Paul Perschmann believed that pro wrestling should be fun.

That's why, as the entertaining, over-the-top character Playboy Buddy Rose, he always seemed to be enjoying himself in the ring as much as the fans who jeered and cheered him for three decades.

Rose, Perschmann's alter ego, didn't exactly look the role of a wrestler or a playboy. But he worked hard over the years to master his craft and turned his rotund physical appearance into a money-drawing gimmick that served him well in the ring.

Rose's wife found him late Tuesday afternoon in their Vancouver, Wash., home, sitting in his favorite chair, in front of the television set. He had died, apparently peacefully, at the much-too-young age of 56.

Friends say he had been dealing with numerous health problems, including blood sugar issues and diabetes, and that his weight obviously played a factor. The medical examiner's office said he died of natural causes.

"Every day I get up is a gift. I abused my body. I worked my (behind) off, but it took its toll," Rose confided to wrestling journalist Greg Oliver in a 2006 interview.

Despite possessing a body that was far from perfect, Playboy Buddy Rose was a consummate heel who left a lasting impression in every territory he worked. He humorously claimed a "slim, trim 217," although his actual weight was closer to 317 and had ballooned even more in later years.

Rose's girth belied a great worker who took exceptional bumps for a man his size. Rose would claim he was "heavy in the seat, but light on the feet," and that was accurate, as he was deceivingly agile and cat-like in the ring, doing one-arm pushups as part of his gimmick.

While he possessed a sense of humor and timing, he also could cut effective promos and draw serious heat in a ring.

Honing his craft with the likes of Verne Gagne and Billy Robinson in his native Minneapolis, Rose began his career in 1973 as a clean-cut babyface. His first match was a 15-minute draw against another Gagne trainee, Bob Remus, who later would achieve success as the iconic Sgt. Slaughter.

Rose hit it big several years later in the Pacific Northwest where, under the guidance of Roddy Piper, he blossomed into a main-event attraction, drawing huge houses against future Hall of Famers Piper and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka.

A star for Don Owen's Portland-based promotion, Rose literally set the territory on fire when he stole Piper's Scottish quilt and set it ablaze in a hardcore TV angle. Brutal matches followed, with Rose often teaming with Ed Wiskoski (later known as Col. DeBeers) against Piper and Killer Tim Brooks.

"I told him I thought he was going to be money in the bank if he just played his cookies right," said former wrestling star Dutch Savage, who owned part of the promotion at the time. "His first match here was a tag-team match with Snuka and myself. Piper came in from L.A. the latter part of '78, and we had a good run here for awhile. And then I retired in 1980. I made some money with him in Seattle and a few other places."

"He was an excellent worker and was easy to get heat with," Savage added. "He listened. He did what was right."

Rose, an eight-time Pacific Northwest champ and 12-time NWA Pacific Northwest tag-team titleholder, became a mainstay on the Portland-Seattle circuit where he eventually settled down.

"If you had a family, you sacrificed a lot," Rose told Mike Aldren of The (U.K.) Sun. "If you had a good wife who totally supported you, which I have, you could make it through anything. I was so fortunate to be able to work the Northwest. I could be home every night, and that's one reason I stayed there so long."

His image as the unlikely high-rolling, jet-setting playboy, usually accompanied by a bevy of glamorous ladies, earned him further exposure when he joined the World Wrestling Federation in the early '80s. His feud with champion Bob Backlund generated sellouts at Madison Square Garden.

Rose later became the answer to a popular wrestling trivia question - he competed in the very first Wrestlemania match in 1985 - under a mask as The Executioner in the opener with Tito Santana.

"I was asked to be part of the card, but George Scott, who was the booker at that time, didn't want Playboy Buddy Rose to lose - they had other plans for me," recalled Rose, who already was wrestling full-time for the WWF (now WWE) at that point. "That's the reason for me becoming The Executioner for the first and only time in my career."

Drug issues, however, curtailed his New York push. And his weight began to spiral out of sight.

"Buddy was a good hand, but he was his own worst enemy," said Savage. "He kept shooting himself in the foot, and it got him in trouble a lot."

"You've got to take care of the machinery or the machinery won't take care of you," added Savage. "Buddy got really big. I think he got up to around 340 at one time."

