Rafer Johnson Biography, Life, Interesting Facts
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Early Years and Education
Rafer Lewis Johnson was born 18th August 1935, in Hillsboro, Texas, in the United States.
When Johnson was a youngster, his family relocated to California. He studied at Kingsburg High School, and as he was a talented athlete, he competed in three sporting teams for the school – these were basketball, baseball, and football.
In 1952 he travelled to watch the Olympic trials for the decathlon with his coach. Several weeks later, Johnson was invited to compete in a decathlon event for his high school, which he won. He went on to win the following two years as well.
After graduating from high school, Rafer Johnson enrolled at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1954.
While competing in his fourth competition, Johnson broke the world record.
In 1955, Rafer Johnson won the Pan American Games in Mexico. In 1956, he travelled to Australia to compete in the Olympics. He was listed to compete in both the decathlon and long jump, but due to an injury, he had to pull out of the long jump. Even though he was injured, Johnson was runner-up in the decathlon.
Johnson was up and down over the next few years. He sat out 1957 with his injury, but then broke the world record in 1958. In 1959 he missed the season again, this time because of a car accident, but in 1960, once again, he broke the world record.
Rafer Johnson won the gold medal at the Olympics, setting a new Olympic record in the process. After his Olympic win, Johnson retired from athletics.
He also played basketball, and in 1959, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL.
In 1960, Rafer Johnson changed direction and started acting. He appeared in several movies, including, Wild in the Country (1961) with Elvis Presley, The Six Million Dollar Man (1979), Roots: The Next Generations (1979), and Licence to Kill (1989), the James Bond movie.
Johnson worked for Robert F. Kennedy in his 1968 presidential campaign, and he was there when Kennedy was assassinated. Johnson helped to stop the killer from getting away.
Rafer Johnson has been involved with the Special Olympics since 1968, including being on the Board of Directors of the California Special Olympics for many years.
In 1999, he released his autobiography, The Best That I Can Be.
Awards and Honors
Among his many awards and honors, Rafer Johnson has the following:
1958: Awarded Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated
1994: Inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame
2011: Inducted into the Bakersfield City School District Hall of Fame
He won both a gold medal and silver medal at the Olympic Games and a gold medal in the Pan American Games.
In 1971, Rafer Johnson married Elizabeth Thorsen. The couple has two children, a son, and a daughter.