‘Handsome’ Johnny Valentine has fought his final fight.
After a lengthy hospital stay, Valentine passed away last night in a hospital just outside his home in River Oaks, TX. He was 72.
“His heart just gave out,” Julie Valentine, the wife of Greg Valentine, told SLAM! Wrestling. “Sharon (Johnny’s wife) called and left a message on my machine.” She said Sharon was just totally devastated.
“Sunday evening John had developed a temperature that escalated really high,” explained Sharon Valentine’s sister Brenda. “(The hospital) called us up early in the morning and told us he was having problems breathing. They were going to move him to the critical care unit. Then they called us a little while later and said his heart had stopped. They were trying to work on him for 45 minutes but they couldn’t do anything. I believe they called the official time of death at 3:07 AM.”
Brenda says that Sharon is taking the loss of her beloved husband very hard.
“Sharon’s not doing well at all. She feels like her life is over. I hope the pain passes with a little time and that she feels better. I’ve never known anybody to have loved somebody the way they did. Sharon was not at the hospital when John died. She was sick at home with a viral infection. Plus, she had problems with her respiratory system.”
Julie said that her father-in-law was in a great deal of pain towards the end and that, perhaps, his dying will relieve his suffering. “To be honest, Greg is going to be relieved because he can’t stand to watch his father suffer like that. It was horrible,” said Julie.
Johnny Valentine was from Seattle, Washington, and his real name was Jonathan Wisniski. At 6’4″, 255 pounds, he gained fame during the ’50s and ’60s in pro wrestling with signature moves like the The Brainbuster (an elbow to the top of the head), the Flying Elbow, and the Vertical Suplex.
With his cocky attitude, long blond hair, the tanned, athletically-built Valentine was one of the most hated men of the ‘Golden Era’ of wrestling.
Former NWA World champion Lou Thesz called Valentine “the most courageous guy I ever saw.”
“I saw him go to post with a couple of people that were supposed to be athletes and wrestlers, and he not only beat the hell of out a couple of them, but they also backed off of him,” Thesz told SLAM! Wrestling today. “He was not a sophisticated wrestler, but he was a born rough-neck. The guy was really good with his dukes.”
‘Yukon’ Moose Cholak remembered Valentine’s punches as well. “He was a good puncher, that’s for sure. I used to say, ‘Lay them in there, Johnny!’ Boom! Boom! He laid them in there.”
Gino Brito Sr. was equally complimentary. “Johnny Valentine, even to this day, one of the greatest wrestlers ever.”
Thesz’s wife Charlie sparked the interest of the Cauliflower Alley Club and friends of Johnny in contributing to his medical bills, which mounted as different doctors diagnosed things differently.
He suffered career-ending injuries due to a plane crash in 1975.
Brenda told SLAM! Wrestling that funeral arrangements haven’t been made yet. “We believe we’re going to do a cremation and have a memorial service in a week or so.”
— with files from Greg Oliver