Inside the wild life and mysterious death of boxer Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho

When boxer Hector “Macho” Camacho declared it was “Macho Time,” anything could happen.

Rudy Gonzalez recalled once driving his friend Macho from Los Angeles to Florida. Early into the trip, while Gonzalez was napping in the passenger seat, things went awry. Macho spotted a billboard for a Tijuana, Mexico, strip club, not realizing he’d have to cross the border to get there — an ill-advised move considering the kilo of cocaine in the trunk.

Gonzalez awoke just in time. “As he was telling me [about the drugs], we were pulling into checkpoint,” he told The Post. “I saw myself spending the rest of my life in prison.”

But he had an idea: “I said, ‘Do the Macho Time thing’ ” — basically, telling the boxer to turn on the over-the-top persona he showcased in the ring and on the streets of Spanish Harlem where he was raised.

Macho jumped on the hood of his car, screaming that he wanted to fight Mexican boxer Julio Cesar Chavez. His antics drew a crowd of officers.

“I’ve never seen so much border patrol,” Gonzaled recalled. “He’s signing autographs for them. But then I see the patrol coming with the dog, and the dog smells the [drugs] — really going in and scratching at the tires.”

But rather than search the car, “the Mexico border guy hits the dog on the nose and said, ‘Stop it. That’s Comacho,’ ” Gonzalez said, laughing.

Unscathed, the duo headed back into the States. Macho told Gonzalez he had suddenly found Jesus and would never do cocaine again. He stopped and buried the drugs on the side of the road, then the two checked into a hotel. Gonzalez awoke to his friend banging at the door and covered in dirt. He had gone back for the cocaine, but after digging for four hours he gave up.

“I said, ‘What happened to Jesus?’ He said, ‘Jesus said it’s OK to have my cocaine.’ Macho was crazy,” said Gonzalez.

The new documentary “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story,” premiering this Friday on Showtime, is filled with larger-than-life tales. It explores the rise and fall of Spanish Harlem’s favorite son, who rose from nothing to be a boxing champion in three weight classes — only to ultimately be dragged down by personal demons. In 2012 he was murdered in Puerto Rico at age 50. The case remains unsolved.

Originally, director Eric Drath hoped to crack the case open, traveling to Puerto Rico to visit police stations and interview shadowy characters. But he ended up scrapping most of the footage.

“In order to tell this story and talk about his death, I needed to talk about his life,” Drath said.

Macho was born in Bayamón, PR, in 1962 and moved to New York City with his mother and four siblings as a kid. They settled in Spanish Harlem where Macho courted trouble by fighting and stealing cars.

“He was a lovable guy. He did a lot of bad things, but his likability made people look the other way,” said Drath.

He started boxing casually at 12 and, after stealing a car at 16, was sent to ­Rikers. Upon his return home, he got caught snorting cocaine by his mom; she flushed the drugs down the toilet and urged him to clean up his act.

Something got through to him: He decided to commit to boxing — honing his God-given speed and power into a lethal combination in the ring.

“Like Michelangelo was born to paint pictures, Hector Comacho was born to knock guys out,” Billy Giles, one of his first trainers, says in the film.

Starting in 1978, he won three New York Golden Gloves Championships and accumulated an impressive 96-and-4 record as an amateur. When he turned pro two years later, “Macho Time” kicked into overdrive.

“He was one of the first modern showmen of [boxing] and, in many ways, ahead of his time,” Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports, told The Post.

A natural peacock, Macho developed his signature flamboyance by sketching outrageous outfits that a tailor in Puerto Rico would bring to life — including a Native American headdress and a robe emblazoned with flames paired with a fireman’s helmet and various animal-print get-ups.

His ex-wife, Amy, told Drath that one night she refused to go out with Macho because he had on more fishnets than she did.

“He didn’t just want to wear [the clothes] in the ring. That’s who he believed he was — walking around in those crazy sunglasses and gold-sequin jacket,” said Drath.

In the early ’80s, with his showmanship, explosive speed and unconventional jab, Macho was electrifying. His celebrity transcended the sport, and he even posed nude for Playgirl.

But under the flashy veneer, cracks started to show. In 1983 he was in Alaska to fight John Montes Jr. in a primetime match, and enjoying himself by riding on a dog-sled for CBS cameras.

But he was high as a kite on the eve of the fight, even trying to jump out a window. Macho’s handlers lulled him into a state of calm but worried about his performance the next night.

They didn’t need to be. He knocked out Montes in the first round.

This became a pattern. According to Gonzalez, Macho would accept a fight only to go off the rails beforehand. “I would see him go from being a compete and total drug addict, then walk into the ring and . . . become a champion. I never underestimated him when he stepped in those ropes,” said Gonzalez.

It made him the pride of Spanish Harlem at a time when the neighborhood was plagued by violence and drugs. He would cruise around in expensive sports cars, shake hands and instill aspirational hope.

“He had a profound impact not just on the sport but on the Latino community. He become the hero of the streets,” said Drath.

In 1997, the boxer beat Sugar Ray Leonard in five rounds, pushing the legend into retirement. But at the same time, 35-year-old Macho’s own career was starting to wane with age and, no doubt, the abuse of his own body. He filled the void with drugs. There were multiple run-ins with the law, including an arrest for cocaine and assault after he attacked a juvenile who he thought had flipped him the — bird and a burglary charge when, drunk, he fell through the ceiling of a Mississippi repair shop while trying to retrieve his computer.

In 2011 he was arrested for physically assaulting his teen son, one of his four kids. While out on bail, he went “home” to Puerto Rico, where he got swept up in the nightlife and hanging out with ­unsavory characters.

Family and friends urged him to return to New York. “He started spiraling out of control,” Amy says in the documentary. “He was no longer the man that I knew.”

On Nov. 20, 2012, Macho and a childhood friend were shot while sitting in a car outside a strip mall in Bayamón. Authorities reportedly found nine bags of cocaine in the vehicle. The friend died immediately, while Macho — with a bullet lodged in his shoulder and restricting blood flow to his brain — was rushed to a hospital. For a while doctors thought he might recover but be paralyzed. But the boxer couldn’t pull through to a victory this time; he suffered cardiac arrest that left him brain-dead and was removed from life support.

His casket was paraded through East Harlem by horse-drawn carriage before he was laid to rest at St. Raymond’s in The Bronx.

Two suspects were cleared in 2013, and the murder case sat stagnant for years. But the FBI is now involved, thanks in part to Drath’s reporting for the documentary.

Still, Gonzalez thinks Macho’s murder will never be solved.

I would see him go from being a . . . drug addict . . . to a champion.

“It’s too dark of an underworld, and it’s not worth it for them to pull it apart,” he said.

He added that what Comacho really wanted was to be loved — and that drugs became the boxer’s best friend.

“It was like he was always playing Russian roulette,” said Gonzalez of his friend. “The only problem is that he kept adding another bullet to the chamber.”

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