MOONDOG William Wantland 12/23/11
William Wantland was one of many Moondogs in the pro wrestling ring, but he packed a lot more living and performing into his 57 years in spite of precarious health in later life that would have stopped many men cold. He passed away on December 23, 2011 in his adopted home city, Las Vegas, due to complications of a stroke.
Bill Wantland had a rough upbringing in Modesto, California, but a bright spot appeared on his youthful horizon. Singing in a grade six concert, he felt the warmth of applause and claims to have decided then and there he ‘d be an entertainer. With some musical training from his early years, he took to the road in a band for several years, then spent stints with top musical groups of the day, Danny and The Juniors and Bill Haley and The Comets.
Big and burly, Bill next seized the chance to become a wrestling Moondog, a monicker that would stick with him the rest of his life. He worked most often as Spike in one or another incarnation of the wild tag teams using that identity. His run included a period with WCW, and he also did some training of talent in Pennsylvania.
With wrestling in the rear-view mirror, Bill settled in Las Vegas and moved into other areas of entertainment: music, acting, radio and voice-over work, movie and TV extra duties, and stage shows. He worked for some time with Jeff Beacher in his Madhouse show at the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas, and appeared in a number of episodes of KISS frontman Gene Simmons “Family Jewels”, Criss Angel’s “Mindfreak”, and “CSI: Las Vegas”.
Fate intervened when Bill was just past 50, when a stroke left him partially paralyzed. Confined to a motorized wheelchair and lacking the use of one arm, he redesigned his life to become one of Las Vegas’s resident characters. He became Moondog once more, overhauled his look to the outlandish, designed a guitar that could be played with only one hand, and seasonally adopted the alternate character of Disco Santa. He could often be found at the Fremont Street Experience, entertaining in his inimitable way and simply making friends with folks from all over the world. Moondog was even dubbed the city’s Official Unofficial Ambassador of Las Vegas, a tag that stuck for the past six years.
Bill Wantland refused to let adversity conquer him. In an interview a couple of years ago, he said work hard and don’t miss out on any opportunities. No job or part is too small to accept. You never know where it may lead you. If you don’t try, you’ll never know, never give up, tomorrow is yours for the taking.”
UMANOSUKE UEDA 12/21/11
He was variously Mr. Ito and Professor Ito in the U.S., a classic Japanese heel of his era. But in his far eastern homeland, he was the consummate villain and one of the very top rank of legendary native wrestlers, Umanosuke Ueda.
He passed away in Japan on December 21, 2011, at the age of 71, after being in a wheelchair for the years following a 1996 car accident that broke his neck and ended his wrestling career.
Born in Aichi, Japan on June 20, 1940, Yuji Ueda began his training with JWA in 1960, and made his public debut in April 1961. After five years in his home country, he shifted his horizon to America, and invaded southern California. Teaming most often with his countrymen — Chati Yokouchi was his most frequent partner — he cut a swath across the southern half of the country, capturing several tag team crowns. Ueda also did a short stretch with the world junior heavyweight title, seized from the incomparable Danny Hodge.
After a ten-year campaign in the U.S., Ueda returned to Japan, but with a new look. He sported a head of blond hair, almost unheard of apart from the golden locks of the gaijin talent, toughened up his style even more and caught the rapt attention of Japanese fans. He held tag team gold twice with top heel Tiger Jeet Singh, whom he also managed on occasion, once in All Japan and once in New Japan, and the IWA world heavyweight championship. Ueda headlined arena events against many of the biggest names in the business over the next decade: Antonio Inoki, Giant Baba, Stan Hansen, Dory Jr. and Terry Funk, Genichiro Tenryu, Riki Choshu, Dragon Fujinami, Jumbo Tsuruta and many more.
Ueda spent the last several years of his career with IWA. HIs career and fame took place on more than one stage, as well. He had a role in the movie Bakuretsu Toshi (Burst City) in 1982, and appeared in a number of episodes of Takeshi’s Castle, a popular game show in the late 1980’s.
SHARON VALENTINE 12/01/11
Sharon Elaine Valentine, widow of the late legendary Johnny Valentine, passed away in Fort Worth, Texas on December 1, 2011 at age 67. She had battled multiple serious health issues for the past number of years.
Johnny met Sharon for the first time in 1971, then reconnected with her in 1983, eight years after a near-fatal airplane crash in 1975 ended his wrestling career. They were married in a small church in Bowie, Texas, fittingly on Valentine’s Day 1984. Johnny’s health was never good after the devastating crash, and Sharon went beyond the call of wifely duty in taking exceptional care of him. He suffered a fall from their front porch in August 2000 that left him hospitalized until his death from heart failure on April 24, 2001, at 72 years of age.
Sharon and Johnny were inseparable in their 17 years of marriage, devoted to each other in battling the many medical and related financial problems that beset them. But they refused to give up, and that is their legacy to their surviving family: son Greg Valentine, daughter Tracy Sparks Hwidi, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Sharon’s final wrestling-related public appearance was on April 17, 2010 in Fort Worth, when she accepted a Hall of Fame induction on Johnny’s behalf from the IHWE promotion. At the presentation, Sharon said that Johnny would have valued the honor above all others given his high regard for Texas wrestling talent.
‘JUMPING’ JIM HUSSEY 11/30/11
‘Jumping” Jim Hussey, one of the real stalwarts in the classic era of wrestling in the United Kingdom, passed away on November 30, 2011 in his native England. He was 87.
A native of Manchester, England, Jim excelled at swimming and at 12 captained his school’s swim team to the England Schoolboys’ Championship. He entered into the British mat scene in 1942, and didn’t take long to register his presence. Though he was skilled wrestler trained in the all-in style, he adopted a rowdy, aggressive style that more often than not riled ringsiders enough that they barraged him with jeers and catcalls, and urged his opponent on even more enthusiastically.
Hussey came by the “Jumping” Jim monicker by virtue of an inordinate ability to launch himself into the air at will. He could leapfrog any charging opponent in a twinkling, even though that wrestler was standing fully upright, no rare feat for a squat five-foot, nine-inch 240-pounder. And he could land pinpoint dropkicks, so accurate that he could hit a handkerchief held up in front of him,
Over his four-decade career, Jim worked with the best from Britain to Canada to such far-flung locales as Japan, Kowloon, Sri Lanka and Singapore. He was a tried and true workhorse in the ring, often pitted against newcomers to show them to best advantage. One such future notable was the original Kendo Nagasaki, Peter Thornley, in his November 1964 debut, a successful launch of the long career of one of the most storied wrestlers in the United Kingdom, and one of the truly famous masked men in wrestling history. Another was the future Andre the Giant, making his very first TV appearance in Britain.
Jim’s other nickname could have been “Ultra-Reliable”. Promoters relied on him to draw, fans relied on him for plenty of excitement, and the boys relied on him to make them look good, whatever their shortcomings. He had a well-earned reputation as a prime ribber as well, and delighted in putting one over when it was least expected.
Like father, like son came true once again in the case of Jim Hussey’s son Mark, who showcased a dazzling and rugged style as Mark “Rollerball” Rocco. He became one of the major stars in Britain and Europe, and in Japan where he he donned a mask as the original Black Tiger from 1982 to 1990.
CAC member Adrian Street knew Jim Hussey well. “We worked on the same circuits for many years,” Adrian recalls. “Jim had a great sense of humor and I found him very comfortable to be around. I liked him very much.”
Jim was widowed in December 2008 when his wife of 63 years, Lynn, passed away. He is survived by son Mark and daughter Lynsey.
KEITH MEGSON 11/30/11
Keith Samuel Megson, a long-time referee in the Saskatchewan end of Stu Hart’s sprawling Stampede Wrestling territory in Canada, passed away of cancer on November 30, 2011. He was 78.
Keith was a well-known junior hockey player in his youth, then gravitated to what was known at the time as “semi-pro” wrestling. He trained under Dave Pyle in his native Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and showed his feisty ring style in matches around western Canada in the 1950’s. Late in that decade, his old semi-pro tag team partner Joe Lesperance — by that time Stu’s senior referee in the area — brought him into the Stampede circle as a ring official. Keith fitted into the role perfectly, and added to every match he handled with his lively style of reffing.
Many a wrestler who passed through the territory in that era had positive comments on the pair’s abilities, citing them as their favorite third men in the ring in the territory. Both Keith and Joe were, they noted, smaller, quicker and perfectly in tune with the aims of the match, and they could bump convincingly when that was needed. In fact, Keith’s bumping abilities were tested to the limit whenever it happened that matches were held on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th: the boys made sure to bump the proud Irishman in every match he handled that night. On one St. Paddy’s Day, four wrestlers gleefully body-slammed him in four matches, leading Keith to proclaim he’d taken more bumps than they did.
Keith wrapped up his referee duties in the late 1970’s. His other interests were wide. He played and worked in the famed Regina Lions Band, coached youth baseball and hockey, and took great pride in his home and property, all during a long career as a lineman with the provincial power company. He was predeceased by his wife Joanne, and is survived by son Kelly and three granddaughters.
Cameron Bates, who wrestled for a number of promotions in Texas and surrounding area as “Spiro”, passed away on November 30, 2011. He was 35.
Originally trained at the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy in 2000, he was a steady presence throughout the state of Texas for 11 years, including a run in Booker T’s PWA. He held several single and tag team titles in a half-dozen promotions, and since his first match there in 2007, has been a leading light with Anarchy Championship Wrestling of Austin.
“The entire roster will tell you; he was a great guy, a gentle soul and a helping hand,” reflected ACW promoter Darin Childs. “What many people don’t know is Cameron had a hand in training a large portion of the ACW roster.”
Cameron had training skills beyond the ring, witness his video on YouTube that provides good physical fitness workout guidance for anyone using a simple rubber tubing exercise device.
BOBBY BAKER 11/25/11
Bobby Baker, age 51, passed away at his home in French Lick, Indiana in the early morning hours of November 25, 2011.
Robert G. Baker was born on August 19, 1960 in Indiana, and received his education there. He wrestled for several years for World Championship Wrestling in the early 1990’s, most often on the undercard. Away from the ring, he was a lover of the outdoors and treasured his free time hunting, camping and exploring on his four wheeler.
