Yvon Cormier, eldest of the famed Cormier brothers, who found fame around the world wrestling as The Beast, has died after a lengthy battle with cancer at a Moncton, New Brunswick hospital. He was 70.
He died this morning, March 4, 2009, about 6 a.m. Atlantic time. “I went into the room about about 4:30 there, and he was still alive,” recalled his eldest son Richard this morning. “My mother came in around 6 and said, ‘I think he’s going.’ I went into the room, and the nurse was there, and he was gone.”
“We were at the point where it was almost a relief,” said Richard Cormier, having seen his father in pain for so long, in and out of the Dr-Georges-L-Dumont Hospital.
Born to Edmond Cormier and the late Bernadette Doucette, into a family of 13 children, four of the brothers would find their way into the ring to be professional wrestlers, and another would work as a referee. As former wrestler and promoter Emile Dupré put it once, Yvon (The Beast), Leonce (Leo Burke), Jean-Louis (Rudy Kay) and Romeo (Bobby Kay) “were to New Brunswick what the Hart family was to Calgary.”
According to lore, Yvon stumbled out of the backwoods into pro wrestling in the late 1950s, and in 1962, he hit the road to Indianapolis to train seriously (“You can’t wrestle in the backyard. You’ve got to move away” he once said), working as Ivan The Lumberjack. Jim Crockett Sr. christened him The Beast around 1965.
“I was the farm boy here. I used to run the farm. When I went away to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1962, that kind of broke my father’s heart, really. He couldn’t believe that we were leaving. We had about 35, 40 head of cattle, and we always kept about four horses. We were working quite a bit. So when I went away, kinda broke his heart. Then he ended up selling some of the farm land. At one place it was 190 acres there,” Yvon explained in 2002. “I don’t regret it. I had a good life. It was a little hard by the time I started having kids. I brought my wife with me at first. It wasn’t fair for her, don’t matter where I was. I’d be there, but I’d only be home where we stayed at the apartment maybe one day a week. I was gone all the time. She was there alone with strangers.”
His brothers all wanted in on the action, explained The Beast. “I have to say that my brothers had great respect for me. I started first, I started them. When we were in the dressing room and everything, they’d always ask me for suggestions and what I thought.”
His brother Jean-Louis, three years his junior, was the first to request training. Yvon gleefully recalled putting him in his place during early training sessions. “I’m not saying that I’m cruel, but I can be a little. So I went in the ring. After two moves he made, I front face-locked him, brought his face down to the mat and accidentally — pretend accidentally — I pushed backwards to peel the nose back. I could feel the blood start coming out. I just pretended like I didn’t know. He never said a word. He wouldn’t complain.” Jean-Louis was dubbed Rudy Kay for his resemblance to the 1940s grappler.
In 2006, Yvon was asked, who’s tougher to break in, a horse or a wrestler? “I didn’t have any trouble with either one … as long as you show them early who is the boss” — this from a man who figured he’d broken in about 400-500 horses during his lifetime.
The brothers would tag team in many territories, in a variety of combinations, over the years, from Stampede Wrestling to Australia, from the Mid-Atlantic states to the Maritimes, where they returned each summer.
But there was always a familiar pattern when they were in the ring with him, said The Beast. “People noticed that all the years that I was teamed up with Rudy or Leo Burke, they always started the match. Then I’d come in. Not that I was scared to start, but they were quick. They started, then when they got it right, they tagged and the old fella went in.”
In 2004, not long after a heart attack sidelined The Beast (“I’m back right to normal. I’m back shoeing horses and working in the woods. Everything is good.”), Yvon shared some memories of another favourite partner.
“One of the great tag team partners I had before I teamed up with my brother was a guy who used to wrestle as The Alaskan, Jay York. We were teamed up together around Indianapolis for quite a while. I thought we made a real good team,” he said. “He was a bit of a clown. He was a good, good partner with me. Before he teamed up with me, he was the type that would always be late to go here, late to go there. I changed his attitude pretty quick when he became my tag team partner. But he was a good-hearted guy.”
