In 2006, “Playboy” Buddy Rose told this writer, “Every day I get up is a gift. I abused my body. I worked my ass off, but it took its toll.” Yesterday, his body gave out at his home in Vancouver, Wash., and his wife, Tammy, found him unresponsive in his favourite chair in front of the TV. He was 56.
Born Paul Pershmann, he was an excellent baseball and hockey player as a youth. He broke into professional wrestling in Verne Gagne’s camp in Minnesota, training under the AWA promoter and Billy Robinson. Like most Gagne trainees, he spent time working as a referee and on the ring crew as well as learning to wrestle on the early bouts. He debuted against Bob Remus (Sgt. Slaughter) in 1973.
After leaving Minneapolis, Pershmann hit the road, including a stop in Kansas City, Mo., where he was on the losing end of a television bout against future partner Ed Wiskoski.
Rick Martel described the transformation to the “Playboy” for Perschmann. “I met him the first time in ’75 in Dallas. He was booked as a babyface, clean-cut guy, little mustache,” recalled Martel. “Next time I see him is in Hawaii in 1978, and he came in as Buddy Rose and had the gimmick and the whole thing. Then I wrestled him quite a bit in 1979 in Oregon, Roddy and I. Him and the Sheepherders. We used to work six mans, tag teams, singles and all that. Him and I had a good run.”
Up next, Pershmann headed to Don Owen’s Pacific Northwest promotion, which not only resulted in the creation of the “Playboy” Buddy Rose character, it also became his home for the rest of his life.
Rose took on a real who’s who in the Pacific Northwest — Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Martel — and was one of the most famous heels ever in the territory. He said that he always had the ability to separate reality from fantasy. “As soon as I came through the door, I turned back to Paul Perschmann. I was Paul Perschmann in the dressing room, and Buddy Rose only in front of the people.”
He was a legend among “The Boys” in the territory as well, as he had a pimped-out van like none other. “Everything I always had was first class,” Rose said. “I liked to drive, get the trans. I had a real nice vehicle because I was making the most money. … The van was decked out, couches, chairs, everybody was in La-Z-Boys. They’re comfortable, and I’m driving. They’re watching the TV, putting VHS tapes in, laughing their asses off with whatever I had, porn, whatever I had, just to pass the time. We’d laugh and joke. Sometimes I’d let somebody else drive, and I’d go in the back and watch.”
On a national basis, Rose was best known for a run in the WWWF, when he did his first TV taping in April or May 1982, and started full-time in August. Rose, well, rose to the top of the card, challenging WWWF champion Bob Backlund for the World title.
Over the years, he continued to be a reliable hand for the WWWF/turned WWF, including working the very first match at Wrestlemania under a mask as The Executioner against Tito Santana. [See Santana & Rose reflect on Wrestlemania’s debut bout]
His “Blow-Away Diet” ads that ran on the WWF shows remain a cult-favourite as well. “Eat what you want, when you want,” the ad promised, encouraging patrons to pour the powder on themselves, and then have a fan blow away all the fat. Rose would force ring announcers from then on to announcer him as a “slim-trim 217 pounds” rather than (a dubious) 270 pounds.
After parting ways with the WWF, Rose ended up working for his old teacher, Verne Gagne, in the AWA. Though successful as a singles wrestler, many remember his pairing with “Pretty Boy” Doug Sommers. As AWA tag team champions, managed by Sherri Martel, the bleached-blond duo reigned at a time when the AWA was shown on ESPN across the United States. Recent re-airings of the shows on ESPN Classic brought them back into the spotlight.
One of the teams they worked with were the young team of the Midnight Rockers, Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels. An incredible bloodbath match between the two teams aired on ESPN and continued to be talked about years later.
“[T]he one match with Buddy and Doug is the one everyone always comments on, and that was an awesome match,” said Michaels in an IGN.com interview, talking about his DVD, “but the next time we came back to Vegas, we did a cage match, and I thought that one was really cool. That one doesn’t get much play because the bloodbath one was the one that put me on the map, but the next month, doing the blowoff in the cage was pretty cool.”
