes out, so I hid those, too – for all that did." Flannery went further, swiping every stitch of clothing and stashing it under his bed, but Macho still tried to slip out and catch the elevator – naked – down to the casino in Tahoe.

He would pay for those indiscretions. By the time he bulked up to face the brand names, they were either gone or over the hill, and the next wave of greats hadn't arrived yet. (He'd later fight Leonard and knock him out when Sugar was 41. Ditto his pair of blah wins over Duran, a busted valise in his mid-forties.) There'd be million-dollar bouts against Chavez, Trinidad, and the rising De la Hoya – but Macho was himself a shot fighter then, a jab-and-run horsefly who fought not to get hurt en route to the cashier's window. How much he actually netted from those fights, though, was another story. Velez, Flannery, and Levien had either quit or been fired by 1991, replaced by Don King. "We'd had a great team, totally clean and transparent, before King got into his ear," says Levien. "What happened after we left is anyone's guess, but Hector never got to retire from boxing. He was still going at it in middle age."

Early in the 1990s, as his courage eroded and his taste for cocaine deepened, Macho became less a serious fighter than a burlesque hoofer who boxed. His ringwear, always a little outré (side-slit trunks showing lots of leg, head scarves cribbed from Carmen Miranda), turned bawdy and strange and not the least bit unusual at, say, a gay-pride parade on Folsom Street. Whether entering as the Indian in the Village People, a fireman with flame-colored tassels and codpiece, or a Roman centurion in leather skirts and exquisite gold headdress, he seemed to be staging his own coming-out party. There had long been whispers about Hector and men, even, or especially, among his women. "I'd tell him, 'The stuff you wear and do, it's real faggy sometimes,'" says Amy Camacho, his wife of seven years and the mother of three of his children. "He'd hang naked in his condo with this male pop singer, right in front of the kids, or walk outside in see-through shorts with a tiny black bikini underneath. But he'd say, 'Bullshit, girl, you just jealous of me. I'm the Macho Man!'"

Whatever the case, his getups and pole-dancer entrances put fannies in the seats. "From old ladies to little girls, I hear, 'You better knock him out for me: I hate him,'" said De la Hoya before their match in 1997. Macho lost that fight, but obnoxious was a smart second act for him, a way to stay viable and well paid. Regrettably, it wasn't just an act: The sweet, funny guy who lived to make merry had been gobbled up, whole, by his lifestyle. "Even in camp, he would buy coke and hoard it till the second that fight was over," says Amy. "I'm talking baggies of stuff, enough to kill an ox. If I hadn't flushed some of it down the toilet when he sparred, he'd have been dead in 1997, and I'd only have two kids, not three."

Depending on whom you ask, Macho's marriage to Amy was either his best move in life – or his worst. "Ay coño, I hate that bitch; she kill my son," says Maria. "She take and take and take until she spend him up. He cry me, 'Mami, why she do me like this?'" "Amy's a lovely woman and an even better mom; she raised those boys by herself," says Flannery. There are no nuanced views, though the majority stand with Amy.

The couple had known each other as kids in Spanish Harlem, though Macho, six years older, was a star already with a constellation of girls. "He'd honk outside my window from his red Corvette, though I didn't give him play till years later," says Amy. "Then the day I turned 18, I'm at the pay phone and it's Hector, calling to wish me happy birthday. I turn and there he is, on that big-ass car phone. He scooped me up to take me shopping – but he still got none that night. I was the first girl to tell him no."

Nothing would happen between them until Amy's mid-twenties, though Macho did reveal himself that night. "He took me to his place on Fordham Road and told me to watch a video that he'd shot. It was just him in a room looking into the camera, crying about how lonely he is. I mean, I was shocked; he's surrounded 24/7. But I guess what he was saying was, no one knows me."

Soon after that night, Macho moved to Florida, erecting a compound in the middle of nowhere and becoming the prince of tiny Clewiston, population 5,000. He filled the drive with sports cars that he totaled within months of purchase; built a menagerie with bobcat, gator, and ferrets; and put an extension on the house with a boxing ring so he could spar when the spirit moved him. But the barrio followed him down there in the form of his brother Felix and a bunch of their friends. Every night, they raced 100 miles to the clubs in Miami, where Macho swept in wearing a glitter suit and bought round after round for the house. His girlfriend, Keisha, who'd come south with him, threw her hands up after a year and left for law school. At that point, all hell broke loose: Macho racked up busts for speeding and DUI, his friends from New York brought down enough guns to turn the place into a shooting range, and the cops told Flannery that they were going to arrest the whole bunch of them for burglary and drugs.

Re-enter Amy, whom Camacho ran into in New York. After a brief courtship, she got pregnant in 1989 and turned the Clewiston zoo into a home. She purged most of the wildlife, both two- and four-legged, cut back on his all-night romps, and began to get him booked on Spanish variety shows, where his antic bravado and sly self-mockery earned him a new wave of fans. But Macho could no more manage success than he could his cocaine habit. Within a couple of years, he'd go missing for days, then come back filthy and unslept. "I knew it had gotten bad when they stopped him for speeding and he told me, 'Here, hold my blow, they won't search you,'" says Amy. "I'd go, 'You out your damn mind? I have babies at home. I'm not touching that shit.'" His absences grew longer – weeks, months – and his moods more aberrant on return. "That happy guy I'd known, always up, always joking – the boys didn't know him that way. He was angry, no patience, never spending time, and then he'd be gone for six months. He'd call me from wherever – 'I love you; you still love me?' – but, frankly, I was glad to have him out."

Amy moved the kids to Orlando and opened a beauty salon. Macho came back long enough to impregnate her with Tyler, their third son. In 1998, she filed for divorce, tired of getting phone calls from other women and hassling with his family. "His mother is straight evil, that's all I'll say; he loved her, but she made his life hell. In training camp once, she barged into his room and waved a bag of coke in his face, going, 'Lookee what I brought for my baby!'" Macho moved with a girlfriend to Detroit and showed up sporadically in Orlando, appearing with no warning on Amy's doorstep. He rarely paid support until courts forced him to. In his forties now, he was still fighting several times a year, but only against brand-X boxers for a couple-hundred grand. Then in 2004, training in Mississippi for a bout, he got high, busted into a computer shop where he'd brought his laptop for repairs, and took a leak on a fax machine. He might as well have pissed on his bank account: He served two weeks and didn't fight again until 2008.