By Mike Mooneyham
Oct. 30, 2005
Fifth in a series
Tony Atlas has many wonderful memories of the wrestling business. He enjoyed matches with some of the greatest performers in the profession and traveled the world many times over.
Mention the name Bruiser Brody, though, and Atlas’ normally jovial demeanor turns somber.
“I try not to think about him,” he says.
It’s not because Atlas ever had a beef with the legendary brawler. Far from it. But what Atlas experienced 17 years ago in a Puerto Rican dressing room is never far from his thoughts. The 42-year-old Brody (real name Frank Goodish) was stabbed to death literally feet away from Atlas. The memory still haunts him.
Brody was clutching a photo of him and his son that Atlas had promised to sketch a portrait of as he was stabbed in a locker-room shower stall. Minutes before the stabbing, Brody had been admiring a portrait Atlas was painting of wrestlers Chris and Mark Youngblood, who also were on the stadium show that hot, steamy night in the San Juan suburb of Bayamon.“Brody liked the portrait. He asked me to do a painting of his young son. He told me he had one done before, but it was a caricature. I told him I could have it done before he left. He handed me the picture, then pulled it back and walked into the shower. He was holding his son’s picture in his hand when he got stabbed.”
Atlas says Jose Gonzales, who doubled as a masked wrestler (Invader 1) who was a hometown hero and part owner of the local promotion with Carlos Colon, had summoned Brody to the bathroom area for a private meeting. “Brody, mi amigo, come here, por favor,” Atlas recalled Gonzales saying. Seconds later, says Atlas, there was a loud scream heard by all in the locker room.
Atlas rushed to the area, saw the knife and went to the rescue of Brody, who was stabbed in the stomach and chest and was bleeding profusely. Atlas pulled him out, although he could see that the blade had pierced Brody’s lung.
“Brody said, ‘Brother, I’m hurt, I’m hurt.’ I saw the blood running everywhere, I laid him on the floor and stood over the top of him. The picture was covered in blood, but he wouldn’t let it go.”
Atlas slowly recites the words he told Brody that night: “I’ll take care of you.”
He recalls Colon coming out of the bathroom and telling Brody to lie down. “Brody’s eyes were big as 50-cent pieces,” says Atlas. “The man was scared to death. Blood was everywhere.”
Although a giant of a man with muscles of steel, Atlas isn’t too proud to admit what transpired in the midst of the turmoil that fateful evening.
“Me and the Youngbloods burst into tears. We cried like babies. It just hurt so bad. It’s the most painful thing in the world to see a friend dying like that. He was a great guy, and that should never have happened.”
The second thing Brody said after being stabbed, Atlas recalls, was a message to Colon. “Take care of my kid,” he said, referring to Brody’s son Geoffrey, who was 8 years old at the time.
An ambulance was called, but it took nearly an hour to get to the stadium and another 30 minutes to get out of the parking lot, says Atlas. The paramedics couldn’t lift the 6-6, 300-pound wrestler, so Atlas carried Brody up four or five steps and helped transport him to the ambulance.
Police initially were told that a fan stabbed Brody, but Atlas says he later gave them the suspect’s name. By that time, the knife had vanished, and the show went on as if nothing had happened, Atlas says. Wrestlers were going over their matches in the babyface (good guy) dressing room when Atlas left with the ambulance.
On the ride to the hospital, Atlas did his best to keep Brody’s spirits up. He entertained the dying wrestler with some lines from a Hank Williams Jr. song:
“If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t wanna go
If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I’d just as soon stay home
If they don’t have a Grand Ole Opry, like they do in Tennessee
Just send me to hell or New York City, it would be about the same to me”
It’s the last time Atlas remembers Brody smiling.
Atlas recalls Brody saying, “Don’t drop me, brother,” as the wrestler helped lift his fallen friend out of the ambulance. Atlas talked to Brody and slipped his shoes off as the wrestler desperately waited for medical attention, which was slow in arriving. Atlas says Brody had two eight-inch cuts, and his feet had turned blue. Stab wounds had punctured his liver, pierced his lung and severed arteries to his heart.
” Atlas’ patience grew thin, and he eventually grabbed a doctor who was walking down the hall.
“I’ve got a patient for you,” the wrestler said urgently. “I’ll be with you in a minute,” replied the physician.
That’s when the 6-3, 290-pound strongman commandeered the doctor to Brody’s room. When the doctor asked Brody how he was doing, he replied, “I’m just waiting on you, brother,” says Atlas.
Frank Donald “Bruiser Brody” Goodish bled to death at 4:30 that morning on the operating table.
Atlas takes a deep breath and pauses for nearly a minute when informed of a report that an American doctor, who had been asked to assist with the surgery by three medical students he was training, reportedly was ordered by “security men” to leave the operating room that night and later kept out of the post-mortem.
“I should have never left (the hospital),” Atlas says, repeating the words for emphasis to no one in particular. “I had a queasy feeling when I left. I should have never left that man’s side.”