Bobby is survived by his parents, wife Deborah Gardner, daughter Krystel, stepsons Brandon and Chuck and four step-grandchildren.
MARK “BISON” SMITH 11/22/11
Mark Smith, familiar to fans in Japan, Puerto Rico and parts of the U.S. as “Bison” Smith, passed away in San Juan, Puerto Rico on November 22, 2011. He was 38 years of age, and died at the hospital as a result of heart failure.
Born on September 24, 1973 in Denver, Colorado, Smith played football at the University of Colorado, showing up well as an offensive lineman. But his first love was weightlifting, and he haunted the gym to hone his 6′ 3″ and 280 pounds into a formidable physical machine. 1970’s UC alumnus Leon White, Vader of wrestling fame, urged him toward the pro ring and he moved to California to train under Donovan Morgan and Michael Modest. Making his debut in 1998, he sharpened his craft in various U.S. independent promotions for the next several years.
Opportunity beckoned in 2003, when Smith took his first journey offshore to IWA in Puerto Rico. “The Big Buffalo”, as he’d been nicknamed, tore the island up with his animal namesake’s power and unpredictable nature. He held the promotion’s world, intercontinental, hardcore and tag team titles at one time or another. Smith burst onto the Japanese scene in 2005 with Pro Wrestling NOAH, focusing on tag team work and holding half of team honors on five occasions in the next half-dozen years. He also did a stint with Ring of Honor in the U.S. as a member of manager Prince Nana’s “Embassy” group, and feuded particularly with Bryan Danielson, now Daniel Bryan of WWE, in 2009.
Bison was still pursuing an active ring campaign, and was scheduled to work the weekend following his death in Puerto Rico. It’s not known whether he had had any warning of heart problems.
BENNIE MATTA 11/21/11
He wasn’t the biggest or the baddest or the best in Texas ‘rasslin’ of the 1950’s and 60’s, but “Bouncing Bennie” Matta achieved a lofty status in his native San Antonio that survived for many years after he left the ring.
Benjamin R. Matta passed away in San Antonio on November 21, 2011 at 83 years of age, after a long and at times adventurous life. Born in that city on October 5, 1928, he was a lifelong athlete, exercising every day until his passing. Swimming claimed his main athletic interest in high school, where he lettered as a member of the aquatic team, but wrestling also caught his eye at the local YMCA. His love for his country shone through when he joined the U.S. Merchant Marine, then later transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps.
On his discharge, Bennie’s sports focus shifted completely to wrestling, and it didn’t take long for him to turn pro. He spent 22 years in the ring, criss-crossing the southern states but often returning to his native Texas. Though he was seldom in the main event spotlight, he developed a faithful following and rewarded his fans with a perpetual-motion style punctuated with dropkicks and his trademark mule kick, a resounding double-footed thrust to the mid-section delivered from a sort of handstand on the mat. To freshen things up he sometimes resorted to being El Matador, deftly evading opponents’ wild charges with the grace and aplomb of a bullfighter.
Toward the end of his career Bennie dabbled in promotion, in the main because he wanted to help his fellow wrestlers flourish in what he knew all too well was a tough way to make a living. He’d been something of a mentor to those who were struggling on the road, and the promotional move was a continuation of that concern for his fellow man. Wrestling at an end, Bennie’s entrepreneurial side blossomed when he paired with brother Amos to open Matta’s Auto Supply, and on weekends his family operated Matta’s Hill Country Playground. The park was a favorite in the Texas hill country around San Antonio, known widely for its great food, country dances and Sunday afternoon baseball tournaments.
Bennie is survived by his loving wife of 59 years, Tillie, daughter Caroline Guajardo, son Victor, two sisters, three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews. He was a charming, soft-spoken man with a lust for life. “He was very proud of his Hispanic heritage, San Antonio, and the support got from everybody,” Victor recalls. “He just loved his fans and that business, until the day he died.”
KILLER KARL KOX 11/10/11
Herbert Alan Gerwig, who almost walked away from the business before he transformed himself into the unpredictable Killer Karl Kox, passed away in hospital on the morning of November 10, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. He had been admitted on October 22 after a major heart attack, and a second attack on November 10 claimed his life at the age of 80.
Herb Gerwig was born on April 26, 1931 in Baltimore, Maryland. He served his country in the U.S. Marine Corps, spending nearly four years in the thick of the Korean War. Trained in the rudiments by veteran Fred Bozak, he began his ring career in the mid-fifties as a face, but his interest waned after a few years of undercard billing and what seemed an endless round of TV jobs. On the verge of quitting, he happened to work on an event with Ed Farhat, The Sheik, at the time one of the hottest heels on the U.S. scene. The Sheik saw solid potential in Herb, who was working heel at the time, and arranged a run for him in Nebraska in 1961.
Noting the success of The Sheik’s wild ring behavior, Herb amped up to an out-of-control persona, took his promos in a far-out direction, and came under the influence of “Alex”, a voice from beyond that only he heard. He took the new identity of Killer Carl Cox, and struck gold with it. Moving next to Amarillo, he edited the name to Killer Karl Kox, the racial overtones of the initials clearly evident.
Kox’s infamy in the ring, and his drawing power, grew steadily at home and abroad through the 1960’s and 70’s. He did nine tours in Japan and five in Australia. The latter was especially notable when in 1971 he finally forsook the heel side to join forces with faces Mark Lewin, King Curtis Iaukea, Spiros Arion and Mario Milano to battle the forces of evil, Abdullah the Butcher, Bulldog Brower, Waldo von Erich, Tiger Jeet Singh and others. Texas and Florida were his top areas in the U.S. Wherever he went, when others toned it down when the heat got a little too hot, Kox’s reaction was to turn it up even higher.
In stark counterpoint to his wrestling persona, Kox’s away-from-the-ring personality sparkled. His sense of humor, love of practical jokes and tremendous booking imagination endeared him to the profession. No less remarkable was his in-ring teaching ability. Ted DiBiase Sr., Dick Murdoch and Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie were just three of many who have praised Kox for teaching them so much more about what to do and when to do it, simply by working with them, than any others of their untold numbers of opponents.
Killer Karl Kox retired from wrestling in 1982, after a run that saw him hold 35 titles on three continents. He then worked as a jail guard for the Dallas sheriff’s department until his retirement.
He attended the 2010 CAC reunion, and that provided a special and very welcome surprise for many of the men with whom he’d shared the ring and the road for so many years.
VENUS LARUE 11/09/11
Venus LaRue, the widow of Chief Little Eagle and a fine wrestler in her own right, passed away on November 9, 2011, at the age of 76. She succumbed to lung cancer, her family at her side until the end.
“Vinnie”, as she was called by everyone, was an Alabama girl born and raised. She got her start in wrestling in the late 1950’s, and the raven-haired young beauty turned heads wherever she appeared. In fact, included among her fans was comedian and movie star Bob Hope. Hop-scotching around the U.S., she worked with top female performers such as Ann Casey, Barbara Galento, Mary Jane Mull and many others, and was unfailingly the face in her many battles.
Along the wrestling trail, Vinnie met a young man named Richard Bryant — or, when he entered the ring each night, Chief Little Eagle. The pair married and hit the road together, often wrestling as a mixed tag team. They spent a lot of time in the southern states, and never failed to be the people’s choice when it came to in-ring action. They were together until Bryant was tragically murdered in 1990.
Vinnie wrestled until the mid-1970’s, and retired at that point to devote her full attention to her family, which included two sons. She kept her ties to wrestling as a member of the Gulf Coast Wrestlers’ Reunion, held in March each year in Mobile, Alabama.
“She was a wonderful mother,” reflects younger son Cornell. “She was always proud of bringing smiles to faces, everywhere she went.”
SEPTIEMBRE NEGRO 11/04/11
Virgilio Aristeo Amezcua, one of the best-known masked luchadores in Mexican ring annals and a long-time commission member in Guadalajara, passed away in his native country on November 4, 2011 at age 73.
“Vick” Amezcua, as he was familiarly known, was born in Michoacan state on September 3, 1938. He was the son of Mexican veteran Al Amezcua, and older brother of Jose Luis Amezcua who would become Alfonso Dantes. He became an established worker in his own right before assuming the Septiembre Negro masked persona in the mid-1970’s. The name was taken from the infamous Black September terrorist group that kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Septiembre Negro’s fame grew quickly across Mexico, and particularly in Guadalajara, and spread internationally when he campaigned in Panama and other Central American nations. That fame grew even more when he combined with Dr. Wagner, Sr., an alliance that continued until the two faced each other at the Palacio de los Deportes in Mexico City on August 1982. Wagner won the match, and in the process took Amezcua’s mask. Amezcua continued to wrestle, and passed the Septiembre Negro gimmick along to his nephew. Other family members, a brother-in-law and two other nephews, wrestled as well.
Following his retirement from the ring, Vick Amezcua became a respected member of the Box y Lucha Commission in Guadalajara. He was a fixture at all local wrestling events, and served on the Commission until his death.
CLEMENTE MARCELINO VALENCIA 10/11/11
Masked luchador Clemente Marcelino Valencia, a 16-year veteran of Mexican rings, was tragically shot and killed in a Mexico city suburb in the early-morning hours of October 11, 2011. The 43-year old wrestler was attending a party at a religious celebration in Ixtapalapa with family and friends when a fight broke out. One combatant fired his gun at another, but missed and the bullet struck Valencia, an innocent bystander, in the head.
Valencia was born on July 17, 1968, and got his wrestling career off to the late start in 1995. His early years under the mask were as Dr. O’Borman Jr., a name he licensed from the original Dr. O’Borman, and he joined CMLL in the late 1990’s. After a conflict over use of the name in 2000, he became Dr. X and slowly climbed the ladder in the promotion. He defeated Tigre Blanco on March 11, 2003 to become the Mexican National Welterweight Champion, and defended it for over two years, finally losing it on May 13, 2005.
For two months of his lengthy title reign Valencia was a double champion, holding one-third of the Mexican National Trios Championship with Sangre Azteca and Nitro. He continued in CMLL in a variety of alliances until mid-2011, when he moved to independent promotion Perros del Mal under the new ring name of Dr. X-Treme. He was active with the promotion at the time of his passing.
