Like any of year, a number of notable names died from the world of professional wrestling in 2012. There were major names, like Strongbow, Graham, Armstrong, and Schmidt, and some lesser names that escaped our attention. Here’s our attempt to list them all.
(With a big assist from Scott Teal at 1wrestlinglegends.com, who compiles the wRESTle in Peace list.)
MS-1 (Pablo Fuentes Reina)
Died January 12, 2012, Auto accident, age 55
Savannah Jack (Savannah Russell)
Died January 17, 2012, Heart disease, age 64
Rick Lancaster / Rick O’Toole (Ricky Brogdon)
Died February 6, 2012, Heart failure, age 58
STEVEN JOHNSON: I loved to talk with Rick. He was a prelim guy when I started following wrestling, and as I found out, many of the undercard guys are more attuned to what’s going on in their sport than the big-timers. Even better, though, was to find how he devoted his life to others while he was dealing with serious health issues. He and wife Karen worked for years on ministry projects for the homeless and hungry. “These activities work so well for me,” he told me one time. “Every hour is a new ‘challenge’ it seems I’m dealing with. So, why not me?”
Died February 11, 2012, Heart attack
The Dominoes (Cliff Lilly)
Died February 17, 2012, age 68
Sonny Meyers (Robert Weathers)
Died February 23, 2012, Throat cancer, age 53
GREG OLIVER: While the obituary, written by Marty Goldstein, tells Sonny’s tale, it is the guest column by frequent eulogizer “Dirty” Dan Denton that captures Sonny: The many stories of that ‘f—in’ madman’ Sonny Meyers.
Died February 29, 2012, Cancer, age 76
GREG OLIVER: We didn’t write a proper obituary when Woody passed, in part because Mike Lano had done such a good piece on the three generations of the Farmers wrestling together back in 2007.
Died February 26, 2012, age 82
GREG OLIVER: This one flew under the radar for sure, at least in the wrestling community. In the football world, however, he got some nice sendoffs.
Died March 2, 2012, Parkinson’s Disease, age 50
JON WALDMAN: My entry point into the career of Doug Furnas, like many others, came in his brief WWE run. I always felt that the tandem didn’t get the push they deserved, but Furnas in particular should have been given a shot at being a breakout in the singles ranks. Seeing some of Furnas’ older matches in recent years only adds to this belief.
Died March 6, 2012, Cancer
Shillelagh O’Sullivan (Patrick McMahon)
Died March 11, 2012, age 75
MIKE MASTRANDREA: Even though it was a cold, grey, rainy afternoon when Greg Oliver and I drove out to Ajax, Ontario, to visit Shillelagh, we were still able to see a little sparkle in his eyes when we sat back and asked questions, while he sat back in his wheelchair. He wasn’t one of the biggest or the best but he had a unique story and I was glad he allowed us in and help bring a little notoriety back to the old timers name one last time.
Died March 12, 2012, Colon cancer, age 81
Joe McCarthy (Thomas Roland Criswell)
Died March 13, 2012, Stroke, age 82
Died March 22, 2012, age 83
STEVEN JOHNSON: Joe Blanchard was more than Tully’s dad, though his pride in that was inestimable. He was a football player, wrestler, booker, promoter, and the driving force behind Southwest Championship Wrestling, the predecessor of WWE on USA Network. In 1971, a San Antonio, Texas sportswriter wrote of him: “Joe is a first-class citizen in that raucous and wonderful world of sports, an entire universe filled with unique delights and devilments available only to the resident.”
Chief Jay Strongbow (Joseph Luke Scarpa)
Died April 3, 2012, age 83
STEVEN JOHNSON: The Chief, intentionally or unintentionally, was not particularly forthcoming about his career to outsiders, but he did like to talk about golf. One story he related concerned the time he and Killer Karl Kox stopped at a driving range in Texas. A chap at the range challenged them to hit a 55-gallon drum with a golf shot from 50 yards. Only much later, after they were each $50 poorer, did they realize they’d been had by Lee Trevino.
Died April 6, 2012, age 89
GREG OLIVER: What I will take away from the passing of the Los Angeles commentator is the effort that Dr. Mike Lano put into a reunion of Los Angeles wrestling legends just a few months before he died, one final chance to be celebrated by those he worked with.
Buddy Diamond (Charles Medford)
Died May 4, 2012, Internal bleeding, age 67
Del Skinner (Delmarnet Skinnere)
Died May 10, 2012, age 70
PAT LAPRADE: Here’s a name I heard more often than not while doing interviews and searching for my book. I never had a chance to meet with him, but was amazed that he was still living in Montreal after all these years.