Atlas says he didn’t see anyone resembling security while he was at the hospital.
“I didn’t see any security. I was there a long time,” says Atlas, who estimates he was there for nearly two hours. “If there was any security in the building while I was there, they would have probably thrown me out. They were scared to death of me in there. I was stomping around that hospital. … You’ve never seen me mad. Vince (McMahon) has locked his office before because of me. I had a pretty good temper.”
Atlas now feels he may have made a mistake when he returned to the outdoor stadium that night and gave others a report on Brody’s condition. Atlas had been told at the hospital that his condition was stable.
“I got the funniest feeling in the world when I told someone about his condition, and that they were going to visit him. I should have never said where he was. Why did I say anything? I’m stupid at times. My mouth flies open before my brain thinks. I was raised up with all this honesty, but you don’t realize that a lot of people use that as a weapon against you.”
Atlas says he returned to the stadium to wrestle the last match of the evening with The Iron Sheik.
“I’m working with The Sheik and I’m telling him the story in the ring. The Sheik went back and told the other boys. Abdullah (The Butcher) called a meeting the next morning. All of us went and refused to work the next day. We boycotted. Nobody really knew what was going on, but I told them.” Atlas says he was a marked man because he was the only wrestler to publicly divulge the suspect’s name 17 years ago. He went to the police department with Sika the Wild Samoan (Sika Anoai) and gave authorities the story. Atlas was told he would be contacted regarding a trial date. He never was.
That same night he was warned by another wrestler to leave on the first plane out.
“Don’t go to bed tonight. Go to the airport and catch the first flight out of here” he was told.
“I would have never made it out of Puerto Rico,” says Atlas. “Somebody would have come up beside me at the airport and stabbed me.”
Atlas says he wasn’t home an hour before getting a call from Colon.
“Brother, you deserted us,” Atlas says Colon told him. “Those were his words. I told him I didn’t have anything against Brody or Jose. But after what I had seen, I felt the best thing for me to do was to leave. He told me there was going to be a trial, and I told him to let me know when it was so I could come down.”
Atlas never got the call. Gonzales initially was charged with first-degree murder, but the charge later was reduced to involuntary homicide. Several Puerto Rican wrestlers, including Gonzales’ partners in the World Wrestling Council organization, Colon and Victor Jovica, testified on Gonzales’ behalf and against Brody’s character.
Gonzales was acquitted on all counts when none of the American wrestlers present that night showed up for the trial. He still promotes in Puerto Rico.
Brody, who earned a degree in journalism at West Texas State before turning pro in the early ’70s, was a favorite with the hardcore wrestling audience. A bearded wildman in the ring who barked like a dog and attacked wrestlers with chains and chairs, Brody was quiet and intensely private outside the squared circle and considered by many to be somewhat of a loner. A top attraction throughout the world, especially in Japan where he was revered as a legend, Brody also had a reputation for being an outlaw and a hired gun, often refusing to do jobs (lose to other wrestlers) and refusing to sign exclusive, long-term contracts. He was one of the highest-paid performers during the ’80s, commanding as much as $14,000 a week in Japan.
“Nothing justifies what happened that night,” says Atlas. “Brody only had one person to stand up for him, and I look at that person every day in the mirror. I know he had a lot of friends, but nobody ever tried to say anything, or raise any money. And everybody tried to blame me because I didn’t go back. Go back? The others didn’t say anything. The dressing room was full of people. How come Tony Atlas was the only one who saw something? Were their eyes closed, or did they go blind? Every babyface on that card was in that dressing room. But they all went back (to Puerto Rico) and made themselves some money.”
NEWS AND NOTES: Reggie “The Crusher” Lisowski, one of pro wrestling’s most memorable characters, passed away Oct. 22. A man of the people with his blue-collar Midwestern roots, “Da Crusher” was affectionately known as “the wrestler who made Milwaukee famous” and formed one of the sport’s greatest tag teams with Dick The Bruiser (William Afflis) during the ’60s and ’70s. Lisowski, 79, never fully recovered from surgeries to remove the tumor at the base of his brain stem . His son, David Lisowski, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Crusher worked out on his last day. “That’s how he wanted to go. He did concentration curls and triceps work. He just had to work out every day. … In his mind, he never thought he was old.”… Freshman Ashley Fliehr, youngest daughter of 16-time world champ Ric Flair, will bring her Appalachian State volleyball team (ranked second in the Southern Conference) into town next weekend with matches against SoCon leader College of Charleston on Friday and The Citadel on Saturday. The 19-year-old Fliehr, who led Providence High School to two state championships, was named the Charlotte Observer’s Player of the Year for 2004 … George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Taboo Tuesday pay-per-view beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Cover charge is $7 … Tickets for WWE’s Raw show Dec. 5 go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday at the North Charleston Coliseum … John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels will highlight this week’s Raw in Anaheim.