Jannetty recalled the Rose and Sommers team. “Both of those guys were perfect to take us to the next step, the next level. Buddy Rose, he’s like a genius,” he said. “Doug Sommers, he was solid. I think Buddy was really the best part of that team, not putting Doug down. Doug was just a solid worker, he was there to do whatever, he knew the basic stuff. But Buddy had great ideas.”
Rose never had a problem bleeding as a part of a match, and found cage matches a breeze. “Cage matches are easier than wrestling matches. Gimmick matches are sometimes way easier than a wrestling match, when you try to tell a story, work a hold, go 20, 30 minutes. Cage matches, when you know you’ve got one of those, you go, ‘Oh there’s a night off.’ All you have to do is wham, bam, into the cage here and there, get a little juice and you’re done. There’s no wrestling involved. It’s probably the easiest thing any wrestler can do, especially a green one.”
One of the lives very much intertwined with Rose’s was Curt Hennig, who Rose got booked into the Pacific Northwest in 1980, and became a mentor to.
At the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in 2003, Rose talked about Hennig and those who helped him along the way. “The next thing, thanks to my ‘dad’ over here, Red Bastien, I got booked in New York for WWF in ’82, ’83. So it doesn’t matter how good a wrestler you were, it’s who you knew. Red opened the door for me to go to Japan and go to the WWF in ’82-’83. I said, ‘Can I bring Curt Hennig with me?’ … I was getting a big push there in the WWF, it was a great run. Curt was opening bouts, and Curt was a great wrestler. Curt was a natural. … They were grooming him. We went six months, up and down the highways — the ones that took the time to explain to me that professional wrestling, the industry, how it worked, the psychology. They took the time that they didn’t have to do with me, but they did. And I listened to them and made a lot of money. I took the time to pass it on to Curt Hennig.”
Rose shared a story from years later, when he was at a Smackdown! taping, and Triple H came over to him, saying that he used to watch him as a kid. “I’m going to take this credit, because he told me this, ‘Curt Hennig’s was my manager. Whenever we did an angle or thought of an idea, this is the way Buddy Rose would do it, this is the way Buddy Rose would do it.’ Curt Hennig used to tell the wrestlers that he learned more from Buddy Rose than anyone else.”
In the early 1990s, Rose continued to work as an undercard talent in the WWF, traveling the world. Eventually, that work dried up and he wrestled only on occasion. Rose also ran a wrestling school in Portland, Ore., with former partner Wiskoski. He showed up at fan fests from New Jersey to Texas.
Stories about Rose’s battles with his weight were part of wrestling lore the last few years. He tried numerous things to bring the weight down. Dealing with the pain from the surgeries and the years of abuse in the ring made him question whether he’d do it all again; but he was content. “I’m pretty happy with everything I’ve done in my life. I’ve seen the world on somebody’s else’s dime … You couldn’t get any better job.”
An early proponent of the World Wide Web, Rose was a regular on various message boards for a while, and has one of the best, most informative websites of any wrestler, at www.PlayboyBuddyRose.com. He’d been working on his autobiography, entitled Shoot to Work, with Matt Farmer as well.
Rose is survived by his wife, Tammy. Funeral arrangements are by Davies Cremation and burial services will be in Vancouver.
BUDDY ROSE STORIES
- July 12, 2009: Tales of Buddy Rose, courtesy Easy Ed Wiskoski
- May 4, 2009: Mat Matters: My personal memories of Buddy Rose
- March 9, 2009: Santana & Rose reflect on Wrestlemania’s debut bout
- Apr. 12, 2004: Doggone it – Buddy Rose to be honored
Buddy Rose could always make Greg Oliver laugh. R.I.P., Buddy. Greg can be emailed at email@example.com.