BORN: May 5, 1935
6’0″, 220 pounds
When Billy Two Rivers retired from pro wrestling in 1976, after 24 years in the ring, little did he know that within a short period of time, he’d be in an even bigger game, with bigger stakes and bigger egos — politics.
A friend on the council at the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal thought that Two Rivers would be great at politics, and tried to convince him to run for council in 1976. Two Rivers brushed him off, thinking himself too young at 41 to get involved in politics.
Then, 1978 came, and two years older and wiser, Two Rivers did run for council — where he sat for the next 20 years, leading the Mohawks of the Kahnawake reserve, including the controversial blockade of Montreal’s Mercier Bridge in 1990, usually referred to as the Oka Crisis.
His wealth of experience travelling the world as a wrestler came in handy, and he was essentially the “external affairs minister” for the council. In 1998, he didn’t get re-elected, and now works as senior policy and political advisor to the Assembly of First Nations run by Phil Fontaine.
Now, at 65, he’s very philosophical about the way his life has turned out. “I’ve always figured out that whatever happened to me, there was a reason for it. When I had to draw upon whatever experience I’d gathered in my lifetime, it served its purpose when I had to do it at any particular time,” Two Rivers said on recent Sunday, while awaiting the next NFL playoff game at his home in Kahnawake.
In 1950, wrestling superstar Don Eagle came home to Kahnawake to recuperate from the trials of the road. He befriended a young Two Rivers, and when he went back to wrestling, Eagle took the 15-year-old Two Rivers with him to Columbus, Ohio. “He saw some potential in me becoming a wrestler. He invited me to go back with him when he went back to his training process after his back had healed properly,” said Two Rivers.
After two years of training with Don Eagle, and hitting 205 pounds, Two Rivers made his debut in February 1953 in Detroit as a junior heavyweight. He didn’t win — “they didn’t come my way for a while!” he laughed.
Where Two Rivers became more experienced, he formed a tag team with Don Eagle from 1955 to 1959. Then they went their separate ways.
“I was young, free and full of piss and vinegar. So I just went anywhere I wanted to go,” recalled Two Rivers. “I was doing well in the Carolinas, I was doing well in Florida.”
In 1959, he was in Jim Crockett Sr.’s North Carolina promotion. A British heavyweight named Ray Napolitano was there too, and tried to convince Two Rivers to give England a try. The Mohawk had Calgary and Stampede Wrestling in mind. So he flipped a coin, and England won.
Heading across the Atlantic, Two Rivers had no idea how big a star he was about to become.
“He was treated like a God over there,” recalled Paul Leduc, who also spent time in England, and is friends with Two Rivers to this day.
His colourful look – he’d enter wearing a full feathered headdress, which he’d remove to reveal a Mohawk haircut – was a natural for English television. In the ring, he would go into a war dance when he lost his temper.
But Two Rivers is not one to brag about himself. “I was more or less of a journeyman. I traveled and was more of an attraction. People went to see the Indian.”
After six years in England, he returned to the North American circuits.
For the last half-dozen years of his career, which ended in 1976, he made his home on the reserve, and wrestled primarily for the Grand Prix Wrestling promotion out of Montreal. His family wanted him home, and he soon found that he liked to be home. Two Rivers got involved with businesses on the reserve, having saved his money wisely while on the road.
The Montreal Grand Prix was in its glory in the early ’70s, selling out the Forum regularly and occasionally invading Jarry Park for a super show. Names like Mad Dog Vachon, Don Leo Jonathan, Jean Ferre (Andre the Giant), Edouard Carpentier, Yvon Robert Jr. were the big names that drew the fans out.
When he retired — again at the urging of his daughters — he transferred his energies into his businesses, and then politics. Later, his high profile got him involved in various film and TV projects, including a substantial part in the movie Black Robe.
Looking back on his wrestling career, Two Rivers said the highlight “was to come back home over here, end my career on a high plane, a high level — and ending my career healthy.”
His political career always put him “front and centre.” He’s a national figure now, more so than he ever was as a wrestler.
“I’m outspoken with my responses to federal and provincial policies. They know me also from taking some proud stances to defend our rights,” he explained.
And he’s certainly far from done. Like his mentor Don Eagle, his influence will continue to be felt both in wrestling and throughout the Native communities for a long, long time.
Oh man! I used to hear about him a lot on K103 in Kahnawake listening to the world’s best radio station, the voice of the Mohawk community since 1981. And now look where i ended up….Flint, MI. GOD! I miss Mtl, Hiio and K103 sooooo much.
I miss my daily fix of soca and reggae, R+B and rap. Hiio is the bomb. K103 is the best. All the Mohawks are the best. I miss them, and their radio station…wish they were on the net…but they’ve been reduced to this
I met Billy Two Rivers through a friend a few years ago. As a lawyer, I met lots of fine people in my life. Billy is on the top of the list. He is witty, humorous and pleasant. A truly wise and intelligent human being. Haven’t met him for a long while but it warms my heart to see him in a movie or in the news defending the rights of his great nation. I wish him a long and healthy life.
Living close to the stadium, my husband and I never missed any of Billy’s matches at the Kings Hall, Belle Vue Stadium, Gorton, Manchester, England (now demolished) in the 1960’s. He was an experienced opponent and was never too busy to talk to his many English fans. I found out about his political career from an Iroquois penfriend in Hagersville who sent me news cuttings about the Oka crisis in the early 90’s. Wherever he is now I would like to wish him well from fans in Manchester who have never forgotten what a great sporting personality he was.
I met Billy several times in the 60s. The first at the Royal Albert Hall, London. His mother and I became penfriends until her death several years ago. I was overjoyed when I discovered (accidently) a web site about Billy Two Rivers.
His biggest fan, RITA