Ted Grizzly, who died today, April 20, 2009, in Hamilton’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, carved a name out for himself while on the losing end of countless WWF matches in the 1980s, mostly taped in Brantford, Ontario. Yet his life was a colourful, and controversial, as any main eventer.

Portraying a country bumpkin with his ratty overalls, unkempt beard and less-than-stellar physique, Grizzly was a competent worker who battled the likes of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Paul Orndorff over the years. His sheer size — a balloon-like 320 pounds or so — made him believable cannon fodder for the WWF giants.

But Grizzly was a well-known Santa Claus around Hamilton as well, and attempted to run for public office on more than one occasion. And then there is the little talked about time in prison for murder in the 1970s.

Born Gary Wolfenden, the Hamilton native fell into pro wrestling in early 1982, having already done repaid his debt to society (details of his confirmed time in prison are sketchy, and Grizzly never talked about it with friends).

His fellow training partner at Al Spittles’ gym was Bob Clark. They hit the road together shortly after finishing training, working as the Grizzly brothers, Bob and Ted, in Al Tomko’s All-Star Wrestling in British Columbia. Some weeks the duo only made $200, so quickly retreated home.

After an injury, Clark turned to promoting. The small shows, held in small buildings, were a place to the locals to compete.

Clark stayed in touch with Grizzly, who died Monday morning at 9:30, from complications from diabetes.

“I had to let his daughter in Calgary know,” said Clark. “He wasn’t even 66. I think he’s better off where he is now.” Another daughter lives in Nova Scotia.

It had been a rough dozen or so years for Grizzly.

In 1994, he had an attack of Guillain-Barre, a nerve disorder. “It happened overnight,” Grizzly told the Hamilton Spectator in 1999. “My fingers were tingling. The next morning, I was paralysed up to my nose.” Grizzly spent six months in hospital and needed a scooter to get around Hamilton after that point, and lived off disability cheques from the government.

Though he swore off alcohol in 1976 and attended Alcoholic Anonymous for over 35 years, Grizzly’s diet never got the same respect. He profoundly loved cheeseburgers and pizza, and diet cola was a staple.

A few months back, Grizzly went in for gallbladder operation, and doctors discovered cancer; half of his colon was removed. A stroke followed, said Clark, and Grizzly was paralyzed. His will stated that only his stepdaughter and Bob Clark would be able to see him in that mute, immobile form. “He didn’t want people to see the way he was,” said Clark. Over the last week, Grizzly went downhill rapidly.

In 1994, Grizzly ran for alderman in Ward 3 in Hamilton and lost. He championed restoring and highlighting Gage Park in his platform, and was a major proponent of the area of the city at King and Main known as the Delta, where he lived. “I love the Delta,” sad Grizzly in 1999. “I’ll stay here forever, but I don’t know how long that’s going to be.”

His apartment featured many dolls of Santa Claus, and when he put in the effort, the big-bellied Grizzly could be a dead-ringer for Old St. Nick. He was so good, in fact, that he was sought out for advice. Aspiring Santas have to be cheerful, funny, avoid sudden movements, and know how to ad lib, Grizzly said in 1989. He enjoyed toying with the children. “They’ll ask for a Cabbage Patch. Well, I know a Cabbage Patch is a doll. But I’ll say, ‘Oh, yes, Santa Claus has a good turnip patch up north. That’s why I have to hoe, hoe, hoe, all summer long.”‘

Besides his own in-ring wrestling career, Grizzly also took the occasional stab at promoting, including the Globe Wide Wrestling promotion, circa 1992.

He is survived by his daughter Sherri Lynn Wolfenden, stepdaughter Alexandria McLellan-Tam (Jack), Serenity and Natasha, sister Sandy Langton (Ken). Predeceased by his beloved mother Rita Wolfenden. Special Uncle to Judy DuCheneau (Mike), Tammy Taylor (Rob), Dean Langton and Cheryl Beatson (Bob).

The funeral for Ted Grizzly will be Friday, April 24, at 11 a.m. at White Chapel Memorial Gardens, 1895 Main St. W., in Hamilton, Ontario. The Chapel’s number is (905) 528-1128. Expressions of sympathy may be made to the Canadian Diabetes Association.