Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella (1919 - 1990)

Thomas Rocco Barbella
1919 - 1990
updated February 06, 2019
Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella was born on January 1, 1919 in New York, New York. He died on May 22, 1990 at age 71. We know that Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella had been residing in New York County, New York United States.

Thomas Rocco Barbella (January 1, 1919[1] – May 22, 1990), better known as Rocky Graziano, was an American professional boxer who held the World Middleweight title. Graziano is considered one of the greatest knockout artists in boxing history, often displaying the capacity to take his opponent out with a single punch. He was ranked 23rd on The Ring magazine list of the greatest punchers of all time. He fought many of the best middleweights of the era including Sugar Ray Robinson. His turbulent and violent life story was the basis of the 1956 Oscar-winning drama film, Somebody Up There Likes Me, based on his 1955 autobiography of the same title.
Early life
Graziano was the son of Ida Scinto and Nicola Barbella. Barbella, nicknamed Fighting Nick Bob, was a boxer with a brief fighting record. Born in Brooklyn, Graziano later moved to an Italian enclave centered on East 10th Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A in Manhattan's East Village. He grew up as a street fighter and learned to look after himself before he could read or write. He spent years in reform school, jail, and Catholic protectories. Barbella, who got occasional work as a longshoreman, kept boxing gloves around the house and encouraged Graziano and his brothers to fight one another. When he was three years old, Barbella would make him and his brother, Joe (three years his senior), fight almost every night in boxing gloves. At age 18 he won the Metropolitan A.A.U. welterweight championship. Despite the fame and money that professional fighting seemed to offer, he didn't want to become a serious prize fighter. He didn't like the discipline of training any more than he liked the discipline of school or the Army.
Amateur career
Graziano heard from a couple of his friends about a tournament going on with a gold medal for the winner. He entered under the name of Joe Giuliani and was trained by Tobias (Toby) Zaccaria of Kings County (Brooklyn), NY. He fought four matches and ended up winning the New York Metropolitan Amateur Athletic Union Boxing Competition (1939). He sold the gold medal for $15 and decided that boxing was a good way to make cash.
A couple of weeks into amateur fighting, Graziano was picked up for stealing from a school. He went to Coxsackie Correctional Facility, where he spent three weeks, with boyhood friend Jake LaMotta, and then he went on to the New York City Reformatory where he spent five months. After he got out of the reformatory, he headed back to the gym to earn money and while there, met Eddie Cocco who started his professional career. He entered the ring under the name Robert Barber. A couple of weeks later, Graziano was charged with a probation violation and sent back to reform school where he was charged with starting a minor riot. He was then sent to Rikers Island.
When Graziano got out of jail he enlisted in the military but went AWOL after punching a captain. He escaped from Fort Dix in New Jersey and started his real boxing career under the name of "Rocky Graziano". He won his first couple of bouts. After gaining popularity under the name of Graziano, he was found by the military. After his fourth bout, he was called into manager's office to speak with a couple of military personnel. Expecting to be prosecuted and sent back to the military or jail, he fled. He returned to the military a week later. He turned himself in, but he was pardoned and given the opportunity to fight under the army's aegis!
Professional career
As he grew older and seeing no other way to raise his standard of living, Graziano signed a few boxing contracts, but the rigors of training disinterested him. He and his early managers went their separate ways but eventually, he was picked up by Irving Cohen who had the sense to give him a long leash. Cohen changed the young fighter's name from Barbella to Graziano (his grandfather's surname) and lined up a fight. Refusing to train much, Graziano nevertheless showed his killer instinct and won by a knockout. Other fights were lined up with Cohen trying, in his subtle way, to overmatch Graziano, get him defeated, and thereby show him the value of getting into condition. He even demanded a match against Sugar Ray Robinson.
In March 1945, at Madison Square Garden, Graziano scored a major upset over Billy Arnold, whose style was similar to that of Sugar Ray Robinson; he was a slick boxer with lightning-fast combinations and a knockout punch. The Ring magazine and various newspapers across the United States touted Arnold as the next Joe Louis or Sugar Ray Robinson. Arnold was a heavy favorite to defeat Graziano and then to go on to fight for the world title, but Graziano absorbed a beating in the early going, before going on to batter and knock Arnold out in the third round of the scheduled eight-round bout. Following his defeat to Graziano, Arnold was never the same.
Graziano is most famous for his three title bouts with Tony Zale, all for the middleweight title. In their first match (September 27, 1946), after flooring Graziano in the first round, Zale took a savage beating from him, and was on the verge of losing the fight by TKO. However, he rallied and knocked him out in the sixth round to retain his title. The rematch, a year later in Chicago (July 16, 1947), was a mirror image of their first fight. The referee almost stopped the second fight in the third round because of a severe cut over Graziano's left eye, which would have awarded the victory to Zale, but Graziano's cutman, Morris ("Whitey") Bimstein, was able to stop the bleeding to let the fight continue. Graziano was battered around the ring, suffered a closed eye and appeared ready to lose by a knockout, then rallied and knocked Zale out in the sixth round, becoming world middleweight champion. Their last fight was held in New Jersey the following year (June 10, 1948). Zale regained his crown, winning the match by a knockout in the third round. The knockout blows consisted of a perfect combination of a right to Graziano's body, then a left hook to his jaw. He was knocked unconscious. His last attempt at the middleweight title came in April 1952, when he fought Sugar Ray Robinson. He dropped him to his knee with a right in the third round. Less than a minute later, Robinson knocked him out for the count with a right to the jaw. He retired after losing his very next fight, a 10-round decision to Chuck Davey.
Career trouble
In 1946, Graziano was suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) for failure to report a bribe attempt. In 1948, Abe Green, then-National Boxing Association's President, announced that they were indefinitely suspending him in all parts of the world under NBA supervision, following similar action by the California State Athletic Commission. This was due to his "running out" on a scheduled December 1 bout with Fred Apostoli. The suspension covered all of the American States, Great Britain, the European Boxing Federation, Cuba, Mexico, and Canada. Boxing promoter Ralph Tribuani got him a license to box in Delaware, which led to his reinstatement by both the NBA and NYSAC and Rocky's return to prosperity.
Post-boxing career
After his retirement from boxing, Graziano cohosted a short-lived series, The Henny and Rocky Show with famous comedian Henny Youngman. He was a semi-regular on The Martha Raye Show, as Martha Raye's boyfriend. He appeared as a regular on the United Artists TV series Miami Undercover for its entire run, and appeared in several series and shows, including The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, Car 54, Where Are You?, and Naked City. He portrayed Packy, an ex-boxer, in the 1967 film Tony Rome.
In the 1960s, Graziano opened a pizza restaurant, Rocky Graziano's Pizza Ring, on Second Avenue in Kips Bay, Manhattan, creating a modest franchise for the restaurant in the New York City area. He became the celebrity spokesman for Lee Myles Transmissions in the New York City area, appearing on dozens of television commercials from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.
Personal life
Graziano married Norma Unger of German-Jewish descent, on August 10, 1943. They remained together until his death from cardiopulmonary failure on May 22, 1990 in New York City at age 71. They had two children. Graziano's funeral was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral. He is interred at the Locust Valley Cemetery.
Graziano is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Graziano was named to Ring Magazine's 100 Greatest Punchers of all time.
In 2007, Graziano was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame.Thomas Rocco Barbella (January 1, 1919 – May 22, 1990),

