Cancer has claimed half of one of the greatest tag teams of all time, leaving John Tolos unable to hand off the microphone to his brother Chris with his regular turn-of-phrase: “Right-Brother-Chris?”
Chris Tolos died Friday, August 13, 2005 in Hamilton, Ontario at St. Peter’s Hospital. He was 75.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, there was only one was to spell wrestling — “T-O-L-O-S!”
“They worked as a tag team just as they really were, brothers, and inseparable,” wrote Jim Freedman in his 1988 book Drawing Heat. “Neither would stop at anything to defend the other. This solidarity, a fanatical loyalty that called organized crime to mind became their secret weapon, a mindless brotherhood. They flogged it weekly on TV appearances with a steady drone of mutual admiration and threats addressed in unison to their adversaries. Brother John would say to Chris, Right-Brother-Chris? And would pass the mike for Chris to say, Right-Brother-John, Right? Right.”
It was truly a natural gimmick for the two brothers of Greek descent, just as it is impossible to talk about one of the brothers without talking about the other, even though John Tolos’ career far surpassed his brother as a singles wrestler.
Chris was the oldest of the three children born December 5, 1929 to Nicolaos and Evangelia (Evangeline) Tolos, followed by his brother John and sister Mary. He was married in 1971 to Joanne, and the short-lived union produced a son named Nicholas. Chris stayed close to Hamilton for much of his life, taking care of his mother — who lived to be 101 and died in 2001 — and his disabled sister.
Growing up in Hamilton, both boys were natural athletes, playing football, hockey, lacrosse and track, and learning to amateur wrestle. Chris got into pro wrestling via Wee Willie Davis and made his debut in Buffalo around 1951, as a heel at first, losing preliminary bouts to the likes of Johnny Barend, Sandor Kovacs and Don Beitelman (Curtis), all of whom he would fight many times over the years.
He soon brought John into the sport. Together, they were one of the best teams ever, holding numerous tag titles, including the WWWF U.S. tag titles in 1963, the NWA World tag titles in Florida in 1964 and in Detroit that same year, the World and Canadian tag titles in Vancouver in 1967 and the Pacific Coast tag belts in California in 1953. They weren’t showy, wearing simple tights to the ring. Rough and tough in the ring, their style relied on hard work and supporting a partner who was in trouble.
“The Tolos boys were always, always in great shape, always kept themselves in great shape,” recalled Gene Kiniski. “Rough, tough, rugged type of individuals. Chris was kind of reserved while John was very outgoing. They job done real, real good. In other words, when they were in the ring, they got the job done real well … they came by it naturally. They were both great athletes, kept themselves in great shape and that’s the key to any sport.”
Journalist Bill Apter was exposed to the Tolos Brothers early in his life. “When I was a little kid, they were the Tolos Brothers, the Golden Greeks in New York. I first saw them in Sunnyside Garden in New York, probably around 1960. I just remember them holding their arms up and Chris Tolos going ‘Me and John are the greatest!’ That’s what I remember.”
In 1972, Chris went to Los Angeles and teamed with John for a strong run as babyfaces, against Black Gordman and Goliath, one of his few stints as a babyface.
In 1973 or 1974, he actually came out with a cookbook that he would plug every week to announcer Lord Athol Layton’s chagrin. Apparently, he was a very good cook.
The success of the two Hamilton boys paved the way for the many more wrestlers who came out of “The Factory,” including Johnny Powers. “The Tolos brothers, because I was just coming in at that era, the Tolos brothers were very fascinating for me. They worked their ass off. They physically kept moving, moving all the time.”
Another Hamiltonian, Sandy Scott, teamed with his brother George Scott as The Flying Scott Brothers. He said that the Tolos boys only lived around the corner from them. “They were a good, smooth team.” Scott had particular praise for their dedication to their sister Mary.
While Chris stayed close to home, John Tolos was able to hit the road and become a singles star, particularly in Los Angeles with his epic feud with Freddie Blassie. But one should not discount Chris Tolos’ singles career. In the late ’60s, Chris “The Body” Tolos feuded with Iron Mike Dibiase in Omaha, and had his share of NWA World title shots. When he returned to Hamilton in the ’70s, Chris wrestled around Ontario for Frank Tunney and “Bearman” Dave McKigney. Chris Tolos wrestled until 1983.
After his retirement, he lived up to his reputation of being “reserved” to the outgoingness of his younger brother. John.
“John and Chris are really shy,” said Hamilton’s “Sailor” Bob Clark, who would run into Chris around town. “I know Chris is around all the time, but Chris is the shy one. Well, so is John. They don’t like the limelight any more … they are very quiet, they don’t want any publicity, no nothing, they don’t even come out to any of the engagements at all.”
Another Hamilton friend, Hurricane Smith (Bob Grimbly), was proud to call them both his friend. “They’re such gentlemen, two of the nicest men you’ll ever meet.”
Chris Tolos is survived by his brother John, sister Mary and nephew Chris Jr. of California; his son Nicholas of Hamilton, grandson Cory, and ex-wife Joanne of Vancouver. The family will receive friends at the Dodsworth & Brown Funeral Home, Robinson Chapel (King Street East at Wellington) on Sunday, August 14th from 7-9 p.m. and Monday, August 15th from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. Prayers to be held Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. Funeral Service from St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church (22 Head Street, Hamilton, Ontario) on Tuesday, August 16th at 11 a.m. Interment at Woodland Cemetery will follow.
A tree will be planted in Woodland Cemetery in Tolos’ memory. Donations to McMaster University Medical Centre would be appreciated by the family.
— with files from Steven Johnson