RUBIN "HURRICANE" Carter never surrendered hope of regaining his freedom, not even after he was convicted of a triple murder, then convicted again and abandoned by many prominent supporters.

For 19 long years, the prizefighter was locked in a prison cell far away from the spotlight and the adulation of the boxing ring. But when he at last won his biggest fight - for exoneration - he betrayed little bitterness. Instead, Carter dedicated much of his remaining life to helping other prisoners and exposing other injustices.

The middleweight title contender, whose murder convictions became an international symbol of racial injustice and inspired a Bob Dylan song and a Hollywood film, died yesterday. He was 76.

The New Jersey native, who had suffered from prostate cancer, died in his sleep at his home in Toronto, John Artis, his former co-defendant and longtime friend and caregiver, told the Canadian Press.

Carter "didn't have any bitterness or anger - he kind of got above it all. That was his great strength," said Thom Kidrin, who became friends with Carter after visiting him several times in prison.

The boxer, a former petty criminal, became an undersized 160-pound contender and earned his nickname largely on his ferocity and punching power.

Although never a world champion, Carter went 27-12-1 with 19 knockouts, memorably stopping two-division champ Emile Griffith in the first round in 1963. He also fought for a middleweight title in 1964, losing to Joey Giardello.

Carter fought twice in Philadelphia. In his third professional bout, he won by TKO over Frank Nelson at the Alhambra Athletic Club on Oct. 24, 1961. Carter lost a championship fight at Convention Hall to Giardello, the WBA and WBC middleweight champion, on Dec. 14, 1964. Carter lost a 15-round unaminous decision.

But his boxing career came to an abrupt end when he was imprisoned for three 1966 murders committed at a tavern in Paterson, N.J. He was convicted in 1967 and again in 1976 before being freed in 1985, when his convictions were thrown out after years of appeals. He then became a prominent public advocate for the wrongfully convicted from his new home in Canada.

His ordeal and its racial overtones were publicized in Dylan's 1975 song "Hurricane," several books and a 1999 film starring Denzel Washington, who received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal.

In a statement issued yesterday, Washington praised Carter's "tireless fight to ensure justice for all."

Born on May 6, 1937, into a family of seven children, Carter struggled with a hereditary speech impediment and was sent to a juvenile reform center at 12 after an assault. He escaped and joined the Army in 1954 and learned to box while in West Germany.

After returning home, he committed a series of muggings and spent 4 years in various state prisons. Upon his release, he began his pro boxing career, winning 20 of his first 24 fights mostly by knockout.

At 5-8, Carter was fairly short for a middleweight, but he was aggressive and threw waves of punches. His shaved head and menacing glower gave him an imposing ring presence but also contributed to a forbidding aura outside the ring. He was quoted as joking about killing police officers in a 1964 story in the Saturday Evening Post, which was later cited by Carter as a cause of his troubles with law enforcement.

"He's all love," Washington said while onstage with Carter at the 2000 ceremony where he won a Golden Globe. "He lost about 7,300 days of his life, and he's love."