The giant Tex McKenzie, a star wrestler from the ’50s to the ’70s, died today in a Victoria, B.C.-area hospital.

McKenzie was in his early 70s and long retired from the ring, and having recently returned home from a late winter and spring trek to visit wife Betty’s family in Georgia, McKenzie is said to have been stricken with an abdominal aortic aneurysm while on his boat in the waters off Vancouver Island.

At six-foot-nine, Hugh (Tex) McKenzie was almost always a fan favourite, shaking hands with the ringside fans and the referee before many of his bouts. From arm to arm, his wingspan was that of a condor.

His career was launched in his native Texas in the ’50s by promoter Jack Pfefer, who dubbed him “Goliath” in Texas. His career took him around the globe. In Australia, he held the IWA World Title and World Tag Team Titles.

Here in Canada, McKenzie is a member of the Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame, and was well-known to fans both out in B.C. and in Ontario, through his extended stints in Buffalo, Toronto and Detroit.

“Tex was as nice outside of the ring as we remember him being inside the ring,” said John Dolin, who had McKenzie on a couple episodes of his Wrestling With The Past TV series. “He had a very, very friendly, easy-going persona in the ring if you remember. He used to warn bad guys before he was going to hit that he was going to hit them! And he was like that with me. He was wonderful to work with, easy-going, flexible, hilarious, self-deprecating.”

After his ring days, Tex designed and built a number of private homes in the northwestern area of the state of Washington. He and his wife Betty lived in Edmonds, Wash. A daughter, Debby, is a nurse in Friday Harbor, Wash.

McKenzie loved to sail, and that was the reason they settled on the West Coast. In later years, he would just hang out on his boat, rather than take it out of harbour.

An informal “remembrance” of Tex for close friends is scheduled for early Sunday afternoon (June 3) in the Friday Harbor, Wash., home of his son-in-law and daughter, Bob and Deborah Freeauf. Cauliflower Alley Club president Red Bastien and his fiance, Carol McCutchin, longtime friends of the McKenzies, will fly in from their Dallas home to pay respects to the family.

Sympathy cards or notes of condolence may be sent to Mrs. Betty McKenzie, 19723 Highway 99, PMB E-126, Lynnwood WA 98036.

— with files from J. Michael Kenyon, Cauliflower Alley Club