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Wrestling promoter Elliott Murnick carried on rich family legacy

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elliott murnick

Longtime promoter Elliott Murnick passed away Monday at the age of 75. (Photo provided)

It was in the wee hours of the morning several years ago when I was awakened by a phone call. While I fumbled in the dark to identify the caller and the missed message, the name “Elliott Murnick” came up. Having known Elliott for many years, calling at that time of the night/morning seemed just a bit out of character.

A lengthy voice mail was attached, and it contained not a message, but rather music in the background, plenty of laughing, and Elliott apparently having a robust conversation that prominently included the names Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat.

Elliott laughed some more when I returned his “call.”

“Oh, Mike, I’m so sorry. It must have been a butt-call,” he apologized profusely. It was, of course, an unintentional call made from his cell phone in his pants pocket. “No problem Elliott,” I assured him. “I’m always up at 4 in the morning.”

We never discussed that call again, but it’s how I would like to remember Elliott. A fun-loving soul with a dry wit that could lighten up any situation.

Elliott Murnick, whose Mid-Atlantic Wrestling promotional roots dated back to the 1950s, passed away in his sleep Monday morning at his home in Raleigh. His age was listed as 75, but to those who knew him, Elliott seemed timeless.

Elliott’s life was filled with joy and happiness along with heartbreak and tragedy, yet he never was one to wear his setbacks on his sleeve. He lost his wife Anne to breast cancer in 2011, and a son, Robert Elliott, several years earlier. His daughters, Anna Claire Murnick Price and Abigail Murnick Jones, along with three grandchildren, were the sunshine of his life. And, if you asked him, it had been a very good life.

A University of North Carolina graduate and one of the school’s most avid supporters, Elliott was manager for Dean Smith’s first basketball team at UNC during the 1960s.

“I know that the sky’s going to be a little bit bluer. He lived, ate and breathed the Tar Heels,” said longtime friend David Crockett.

A kind and gentle man, Elliott was one of two sons of legendary promoter Joe Murnick, who forged one of the most powerful wrestling alliances in the Carolinas and Virginia with Jim Crockett Sr. There were no names more prominent in Mid-Atlantic wrestling history than those of the families who formed C&M Promotions in the 1950s. That association would extend to the next generation following the deaths of Jim Crockett Sr. in 1973 and Joe Murnick in 1985.

Family business

“I learned so much from Elliott and enjoyed working with him over so many years,” said veteran promoter Gary Juster. “He used to quote his daddy a lot. If a wrestler suggested that the house was bad because of rain, Elliott would say, ‘It’s not raining in the building.’”

But Elliott knew full well that taking the bad with the good was par for the course in the wrestling business as well as the entertainment field. His love for music had extended to promoting various bands and running his own clubs. Like his father, who promoted wrestling, concerts and other events for decades in the Raleigh area, as well as eastern North Carolina and eastern Virginia, Elliott had a knack for putting on successful shows. It was, after all, in his blood.

Craig Woolard, lead singer and frontman of The Embers beach music group, called Elliott a record and pro wrestling business mogul and one of the first individuals who befriended him when he joined the band in 1976.

“Elliott was one of the first guys to welcome me in. He already had quite a history with The Embers. His family promoted the big shows held at Memorial Auditorium (Greenville) and at Dorton Arena (Raleigh), and he and Charlie Brown from WKIX booked The Embers to open for national artists like The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. He and Charlie Brown opened doors for the band to sign with national record companies.”

Woolard also recalled how his association with Elliott extended to the wrestling business.

“I hung out with professional wrestlers like Blackjack Mulligan and Ric Flair because Elliott made it happen. Ric Flair gave me one of his robes to wear during my acts. Elliot Murnick was big-time, and he was a great guy, as generous as he could be. I loved him, and I can't believe he’s gone.”

Elliott and his brother Carl had both been an integral part of the family business, having closely watched their father promote events – everything from stock car racing to rock concerts – in Raleigh and Fayetteville, N.C., as well as Norfolk, Hampton, and Richmond, Va., and all points in between.

David Crockett, 71, was a second-generation bookend to Elliott Murnick. Sons of powerful promoters who were business partners and friends going back to the ‘50s, the two continued their fathers’ legacy in the wrestling business. The team consisted of David, with brothers Jim Jr. and Jackie Crockett, and sister Frances Crockett Ringley, who was the first woman general manager of a professional baseball team ( Charlotte Orioles). And Elliott and Carl Murnick, who took over after their father’s death and continued to be heavily involved with Crockett Promotions and some of that company’s biggest events.

“They (the Murnicks) lived here in Charlotte for a while,” said Crockett. “The area was expanding, and Dad needed somebody up in the Raleigh area. Joe fit in perfectly.”

Jim Crockett Sr. had come to Charlotte in 1934 and launched what would become the Crockett Promotions dynasty, even though “Big Jim” had begun promoting shows four years earlier in his hometown of Bristol, Va., where he borrowed $50, secured a hall and put on a wrestling match. An institution who made wrestling a weekly ritual in the Carolinas, he passed away in 1973 at the age of 64.

