When the illustrated dictionary on pro wrestling is finished one day, there will be a photo of Klondike Bill beside the word Loyalty.
For years and years, he was a mainstay in the Crockett-run Mid-Atlantic wrestling promotion, and later WCW. He also worked for the Crockett-owned Charlotte O’s minor league baseball team.
Now those years of loyalty and service give him strength as his friends come to visit as he fights a serious case of a type of Bell’s Palsy. The disease has taken away the use of his tongue and left him speechless.
David Crockett first met Klondike Bill — sometimes known as Calgary’s Bill Soloweyko — years ago when Bill worked for his father Jim Crockett Sr. David was only in high school, and the friendship with the now 68-year-old Klondike Bill continues to this day.
It has been painful for Crockett to see his friend this way. “He’s not doing that well. He’s lost the use of his tongue and he’s being fed through a tube and he has a walker now.”
Crockett, who is now Vice President of TV Production for WCW, was the one that urged Klondike Bill to see a doctor. Originally, Klondike complained about his new dentures, and how they made his mouth feel. Crockett made him see a doctor, suspecting a stroke. The first doctor didn’t find anything wrong, but a later one did finally diagnose the disease properly. Only there is no cure.
Klondike Bill didn’t have a stellar career in the ring. He wasn’t a main eventer, just one of those solid mid-card wrestlers that filled out shows across the continent.
Dewey Robertson recalled that Klondike always “Did a day’s work for a day’s pay,” and that he was “a very passive man, unusual in the wrestling business, always in control of himself.”
Robertson, better known to more recent fans as The Missing Link, had two sons that worked with Klondike when he was groundskeeper for the Crockett-owned, Baltimore Orioles-affiliated Charlotte O’s baseball team. His son Mark was 16 when he started working with Klondike as an assistant groundskeeper. His younger son Jason washed uniforms, polished and cleaned shoes for the team.
According to Crockett, no less than Cal Ripken Jr. was a big fan of Klondike Bill. “He and Klondike really hit it off. Klondike was one of the main people that he wanted to see when he came to a reunion of the minor league baseball team. And Bill at that time couldn’t talk and we had to persuade him to come. But Cal was very persistent that Bill be there.”
When the Crocketts sold the team, Klondike got more involved in wrestling again. He was in charge of the ring set-up in arenas, travelling constantly, driving the ring truck from one city to the next, often criss-crossing the country and only having a few days off a month. He had been known to say that he didn’t know what to do with himself when he was home. Gord Nelson was his regular companion on the ring crew, and when Nelson had a stroke not so long ago, the road didn’t have the same allure for Klondike.
Today’s fan might remember Klondike Bill from a skit he did in early 1999, ordering Eric Bischoff around on his ring crew. But yesterday’s wrestler has many other memories.
Danny Hodge, a former U.S. Olympian in wrestling who was a perennial junior heavyweight champion, remembered a time he tussled with Klondike in Muskokie, OK.
“He was down there saying something about wrestling and I told him he couldn’t push me backwards,” Hodge recalled. “Of course Klondike is over 300 pounds. I hooked up with him and pushed him up against the wall and he said ‘get here again Danny.’ I pushed him again and this time out the dressing room across the hall into a double door. When his butt hit the double door we went outside! And of course he’s got his shorts on and I’ve got my short shorts on and the door locked behind us! We were trying to knock on the door to get back in the building and people were coming around, girls came running down the sides to get our autographs but we got back in.”
The other story that is told about Klondike Bill is, of course, the steak story. Crockett, Robertson and Hodge all mentioned it. The feat is truly from legend, and got him on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
The story, as told by Trail West Magazine, goes a little like this. Amarillo, Texas is home to the Big Texan Restaurant and Opry, which offers a 72-ounce steak free of charge to any person who can eat the whole thing and all its accouterments within one hour. Well, Klondike Bill, he wolfed down TWO of the 72-ouncers in one hour.
Hodge had a good laugh recalling the story. “Now I said to him ‘Bill are you full?’ and he said ‘Danny, kinda.'”
It’s a wonderful, happy way to remember a super nice, kind-hearted veteran of the pro wrestling business.
— With files from John F. Molinaro