The family’s love of Atlantic Canada led them home every summer, to help on the family farm, to experience the fresh air and fresh seafood, to hang out with their many friends. Eventually, it led to the formation of a wrestling promotion from 1969-76, run by Jean-Louis and Al Zinck, Eastern Sports Association — International Wrestling.
In 2006, the Cormier family was celebrated with a huge party — “Recognition Night” — in Memramcook, honouring their contributions to the community and the Maritimes. Each of the brothers took the time to sing and tell stories.
Yvon, probably the most-travelled of his brothers, reflected on his family rather than his own accomplishments. “It was a great pleasure to have my brothers wrestle,” he said, explaining that he “never, ever heard a bad word about them.”
But it was Rick Martel, as the de facto keynote speaker, who had the most to say. He had his very first match in the Maritimes, for promoter Rudy Kay. His late brother, Michel, had called to say that they needed a new body on the tour, and to hop onto a plane. Rick did, and he never looked back. Martel shared stories on each of the brothers. For The Beast, Martel shared a story from his first days in the business. He was in the backseat of a car with The Beast, with Bobby and Leo in the front seat. The Beast forced a beer on the underage Martel. “You want to be a man, you have to drink beer,” Beast said. Later, having eaten something that did not agree with him, The Beast was sick on the side of the road. “I was young and stupid,” said Martel, recalling his rejoinder to The Beast with a hearty laugh. “‘You see what happens when you want to be a man?'”
The Beast took a lot of abuse during the evening for his, well, beastly looks. “He looks like a Beast on the outside, but on the inside, he’s all beauty,” said Martel.
For the last few months, Yvon had been in and out of hospitals, primarily battling bone marrow cancer. A few weeks back, family was summoned to pay their final respects — no easy task in a family the size of the Cormiers. When asked following the death of his brother, Jean-Louis, The Beast couldn’t pin down the size of his immediate family, estimating that he had about 60 nieces and nephews.
He is survived by his wife Doris (Lorette) Cormier of 44 years of marriage; one daughter, Anita (Ricky) Bourgeois of Edmonton, AB; four sons, Richard Cormier of Moncton, NB, Robert (Eva) Cormier of Anderson Mill, NB, Stanley (Sherry Hunter) Cormier of Ahmerst, NS and Steven Cormier of Anderson Mill; six grandchildren: Adam, Noah, Jacob, Anita, Dominic, Marissa; four sisters, Dorice (late Raymond) LeBlanc of Old Shediac Rd, Bertha (late Raymond) LeBlanc and Aline Gautreau both of Dieppe and Marguerite (late Alfred) Ranson of Saint John; four brothers, Malcolm (Yolande) Cormier of Sackville, Rolando (Marcella) Cormier of Memramcook East, Leonce Cormier of Calgary, AB and Romeo (Judy) Cormier of Anderson Mill, two daughter-in-laws; Micheline and Donna and by several nieces and nephews.
Yvon is the fifth of the family to pass; oldest brother Alyre (“Moose”) died first, and he worked at a jail; Gerald, was next, and he worked for the government; Francis , who was a barber in Moncton, was third; and Jean-Louis died in May 2008.
Visitations will be held at Dupuis Funeral Home, Memramcook on Thursday March 5 from 7 to 9 pm, Friday March 6 from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 pm and Saturday March 7 from 9:30 to 10:30 am. Funeral mass will be held at Saint Thomas de Memramcook RC church, St-Joseph on Saturday March 7 at 11:00 am. Interment will be held in the parish cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to donor’s choice. Arrangement is in care of Dupuis Funeral Home Memramcook.
Greg Oliver is fortunate to have known as great a man as Yvon Cormier was. R.I.P. Beastie. Email Greg at [email protected].