Joe Murnick was a Durham native and a graduate of UNC where he was an All-American boxer and captain of the school’s boxing team. He returned to the university as a boxing coach after having served in World War II.

Murnick promoted the local shows in Raleigh while he worked as a partner with C&M Promotions, the major entertainment and sports promotion agency for the Carolinas and Virginia. He passed away in 1985 at the age of 68.

Known mainly to fans as the ring announcer for the weekly TV shows, Joe Murnick had turned over his ring introduction duties to sons Elliott and Carl in the mid-‘70s. Elliott had hosted the Raleigh-only version of the “Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling” show taped out of WRAL-5 TV studios.

At that time two different versions of the commentary were recorded over the top of one single hour of TV. The Raleigh version, with Murnick, aired only on Channel 5. The syndicated version was hosted by Bob Caudle, who would become known as “the voice of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling,” and went out to all the TV markets. That ended in 1974 when all of the various taping locations for JCP were consolidated to Raleigh.

“Elliott, along with his dad and his brother, ran different towns around the territory and worked with the Crocketts in Charlotte. He and Carl were young fellows when we first started out. I liked all of the Murnicks. We got along really well,” said Caudle, who is now 86 and living in Raleigh.

“We were still doing business with Elliott and Carl after Dad passed away and Joe passed away, and then Carl passed away,” said Crockett. “And then (Ted) Turner bought us (Crockett Promotions). When that happened, it sort of blew everything apart. Elliott continued to handle the shows in a few different places (for WCW and Turner Broadcasting).”

Opened doors

Tributes continued to pour in throughout the week on social media and throughout Mid-Atlantic Wrestling circles.

Kind, loving, warm, wonderful, funny, cordial, professional and unique were all words used by friends and colleagues to describe Elliott Paul Murnick.

“This has been a difficult week, with the loss of a great father, father-in-law, grandfather and all-around great guy,” son-in-law Pat Price posted on Facebook. “They say you don't marry the person, you marry the family, and I couldn't have been luckier. From day one, we bonded over the entertainment business, growing up in Charlotte, the Tar Heels and his one-of-a-kind sense of humor.

“In the last month of his life, we brought Lucy into this world, and he came to see her every day. Maybe he knew something we didn’t. I don't know, but I’ll sure miss him. So will she. From just typing his name in Facebook, you can see how much he meant to others. A great example of how to take care of your family, and your friends. Rest in peace Elliott. You were and are loved.”

Former WCW ring announcer Tony Gilliam credited Elliott with changing the course of his life.

“He was a friend, a father figure, keeping me straight when I was on the road in the pro wrestling business, he was a business mentor guiding me when I would seek his advice ... You gave me my start, you opened that door, you made it possible for me to see things, do things, travel places, meet people that never ever would a country kid from Nash County have a chance to do.”

“Elliott was always a nice, personable guy,” said Caudle. “Easy to get along with. He got along well with all the talent. I don’t think I ever heard any of the talent say anything bad about him. He was very friendly. The whole family was.”

Les Thatcher, a star performer and announcer in the Mid-Atlantic area during the ‘70s and ‘80s, recalled working with Elliott.

“Elliott was one of the promoters over the years that I grew into a friendship with over and above our relationship as wrestler/promoter. He was down to earth and receptive to suggestions, and easy to get along with, and our relationship grew from there.”

In recent years Thatcher said the two would occasionally meet at reunions, and “it was like we had talked just last week.”

“He was a solid businessman and promoter as well. He, more so then his brother Carl, reminded me so much of his dad Joe in terms of easy to get to know and to do business with, and also have a friendship outside of that. The last time we were together it was enjoyable to hang out with Paul Jones, Jerry Brisco and the two of us, and cut up about old times. Elliott’s passing leaves another void in our lives.”

“He was always a gentleman,” said Crockett. “I never saw him lose his temper. And, like his dad, he was a true politician.”

Elliott’s death has hit Crockett especially hard.

“That’s part of my life … part of my heritage. Every time I go to Raleigh to see my grandchildren, I’d call Elliott up and we’d go and have breakfast at the delicatessen. I’ll miss that.”

It’s another link in the chain that has been broken. But, adds Crockett, the family connection has continued into a third generation.

“Besides two generations – my dad and Joe, and Elliott and myself – my daughter Julie and Elliott’s daughter Abby are bosom buddies and friends. Both are nurse anesthetists, and my daughter was Abby’s mentor and an instructor when she was in anesthesia school in Raleigh.”

It’s not a third generation in promoting, however, “but in putting people to sleep,” Crockett laughs.

“When you’re promoting, you definitely don’t want to put ‘em to sleep,” he adds.

Promoters extraordinaire like Jim Crockett Sr. and Joe Murnick, with an ear to the public pulse, knew the formula for delivering what the fans wanted.

Elliott Murnick learned that lesson well. He now has the best seat in the house.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at bymikemooneyham@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.

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