Valencia is survived by his wife, and two children under the age of ten.
JIM SZIKSZAY 10/06/11
James Szikszay, a solid journeyman wrestler in the middle of the last century, passed away in Oshawa, Ontario on October 6, 2011, in his 92nd year.
“Ziggy”, as he was nicknamed throughout his career, began wrestling in the early 1940’s around his native Oshawa. By the middle of the decade he operated the short-lived Oshawa Wrestling Club, but its run ended in 1947 after a riot. He worked in various areas in the U.S. over the next number of years but returned home regularly to appear for promoter Pat Milosh. The Gulf Coast region, Hawaii and Detroit were frequent ports of call. Jim worked under a number of names during that period: Joe, John or Johnny Pavich, Ferenc Szikszay, and Jim Siskay, Siksay and Sziksay — the tricky spelling of his surname seemed to confound ad-writers everywhere.
Throughout the latter part of his career, Jim worked with Bert Ruby and Jack Britton in the Detroit office, as road manager for the wildly-popular midget wrestlers. Given that he was only in a territory for a week or two, his usual role was to put over rising talent in the many places the midgets appeared.
Jim passed away in a care centre, his home for the past five years. Predeceased by his wife Vera, Jim is survived by a son and two daughters, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
CHRIS DRAKE 09/26/11
Chris Drake, the long-time treasurer and legal counsel of the Cauliflower Alley Club and beloved wife of vice-president Tom Drake, has passed away in hospice care in Cullman, Alabama. Her wonderful life came to a close on the morning of September 26, 2011, after a lengthy illness.
“Chris was so much more than the treasurer and lawyer for CAC. She was indeed our treasure, a solid rock on whom we could lean and unfailingly depend,” said CAC president Nick Bockwinkel. “Her wise counsel has done so very much to guide CAC over all these years.”
Christine McKoy Drake was born on November 26, 1938 in Oneonta, Alabama. She worked for Tom’s law firm as a legal secretary and paralegal from 1963 until 1981, then enrolled in the Birmingham School of Law. Graduating in 1985 with a J.D. degree, Chris joined Tom’s practice and the firm became Drake and Drake Attorneys, offering a broad range of legal services.
Her workload encompassed far more than just being a successful lawyer. An active member of the State Bar, she served for four years on the Alabama State Board of Education, on the advisory board for the University of Alabama in Birmingham, and various committees related to community colleges in the state. Chris has also been active in politics, including serving in a key capacity in presidential candidate Walter Mondale’s campaign in 1984.
Chris served for 19 years as the treasurer and legal counsel to CAC, and it’s very much worth noting that in all that time the Club never received a bill for her many and varied legal consultations and services. A non-profit organization such as ours often requires legal advice in order to operate effectively and within the rules, and Chris was more than generous with her time and knowledge.
“To describe the contributions that Chris made to the CAC would be more difficult to describe than the value the sun has to flowers,” executive vice-president Karl Lauer, who consulted with her an untold number of times, points out. “Over the 19 years she has been the legal mind and adviser to the CAC, many times I would get the credit, but it was Chris Drake who advised me first. I know there are many ladies that are as good as Chris, but I doubt if there are any, any better. She will be missed for a long, long time.”
The Cauliflower Alley Club extends its deepest sympathies to Chris’s husband Tom, sons Tommy (Kimberly) and Whit (Katherine), daughters Mary (Ron) Pate and Christy (Ben) Lowe, her six grandchildren, and her brother Jim.
JOHNNY BAREND 09/20/11
He was “Handsome Johnny” Barend through most of his nearly 25 years in the pro ring, but life held much more than wrestling fame for John R. Barend, who passed away of natural causes on September 20, 2011 in Avon, New York at age 82.
Born on March 27, 1929 in Rochester, New York, Johnny had his first taste of life on the mat as an eight-year old amateur. Fresh out of high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and wrestled in amateur competition throughout his service stint. He was good enough that the Olympics beckoned, but Johnny elected to take his discharge and join the pros in 1949 after training under Buffalo promoter Ed Don George. He was an instant hit in his home state, then expanded his fame throughout the 1950’s. In California, he teamed with headliner Enrique Torres; in the northeast, he was a frequent opponent — and sometime tag partner — for Buddy Rogers; in Ohio, he transformed to “Handsome Johnny” and formed a hot heel tandem with Magnificent Maurice (Gene Dubuque) under the management of Mr. Kleen, the diminutive Ernie Roth who was also the future Abdullah Farouk and The Grand Wizard. And then came Hawaii……
Barend first wrestled in Hawaii in 1955, during his California run, and returned in the ’60’s. Initially working face, he pulled the ace out of his sleeve in due course: “Handsome Johnny” Barend returned, but with a whole new persona. He sported a top hat, shades, a cigar and a strut, topped off with seemingly spaced-out interviews that began with him stepping out of an upright coffin in a dark corner of the TV studio.
Interviewers Ed Francis, the Honolulu promoter, and Lord James Blears became almost a part of the set as Barend launched into one of his spiels, punctuated by his maniacal laughter. They were captivating, sometimes focused on an upcoming bout but as often as not straying into something totally unrelated. At one time, he had fully 50% of the TV viewership in the Hawaiian capital tuned into his segment on 50th State Wrestling, waiting with bated breath to see what lunacy Handsome Johnny was exploring today. And almost needless to say, the gates across the islands were stormed by fans anxious to see this strange but fascinating character up close and personal.
The biggest high spot of Johnny’s life also came in Hawaii: he met Anita “Annie” Lum in 1967 while walking on Waikiki Beach, and it was love at first sight. The pair were married in the ring at Honolulu International Center that year, with wrestler Jim Hady acting as best man, and lived happily ever after for the next nearly 44 years. Johnny retired from the ring in 1972 after an injury and they took up residence just outside Rochester, where they operated a group of rental cottages for a number of years. Their love affair was alive the entire time, Johnny enjoying nothing more than being with his beloved Annie, and in recent years their faithful canine companion Joy.
ANDREW TSIMPIDES 09/19/11
Andrew G. Tsimpides of Birmingham, Alabama, who at one time managed the original Gorgeous George, passed away on September 19, 2011 at age 94.
It’s not known whether Tsimpides filled the role of George’s faithful valet Jeffries, which was played by several different individuals besides George’s devoted friend Jake Brown, or served in another managerial capacity. He also served as manager for Paul Anderson, the mammoth weightlifter and sometime wrestler, and operated a pair of nightclubs in Birmingham..
LITTLE TOKYO 09/06/11
Shigeri Akabane, one of the finest of the classic midget wrestlers of a bygone era, pased away in St. Joseph, Missouri on September 6, 2011. He was 71. He had been hospialized battling leukemia, but died of a sudden heart attack before his daily treatment began.
The four foot, 98 pound Akabane, a native of the Nerima district of Tokyo, excelled at judo in his youthful years, and in spite of his small stature, took professional wrestling training. Opponents of his size were in very short supply in his native Japan, and it wasn’t until he met touring midget Lord Littlebrook that real possibilities opened up to him. Littlebrook saw talent in the young man, and brought him to America to join the midget troupe.
Littlebrook rounded off his skills and Akabane became Little Tokyo, but his early U.S. years were no bed of roses. The ring work went well, but he spoke only a few words of English. Appearing tough and mean backstage was his mechanism for deflecting conversation, and most avoided him. In truth, he was simply scared. But when he became comfortable with the language of his new home, an entirely new Little Tokyo burst forth, friendly and personable, with a wonderful humorous streak.
“Tok”, as he was nicknamed, parlayed his wrestling and comedic skills masterfully. He was in the upper echelons of the midget matmen’s world, approaching the reputation and working ability of the inimitable Sky Low Low and Little Beaver, generally acknowledged as the two greatest midgets of all time. He held the World Midget Championship for several years, an acknowledgement of his premier position in midget ranks, and appeared on the record-breaking WrestleMania III event at Detroit’s Silverdome..
He excelled at training as well, tutoring Littlebrook’s sons Little Kato and Beautiful Bobby along with a number of others over the years. All his students appreciated him deeply, and serious fans did as well. Many have noted that he carried on the unique blend of humor and hard bumps that characterized the midget brigade in their salad years of the late 1940’s through the 1970’s.
Shigeri Akabane was predeceased recently by a son who suffered a fatal heart attack while training for the Boston and New York marathons. He is survived by a daughter in San Diego, and a second son in Hawaii.
MANDO LOPEZ 08/26/11
Mando Lopez, a familiar figure on 1970’s cards throughout California and Arizona, passed away in Los Angeles on August 26, 2011. He had been in failing health for the past several years, and passed on at the age of 63.
A native son of Los Angeles, Mando is thought to have been trained by The Great Goliath, Pablo Ordaz Crispin, an established Mexico and L.A. headliner. He took to the ring in the early 1970’s, working most often for the Mike LeBell promotion on their undercards. Lopez was a particularly good foil for both rising stars and the established main eventers, putting them over strongly in TV squash matches that were a staple of that time. He unfailingly presented himself well, in good-looking tights, shined boots and often a sparkling sequin jacket that Freddie Blassie had given him.
Mando’s work was solid, and sometimes carried him to a push in southern California. He journeyed often to Roy Shire’s northern part of the state too, most often for TV matches, and into Arizona and west Texas as well. Lopez and Mickey Doyle held the Americas Tag Team Championship for a short time following a win over Black Gordman and Goliath in December 1975. He also worked independent lucha libre events as the masked Superstar, and trained a number of luchadores at the well-known Gil’s Gym in east L.A.
Lopez’s own favorite ring story concerned a match against Terry Funk, at the time the NWA champion, in Funk’s home state. The booker told Lopez to offer no offense, but when the booker’s direction for a pure squash became evident, Terry had other ideas. “Wrestle me!” he barked, knowing Mando’s capabilities. And so Mando did. The pair had a solid match, but the booker upbraided Lopez loudly for not just laying down as instructed. Funk intervened, telling the booker in no uncertain terms not to tell anyone how to wrestle him ever again. Mando was amazed at Terry’s defense on his behalf, and even more thunderstruck when the champion later handed him some greenbacks, saying “That’s my payoff, it’s yours, sorry for the hassle.”
