Klondike Bill Soloweyko died today, October 3, 2000, at 8:29 a.m. ET. His death was a result of a neuromuscular disorder that is similar to Bell’s Palsy. The disease took away the use of his tongue and left him speechless for the last months of his life.
He was never a superstar, a top draw, but he was remembered by friends as one of the greatest individuals ever in pro wrestling.
“Klondike Bill’s one of my all-time, all-time favourite people,” said Gerry Brisco. “I had the pleasure of working with him a little bit, but most of my experiences with Klondike is when he became like an operations manager for Crockett wrestling, hauling the rings, setting up promotions, setting up buildings for the events, stuff like that. Klondike is another great character, personalities in this business that lived life to the fullest and has a lot of friends and a lot of respect around the business.”
Wahoo McDaniel remembered the good times with Klondike.
“We used to go party together, drink. It was a lot different times than now. Nobody made a lot of money and everybody kind of stuck together,” said McDaniel.
Food is another constant in the recollections of Klondike’s life.
“They had a buffet here in Charlotte,” began McDaniel. “[Klondike] and Johnny Hidalman, we walked in one day and it was like $4.95 all you can eat. We walked in one day, and Klondike and Hidalman were sitting there — and we counted the bones, 56 pieces of chicken they’d ate. And they kicked the wrestlers out of the buffet!”
Ernie ‘The Big Cat’ Ladd travelled around the New York area with Klondike Bill, and considered him a friend. And almost an equal when it came to eating.
“We used to eat a couple of dozen eggs together,” said Ladd. “I watched big Bill, a dozen eggs wasn’t nothing for him to have for breakfast at the Hyland hotel in New York.
“I remember one time, I laughed so hard. It’s a great story — that’s what you newspaper people like to hear. We’d been having a dozen eggs for breakfast in the morning. We’d go down about brunch-time, we’d sleep a little later, just a little bit before twelve and go down and have breakfast and lunch right together. And we’d been having a dozen of them eggs over easy. Then one morning big Bill said, ‘I’ve got enough of those eggs. I think I’ll have a couple of omletes this morning instead of those eggs!’ Boy, I laughed so hard. Boy, what a sweetheart of a guy.”
Bill Soloweyko was an accomplished amateur wrestling in Alberta in the ’50s when he decided to turn pro. By the later years of that decade and into the mid-70s, he was a star, with his big, barrel-chested physique, beard and bearhug.
Born in Calgary, he trained with the legendary Stu Hart. McDaniel recalled the story of Soloweyko showing up at the Hart House. “[Stu Hart] kept squeezing and taking him (Soloweyko) in until he passed out. And he (Soloweyko) kept coming and coming. And he kept hurting him and passing him out.”
Finally Stu Hart had to give up. “He said, ‘He was just so damn tough I had to make him a wrestler.’ And that’s the way Klondike was. He wouldn’t take no for an answer,” McDaniel said.
Stu Hart himself told the Calgary Sun that Klondike was “a nice, sweet guy … but it’d take a pretty big man to take him down off his feet. I never met anybody stronger than him.”
When Soloweyko was clean-shaven, and feeling like a decent fellow, he would wrestle as Bill ‘The Brute’ Soloweyko, particularly early in his career. When his beard had grown, he put on his worked-in jeans, with rope belt, and headed to the ring as Klondike Bill.
His wrestling took him around the world, but Canada and the Mid-Atlantic area around Charlotte, NC were proven stomping grounds. He was also the Hawaiian champion in 1968.
Gino Brito worked with Klondike Bill in Detroit in the early 1960s, when Bill was about 360 pounds. “He was a funny guy,” Brito said. He recalled the days when the Detroit booking office was in a hotel. “Every day the wrestlers would go there, whether to get paid, get their bookings or whatever. So we’d go up there and there was a gym downstairs. We’d go and workout then go up to the hotel. He’d be around all the time.”
Brito also shared a story about Klondike and his recently-deceased best friend Tony Parisi.
‘The Tenor’ Parisi was a huge opera fan. Brito recalled a time in Vancouver when he was there with Parisi and Klondike Bill. “Tony Parisi in those days had all these LPs. … All the top opera singers. And Klondike Bill, he’s a country guy, right, from North Carolina. So they’re there, on the 12th floor of the hotel, and Parisi’s got the record on and Klondike Bill came in and kind of looked at the box of records. He’s looking through them and Parisi says, ‘You like that stuff?’ Bill doesn’t say a word. He grabs the whole box of records and threw it right off the balcony. Parisi says, ‘What the f*** are you doing?! Those are my prize possessions!’ He said, ‘I can get Burl Ives for $1.98.'”
Heights also played a part in another Klondike Bill story, as told by Ernie Ladd. “One time we’re in the Hyland Hotel in New York and a guy had gone up to the sixth floor, going to jump out the window, walking out on the edge and was going to jump. Bill said, ‘If you’re going to jump, go up to about the 12th floor and jump — it’s going to kill your crazy self! If you want to die, die.’ The guy said, ‘You’re crazy, you’re crazy!’ and went back in the room.”
Soloweyko leaves behind his wife Adrienne and daughter Thayne Brigman, son-in-law Thayne Brigman and grandson Christopher.
Funeral services for Soloweyko will be Thursday, Oct. 5, 2000 at the McEwen Funeral Home, 10500 Park Rd., Pineville, NC, at 7 p.m. Soloweyko will be cremated.
The family requests memorials be made to Hospice at Charlotte, 1420 E. 7th St., Charlotte, NC 28204 or to A.L.S., 2021 Ventura Blvd., Suite 321, Woodland Hills, Calif. 91364.
- Aug. 15, 2000: Guest column: What Klondike Bill means to me
- July 14, 2000: Rallying around an ailing Klondike Bill
- Apr. 15, 1999: He was a Brute before becoming Klondike Bill