MOONEYHAM COLUMN: Pro wrestling lost memorable names in 2012
It’s an appropriate time to reflect upon the many pro wrestling personalities who passed away in 2012.
Many represented an era that will forever be etched in the memories of longtime fans.
They touched our lives in many ways. For those of us lucky enough to see them perform, we will never forget them.
They were athletes and performers who lived by the credo that “the show must go on.”
Some lived out of a suitcase, spending more than 300 days a year on the road, working the territorial circuits during a time when the profession was much different than it is today.
Others never got to realize their full potential.
Some died far too young.
Brad Armstrong (Robert “Brad” James), a member of the famous Armstrong wrestling family, was only 51 when he passed away of a massive heart attack on Nov. 1.
Some died for reasons we may never fully understand.
Mike Graham (Michael Gossett), a member of another famous wrestling family, was 61 when he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head on Oct. 19.
His son, Stephen Edward Gossett, had committed suicide at the age of 37 in 2010. Graham’s father, legendary wrestler and promoter Eddie Graham (Gossett), also took his own life in 1985.
Others, like Rip Hawk, lived life to the fullest despite decades of burning the wrestling trail.
Hawk (Harvey “Rip” Evers), who died Dec. 22 at the age of 82, said shortly before his passing: “The good Lord has been very good to me in my lifetime. If it ended today, I’d die a happy man.”
Manny Chaij, an accomplished gymnast who represented his native Argentina in the 1948 Olympics before breaking into wrestling as The Amazing (Argentina) Zuma, was 85 when he passed away Dec. 29.
He was an acrobatic performer in the mold of the famous Argentina Rocca, with whom he was matched in a series of classic bouts during the late ‘50s at Madison Square Garden, and enjoyed a successful career until retiring and returning to Argentina with his family in 1975.
Joe Scarpa, who entertained pro wrestling fans for decades as Native American favorite Chief Jay Strongbow, died on April 3 at the age of 83.
Scarpa, who broke into the business in 1947, retired from the ring shortly after WWE expanded nationally, but worked into the ‘90s as an agent and producer. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1994.
Rolland “Red” Bastien passed away Aug. 11 at the age of 81 following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Bastien, one of the first high fliers of the ‘50s, was one of the most respected men in the business and had served as president of the Cauliflower Alley Club until 2007 when Alzheimer’s started robbing the genial redhead of his memory.
During his heyday in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Hans Schmidt was one of the most hated wrestlers alive.
Portraying an evil German, the muscular 6-4, 250-pound Schmidt wore a Nazi army helmet while flashing a stiff-armed salute at a time when memories of the war were still fresh. His nicknames included Horrible Hun, the Teuton Terror and the Munich Menace.
In real life, though, Schmidt was a French Canadian named Guy Larose. Long removed from the business, Schmidt passed away May 26 at age 87.
Al Mandell, whose contributions to the business over seven decades ranged from wrestler and referee to promoter and Cauliflower Alley booster, was 92 when he passed away Dec. 26 in Charlotte.
He also found time to serve as a highly decorated airman who spent nearly 25 years in the Air Force, and later worked for the Mecklenberg County Sheriff’s Department for a quarter century, retiring as head of the county jail system and helping other former wrestlers such as Johnny Weaver and Gene Anderson secure employment there.
There was even one wrestling star who died, but fortunately didn’t make this year’s list.
WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Lawler technically died during a live Monday Night Raw broadcast in September, but was able to perform the ultimate kickout before the three count tolled.
The 62-year-old pro wrestling legend was without oxygen and clinically dead for an estimated 20 minutes. The King, though, made an amazing recovery and was back at the announce desk two months later.
Among those we said goodbye to in 2012:
MS-1 (Pablo Fuentes Reyna), Jan. 12, age 55; Savannah Jack (Ted Russell), Jan. 17, 64; Rick Lancaster, Feb. 6, 58; Cliff Lilly (The Masked Domino), Feb. 17, 68; Sonny Meyers, Feb. 23, 53; Woody Farmer, Feb. 29, 76; Doug Furnas, March 2, 50; Tommy Weathers, March 6, 70; Dick Woehrle, March 12, 81; Joe McCarthy, March 13, 82; Joe Blanchard, March 22, 83; Chief Jay Strongbow (Joe Scarpa), April 3, 83; Buddy Diamond (Charles Medford), May 4, 67; Del Skinner, May 10, 70; Gorgeous George Jr. (George Wagner), May 12, 74; Hans Schmidt, May 26, 87; Laddie Holek, July 3, 82; Dara Singh, July 12, 83; Goldie Rogers (David Sherwin), July 20, 61; Rita Cortez, July 27, 73; Red Bastien, Aug. 11, 81; Don Fields (Don Hatfield), Sept. 10, 80; Stan Vachon (Pulaski), Sept. 29, 79; Bobby Jaggers (Robert Jeaudoin), Sept. 30, 64; Brain Damage (Marvin Lambert), Oct. 18, 34; Mike Graham, Oct. 19, 61; David Deaton (Thunderfoot No. 2), Oct. 24, 56; Chief Thundercloud (Louis Langley), Oct. 31, 69; Brad Armstrong, Nov. 1, 51; Awesome Kong (Dwain McCullough), Nov. 17, 54; ”Freebird” Buddy Roberts (Dale Hey), Nov. 28, 65; Mike “The Hippie” Boyette, Dec. 6, 69; Gordon Nelson, Dec. 12, 82; Rip Hawk, Dec. 22, 82; Al Mandell, Dec. 26, 92; Bill Dromo, Dec. 28, 75; The Amazing Zuma (Manny Chaij), Dec. 29, 85; Luigi Macera, Dec. 29, 88.
— Sixteen-time world heavyweight champion Ric Flair will team with son Reid on an All Japan Wrestling show Jan. 26 in Tokyo against All Japan legend Keiji Mutoh (The Great Muta) and Seiya Sanada.
— Old School Championship Wrestling returns from its holiday break with a big show Feb. 10 at the Hanahan Rec Center.
“Winter War” features a three-team bout for the OSCW tag-team title with The Sons of Midnight (former WWE star Gangrel and Dr. Creo), Legit, and Vordell Walker and Callie Cassanova. A match that could steal the show pits John Skyler and the returning Malachi against Josh Magnum and Pete Kaasa.
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