DONNA CHRISTANELLO 08/25/11
Donna Christanello, one of the best-known members of the lady wrestlers’ sorority of the 1960’s to the 1980’s, has passed away . She reportedly suffered a fatal heart attack at her home in Franklin Park, Pennsylvania on August 25, 2011
Born in Pittsburgh on May 23, 1942, Donna Alfonsi was a 20-year old wrestling fan when she first saw a pair of lady wrestlers tangle on television. Her working life, in a restaurant at the time, paled in comparison to what she witnessed that day, and she determined to do something about that! Once she let it be known that she was serious about wrestling, Waldo von Erich and Klondike Bill connected her with Lillian Ellison, The Fabulous Moolah. Donna moved to Columbia, South Carolina in 1963 to begin her training with Lillian, and she never looked back.
Donna wrestled from 1963 onward, one of the real stalwarts in Moolah’s busy booking office. She covered much of the U.S. repeatedly, ventured into the Vancouver territory in Canada, and wowed them in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. Donna wrestled for both the WWWF and Vince McMahon Jr.’s WWF, and made a number of appearances in Madison Square Garden. Her frequent tag partner was Toni Rose, with whom she held both the World Women’s Tag Team Championship on three occasions, as well as WWF’s ladies’ tag belts.
Another high point came in 1987, at the first WWF Survivor Series pay-per-view event. Donna partnered her former student Wendi Richter, Judy Martin, Leilani Kai and Dawn Marie against the team of her teacher Moolah, Velvet McIntyre, Rockin’ Robin and Japan’s Jumping Bomb Angels in a major match. She wrestled virtually the entire spectrum of female talent over her 28-year career, until her final match in 1991
Moolah became a close friend, whom Donna referred to as her “chosen sister”. She made her home in Columbia for many years, helped Moolah to train Sherri Martel and Brittany Brown among others, and ran her thriving office and training facility when Moolah was on the road. Donna returned to her Pittsburgh roots in May 1999, and worked in the accounting department of an area Wal-Mart.
She was honored with induction into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, New York in 2009, and the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame in 1020. The Cauliflower Alley Club honored Donna at its 1992 reunion, as did the Gulf Coast Wrestling Reunion in 2009.
BRIAN “SKULLKRUSHER” STRICKLAND 08/20/11
Brian “Skull Crusher” Strickland died Saturday night during a wrestling match. Sadly, He had a heart attack in the ring. He stepped out of the wrestling ring for a couple of years, and wanted to make his return. His age has not yet been verified. His girlfriend, daughter, and son-in-law were in attendance. It was a very tragic night for everyone involved.
A truck driver by trade, Strickland lived in Fort Myers. After his death it was learned that Strickland had a history of heart problems, including two prior heart attacks and open-heart surgery. Doctors reviewed footage from the match and confirmed the wrestling match had nothing to do with the heart attack and it would have happened in or out of the ring.
Strickland is survived by girlfriend Becky, daughter Amanda and her mother Chris, his son Adrian also surived by his siblings Jim (Barb), Richard (Allison), Teresa (Michelle), granddaughter Cleo, many nieces and nephews.
RABBI RAFAEL HALPERIN 08/20/11
Rafael Halperin travelled a road filled with contrasts during a remarkable 87 years of life. A dedicated athlete in his early years, he was a weightlifter, a boxer and wrestler, and a national karate champion. His middle years were devoted to commercial ventures of various types, and finally, he became a respected rabbi, scholar and author. Rabbi Halperin passed away of complications of cancer on August 20, 2011, in his adopted homeland of Israel.
Born in 1924 in Vienna, Austria, he moved with his family to Palestine as a youth. Halperin fought in the war for Israel’s independence, and spent his young years honing his varied athletic skills. That period of his life culminated in becoming a professional wrestler and seeking his fortune in America. He wrestled for Vince McMahon, Sr.’s Capitol Wrestling promotion throughout the 1950’s, and became a mainstay on north-eastern cards. At one point, he was considered as a possible replacement for the overwhelmingly-popular Argentina Rocca.
By 1962, Halperin had earned enough to return to Israel, and undertook several business ventures there, restaurants, fitness centers and jewelry enterprises among them. His biggest success arose from a single optical dispensary which, strongly guided by his religious values, he designed to provide low-cost eyewear for the masses. That single store mushroomed to a chain of 128 outlets, the biggest eyewear concern in Israel, providing the family with lifetime security.
Some 35 years ago, Halperin devoted more and more of his time and energy to study of the Torah, and other religious matters. He earned ordination as a rabbi, and wrote widely, authoring an encyclopedia and a weight-loss guide in addition to religious books, which were the vast majority of his written output.
Rabbi Halperin is survived by his wife, Bertie, five sons and two daughters, and more than 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
TONY COSENZA 08/17/11
Tony Cosenza, a familiar figure in many arenas from 1946 through the 1960’s, passed away on August 17, 2011. One of the sport’s oldest surviving wrestlers, he had reached the grand old age of 93.
Born Theodore Cosenza in Italy on April 14, 1919, he emigrated to the U.S. with his family at a young age. He served in the U.S.Army during World War II, first in the cavalry and then in infantry ranks, and there developed an interest in weightlifting and bodybuilding. After the war Cosenza competed actively, placing fourth in the national weightlifting championships, and first in a New York State contest.
It was a short step into wrestling, and tutored by Abe Coleman, a renamed Tony Cosenza brought to the ring good looks, a fine physique and lightning-fast speed. He soon gained the nickname “The Flushing Flash”, in acknowledgment of his speedy pace on the mat and his adopted hometown of Flushing, New York. No one-trick pony, Cosenza was also an accomplished pianist, and even gave brief concerts prior to his matches in a number of venues.
He also worked as Arturo Cosenza, The Great Herbert for promoter Jack Pfefer in 1949, and Zabio the Beatnik or the Great Zabio — billed, of course, from Greenwich Village — when that era came around. His last match was in 1973. Following his wrestling career, he operated a moving van business, delivering new furniture in the New York area. Toward his late eighties, he took up residence in an assisted living facility in Rockville Centre, Long Island, where he passed away.
Though it’s been claimed that he was the person who introduced Stu Hart to his future wife Helen, that honor actually belonged to long-time wrestler and Houston promoter Paul Boesch. Cosenza, however, socialized often with the young couple and wrestled for Hart’s Calgary promotion in 1950.
Lonnie Evans Jr. 08/13/11
Mr. Lonnie H. Evans, Jr was born on May 14, 1948 to the late Orciluar (Harris) Evans and Lonnie Evans, Sr. He passed away on Saturday , August 13, 2011. Lonnie was a loving and charismatic person that was very outgoing. He was often called the life of the party and a person of good cheer by others.During the 1980’s, he became a professional wrestler with the WCW and was named the “Brown Bomber”. Lonnie is survived by son Quintus (Lakisha) Billings; three daughters, Cassandra Billings , Tabitha Hawkins , and Lavender; four sisters, Diane Evans, Lucile Richardson , Elaine Burgess, Karen Evans; three brothers, Leroy Evans, Dwight Evans, Royce Evans; and the host grandchildren, nieces, nephews,relatives and friends.
BOBBY FIELDS 08/13/11
Bobby Fields, one of the best-known members of the famed Welch-Hatfield wrestling dynasty in the southern states, passed away in Alabama on August 13, 2011, at the age of 77.
Born Luther Eugene Hatfield on March 3, 1934 to legendary referee Speedy Hatfield and wife Bonnie, he was the youngest of their three boys. With four uncles in wrestling, the Welch brothers, it was no surprise that the boys moved into that circle in the early 1950’s. Lee hit the ring first in late 1952, followed by Don in 1953 and Bobby in 1954, all trained by old pro Charlie Carr. The latter two began under assumed surnames, Bobby as Bobby Star, but it wasn’t long until their true identities came to the fore and they began teaming together.
The various combinations became known widely across the south, from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle. Bobby occasionally worked as Luke Fields, as well. In a departure from their usual brother pairing, Bobby and Lee combined in southern Florida as the masked Infernos, in a ploy to lure the original Infernos and their manager J.C.Dykes back to the sunshine state.
After several years of brotherly teaming, Bobby formed an alliance with close friend Cowboy Bob Kelly, and the combination caught fire throughout the southland. The Cowboy has fond memories of that era, and the pair’s years of criss-crossing the Gulf Coast territory out of Mobile.
Bobby held, at one time or another, virtually every singles and tag team title belt in the Florida to Louisiana stretch of the country. In total, he had 49 championship reigns, surely a mark equalled by scant few.
He is survived by his wife, Evelyn, sons Randy Lynn, Anthony and Bobby, and brother Don, as well as 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
SCOTT LEDOUX 08/11/11
Scott LeDoux, who was best known as a pro boxer but went on to carve out a subsequent wrestling career in the AWA territory, passed away in Minnesota on August 11, 2011 at age 62. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more widely known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, claimed the ring veteran’s life after a three-year battle.
LeDoux punched his way through 50 pro boxing matches from 1974 to 1983, 11 of them against world champions in boxing’s last golden era. George Foreman, Leon Spinks, Ken Norton, Duane Bobick and Larry Holmes among others all felt his punching power, and though unsuccessful in his big fights, he made his foes painfully aware they’d been in a real fight. Spinks told him after their draw match, just months before Leon defeated Muhammed Ali, “You’re a warrior!”. Norton, after a draw in which LeDoux floored the man who broke Ali’s jaw, told him simply, “You beat me up.” He retired with a record of 33-13-4, with 22 KO’s to his credit.
Verne Gagne brought LeDoux into AWA rings in 1986 as a special referee, and from there he turned to putting holds on and throwing punches at the bad boys. His most memorable feud was with Larry Zbyszko, a long-running battle which played out on ESPN. While his wrestling career was not long, he nevertheless gained an even greater reputation that ultimately led to positions as the state boxing commissioner, and Executive Director of the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission.
