2008 is all over but the shouting and, like most marks, I take the week between drunken sprees (a/k/a Christmas and New Years Day) to reminisce about the 12 months just past. This year marked the passing of a number of wrestling performers, however, most of them were in the twilight of life. What a concept! In a Wrestlezone.com column dated May 14, 2008, I wrote:
"I do not mean to diminish the loss to the families of those who passed away at a ripe old age. I have endured the deaths of four grandparents, my mother and my father (the latter of whom died during my first broadcast of "WCW Nitro" on April 10, 2000). A loss is a loss is a loss. But if someone in the sport of wrestling dies at the age of 65 or 70, we can look back and say, "they had a great run and lived a long life." No tragedy in that at all. Lets hope this is a trend that continues."
It did. Hallelujah! But now, lets take a look back at those who left our sport in 2008:
Arman Hussein (January 1, 2008 of unknown causes in a Dallas, Texas, nursing home at the age of 62) – While adopting an Islamic name in 2008 is a dicey proposition, it was damn near suicidal in the 1960’s (Mohammad Ali an obvious exception). The former Mike Barber held many regional titles in the Texas, Arizona and Gulf Coast territories and memorably teamed with Abdullah the Butcher in a feud vs. Haystacks Calhoun and Don Leo Jonathan in Vancouver. God, I wish I could have seen that. I love Vancouver. Hussein was a terrific old-school, territory manager as well.
Johnny Weaver (February 14, 2008, of a heart attack at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the age of 72) – Uber babyface of the Crockett Mid-Atlantic territory, Weaver formed hugely popular tag teams with George Becker and Art Neilson. The prototype of the soft-spoken-but-all-business-in-the-ring performer. He also had the pleasure of being married to the staggeringly gorgeous Penny Banner for 35 years before spending the last years of his life as a deputy sheriff.
Don Curtis (March 6, 2008, of a stroke at a hospice in Jacksonville, Florida, at the age of 73) – A man’s man if ever one existed. No less a curmudgeon than Gordon Solie could never find the words to properly place Curtis’ name in history in the appropriate stratosphere. Curtis was a traveling partner of Gorgeous George and was the long time tag team partner of Mark Lewin (before Lewin went down a completely different path). Spent the majority of his career in his adopted home state of Florida where he headlined against all of the greats from Gorgeous George and Lou Thesz to the Funks, the Briscoes and Ric Flair. A genuine legend.
Gary Hart (March 16, 2008, of a heart attack at his home in Euless, Texas, at the age of 66) – Please find the Legends of World Class DVD and watch it twice. Gary Hart was, without question, the most underrated booker of the last 40 years (not the best, mind you, just the most underrated). Hart split his career between Florida, Georgia, the Mid-Atlantic and Texas – booking all at some point and drawing money every time he tried. Armchair bookers world wide could learn volumes from him.
Penny Banner (May 13, 2008, of cancer at her daughter’s home in North Carolina at the age of 73) – Class, class, class. The way she strode to the ring. The way she held herself during promos. The way she carried herself away from the business. She dated Elvis Presley who attend her matches in Memphis. She was a competitive, Olympic caliber swimmer in her youth and competed in the sport well into her 60’s. The more I watch today’s "divas" pout and preen the more I realize some of these trollops are just a few steps from porn when compared to Penny Banner.
Sonny Roughhouse Fargo (August 20, 2008, of a heart attack at his home in China Grove, North Carolina, at the age of 80) – Not a huge star or memorable worker but could pop a crowd when he and his legit brother Jackie Fargo would work the angle of Jackie being so tired of the heels screwing him every week, he would "check (his) crazy out of the nuthouse in Morganton, North Carolina" and bring in Roughhouse to exact revenge. Classic, southern angle that truly never got old. For a time, Fargo refereed in the Mid-Atlantic territory and headlined in the Tennessee territory. Try getting away with THAT today.
Killer Kowalski (August 30, 2008, of heart failure in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of 81) – Who doesn’t know the story of Killer Kowalski? A perfect heel for his entire 50 year career (yeah, his last match was teaming with Ox Baker at an indy show on March 24, 2007, at age 80). Kowalski trained the late Big John Studd and Triple H (great!) and Chyna (eh, not so much). Universally lauded as one of wrestling’s genuinely nice guys and also one of its most talented – in the ring and as a trainer.
S. D. Jones (October 26, 2008, of a stroke in Antigua at the age of 68) – Will long be remembered as a jobber to the stars in the WWWF and WWF but the fact that people remember him at all is a tribute to the man and his abilities. Of all of the enhancement talent that made its way through the WWF, less than a handful are recognizable. That means they were fantastic workers who could make even the greenest stiff look like a million bucks. Thanks, S.D. And a majority of WWF millionaires thank you as well.
We also lost Randy Barber, Ron Slinker, Sara Lee, Yvon Robert, Jr., Leo Garibaldi, Oni Wiki Wiki, Ole Olsen, The Gladiator Ron Hill, Leah Maivia, and Hacksaw Jack Reynolds in 2008, but, you know what? They had a great run and lived a long life. Thanks guys. Thanks for everything.