Gorgeous George Jr. (George Wagner)
Died May 12, 2012, Cancer, age 74
Lumberjack #1 (Russ Walters)
Died May 17, 2012, Respiratory malfunction
Died May 24, 2012, age 91
GREG OLIVER: If Theo wasn’t the greatest wrestling photographer of all-time, he certainly is in the conversation (and boxing too). A lovely send-off with a lot of great memories from those who knew him.
Hans Schmidt (Guy Larose)
Died May 26, 2012, Natural causes, age 87
PAT LAPRADE: Because Guy Larose was bitter about what pro wrestling became, he never agreed to do an interview for my upcoming book. And I respected that. After he passed away, I contacted his widow to see if Hans had kept any pictures or documents about his career. So I went there, met a lovely lady and spent four hours scanning pictures and talking with her. I’ll never forget the last thing she told me before I left. “My husband is surely mad if he saw that I let you in, but you know what, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s mad and not happy about something!” she laughed.
Dara Singh (Dara Singh Randhawa)
Died July 12, 2012, Heart attack, age 83
GREG OLIVER: Of all the obituaries I wrote this year, I probably learned the most from this one. He really was a superstar that we knew little about in North America. Tiger Jeet Singh was able to add a lot to the story.
Don Savage (Clark H. Staples)
Died July 20, 2012
Goldie Rogers (David Sherwin)
Died July 20, 2012, Stroke, age 61
GREG OLIVER: Still among my favourite days ever, going into Cobourg, Ontario, on a whim and asking around until we found him.
Eddie Lopez (Al Romero)
Died July 24, 2012
Blackjack Daniels (Jack Danielson)
Died July 25, 2012, age 83
Rita Cortez (Rita Lee)
Died July 27, 2012, age 73
GREG OLIVER: A good example of a strong woman standing behind a strong man. Rita was a big part of ex-wrestler Buddy Lee becoming one of the most powerful promoters in country music.
Red Bastien (Rolland Bastien)
Died August 11, 2012, Alzheimer’s, age 81
ANDREA KELLAWAY: I met Red Bastien at PWHF induction ceremony a little over five years ago. He was sitting with his companion Carol. Once they discovered I was a photographer they asked if I could take a picture of the two of them. Gladly I said yes. After only spending 10 minutes with them, it was clear to me the love they had for one another. Red then came with me to pose for an individual portrait. His personally came shining through right away. These pictures are still some of my favourites. It was a true pleasure to meet Red. I know he will be missed.
Don Fields (Don Hatfield)
Died September 18, 2012, Natural causes, age 80
STEVEN JOHNSON: Don might be the most overlooked of the wrestling Fields brothers (with Lee and Bobby) because his career ended prematurely after a 1963 car accident. But for about four years, he held every tag team title in the old Mid-America area. After retirement, he worked as a promoter and on the Gulf Coast Wrestlers Reunion board.
Stan Pulaski / Stan Vachon / The Mad Russian (Eric Pomeroy)
Died September 29, 2012, age 79
PAT LAPRADE: To me, he was the “other” Vachon. You had Maurice, Paul and Stan. I remember that on my first interview I did with Paul I candidly asked him about how Stan became a Vachon. At the time, wrestling was what it was. If Jos and Paul could be the Leduc Brothers, Stan could be a Vachon.
Bobby Jaggers (Robert Jeaudoin)
Died September 30, 2012, Bacterial infection, age 64
GREG OLIVER: Ever seen the movie Big Fish, where Albert Finney tells tall tale after tall tale? That was what Bobby Jaggers was like to the Boys in the business. But damn if they weren’t entertaining stories!
Died October 10, 2012, age 77
GREG OLIVER: This is one I had to keep under my hat for years. When we were working on The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes & Icons, I wanted to get Karras to talk about his wrestling days. Instead, his publicist shared the info that he wasn’t there in the mind any longer. Soon thereafter, he became one of the main figures in a lawsuit against the NFL over concussions.
Mike Graham (Michael Gossett)
Died October 19, 2012, Suicide, age 61 MATTHEW BYER: I can vividly remember watching some of Mike Graham’s matches in the 1980s when he wrestled for the American Wrestling Association. They were always pretty well conceived stories in the ring and I enjoyed them quite a bit. In later years I enjoyed Graham’s contribution to many of the WWE DVDs and their Legends of Wrestling program. It was really there where I got a sense of Graham’s knowledge and personality. He always had great insight no matter what the topic and seemed to be a very genuine person, but there seemed to be at times an unexpressed wistfulness in him. When I heard he had committed suicide I was extremely saddened.
