Rubin Carter, considered a folk hero by many and immortalized in film and song, had been battling prostate cancer for months, according to reports by the Toronto Globe and Mail and the CBC. He died in Toronto, where he had been living since he was released from prison in 1985, according to the reports.
Once a middleweight boxer who earned a world title fight in 1964, Rubin Carter is more well known for the turn his life took after he was arrested for a triple homicide in 1966.
That arrest, his imprisonment, and the ultimately successful battle to free him are immortalized in the 1975 Bob Dylan song Hurricane and the 1999 film of the same name, which starred Denzel Washington as Rubin Carter.
Born in 1937 in Clifton, New Jersey, Rubin Carter ran into trouble with the law as a teenager, serving custodial sentences for assault and robbery, and spending two years in the army.
In his 1974 autobiography titled The Sixteenth Round, Rubin Carter writes of his younger years: The kindest thing I have to say about my childhood is that I survived it.
In 1961, he channeled his energies into boxing, turning pro and earning a 1964 title match against world champion Joey Giardello, which Rubin Carter lost in a unanimous decision.
His career was already in decline in 1966, when he was arrested and charged in a June triple murder in Paterson, New Jersey. He was convicted for the shootings along with John Artis, a hitch-hiker he had picked up on the night of the murders.
Rubin Carters case exploded into national consciousness in 1974, when two key witnesses recanted their testimony, sparking a series of stories by the New York Times and making him a cause celebre for the civil rights movement, and prompting Bob Dylan to release Hurricane. He was retried in 1976 and convicted again.
He was released for good in 1985, after a federal district judge ruled his convictions were predicated on an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.
Rubin Carter is survived by his two children from his first marriage to Mae Thelma.