The King of Men is dead. The great Classy Freddie Blassie died Monday at age 85.

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler announced his passing during the first hour of RAW, and recalled Blassie’s visit to the show only three weeks ago to participate in an angle with the Dudley Boyz and Three-Minute Warning. Blassie had been in hospital for the last few weeks with heart and kidney problems.

Born in 1918 in St. Louis, he was a boxer early in his career, but fell in with the St. Louis wrestling crowd, taking lessons from the likes of Crusher Casey, Lou Thesz and Everett Marshall. He was soon paying his dues on the circuit.

In a 2001 interview with SLAM! Wrestling, Blassie said there were “quite a few years under the bridge when you consider that I started in 1935.”

Fred Blassie, The Grand Wizard and Captain Lou Albano

The six-foot, 220-pound Blassie had his career interrupted by a stint in the Navy from 1942 to the war’s end in 1946. While in the service, he participated in a few exhibitions to raise money for war bonds.

After working as Fred The Sailor in the early 1950s in southern California, he moved to Georgia, where he held the NWA Southern Heavyweight title a remarkable 14 times into 1960. However, more important during his time in Georgia was his dramatic heel turn, which unleashed unheard of villainy upon the unsuspecting babyfaces of the day.

Blassie then moved to California and bolstered the World Wrestling Association into one of the top promotions of the day, and gave tremendous prominence to its world title.

In his book, Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All-Time, John Molinaro explained that Blassie was the “archetypal wrestling villain. Smug and brash, Blassie was one of the best talkers in the business, perfecting a heel interview style that would influence countless future superstars … Blassie is synonymous with the word ‘heat.’ He elevated the portrayal of the heel to an art form, striking terror into the hearts of the audience.”

Freddie Blassie gives advice to Waldo Von Erich. Photo by Mike Lano

He was nicknamed ‘The Vampire’ and played it up to the hilt, filing his teeth into a point. Blassie would draw blood on a regular basis (including from masked opponents like The Destroyer), and spill his just as often into his bleached-blond hair.

Yet in the early 1970s, fans in southern California had started to cheer for Blassie and he turned all the way to a good guy with a famous angle. On May 8, 1971, John Tolos blinded a returning Freddie Blassie’s with “Monsel’s Powder”. Blassie fell to the ground screaming and was taken to the hospital. Weeks later it was announced that Blassie’s career was finished. When Blassie made his inevitable return, the Olympic Auditorium wasn’t big enough for his match against Tolos, so the show moved to the L.A. Coliseum. Over 25,000 saw Blassie get revenge, plus thousands more on the first ever closed circuit broadcast of wrestling.

‘The Hollywood Fashion Plate’ retired in 1974 after a short stint as a wrestler in the WWF, and took up residence in the WWWF as a manager. It was an excellent fit, and he managed the top stars as they tried to wrest the world title away from Pedro Morales, Bob Backlund and later Hulk Hogan (whom he managed as a heel in his first WWWF run in 1979). In the 2001 interview with SLAM!, he spoke highly of the WWF (now WWE): “WWF, there’s no outfit like them. I worked for his grandfather, his father, and now for the kid. Never been a nicer family as far as I’m concerned … they’re the number one in wrestling and they always have been. These other followers, they all try to emulate but they can’t do it.”

After his days as an active manager in the WWF ended, he was still involved. “I do publicity for the WWF, Salvation Army, talk to the fellows and everything. I’m on the board for community mayors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for handicapped kids,” he said in 2001 at 83 years of age.

Blassie also did numerous voice-overs and promos for the WWF, including the great “showcase of the immortals” clips for WrestleMania. “Whenever they need me, they give me a call, send a limo out for me,” he said.

He was also used in a Knute Rockne type-role for the WWF troops as the Invasion angle started in 2001. Blassie issued a challenge to the WWF roster. “Gentleman, there comes a time when every man must fight for that he believes in. Now is the time, get up, stand up and fight.”

He was inducted in the World Wrestling Federation Hall of Fame in 1994.

Away from the ring, Blassie was an equally memorable character. He released two albums, King of Men and I Bite the Songs in 1977 and his single “Pencil Neck Geek” is considered one of the greatest novelty records of all time and received regular airplay on Dr. Demento’s show. Here is a sampling of the lyrics:

Most any night you know where I can be found.
Yeah, stomping some geek’s head into the ground.
So keep the faith ’cause in Blassie you can trust,
I won’t give up ’til the last geek bites the dust.

Pencil neck geek, grit eatin’ freak,
scum suckin’, pea head with a lousy physique.
He’s a one man, no gut, loosing streak.
Nothin’ but a pencil neck geek.

In 1983, comedian Andy Kaufman teamed with Blassie for the film My Breakfast with Blassie, which is quite simply the two men eating breakfast and discussing life.

Last month, Pocket Star released Blassie’s autobiography, Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks, written with Keith Elliot Greenberg.