The gentle giant who was Scott LeDoux gave tirelessly to his community, working hard for charities such as Wishes & More, and serving on his County Board of Commissioners. He was a member of the National Board of Directors of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and honorary chair of the American Cancer Society. His first wife, Sandy, had been given only weeks to live with terminal cancer but lasted ten years; “the real fighter in the family, the toughest person I’d ever met”, LeDoux once said.
MALCOLM CORMIER 08/09/11
It’s a little-known fact that Malcolm Cormier, who passed away in Moncton, New Brunswick on August 9, 2011, led the way into the pro wrestling ring for his well-known family. And though he never achieved the same level of recognition as his four brothers, he was nevertheless an important part of wrestling in the Canadian maritimes in the 1960’s and ’70’s. Malcolm died in hospital at 74, of diabetic complications and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Malcolm began wrestling with the locals in New Brunswick in the late 1950’s, then moved on to Boston in the early ’60’s. He married shortly thereafter, settled down back home and worked as a bricklayer and prison guard until retirement. Wrestling was in his blood, though, and it wasn’t long before he began refereeing throughout his home area. Given the familiarity of the Cormier name in the area, he became Mel Turnbow to short-circuit the connection with his brothers — Yvon (The Beast), Jean-Louis (Rudy Kay/Rudy Martin), Leonce (Leo Burke/Tommy Martin) and Romeo (Bobby Kay/Bobby Burke/Terry Martin).
He enjoyed a very good reputation as a referee, competently handling each match and never upstaging the wrestlers. He worked for brother Rudy’s Eastern Sports Association for seven years and later Emile Dupre’s promotion, throughout the four maritime provinces. Malcolm also officiated in Montreal for a number of the Rougeau’s events there.
Malcom is survived by his wife Yolande, four daughters and three sons, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by a granddaughter, one sister and five brothers, including Yvon and Jean-Louis.
SERGE SAUMON 08/08/11
Serge Daigneault, who wrestled almost exclusively for Inter Championship Wrestling of Montreal, Quebec, passed away on August 8, 2011. He was 52.
Wrestling under the name of Serge Saumon, he had a late start in the business, and never aspired to be a main eventer. He was first and foremost an entertainer, a showman, who delighted in doing whatever it took to engage and entertain fans. He injected large doses of humor into his matches, even going so far as to replace a female wrestler who didn’t show for a scheduled Evening Gown match. Serge donned the gown and make-up and took her spot in the ring, to the absolute delight of the crowd. On another occasion, he and tag partner Nico le Prince defended — and lost — their ICW tag team title to the distaff pairing of Sexy Julie and Precious Lucy, the ring name at the time of current star Gen “LuFisto” Goulet.
Saumon was diagnosed only months ago with terminal lung cancer, and wrestled his last match for another Montreal promotion, CTW, at the beginning of 2011.
TERRY YORKSTON 08/07/11
Terry Yorkston, yet another of the seemingly endless line of wrestlers who came out of Hamilton, Ontario a half-century and more ago, passed away in hospital there on August 7, 2011 at age 78. He had been living in a long-term care home there for the past several years.
Charles Terrance Yorkston began wrestling in the late 1960’s. Though not confirmed, he was most likely trained at ring veteran Jack Wentworth’s Queenston Health Club in Hamilton, the wellspring of the amazing number of wrestlers from that area. He wrestled in Quebec, then Ontario, before heading south to the thriving Pittsburgh and Buffalo promotions.
An undercard worker all through his career, he rose a notch in Montreal teaming, with Duncan McTavish as the masked “El Santos” for promoter George Cannon. He also campaigned for a while as the hooded Black Diamond, and had a run in the Canadian maritimes in 1972. Finally cracking the Maple Leaf Gardens roster in Toronto, he had a number of matches there in the 1970’s, and as enhancement talent in the WWF.
His active career ended, Yorkston’s refereeing career blossomed around 1981 in Ontario, where Frank Tunney co-promoted with Mid-Atlantic Wrestling out of Charlotte, North Carolina. He continued reffing with the WWF when Jack Tunney, now the head of Maple Leaf Wrestling, allied with Vince McMahon in his burgeoning international promotion. That lasted several years, then faded when WWF no longer taped matches in Hamilton for Canadian consumption.
Yorkston is survived by his son, Robert-Daniel Yorkston, brother Alexander, godson Matthew-Daniel Mitchell and his beloved grandchildren, Brody and Sasha, whom he delighted in caring for in their younger years.
Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling promoter and wrestler J.T.Lightning lost a lengthy battle for his life on August 4, 2011, at the young age of 41. He had been diagnosed with liver and throat cancer in the spring of 2010, and his promotion came to almost a complete halt as he underwent medical treatment.
Born James Haase on January 13, 1970, he began wrestling for the Great Lakes Wrestling Association and other small promotions at the dawn of the 1990’s as J.T.Lightning. When Great Lakes failed after a short run, he sought stability by opening his own promotion, Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling, on May 15, 1993.
The start-up promotion caught fire quickly, as J.T. brought in solid rising talent, who have long since proven their worth by progressing to major promotions. Sexton Hardcastle and Christian Cage, who would become WWE’s Edge and Christian, C.M.Punk, Rhino, Samoa Joe, Al Snow and Mickie James highlighted many of CAPW’s cards. Harley Race, Jimmy Snuka, Abdullah the Butcher, Honky Tonk Man and Jerry Lawler lent shows the legend flavor. The hardcore style came and went, as the promotion fell on hard times through the past several years.
What would be the final CAPW card was presented in March 2011, and in May, J.T.Lightning posted a prophetic final message on Facebook: “There will be no CAPW shows in the foreseeable future.”
JUDD THE STUD 07/24/11
Tim Frankenfield wore a number of widely-differing hats during his 44 years of life. He was a funeral director, chief of a volunteer fire department, chairman of the board of supervisors for his township, and not incidentally, a gifted wrestling manager and promoter known widely in his native Pennsylvania. He passed away in hospital in Philadelphia on July 24, 2011, due to internal organ failure subsequent to surgery.
A native of Easton, PA, Tim began his working life as a funeral director for various funeral homes in his area. He was a life member of the Plainfield Township Volunteer Fire Co., serving as chief for 18 years, and concurrently chaired the board of supervisors for the township for four years. He also coached football for a school and a youth association.
His lifelong love, however, was wrestling. He trained for the ring but found his real calling as a manager, Judd the Stud, who had a penchant for getting embroiled in the action. Judd’s verbal assaults hit the mark in aggravating the fans and the wrestlers, and he spent most of the 1990’s associated with Pennsylvania Championship Wrestling, an independent promotion in the eastern part of the state. PCW had a close relationship with WWF at the time, and this also gave him the opportunity to manage a number of their stars on PCW events; Bob Backlund, Kane, Paul Orndorff, Bam Bam Bigelow and King Kong Bundy, to name just a few. He also formed a PCW group, Generation X, that included Sexton Hardcastle (Edge), Christian Cage (Christian) and Lance Diamond in the 90’s, that made a definite mark in the area. After PCW closed down in 2000, Judd began running his own events under the Continental Championship Wrestling banner.
RYZE WOO 07/02/11
Justin Honeycutt, who wrestled as Ryze Woo on independent cards in Florida, passed away on July 2, 2011 as a result of a workplace accident.
Honeycutt, 30, was working at his regular job at the Magical Midway amusement park in Orlando, Florida. He was some 90 feet in the air, doing repairs on the towering Star Flyers ride which was closed for maintenance at the time. Fully supported by a safety harness, he fell about six feet. Rescue crews found him unconscious, suspended by the harness, but he did not survive. There is no explanation at this point of why he fell, and Magical Midway is closed while investigation continues.
Working variously as Ryze Woo, Mr. Woo or simply Ryze, Honeycutt was a familiar figure on Florida indy cards. He was a big man, and some have said was reminiscent of Korean wrestler Pak Song.
MIKE DUNCAN 06/23/11
Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, a well-known wrestling announcer in the 1970’s, passed away in Nashville, Tennessee on June 23, 2011 at the age of 64.
Mike was known as a colorful character, and fitted well into the vibrant mid-south ring scene of the time. A cousin of Jerry Jarrett, he capably commentated the TV matches in Birmingham and Nashville during Nick Gulas’s promotional reign. He later handled ring announcing duties in Louisville when his aunt, Christine Jarrett, promoted the city. Mike’s voice was also familiar on voiceovers for arena footage taped on the circuit around Memphis and used on the city’s TV wrestling shows.
If you ever wondered where Jim Cornette got his early fashion sense, here’s the answer: Mike Duncan also worked in a men’s wear store in Nashville, and cleverly put together the very first “mama’s boy suit” for the budding ring manager who would shortly become so notorious.
Mike is survived by his wife Julie, three daughters, and four grandchildren.
J. T. ROBERTS 06/18/11
Justin T. Roberts, 29, who wrestled for nearly 20 north-eastern U.S.promotions over the past eight years, has died as a result of a single-vehicle auto accident. He lost control and struck a tree in the early morning hours of June 18, 2011 in North Codorus Township, Pennsylvania.
Roberts was trained in 2002 by Quinn Nash, and was a charter roster member of the Ground Breaking Wrestling promotion since 2003. In his first year, he was the All American Wrestling Federation’s rookie of the year, and also took match of the year honors. Working as “Showtime” J.T.Roberts, the young wrestler held several titles during his short run, and was well-known on the north-eastern indy scene.
He is survived by his wife Danielle, and five-year old daughter Lillian. They made their home in Littlestown, PA.
ADRIAN STEEL 06/06/11
Robert Dale Phipps, 39, who wrestled as “Real Deal” Adrian Steel, passed away on June 6, 2011 following a heart attack immediately before a scheduled match.
Phipps was booked to appear for Mid-States Wrestling in his hometown, Harrison, Arkansas, on Saturday, June 4. He collapsed without warning as he waited in the ring for his opponent to enter, and was taken to hospital in Harrison. After he was stabilized, he was placed on board a helicopter to be transported to hospital in Springfield, Missouri, but he suffered a second heart attack en route. The flight diverted to Branson, but he passed away in the hospital there on Monday, June 6.
Duncan McTavish 06/05/11
Duncan McTavish, a colorful British transplant who spent 29 of his 80 years in the professional wrestling ring, passed away on June 5, 2011 in Barrie, Ontario, after a series of strokes.
