The wrestling world mourns the loss of a giant of a man today.
Robert Marella, better known to fans around the world as Gorilla Monsoon, passed away of complications from a heart attack that occurred on September 19. He was taken off a kidney dialysis machine at his request. He was 62.
Today’s fans will remember Gorilla Monsoon best as WWF President for a time, and as a long-time announcer and partner to Jesse Ventura, now the governor of Minnesota.
In conversations with people who knew Monsoon, it is obvious that he was well respected.
John Tenta, best known in the WWF as Earthquake, said that Monsoon was a man he “respected a lot because basically he commanded respect.” Tenta “admired him because he was a pro wrestler from before and a big guy” like Tenta himself. On more than one occasion, Monsoon offered advice to the former sumo star.
George ‘The Animal’ Steele said that Monsoon was “a very astute, very intelligent” individual and “a great friend.” He tells a great story from Gorilla’s wrestling days. Monsoon used to wear full-length trunks with a red stripe down the side, just like Steele. One night at the Boston Gardens, they started pulling on their tights. It seemed that Steele’s went well over his head, while Monsoon could barely get his feet into his pair. They had accidentally switched tights, and their wives had washed the wrong pairs at home.
As a wrestler, Monsoon was a giant, weighing in at over 400 pounds and dwarfing many of the stars of the day. He wrestled for years under his real name, and always the proud Italian, he would sing in his native language before the matches.
He is perhaps best known for airplane spinning and then bodyslamming Muhammad Ali.
When his wrestling days were done, he became a WWF road agent and announcer. Gorilla is also a member of the WWF Hall of Fame.
King Kong Bundy said that Monsoon was “first-rate all the way” and that he “always treated the boys good.”
Road agents are generally disliked, but Cowboy Bob Orton said that Monsoon was always “great to be around” and a “real classy gentleman.”
When contacted by Slam Wrestling, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura’s office only offered a “no comment.”
Waldo von Erich was on the top of the wrestling world in the early 1960s when Monsoon broke into the business with Pedro Martinez’s promotion, based out of Rochester, N.Y. According to von Erich, Monsoon — then Gino Marella — faced Baron Gatoni in his debut match. von Erich also recalled Marella as an excellent card player.
The Marella family suffered a devastating blow in 1994 when Gorilla’s son Joey was killed after falling asleep at the wheel of a rented car on the New Jersey Turnpike and crashing into a tree. WWF manager Harvey Whippleman suffered a broken nose in the crash. The junior Marella, who worked as a WWF ring official, was 31. Monsoon and his wife, Maureen, started a scholarship fund in memory of Joey.
The funeral for Monsoon will be held at Goes-Scolieri Funeral Home at 212 Levitt Parkway in Willingboro, New Jersey on Friday, October 8 from 7 to 9 pm.
— With files from Doug E. Bell, John Powell, Kevin Nielsen