Thomas Rocco Barbella Biography

Vital facts & highlights of Thomas 's life to share with the world.

Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella
Most commonly known name
First name
Middle name
Last name(s)
Nickname(s) or aliases
New York County, New York United States
Last known residence
Thomas Barbella was born on in New York, New York United States
Thomas Barbella died on
Thomas Barbella was born on in New York, New York United States
Thomas Barbella died on
There is no cause of death listed for Thomas .
Cause of death
Do you know the final resting place - gravesite in a cemetery or location of cremation - of Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella?
Burial / Funeral

Ethnicity & Lineage

White, Citizen

Nationality & Locations Lived

Italian American




Grammar School


Famous Boxer. Boxing Instructor. Immortalized in famous movie "Somebody Up There Likes Me" starring Paul Newman. The theme song, sung by Perry Como was a hit for years.

Personal Life & Organizations

Share some highlights of Thomas 's personal life & organizations in which they participated.

Military Service

Military serial#: 32201881
Enlisted: January 18, 1942 in Ft Dix New Jersey
Military branch: Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA
Rank: Private, Selectees (enlisted Men)
Terms of enlistment: Enlistment For The Duration Of The War Or Other Emergency, Plus Six Months, Subject To The Discretion Of The President Or Otherwise According To Law

Average Age

Life Expectancy

Back to Top

Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella Family Tree

Thomas 's immediate relatives including parents, siblings, partnerships and children in the Barbella family tree.