Born Matt Gilmour in Old Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1932, his parents emigrated to Canada in search of a better life than in war-ravaged Britain. They settled in Hamilton, Ontario where young Matt finished his schooling, played competitive soccer, then enlisted in the Canadian Army. He served in the Korean War during his five-year enlistment, was shot twice, and not long after discharge began working at the LifeSavers candy company and working out at Jack “Stoney” Wentworth’s soon-to-be-famous gym in Hamilton.
It was only a short leap to wrestling, after Matt pushed around a little with some of the pros training there, and he adapted quickly. He began his career as Matt “The Guillotine” Gilmore, then for a time donned a hood along with Vic Rosetanni as The Hangmen. Again under his own name, he toured New York, the Gulf Coast, Hawaii and the U.S. southwest, then landed in Vancouver. Promoter Sandor Kovacs dubbed him Duncan McTavish, to capitalize on his Scottish heritage and thus hike up his appeal to the heavy British element in British Columbia. The name stuck for the rest of his career.
McTavish was often a main eventer in B.C. and returned to the territory a dozen times over the years. He caught on well with Frank Tunney’s office in Toronto, and later with Dave “Bearman” McKigney’s promotion. He retired in his mid-50’s after a run in Canada’s maritime provinces and settled on a small farm in Ontario to breed, raise and train racehorses, his second effort at that enterprise. He’d been training horses during his long stays in B.C., and he yearned to get back to it. “I’ve always been around horses. I have an affinity for them…..and the horses kept me sane,” Duncan recalled for Stam!Wrestling a few years back. He kept up the activity until his early seventies, when he had a heart valve replacement and his health became a concern.
McTavish suffered a severe stroke on May 28, and lingered in hospital until June 5, 2011. He is survived by two sons and a daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and extended family.
Chris Craven 06/04/11
Christopher Stewart Barbour, 25, died Saturday, June 4, 2011.
Born January 22, 1986, in Myrtle Beach, S.C., he was the son of Sandra “Carol” Barbour Kelly and Donald M. Kelly.
He, “Craven,” loved to wrestle and Air Soft, his job at Rent-A-Center in Shallotte, N.C., and most of all, he loved his children and family very much. Chris wrestled for several independent wrestling promotions across the country.
Other than his parents, Christopher is survived by his son, Adan Grandos, daughter, Caydance Barbour; his fiance, Kirsten Baker; three brothers, Jonathan and Matthew Barbour, and Oren Almond; maternal grandparents, Howard and Betty Lockey; paternal grandparents, Carl and Shirley Kelly; and many aunts, uncles and cousins that he loved dearly.
A memorial service was held at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 9, 2011 at Foundations Forever Church in Little River. Memorials may be made to the Christopher S. Barbour Childrens’ Trust Fund, P.O. Box 1116, Little River, SC 29566.
Betty Wagner 06/03/11
Betty Wagner, the first wife of the original Gorgeous George, passed away on June 3, 2011 at Gearhart, Oregon at the grand age of 98 years.
Born Elizabeth Hanson, Betty and George Raymond Wagner were married in a wrestling ring in Eugene, Oregon in 1939. The wedding proved such an attraction that promoters re-staged it a number of times. This was several years prior to George deciding to become Gorgeous. When he made the decision, George turned to Betty’s mother Elsie Hanson, a skilled seamstress, to fashion the series of outlandish capes and robes that helped to make him into the tremendous attraction and early television personality that he became.
Betty and George adopted two children before their marriage disintegrated in 1951. Little is known of Betty’s life after that time, but she resurfaced in 2010 to accept George’s induction into the WWE Hall of Fame just prior to WrestleMania 26.
Boston Bobbie Regan 06/02/11
Robert H. Regan, who wrestled in the 1950’s and ’60’s as Boston Bobbie Regan, passed away in Seattle on June 2, 2011, at the age of 84.
He came by his wrestling monicker honestly, a Boston boy born on March 27, 1927. He served in the U.S.Navy, then the ring captured his attention, first as a Golden Gloves boxer, than as a pro wrestler. In later life he was a truck driver, with an intense interest in photography and animals, and a skilled and avid golfer.
Milt Avruskin 05/28/11
Milton Avruskin, best known to the public as the TV voice of several Canadian promotions of the 1970’s and ’80’s, passed away suddenly on May 28, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario at the age of 65.
Milt didn’t set out to become involved in wrestling, and always said that it was a “total accident” that he became a well-known ringside commentator. He was a behind-the-scenes expert in TV distribution, but along the way, he was tapped to be the lead commentator, teamed with color man George “Crybaby” Cannon, in the 1970’s broadcasts of Superstars of Wrestling. The show was seen widely on the Global TV network.
When Gino Brito, Frank Valois and Andre the Giant teamed up to form International Wrestling in Quebec in the 1980’s, they brought Milt on board for his business expertise and his microphone skills. When the Montreal promotion was absorbed by the burgeoning WWF, Avruskin paired up with Angelo Mosca in the Pro Wrestling Canada promotion. They attempted to bring the NWA to southern Ontario in partnership with Jim Crockett Promotions, but the venture was short-lived.
Milt spent his entire career working with some of the top broadcast executives and producers worldwide through his Toronto-based company, Rebel Media Ventures. Given his expertise in TV distribution, he often bemoaned the fact that promoters most often failed to keep the master tapes of their programs to preserve and document the history of wrestling.
RANDY “MACHO MAN” SAVAGE 05/20/11
The ring world and far beyond was stunned and saddened by the sudden passing of one of the very few wrestlers truly entitled to be called “superstars”, on Friday, May 20, 2011. Randy Savage, the world-renowned “Macho Man”, passed away in the course of a single-vehicle auto accident in Seminole, Florida at age 58. His wife Lynn was injured in the accident, but thankfully not seriously.
The Pinellas County Medical Examiner’s Office, after a thorough investigation, stated that Randy died of a massive heart attack due to pre-existing heart damage. The medical examiner ruled that neither injuries sustained in the accident nor any agents in his system contributed to his death.
Lanny Poffo has said that Randy suffered the heart attack while driving his Jeep Wrangler on the morning of May 20. Though the vehicle crossed the median into oncoming traffic, and Randy’s foot was still on the accelerator, his wife was able to grab the steering wheel and swerve out of the path of an oncoming motorycle. She managed to steer into a tree, which stopped the vehicle.
Randall Mario Poffo was born in Columbus, Ohio on November 15, 1952, the first of two sons of Angelo and Judy Poffo. His brother Lanny was born in December 1954 in Calgary, Alberta, where Angelo was a mainstay in the young Stampede Wrestling promotion. The boys were both athletically gifted, Randy as a baseball player and Lanny as a gymnast.
Following high school, Randy pursued his first love, baseball, with a passion. The St. Louis Cardinals signed him as a catcher in their farm system in 1971, and he later played outfield in the St. Louis, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox minor systems. Doggedly determined and showing early signs of the intensity that marked his later career, he trained himself to throw with his left arm after an injury to his natural right throwing shoulder. Randy’s final baseball season was 1974, with the Tampa Tarpons.
In the off-season of 1973, Randy took to the ring with his father and brother in Atlantic Canada, Michigan and several southern states. Legend has it that Georgia booker Ole Anderson suggested that he alter his last name since he “wrestled like a savage”, and Randy Savage was born. In 1978, Angelo started his International Championship Wrestling (ICW) promotion, and for six years it ran opposition against a number of established territories. Randy was continually in the main event spotlight, adding the “Macho Man” sobriquet to his name, refining his tearaway style, and gaining more and more of a following with his unique character, behaviour and promo style.
WWF came calling in June 1985, and debuted Savage as the main man on the wish list of high-profile managers Jimmy Hart, Bobby Heenan and Freddie Blassie. Confounding everyone, Savage chose to be managed by the stunning Miss Elizabeth — in reality, his wife of less than a year, Elizabeth Hulette — and the pairing caught instant fire in WWF. The fire became a blaze, then an inferno, and finally a total conflagration. The details of his long tenure there are well known: the wars with Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino, Ricky Steamboat, Jake Roberts, Ric Flair and dozens more, Macho Madness, the spectacular “wedding” to Elizabeth, the “Mega-Powers” alliance with Hogan, his break-up and ultimate re-uniting with Elizabeth. Randy’s fame knew no bounds: mention WWF, and people immediately visualized Hogan and Savage as the greatest of their stars.
Savage left WWF in 1994, surfacing later that year with WCW for a sporadic six-year run. He starred in commercials for Slim Jims, his catch-phrase “Snap into a Slim Jim, oooooh yeeeeaaaah!” instantly memorable. He appeared as wrestler Bonesaw McGraw in the 2002 film “Spider-Man”, and did the voice of The Thug in Disney’s 2008 animated film “Bolt”. Savage even released a rap album in 2003. He made what amounted to cameo appearances on TNA in 2004-05, then retired completely from the ring.
Randy and Elizabeth divorced in 1992, and he remained on his own until May 2010 when he married Barbara Lynn Payne. Savage lived very quietly in Florida following his retirement, enjoying his long-awaited respite from more than 30 years in the ring.
Robert P. “Dusty” Feldbaumer Sr. 05/01/11
Robert P. “Dusty” Feldbaumer Sr., 89, of West Chester, who managed an auto-repair business for 40 years and refereed professional wrestling bouts for 25 years, died of heart failure Sunday, May 1, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Feldbaumer began working at Mina in the late 1940s and bought the business in the late 1960s, when the owner, Jim Mina, retired. It was Mina, a state wrestling commissioner, who recruited Mr. Feldbaumer to become a referee for the World Wrestling Federation.
After retiring from Mina in 1989, Mr. Feldbaumer continued to referee wrestling matches between competitors such as Bulldog Brower, Little Boy Blues, Killer Khan, and the Haiti Kid.
In a 2007 article in an online wrestling publication, a fan recalled Mr. Feldbaumer as a “skinny old guy in his 70s” who wouldn’t take abuse from “any heel on the card.”
Mr. Feldbaumer’s wife died in 2009. Besides his daughter and granddaughters, he is survived by another daughter, Mary Anne Lipton; sons Robert Jr. and Charles; and a brother.