Thunderfoot #2 (David Deaton)
Died October 24, 2012, Drowned, age 56
Chief Thundercloud (Louis Langley)
Died October 31, 2012, age 69
Died November 1, 2012, age 51
JON WALDMAN: Though some see Brad as living in his brother Brian’s shadow in his later years (no thanks to Vince Russo), Brad was truly a star in his own right. Yes, he had goofy gimmicks but who didn’t in WCW? Armstrong was as solid a worker as anyone and never complained about his spot. His intelligence in the ring is sorely missed in today’s major leagues.
Died November 10, 2012
Siegfried Stanke (William J. Lehman)
Died November 12, 2012, age 74
GREG OLIVER: Of all the names that we didn’t write about this year, Stanke is one that we probably still will. He had a very rich post-wrestling career as well.
Awesome Kong (Dwain McCullough)
Died November 17, 2012, age 54
Ted Herbert (Edward Alfonso Herbert)
Died November 19, 2012, age 65
GREG OLIVER: Ted worked a lot in Japan and some in Montreal, and his passing didn’t get very much attention at all. I have been in touch with some people that will help me with a proper story on him. Personally, he was a nice guy and was at my first book launch in Niagara Falls, Ontario, for The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians.
“Freebird” Buddy Roberts (Dale Hey)
Died November 28, 2012, Pneumonia, age 65
PAT LAPRADE: If I had to name one tag team that everyone in Montreal was talking about from the 1970s it’d have to be the Hollywood Blonds. Everybody from Gino Brito to Paul Vachon to Paul Leduc — everybody who worked or witnessed that era had something to say about them. The passing of Roberts made me remember one of the first interviews I did for the book, with the late Sir Oliver Humperdink. That’s why I was convinced that even if they were not here for long, they had to be talked about in the book.
Hippie Mike Boyette (Mike Bowyer)
Died December 6, 2012, Natural causes, early 70s
Ian St. John
Died December 8, 2012, age 75
“Mr. Wrestling” Gordon Nelson
Died December 12, 2012, Pneumonia, age 82
GREG OLIVER: There’s more to come on Nelson, including a great story with his ex-wife Marie Laverne sharing her memories of Gordon, as well as some more great photos from the family.
Rip Hawk (Harvey Evers)
Died December 22, 2012, Natural causes, age 82
STEVEN JOHNSON: I don’t think people realized what a big deal Rip Hawk was. I have an old note from booker Bobby Bruns in 1959 proclaiming him his top guy in St. Louis. Hawk helped Wrestling at the Chase TV take off when it debuted that year. Then he went to the Carolinas, where he was responsible for elevating Johnny Weaver and Swede Hanson into main eventers. He took Jerry Brisco under his wing and got him a huge push. But he never made a big deal of himself. He’d always go back to telling a story about how he was amazed at 20 years old to be on the rooftop of a New York City hotel, eating peaches with Fred Von Schacht and working on his suntan.
Died December 26, 2012, natural causes, age 92
STEVEN JOHNSON: Al was Mr. Cauliflower Alley Club, and one of the few guys I met who could bridge the gap from the 1930s (rubbing elbows with Orville Brown and Mephisto) to today. And if you want to honor his spirit, then do what he always asked everyone else to do: sign up for membership in the Cauliflower Alley Club.
Emilio Charles Jr.
Died December 27, 2012, kidney failure, age 56
Died December 28, 2012, Parkinson’s Disease, age 75
STEVEN JOHNSON: I talked to Bill for a long time about Johnny Valentine a few years ago. You could hear the respect in his voice for Valentine, but you also got the sense that he wasn’t about to give any quarter on his own. “You had to fight to survive. If you didn’t want to make yourself known in the ring with him, you might as well get the hell out of the ring … That’s the name of the game,” he said. “The people don’t realize what you go through out of that ring.”
Argentine Zuma / The Amazing Zuma
Died December 29, 2012, pneumonia, age 85
Died December 29, 2012, age 88
GREG OLIVER: I hunted for him on a couple of occasions. Sigh. Too late.
- Previous SLAM! Wrestling obituaries
Hail to the Chief, and all the others we lost in 2012. Photo of Chief Jay Strongbow from 2008 by Christine Coons