BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — Even at 101 years old, Otto Jensen showed little sign of slowing down. The former boxer from Denmark still ran a photography studio and often was seen crossing the busy street in front to get to a senior center he frequented.
On Tuesday night, while traversing four-lane Olive Avenue, Jensen was struck and killed by a car driven by 91-year-old Mary Beaumont. She was not hurt.
The accident shook Burbank, the Southern California city where Jensen was a well-known and beloved figure and Beaumont is an active volunteer.
Jensen served as grand marshal of the city’s centennial parade last year. A poster tied to a tree near the crash scene had photos of Jensen, including one taken in 1930 when he was a 19-year-old boxer nicknamed “Bonecrusher.” Another was dated last year, when he turned 100.
Jensen was at the senior center every day to play pool and read the newspaper, said his friend, Harry Fisher.
“His stamina was incredible,” Fisher said. “He would play 22 straight games. He wouldn’t even sit down for a break. He would stand from one o’clock to six-thirty, nonstop.”
“I believe the man could have gone to 105, at least,” he said.
Beaumont has been a longtime library board trustee and is a retired school teacher, said Sharon Cohen, Burbank’s library services director. “She’s a lovely woman and very intelligent. This is really a tough situation.” Cohen said.
Jensen was born March 6, 1911, in Aarhus, Denmark. He stayed behind when his mother and father went to New York to make money so they could bring over their family. He boxed in Denmark and Poland and then left for New York in 1936, a few years before both countries were invaded by Nazi Germany.
Assigned by job placement officials to a boarding house, he was shown to his room by a young woman. “He turned around and told her, `Now I want to know where your room is.’ Two weeks later, they were married. That was his wife, that he was married to for 67 years,” Fisher said.
In 1939, Jensen moved to Burbank, not far from major Hollywood studios, and set up a storefront photo studio. Over the decades, he photographed school classes, graduations, proms, weddings and other life landmarks of generations of people, as well as snapping portraits of celebrities such as Walt Disney and Clark Gable, according to a biography presented last year at an event honoring his 100th year.
Jensen remained interested in boxing and was an avid fan of Manny Pacquiao, the world champion fighter from the Philippines. In an interview last year with the sports web site ESNEWS, Jensen lauded Pacquiao as the greatest ever and spoke about living so long. He demonstrated a quick wit and even shadow boxed briefly.
When asked what it feels like to be 100, Jensen quipped: “The same as 99.” Jensen said he smoked two cigars a day and had an 87-year-old girlfriend. The secret to life, he said, was “to live and love.” Then, after a pause, he added: “But you need a few women to do that.”
Police are unsure what led to the accident but said Jensen was crossing legally, although there wasn’t a crosswalk where he was hit and he nearly was across the street when he was struck.
Norman Sutcliffe, a screenwriter, lives in an apartment near the accident scene and was watching “American Idol” when he heard an enormous crash. Moments later, a young woman told him she had seen Jensen “jogging” across the street before he was struck.
The impact sent him flying through the air, Sutcliffe said the woman told him.
Sutcliffe hurried to Jensen’s aid.
“I said, `Sir are you OK? You had an accident. Help is on the way,'” Sutcliffe said. “I’ve never seen more blood in my life.”
Sutcliffe said elderly citizens often cross the busy intersection to go to the senior center. He’s called police, expressing concern.
“A couple of times I’d see cars fly by so fast … I’d think `What is this: Pomona? Do they think this is the drag strip?'” he said.
Jensen lived in a house behind his studio, where the front windows are adorned with black-and-white photos of children.
He is survived by a granddaughter, who was at Jensen’s home on Thursday but declined to comment. Acquaintances said he also had a surviving cousin in Denmark whom he was considering visiting this summer.
Someone left a quote attributed to Jensen and placed it among the photos on the memorial tree.
“I believe there is something truly beautiful beyond death that we can only glimpse but never fully understand,” the quote read.