A memorial service will be at 5 p.m. Thursday, May 5, at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 2220 S. Sproul Rd., Broomall.
Donations may be made to the church, where Mr. Feldbaumer was an usher and a member of the finance committee.
PIERRE MORRISON 04/01/2011
Pierre Morrison, who began his ring life as a wrestler then later became one of Quebec’s best-known referees, passed away of a heart attack on April 1, 2011. He was 52.
Born on April 15, 1958, Morrison was trained by Pat Girard, who started Pat Patterson and Ronnie and Terry Garvin in the early 1960’s. He wrestled around Quebec for a short time, but when International Wrestling opened in 1980, he signed on as a referee and stayed with the promotion until it closed in 1987. In the ’90’s, he officiated for independent promoters around Montreal, then moved to Jacques Rougeau’s promotion in mid-decade. He was the third man in the ring when Rougeau faced Hulk Hogan in Montreal on April 11, 1997, a landmark event in Quebec wrestling annals.
Morrison stayed on with Rougeau when he opened his International Wrestling 2000 promotion in 1999, and in his latter years, refereed from time to time with various Quebec promotions for whom his brother was the ring announcer.
FRANK MORIN 04/01/2011
Canadian independent wrestler Frank Morin, a man of many faces in the wrestling ring despite his young age, passed away on April 1, 2011. Just 23, he lost a brave battle against cancer.
His career began in 2004,and was confined to Ontario and Quebec rings. Over a half-dozen years, his main persona was Bash Bison for the Capital City Championship Combat (C*4) promotion. He also appeared as Kid Supreme and Big Van Voltage, and most memorably as the strange but unique babyface Stinky the Homeless Guy for the cult federation Inter Species Wrestling. He was diagnosed with cancer in late 2010, bringing his brief time in the spotlight to an end.
“Phrank”, as he was known to his friends, delighted in bringing joy, laughter and hope to fans, especially in the guise of Stinky. Here was a man continually down on his luck who could remain ever-joyful and maintain a bright, optimistic outlook in spite of the cruel vicissitudes of life. The persona was a natural extension of Frank’s own character and personality; even in his final days, he gave comfort to his family and friends with his one-of-a-kind sense of humor and smiling face.
Sir Oliver Humperdink 03/19/11
John Sutton, “Red” to his legions of friends and Sir Oliver Humperdink to the wrestling world, passed away in St. Paul, Minnesota through the night of March 19, 2011 at 62 years of age. He was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer which, combined with long-standing heart disease and finally pneumonia, proved a foe he could not overcome.
Born in Minneapolis on January 16, 1949, John had his first brush with wrestling in his mid-teens as a 15-year old usher at matches in the Minneapolis area. Not long after, having gotten to know several of the wrestlers, he was completely captivated by the business. Showing the first glimpse of a persistence and drive that belied his years, he went to work for Verne Gagne’s AWA, doing ringside security, carrying ring jackets to the back, and handling ring transport and set-up.
In 1973, Buddy Roberts and Jerry Brown were a hot heel team in Montreal as The Hollywood Blondes, working for Johnny Rougeau’s established promotion. Paul Vachon, just leaving Minneapolis to open a competing promotion in Quebec, Grand Prix Wrestling, had lured Brown and Roberts to his company and saw the benefits of assigning a manager to them. He remembered his friend John Sutton, and felt there was managerial potential there. Changing his name to the very British-sounding Sir Oliver Humperdink, calculated to further inflame the French-Canadian dislike of anything English, he allied the Blondes with him and the rocket took off. The trio became key figures in the Montreal promotional wars of the time, and Sir Oliver even wrestled on occasion, giving the fans even more of himself to jeer.
They headed stateside next, cutting a wide swath through southern California, Florida and the Tri-State area. They parted ways amicably in 1976, and Sir Oliver moved on to manage a long roster of familiar names over the next nearly 20 years. He had several successful runs managing in Florida, then spread his wings to soar through west Texas, Kansas City, the Mid-Atlantic area, and Mid-South. As well as solo managing, he formed his House of Humperdink heel stable in several areas, linking his heat to his charges to raise the temperature even higher. He spent 1987-88 in the WWF, even changing up his game to manage Bam Bam Bigelow as a face. He rounded out his big-promotion career in WCW with three separate runs until retiring in 1992.
The names Sir Oliver managed over the years read like a who’s-who of wrestling: Abdullah the Butcher, The Assassins, Bruiser Brody, Killer Tim Brooks, a version of the Fabulous Freebirds, Terry Funk, Superstar Billy Graham, Ivan Koloff, Don Muraco, Paul Orndorff, Bob Orton Jr., Greg Valentine and many more. Regardless of who was under his managerial wing, Sir Oliver could unfailingly bring an extra degree of heat to his man. Everything about him rubbed people the wrong way, and they loved to hate him. His fast-talking promos and conniving ways made him one of the best, in the time when managers were an important ingredient in the success of any promotion’s heel faction.
“Hump” was a familiar and immensely popular figure at Cauliflower Alley Club reunions, fanfests, and many other gatherings. He loved to attend them, and was ever-ready to chat with anyone, fans or wrestlers, in his inimitable fashion, and share his seemingly-inexhaustible supply of stories. Though his health was precarious over the past decade — he had heart valve replacement and a pacemaker implant in 2001, and heart problems complicated by pneumonia in 2008 — he unfailingly maintained his jovial manner with everyone.
Greg Price, organizer of the tremendously popular NWA Wrestling Legends FanFest in Charlotte, North Carolina, had long planned to honor Sir Oliver at the 2011 event this summer. Learning of his health situation in the past few weeks, Greg decided to extend the recognition in advance. Sir Oliver’s plaque symbolizing his induction into the Hall of Heroes, pictured here, was given to him days before his death, a fitting recognition and a true act of kindness.
Whether you knew him as Red, Sir Oliver or Hump, this man was indeed one of a kind, a true gentleman of depth and substance.
FABIAN EL GITANO 03/17/2011
Emilio Fabian Fernandez de Leon, well-known in his native Mexico for the past ten years as Fabian El Gitano, was found dead in his home on March 17, 2011. The circumstances are unclear at this point, as he was said to have suffered severe head injuries yet death was reportedly attributed to pancreatic hemorrhage. There was apparently evidence of a struggle at the scene.
Born on January 24, 1972 in Mexico City, Fabian entered wrestling late in September 2001. He was primarily trained by Solar, but pursued his own path style-wise, fashioning himself into a pretty boy dancer ‘technico’ in the IWRG promotion. He came to the notice of CMLL in 2003, where he transformed into Fabian El Gitano, a masked stripper character, and had moderate mid-card success under that identity in both promotions. In 2005 he assumed a new identity as Metro, a gimmick in CMLL sponsored by a newspaper of the same name.
The Metro persona didn’t work out well for him, and in 2006, he returned as Fabian El Gitano. His major claim to fame was a feud with Angel de Oro, which culminated in a mask-vs-mask showdown in mid-2010 at Arena Mexico. Fabian lost, and was forced to remove his hood. Most recently he worked with Rey Bucanero in promoting CMLL shows in nightclubs, and he has also operated his own gym.
Hahn Lee 03/02/11
Felipe Hahn Lee, one of the most revered names in Mexican wrestling and later the long-time head of the Box y Lucha Commission of the Federal District of Mexico, passed away unexpectedly on March 2, 2011 at the age of 80. He had been in good health, apparently attending a Commission meeting the previous day, but arose that morning feeling unwell and did not survive the day.
Don Felipe, as he was respectfully known to all, was born in 1930. He was of Korean heritage, and began wrestling at a time when there were very few of his countrymen involved in the sport. His early career details are vague, but it is known that he caught the eye of Lou Thesz who introduced him to the U.S. around 1960. He worked variously as Ham Lee, just a simplification of his real name, in Mexico and as Bing Kai Lee elsewhere, making forays to the U.S., particularly Hawaii in 1969, 70 and 71, and Japan. He reportedly worked in Japan as Silver Mask.
Lee was a frequent partner of the legendary El Santo in Mexico, and Pedro Morales in Hawaii. His most memorable match was likely at Arena Mexico on September 9, 1966, where he lost a hair match to Rene Guajardo. After retiring, he trained such future Mexican stars as El Canek, Los Villanos and Los Brazos, and was deeply involved for many years with the powerful governing body of wrestling in Mexico City.
Nicholas “The Greek” Spillios 02/01/11
Nicholas Spillios, a lifelong athlete, wrestler and successful businessman, died Feb. 1st after an 18-month battle with cancer. Spillios was 79.
A driver education teacher and wrestling coach at Jesse Jones High School in Houston, Spillios expanded into professional wrestling in 1964.
Spillios hired Jesus “Cyclone Anaya” Valencia, a famed Texas and Mexico wrestling champion, as his personal trainer.
Spillios trained at the downtown YMCA every afternoon after school, wrestling anyone he could find. At times he would go out in the streets and coax strangers to wrestle him. After two years of training, Spillios faced veteran Jim Dalton in his first professional match. Spillios began wrestling in Paul Boesch’s weekly shows, which were broadcast nationally from Houston’s City Auditorium.
Born Dec. 18, 1931 in Houston to George and Vasiliki Spillios, Spillios later attended Lamar High School. There, he broke the city of Houston shot put record that had been standing for 15 years. After graduating high school, he attended the University of Houston on a track and field scholarship.
During his time at the university, Spillios was a six-time Missouri Valley Conference Champion in the shot put and a letter winner from 1952-54.
Survivors include his son, Nicholas Spillios Jr. and wife Susan; daughter Toni Spillios; and daughter-in-law Shelley Spillios.
Johnny Heidemann 01/27/11
Johnny Heidemann died January 27, 2011 at age 90 after a brief stay at a Charlotte, NC rest home.
Heidemann was trained by Tony Milano and began wrestling in 1938. Had two runs in Japan. He worked under his real name, under a mask as an Executioner with Frank Marconi, and as an Inferno. A main stay in the Jim Crockett.Sr territory, Heidemann would have Crockett book him out of North Carolina just to get a break from every thing. He lost all interest in the Professional Wrestling Business in 1973 after the death of Crockett and landed a job in Roanoke Virginia for the County Sherriff’s Office.