Thomas 's Family

Add a parent
Add a parent
Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella
Add a partner
Add a child
Add a partner
Add a child
Add a sibling


Click to add friends & family.

Share Memories about Thomas

What do you remember about Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella? Share your memories of special moments and stories you have heard about him. Or just leave a comment to show the world that Thomas is remembered.

Thomas Barbella Obituary

This obit of Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella is maintained by Thomas 's followers. Contribute to her obituary and include details such as cemetery, burial, newspaper obituary and grave or marker inscription if available.

Rocky Graziano, Ex-Ring Champion, Dead at 71
Published: May 23, 1990
Rocky Graziano, the former middleweight boxing champion whose life was turned into a movie, died of cardiopulmonary failure last night at New York Hospital. He was 71 years old.
Mr. Graziano had suffered a stroke before being hospitalized on April 8, Diana Goldin, public affairs director for the hospital, said.
In the ring, Mr. Graziano was a primal force. While he lacked finesse and did not trouble himself much with defense, he had a taste for action that made him a crowd-pleaser.
'A Tremendous Competitor'
''He was not a great fighter,'' Harry Markson, former president of Madison Square Garden Boxing, said recently, ''but he was a good puncher and a tremendous competitor. He could knock you out with either hand. And when you knocked him down, he always got up. He put on a good show.'' As W. C. Heinz, a reporter who covered Mr. Graziano for The New York Sun, put it in an interview: ''You could louse Rocky up if you wanted him to jab and move. So what you did was get him in shape and turn him loose.''
With his brawling style, Mr. Graziano compiled a record of 67-10-6 from 1942 to 1952. His three bouts with Tony Zale in the years after World War II are considered classics of brutal action.
Won Title in 1947
Zale knocked out Graziano in six rounds in September 1946 - their first battle - but the next time they fought, in July 1947, Graziano stopped Zale in six rounds and became world middleweight champion.
''Afterward,'' Mr. Heinz observed, ''he told the press: 'I wanted to kill him. I like him but I wanted to kill him.' Which is so true of the fight instinct.'' Graziano lost his second rematch with Zale in June 1948 on a third-round knockout.
He would get one more shot at the middleweight title, but that came very late in his career, in April 1952, when Sugar Ray Robinson knocked him out in three rounds. After Graziano lost his next match, a 10-round decision to Chuck Davey, he retired.
He was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1971.
Born Thomas Rocco Barbella, Mr. Graziano grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the son of a former boxer nicknamed Fighting Nick Bob. Like his boyhood friend, Jake LaMotta, who would also become middleweight champion of the world, the young Mr. Graziano frequently came into conflict with the law.
''We were the original juvenile delinquents,'' said Mr. LaMotta. ''Always in fights. Stealing stuff. In fact, we both ended up in reform school in Coxsackie, N.Y., at the same time. I remember Rocky was in quarantine, so I'd set him up with comic books and candy and cigarettes.''
Mr. Graziano was proud of his ability as a street battler. ''I was the best street fighter in history when I was growing up on the Lower East Side,'' he said. ''Hell, I never lost a street fight. Never. I thought I could lick Jack Dempsey or Joe Louis or anybody. I was fantastic.''
''It took me nine years to get through the fourth grade. When I got into television commercials, I had to take a crash course in reading. I was 32 years old and I couldn't read the cue cards.''
At age 12, he was arrested for the first time, caught breaking into a subway gum machine. While on probation, he stole a bicycle and was sent for the first of three trips to reform school.
Learned to Box
In 1939, a friend, Jack Healy, took him to New York's famous Stillman's Gym to see if he could put his street fighting instincts to use in the ring. When a seasoned pro named Antonio Fernandez beat him up, he swore he would never box again. Two months later, however, he was back in the ring, this time fighting under the name of his sister's boyfriend, Rocky Graziano. He won the the Metropolitan Amateur Athletic Union welterweight championship.
''The A.A.U. gave me a medal, which I hocked for $15,'' Mr. Graziano recalled years later. ''Maybe this is not so bad a racket after all, I think. I will give this a shake.''
Mr. Graziano later served nine months in prison for going A.W.O.L. from the Army. His defection, which grew out of an argument with a superior officer, led to a dishonorable discharge.
A Popular Figure
''As Rocky told it to me,'' said Mr. Heinz, ''this captain came from behind his desk and said something like, 'You think you're so tough?' And when the captain started to remove his jacket, Rocky hit him. He said: 'What was I supposed to do? I belted him, pow, and flattened him and took off.' ''
Mr. Graziano came to be a figure beloved by the fight crowd and the public. That popularity owed as much to the good humor he showed outside the ring as to the savagery he displayed between the ropes.
''He was a natural comedian,'' said Mr. LaMotta. ''Anything he said cracked you up. It's why he was so popular so many years. Everybody loved him 'cause he was such a nice person.''
Subject of a Film
In 1956, Mr. Graziano was the subject of a film, ''Somebody Up There Likes Me,'' in which Paul Newman portrayed him. Later, Mr. Graziano caught on as an entertainer, his first major role being as the boyfriend of the comedienne Martha Raye on her television show in the 1950's.
Mr. Graziano's version of how he landed the role was self-deprecating. ''He told me,'' said Mr. Heinz, ''the producers were sitting around and one of them said why not get a stupid guy like Rocky Graziano? And then one of them said, 'Let's get Graziano.' In fact, though, his personality was so lively that he turned out to be quite good at it. There was a genuine openness about the guy that everybody liked.''
Mr. Graziano was unchanged by his success as an entertainer. He retained his rough-edged speech down to the ''dems'' and ''dese,'' as Mr. LaMotta put it, and never put on fancy airs. He remained the Rock, ever the loveable rogue.

