Rafer Johnson, 86, Olympic medalist, champion for equality and exemplar of Bruin values

Cultural and AthleticFriends and Supporters

Rafer Johnson, a UCLA alumnus and two-time Olympic medalist whose work helping to found the Special Olympics and advance racial and social justice transcended his athletic achievements, died today at his home in Sherman Oaks. He was 86.

Following a storied athletic career that culminated with a gold medal in the Olympic decathlon in 1960, Johnson dedicated his life to public service, a mission he carried out with a strength and grace he said was shaped in part by his experiences at UCLA.

“That commitment to helping others get over the hurdles in life — be they racial discrimination or developmental disabilities — was clearly a driving force for Rafer,” Chancellor Gene Block said in a message to the UCLA community. “He reminds us that everyone needs the help of others at times and that all of us can extend our help to others as well. Helping those who need it may be the truest Bruin value of all.”

In 2016, Block presented Johnson with the UCLA Medal, UCLA’s highest honor, in recognition of his decades of leadership in the Special Olympics and unwavering efforts supporting equality for all.

“At the same time he was struggling to break down the racial barriers he faced, Rafer Johnson selflessly dedicated himself to helping others, specifically joining the fight by those with intellectual disabilities against the stigmatization they too often face,” Block said while bestowing the medal to Johnson during a special dinner held in his honor. “His commitment and untiring leadership to achieve equality and access for everyone is an inspiration to us all.”

Read more on UCLA Newsroom.