By Mike Mooneyham
Dec. 29, 2002
They touched our lives in many ways. For those of us lucky enough to see them perform, we will never forget them.
Pro wrestling lost some of its greatest performers and personalities during 2002. Many represented an era that will forever be etched in the memories of longtime fans.
They were athletes and performers who lived by the credo that “the show must go on.” Most lived out of a suitcase, spending more than 300 days a year on the road. Unlike today’s crop of sports entertainers who play roles and recite scripted promos, these stars of yesteryear truly were originals, with names as colorful as the profession they represented.
Although the entire wrestling fraternity suffered a number of losses this year, especially hard-hit was the old Mid-Atlantic area, where many on the list made an indelible mark. Tim Woods, George Harris, Wahoo McDaniel, Nelson Royal and Swede Hanson all spent a significant part of their careers in the Carolinas and Virginia.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]The business lost perhaps its most celebrated performer in April when Lou Thesz passed away at the age of 86 of complications from open heart surgery. Considered by no less than Ric Flair to be the greatest wrestler of all time, Thesz embodied all the qualities of a true champion during an era in which pro wrestling was considered more sport than entertainment.
The death of the original Mr. Wrestling, Tim Woods (George Burrell Woodin), on Nov. 30 evoked memories from a number of longtime local fans who followed his illustrious career during the 60s and 70s.
“Growing up in Georgia in the ’70s, Tim Woods showed me the difference between good and evil, right and wrong,” recalled one fan. “In a day when it is hard for kids to find a hero – I had mine in Mr. Wrestling.”
There were some on the list who departed far too soon. Among them was “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, who died in April of apparent heart failure, although forensic investigations in England and Canada reportedly are still probing the underlying causes of the 39-year-old’s death.
“Right up to the end, Davey was roided out because he thought he could go back to the WWF,” Bruce Hart, Smith’s ex-brother-in-law, told ESPN The Magazine in an article published last month. “Davey was in pain because he’d put on 15 or 20 pounds of muscle weight,” revealed girlfriend Andrea Hart. “Some days, he had a hard time walking.”
There was independent wrestler Jeff Peterson, who at the time of his death in November was writing a children’s book aimed at inspiring and helping young patients cope with their own life-threatening illnesses. The book, entitled “Lion in Bed with Hope,” was about a lion with an illness and a friend named Hope, who never gave up. The 21-year-old Peterson, who was stricken with leukemia, never had a chance to finish the book, although some of his friends are attempting to make his unfulfilled dream come true.
WWE referee Charles Robinson’s wife of four years, Amy, passed away in April at the age of 30, nearly two years after first being diagnosed with melanoma cancer.
“I guess her job here on earth had something to do with me,” Robinson told The Post and Courier earlier this year. “It helped me to open up. She taught me how to love, to care. She changed my life.”
A partial listing of those who left us this past year is as follows. The list includes wrestlers, promoters, referees, announcers, wives of wrestlers and those associated with the business.
Tim “Mr. Wrestling” Woods (Nov. 30, age 68); George “Two Ton” Harris (Nov. 29, age 75); Jeff “The All-American” Peterson (Nov. 29, age 21); Billy Travis (Nov. 23, age 40); Billy Goelz (Nov. 20, age 84); Ed “Moose” Cholak (Oct. 31, 72); Mike “The Alaskan” York (Sept. 29, age 62); Ted “Rocco Rock” Petty (Sept. 21, age 50); Darrell Cochran (Sept. 13, age 73); Mike Paidousis (Sept. 9, age 78); Don Owen (Aug. 1, age 90); Randy Tyler (July 22, age 50); Virgil “Speedy” Hatfield (June 30, age 93); Davey Boy Smith (May 18, age 39); Alex “Dick Dudley” Rizzo (May 16, age 34); George Gordienko (May 13, age 74); (Ben Alexander (May 13, age 51); Mary Gagne (May 7, age 75); Randy “Pee Wee” Anderson (May 6, age 42); Raymond “Haiti Kid” Kessler (May 5); Lou Thesz (April 28, age 86); Stanley Weston (April 18, age 82); Wahoo McDaniel (April 14, age 63); Amy Robinson (April 7, age 30); Bobby Managoff (April 3, age 84); Charlie Harville (March 1, age 83); Steve Bolus (March 23); Ray “Logger Larson” Schilling (March 21, age 62); Troy “Dream Machine” Graham (March 19, age 47); Jerry “Big Red” Reese (March 17, age 51); Tony “The Medic” Gonzales (March 4, age 72); David “Dino Casanova” DiMeglio (March 1, age 35); Nick Roberts (Feb. 23, age 75); Swede Hanson (Feb. 19, age 68); Robert “Slick Robbie D” Dicks Jr. (Feb. 18, age 32); Paddy Casey (Feb. 15, age 92); Nelson Royal (Feb. 3, age 70); Richard “Mighty Igor” Garza (Jan. 7, age 70).
