Profile - NC Sports Hall of Fame
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1985 Charlotte Observer article/photo
Charlotte photographer won medals
Central High star went on to 2 Olympics -- and Hollywood
Posted on Wed, Apr. 02, 2008
Floyd "Chunk" Simmons was something unusual in Charlotte -- unconventional.
The winner of two Olympic bronze medals, he acted in Hollywood movies, lived for a time in Tahiti and worked as a photographer without much concern for making money.
Surveying his life, one writer asked, "Didn't F. Scott Fitzgerald make him up?"
A great talker with impeccable manners and a playful spirit, Simmons has died, the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner office confirmed Tuesday. There was no information about the time or cause of death. He was 84 years old.
"He had all these wonderful Hollywood stories but I think he always thought the acting thing was overrated," said architect Murray Whisnant, a friend. "He was proudest of his athletic accomplishments."
Raised in Charlotte, Simmons was nicknamed "Chunk" as a baby by a nurse impressed with his size. His father, once football coach at Davidson College and called "Coach" for the rest of his life, was a builder who developed Hermitage Court off Providence Road in Myers Park.
Chunk Simmons was a star athlete at Central High School, scoring five touchdowns in a 1940 game against a strong Spartanburg team.
He played football at UNC Chapel Hill but in the shadow of Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice. Until recent years when knee and hip problems slowed him, he competed successfully in senior events and was a regular at the Dowd YMCA, as much for the conversation as the exercise.
He served with the 10th Mountain Division in World War II and was awarded a Purple Heart.
In 1948 in London and 1952 in Helsinki, Simmons won bronze medals in the decathlon. "They gave us a thunderous ovation," he told a reporter about the London games, the first after WWII. "We were quite aware of being Americans."
In California after the war to study art, Simmons got into films. He became a contract player at Universal-International and appeared in several small roles in the mid-'50s.
He became friends with a younger contract player, Clint Eastwood.
Simmons' best-known part was as Cmdr. William "Bill" Harbison in the 1958 musical "South Pacific."
Back in Charlotte, he worked as a photographer specializing in outdoor portraits. In his 50s Simmons was married for a short time but had no children.
Simmons and Whisnant sometimes met for lunch.
Once, Simmons came in the Rheinland Haus restaurant dragging a leg, pretending he was handicapped. Another time, he picked up the desserts tray and went to a table of ladies pretending to serve them.
"What I loved about Chunk was his whacky sense of humor," said Whisnant. "He was always sort of playful. He never lost that."
Posted April 3, 2008:
A story in Wednesday's Local & State section about the death of Charlottean and Olympic medalist Floyd "Chunk" Simmons had incorrect information about his family. He did have a child -- a daughter who lives in Tahiti -- as well as a grandson, also in Tahiti.
Charlotte Observer Column: http://www.charlotte.com/sports_breaking/story/565935.html
Friday, Apr. 4, 2008
IN MY OPINION
Blessed with restlessness
Charlotte's `Chunk' Simmons wanted to do it all
RON GREEN SR.
Floyd "Chunk" Simmons, 84, died a few days ago. I thought about writing a column to tell you what he was like but then I pulled out one I wrote a while back and felt it said what I wanted to say. It said:
"... even thus he showed his lovely body to the great ring of watching Greeks, as he threw the round discus and hurled the shaft of a black leaved elder from his grasp to the steep heights of heaven ... " -- Bacchylides, ancient poet
I'm still not sure Floyd "Chunk" Simmons didn't walk out of a novel one day. Athlete, movie actor, decorated soldier, traveler who lived in Tahiti for a while, artist, photographer, as handsome as a model and blessed with a kind of enviable restlessness. Didn't F. Scott Fitzgerald make him up?
He was Charlotte's first Olympian. He won bronze medals in the decathlon in 1948 in London and in 1952 in Helsinki. A lot of years have passed and a lot of things have happened in sports in this town but in terms of glamour, no one, no Hornet or Panther or stock car driver has dimmed his light.
He's 81 years old now and still has his movie star looks and still throws the shot and the discus in senior competitions and would still be running footraces if his knee hadn't decided to get old before he did.
He belonged in the Olympic decathlon, a two-day, 10-event examination of body and soul, because he didn't like limitations, only possibilities.
Even today, he denounces the "repetitive things that run through most of our lives."
Simmons felt the decathlon paralleled his life and perhaps influenced him.
"I chose 10 events and not just one pigeonhole," he said. "I didn't want to do just high hurdles or the shot. I wanted to do it all. I suppose I still do."
Even as a football player at old Central High School, he chose a different route. In a 1940 game against a strong Salisbury team, Simmons, who had played only one quarter for the Wildcats, got the call to replace star running back Davey Coates, who was injured. Simmons gained 196 yards and scored five touchdowns, all in the first half.
Coates came back the next week and Simmons went back to sitting on the bench. Asked why, the coach, Vince Bradford, said, "Simmons busts too many signals."
The same thing would be said of him at the University of North Carolina. He was playing behind the great Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice but he was strong and fast and had enormous talent. Why didn't he play more?
"He doesn't run through the holes he's supposed to hit," said his coach, Carl Snavely. "He busts too many signals."
Simmons saw a different way, a better way for him. He saw possibilities.
He left North Carolina, where, he confesses, he did not star in the classroom because so many of the courses bored him. He went to the University of Southern California, where, even though he was not enrolled, he trained under famed track and field coach Dean Cromwell and with some of the best track and field athletes in the world. He called it "on the job training."
Before Chapel Hill, there was service as a ski trooper in World War II. One day he was crossing a field in Italy and the next day he awoke with a Purple Heart on his chest.
After the Olympics, there was a decade in movies and television. His biggest role was in "South Pacific." He was set to play the lead opposite Elizabeth Taylor in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" until producers changed directors and the new man wanted Paul Newman. Clint Eastwood and Simmons were close in their early Hollywood years, jogging and surfing together and spending a lot of time "displaying our sunglasses, like movie stars."
When the movie and TV roles diminished and he found himself doing commercials, Simmons quit. He became an accomplished artist and photographer, settled back in Charlotte and cruised on through life.
Now he smiles and says, "I've never really done anything to my ultimate. I've done them, then said, well, I know how to do that and now I'll move on."
Just a ne'er-do-well. Busts too many signals.
Ron Green Sr.
Track & Field News ranked Simmons 4th in the world in the Decathlon in 1948, 4th in 1951, and 3rd in 1952.