"I went to rehab myself, for cocaine, as an outpatient. It was a choice," Rose once said. "When we make the wrong choices and go down the wrong path, it's either jail or death ... The best thing I ever did was to go to that six weeks of outpatient rehab. My wife has been with me since 1976. She and I had a talk, and we decided the cocaine was a problem. I could have lost her, so I did the best thing I ever did, and I graduated."

Perhaps Rose's greatest claim to fame was when he returned to Minneapolis to work for his old teacher, Gagne, in 1986 and joined Pretty Boy Doug Somers in an intense rivalry with a rising young team known as The Midnight Rockers - Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty. With Sherri Martel as their manager, the platinum-haired duo engaged in a brutal and bloody feud with Michaels and Jannetty throughout Gagne's AWA territory.

A televised match between the two teams in 1986 is considered a classic and still makes the rounds on ESPN Classic's AWA series. The program with Rose and Somers, Michaels would later admit, helped put the future Heartbreak Kid on the wrestling map.

Rose, by then carrying more than 300 pounds on his 5-8 frame, would return for another stint in WWF rings in 1990, humorously promoting a product known as the "Blow Away Diet." And despite his even bigger girth of being 317 pounds, Rose would correct the ring announcer of his weight, adamantly contending he was a "slim, trim 217."

Rose would apply some white dust, bait the crowd into a booing frenzy and magically "blow away" excess poundage. The magic power, however, was nothing more than Tide laundry detergent.

"I didn't lose any weight, but I sure smelled a lot better," Rose told Steve Johnson of the SLAM Wrestling site. "It was a part of the gimmick."

"He knew what his role was, and he always seemed to press the right buttons to make himself a most unique character that stood out from the rest of the pack," WWE Hall of Fame announcer Howard Finkel posted last week on the WWE Web site.

"As soon as I came through the door, I turned back to Paul Perschmann. I was Paul Perschmann in the dressing room, and Buddy Rose only in front of the people," the wrestler told Oliver.

Wiskoski, who Rose met in the mid-'70s while traveling through the Kansas City territory and who became one of his closest friends, told a Portland news station last week that he had last talked to Rose a couple of weeks ago. He said they reminisced about the days when videotape was new and his partner used to watch himself wrestling.

"He was critiquing himself. I did this right and I did this wrong," said Wiskoski, who once operated a wrestling school with Rose. "He was a genius in the ring. Wrestling was his love. He played hockey and baseball. He was a good athlete."

The two were both honored by the Cauliflower Alley Club in 2004.

Rose's enjoyment being in a ring was reflected by the fact that he loved "gimmick" matches. After losing a "hair vs. hair" match years ago, Rose spent the next several months wearing a mask. Not just any mask, but one that had bleached blond hair sewn into it.

He even once competed in a "loser eats dog food" match.

"I had one match in which the public thought it was dog food, but it was spinach that I heated up at home in the microwave and put into a Tupperware container until match time," he joked. "I love spinach, so the 'throwing up' part didn't bother me at all, and the effect of it coming out was like 'The Exorcist' all over again."

Rose always credited his early training with his success.

"I was trained by two of the best in the business, Verne Gagne and Billy Robinson," he recalled. "They demanded a certain level of dedication and quality in my work, otherwise I never would have made it into the business. We were trained to be able to do our very best night after night for years without hurting ourselves or others in the process."

The business, he noted, had changed dramatically over the years.

"This is what separates us from the wrestlers of today who only work about 150 times a year (if they are lucky), many of which get injured or get hurt permanently because of today's style. We worked 365 days a year for years. The pro wrestling I knew is a lost art these days."

Rose, who reportedly weighed nearly 400 pounds at the time of his death, once told Oliver that, when all was said and done, he was content.

"I'm pretty happy with everything I've done in my life. I've seen the world on somebody's else's dime ... You couldn't get any better job."

- LeMarcus Skipper, the 22-year-old son of former WCW and TNA performer Elix Skipper, was gunned down Wednesday in the Columbus, Ohio, apartment where he was living with his grandmother.

Skipper was shot multiple times after answering a knock at his door. Police reports say at least two men barged in and one of them fired a gun. Skipper's grandmother identified a man captured by police after the shooting.

- The ever-popular midget wrestlers will return to The Joe this Thursday night with three-time defending champion Little Kato defending his title against Bad Boy Brian. The event will be held towards the end of the Charleston RiverDogs-Asheville Tourists game. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m.

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at mooneyham@postandcourier.com. For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.