– The year 2001 will not be remembered as a banner year for professional wrestling. It marked the first year of total domination in this country by only one company – the WWE (NWA-TNA, the only other year-round nationally available promotion in the U.S., offered no viable competition).
An early sign of things to come saw Vince McMahon’s company change its name from World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment after the World Wildlife Fund pinned the mat company in a London courtroom to force the change.
Attendance plummeted as Raw and Smackdown split into separate brands. Ratings for both shows dropped dramatically, with Raw numbers reaching their lowest levels since 1997.
Some of the noteworthy “low lights” included the Katie Vick skit, the HLA angle, the Un-Americans group and the Billy-Chuck same-sex nuptials ceremony.
The WWE also finished the year without its two biggest stars. The Rock left to film another movie, while “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was suspended after going AWOL.
– Hulk Hogan’s infamous ego reared its massive head in a recent interview with TSN’s “Off the Record.”
While admitting that he greatly respected The Rock, Hogan said that fans had figured out that Rock was using wrestling as a springboard to a movie career, and that Rock simply was walking through the doors that Hogan had kicked down. (In his book, “Hollywood Hulk Hogan,” Hogan makes the claim that it was his job to make the crowd cheer Rock during their much-ballyhooed bout at Wrestlemania X-8 in March, and he claims to have worked the match with a broken rib, a 103-degree fever and no sleep.
Hogan, 49, also noted that he didn’t enjoy the same advantages Rock has had as an actor, pointing out that fellow action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenneger are now in their 50s.
Hogan, when asked if he considered it a tie between himself and Ric Flair as the two greatest names in the business, emphasized that he was the “Babe Ruth of wrestling.”
Hogan also implied that Steve Austin should have been more of a team player in the WWE, even to the point of having his opponents “hulk up” after taking Stone Cold’s stunners (something Hogan’s opponents never were allowed to do after taking his vaunted leg drop).
Hogan also took a shot at wrestling icon Mick Foley. Claiming that Foley prostituted his body, He said that while Foley was “sleeping and eating cheeseburgers,” Hogan was in the gym training.
– Steve Austin told a New York radio station last week that he’s in the best shape he’s been in a long time. Austin revealed that he has cut back on beer and is on a low-fat diet.
– The WWE Web site reported that neither Torrie Wilson nor real-life fiance Billy Kidman raised objections about the recent on-air kiss Torrie’s character shared with Dawn Marie.
“When I was told by Paul Heyman the idea for the storyline, I thought it was a really good idea,” Wilson told the WWE Web site. “I thought it makes her (Dawn Marie) out to be such a heel and gives her a lot to go on. This is all acting for me, and I know Dawn and I both come from an acting background. So we both know this is our job … In some ways it was a little easier kissing her than these big, sweaty men I’ve kissed here in the past.”
Wilson added that Kidman was fine with the kiss after seeing it.
“He didn’t have a problem with it at all. I actually think that the way they built it up, he thought it was going to be a lot worse than it was. He even said, You know, that wasn’t that bad at all.'”