In 2000, he was reflective in a conversation with Scott Teal. “Wrestling gave me everything I wanted. I think the wrestling business was the greatest business in the world. I have to say … I had a good life. I had an excellent life! I wouldn’t want to change that life for anything. If I could do it again, I’d do exactly what I did. I really loved it.”
He and wife Dolly married in the mid-’40s, and had a son and daughter.
Shawn Osborne 01/26/11
Former WWE developmental wrestler Shawn Osborne (real name: Shawn McGrath) died January 26, 2011. Shawn was born on May 9, 1976.
McGrath made his pro debut in the Heartland Wrestling Association on March 8, 2003 against Cody Hawk in Wilmington, Ohio. He is a former HWA Heavyweight Champion and former HWA Tag Team Champion with Benjamin Kimera. He would later work for Ohio Valley Wrestling (won the OVW Television Title), Deep South Wrestling, and Florida Championship Wrestling, as part of his WWE developmental contract. He signed his WWE contract in June 2006 and released in February 2008. Shawn was last competing on the independent circuit, specifically for Full Impact Pro Wrestling in Florida.
El Vagabundo 01/20/11
The original El Vagabundo, one of the better-known masked luchadores in Mexico in the 1970’s and 80’s, passed away on January 20, 2011 in his native country.
Jose Luis Garcia, born on November 1, 1949 in the Federal District of Mexico, was schooled for the ring by famed luchador El Matematico. He made his debut in 1970 for Lucha Libre Internacional as Chamaco Garcia, and after several years of experience transformed himself into El Vagabundo — The Vagabond, or The Hobo — complete with a unique patchwork mask. One of the smaller wrestlers at 5′ 7″ and 170 pounds El Vago, as he came to be known, had long-lasting feuds with UWA world lightweight titleholder El Signo, and Lobo Rubio who held the organization’s world welterweight belt. Garcia remained with LLI rather than switching allegiance to CMLL, and appeared throughout his native country and Central America He was never unmasked throughout his career, which ended in 1992. Several years later, the character was briefly resurrected by Jullian Carillo, who soon moved on to other identities.
Tiki Tapu 01/20/11
If Hamilton, Ontario is known as “The Factory” for the sheer number of wrestlers it has produced over the years, then the islands of Samoa must be “Factory No. 2” on the production line. More than 60 professional wrestlers of Samoan heritage have populated North American rings, a huge majority having been born in their native islands.
Another of their number, Al Sunia, who wrestled as Tiki Tapu, passed away in Aurora, Colorado on January 20, 2011. He had battled cancer for the past two years, among other ailments, and was on life support at the time of his passing. Born in the town of Pavaia’i on the island of Tutuila in American Samoa, he was originally trained by Joe Taylor. Wahoo McDaniel, Abdullah the Butcher, Jimmy Snuka and other Samoan wrestlers contributed to his training as well. He made his pro debut in Valdosta, Georgia as a last-minute substitute against Manny Fernandez in 1989, and wrestled for some 17 years, mostly for independent promoters in the U.S. His trademark moves were the headbutt, and the familiar Samoan Splash off the top turnbuckle that dropped his 310 pounds to a hard landing on his opponents.
Paul Lincoln 01/11/11
Wrestler, promoter, music mogul and restaurateur. Paul Lincoln who passed away on January 11, 2011 in Southampton, England, was all of these in his full lifetime. He was reportedly 78 at the time of his death, but may have been a few years older.
Born in Australia, Paul first excelled as an amateur cricket and rugby player there, then took wrestling training at the Sydney Police Boys Club. He made his professional debut in Sydney, and before long was recruited by promoter Jimmy Sharman and toured through his native land and the Far East. He emigrated to Great Britain in 1951, and resumed wrestling there the next year. He met up with old school friend and wrestler Ray Hunter, and four years later they pooled their savings and opened “The Two I’s” coffee bar in London. Paul continued to wrestle across the length and breadth of the U.K., and began promoting the occasional event.
The rock’n’roll craze was just coming into its own in the mid-1950’s, and Paul made his coffee bar a home base for a number of budding acts, among them Adam Faith, Sir Cliff Richard, Screaming Lord Sutch, Tommy Steele and The Shadows who went on to become the first wave of The British Invasion of pop music. In the next decade, he partnered with Hunter and Lord Alfred Hayes to open The Cromwellian Club and an Italian restaurant in London. His entrepreneurial efforts blossomed further with the formation of Paul Lincoln Managements in 1958, which over the next decade or so brought wrestling events to Malta, several African nations, Thailand and Hong Kong as well as to many U.K. venues.
The pinnacle of his promotional success came when he negotiated an agreement with the upscale Granada Theatres to present mat cards in their large chain of screen venues. He became the prime competitor to the long-established Dale Martin Promotions, and although he had no TV, Paul’s events drew very well. He used both established and rising British stars, wrestlers from Europe and Japan, and American imports such as Ricki Starr and Sky Hi Lee. Not content to rest on his laurels, Paul donned a black leather mask and became the first Dr. Death in British wrestling in the early 1960’s, and a household name throughout Britain. His major feud was with The White Angel, in actual fact his business partner and long-familiar CAC member Al Hayes, and he had strong alliances with the original Kendo Nagasaki and U.S. import The Outlaw.
Unable to gain access to TV, Paul finally allied with the established Dale Martin operations, under the banner of Joint Promotions, in late 1965. He continued to promote and wrestle until 1975, when he and his wife Elizabeth returned to his native Australia to raise their daughter Natalie. They returned 11 years later and retired in Southampton. The grandfather of three had his many achievements in wrestling and entertainment recognised in 2007 when a large plaque was unveiled in “The Two I’s”. His funeral will take place in Southampton on January 26.
Guy Coffey 01/08/11
Guy Coffey, who had a nearly 60-year association with wrestling in Memphis, Tennessee, passed away on January 8, 2011 from an apparent suicide. He had reportedly been despondent over family issues and his own failing health.
Coffey was a part of the Memphis wrestling scene dating back to the early 1950’s. He was a member of the city’s athletic commission at one point, and helped to run Ellis Auditorium, Memphis’ wrestling venue prior to the move to the Mid-South Coliseum around 1970. Working for area promoters Nick Gulas and Roy Welch, he hired staff for the wrestling events, including Elvis Presley’s father Vernon as a security officer in the early 50’s, and a very young Jimmy Hart as a soft-drink seller around 1960. Coffey often sneaked Elvis himself, a major wrestling fan, into the secluded backstage area of both venues during the height of his fame in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, from where he could watch the matches undisturbed.
The Jarrett promotion ultimately took over the territory, and Coffey worked closely with it as well. He often sat next to Lance Russell at the matches, handling the time clock and bell, and distributed the pay envelopes to the talent. His wife handled the concession stands. At TV tapings, he was sometimes an authority figure as the “NWA representative” or similar, and still a part of things in the past year at Jerry Lawler’s local TV shows. Coffey also sold Lawler souvenirs at local shows until his death.
VAL PUCCIO 01/07/11
Valentino “Val” Puccio, who tag teamed with his brother under a soon-to-be-world-famous name in the late 1980’s, has passed away at the age of 45. He had suffered from severe obesity for a number of years, eventually reaching a weight of over 600 pounds.
A native of the Bronx in New York City, born on June 9, 1965, Val and brother Tony, three years his senior, were trained for the ring by Tony Altimore. The burly pair made a sizable impact, especially when they donned masks and appeared as The Undertakers for Mario Savoldi’s ICW promotion in the U.S. north-east. Vince McMahon of WWF, seeking an identity for just-signed Mark Calaway, arranged with the brothers to take over the name and Calaway has made it into almost a household word during the past nearly 20 years. The deal resulted in the brothers working several short stints for WWF as Double Trouble in 1992 and 1993. They also did a tour of Japan for Genichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion.
Val moved on to Paul Heyman’s ECW as Big Val Puccio, and became an original member of FBI, the Full-Blooded Italians, who sprang to considerable prominence among north-east fans. Over time he added considerable weight to his already-huge frame, and gradually faded from the wrestling scene entirely. He came back to public attention in 2007 when TLC did a documentary on his treatment at the Brookhaven Obesity Clinic. His treatment there, however, didn’t achieve the weight loss that he so desperately needed.
Gordon Scozzari 01/05/11
Gordon Scozzari, a long-time wrestling fan and from a young age an aspiring promoter, passed away on January 5, 2011. He was only 40 years old, and succumbed to complications of kidney disease after having survived the loss of both kidneys and living on dialysis for a number of years.
Financed by what he variously described as an inheritance or a stock market windfall, Scozzari made his first attempt at promoting in late 1991 by forming the American Wrestling Federation. He assembled a talented roster of well-known workers, but major TV production problems brought an abrupt end to the venture. Following that, he was involved with promotions in the U.S. north-east, the major one being the original UCW in New York,as well as in England and Puerto Rico. Success continually eluded him, however, perhaps due in part to his precarious health situation. Friends have described him as a relentlessly brave fighter, battling to live through years of medical problems.
Verne Langdon 01/01/11
Verne Langdon, initially a wrestler and later the founder and ace publicist of Slammers Gym in California, passed away on New Year’s Day at the age of 69. A master of many arts, he had a long relationship with wrestling, from sixth grade amateur competition onward.
Born on September 15, 1941 in Oakland, California, Verne came fram a family of professional musicians and was a classically-trained pianist. He pursued his amateur efforts through college, then became interested in the pro side of things through his father’s friendship with Gorgeous George. Ramon Torres introduced him to the pros, and George Drake and Lillian Ellison, The Fabulous Moolah, trained him. Verne’s time in pro ranks was diluted by the demands of his artistic pursuits; he was a recording artist, playing everything from piano to organ to harpsichord to calliope, a highly-rated Hollywood make-up man and mask-maker for horror films, a radio host, writer and producer.
In 1989, Verne founded Slammers Gym, a training center for aspiring wrestlers that featured professionally-produced training videos, and even had its own museum specializing in Gorgeous George memorabilia. He sold the venture in 2000, but remained as its publicist, generating plenty of ink and film coverage over the years thanks to his many press contacts.