Followers & Sources
Other Records of Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella

1919 - 1990 World Events

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Thomas 's lifetime

In 1919, in the year that Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella was born, in January, Nebraska was the 36th state to ratify the 18th Amendment, making it the law of the land. The 18th Amendment established Prohibition - a law against the production, transport, and sale of alcohol. Private consumption and possession were not prohibited. Several months later, the Volstead Act was passed, creating laws to enforce the Amendment. Bootlegging and bathtub gin followed.

In 1935, he was 16 years old when on September 8th, Louisiana Senator Huey Long was shot by Dr. Carl Weiss. Weiss was shot and killed immediately by Long's bodyguards - Long died two days later from his injuries. Long had received many death threats previously, as well as threats against his family. He was a powerful and controversial figure in Louisiana politics (and probably gained power through multiple criminal acts). His opponents became frustrated with their attempts to oust him and Dr. Weiss was the son-in-law of one of those opponents. His funeral was attended by 200,000 mourners.

In 1950, Thomas was 31 years old when on June 25th, the Korean War began when North Korean Communist forces crossed the 38th parallel. The Soviet Union and China backed North Korea and the U.N., primarily the United States backed South Korea.

In 1962, when he was 43 years old, on August 5th, actress and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe died in Brentwood California. She was ruled to have died from suicide due to a drug overdose. There has been controversy regarding the circumstances ever since, due to her relationships with Jack and Bobby Kennedy.

In 1990, in the year of Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella's passing, on April 24th, the Hubble telescope was launched into space after long delays due to the Challenger explosion. An optical flaw was found within weeks of launch but was fixed within three years. The discoveries made possible by the Hubble have contributed to scientists' understanding of the universe.

Other Biographies

Other Barbellas

c. 1919 - Unknown
c. 1920 - Unknown
c. 1920 - Unknown
c. 1920 - Unknown
c. 1922 - Unknown
c. 1923 - Unknown
c. 1921 - Unknown
c. 1920 - Unknown
c. 1923 - Unknown
c. 1924 - Unknown
c. 1926 - Unknown
c. 1927 - Unknown
c. 1926 - Unknown
c. 1926 - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown

Other Bios

c. 1914 - Unknown
c. 1914 - Unknown
c. 1920 - Unknown
c. 1920 - Unknown
c. 1913 - Unknown
c. 1916 - Unknown
c. 1914 - Unknown
c. 1920 - Unknown
c. 1914 - Unknown
c. 1919 - Unknown
c. 1919 - Unknown
c. 1920 - Unknown
c. 1917 - Unknown
c. 1917 - Unknown
c. 1920 - Unknown
c. 1914 - Unknown
c. 1916 - Unknown
c. 1918 - Unknown
c. 1914 - Unknown
c. 1915 - Unknown
Success Stories from Biographies like Thomas Rocco "Rocky Graziano" Barbella
Created on Jun 04, 2020 by Daniel Pinna
Highlights of just a few of the many successes of sharing memories & family history at AncientFaces. From reuniting lost or 'orphan' photos with their families, seeing the faces of family for the first time, to connecting unknown and lost relatives.

These stories will warm your heart. Are you inspired to share photos and biographies of the people from your past?