I can distinctly remember the last time I talked with Mad Dog Vachon, and how sad it made me.
This was a man who I had broken bread with, had countless talks with on the phone, and earned his respect and appreciation through the years — just as he had earned my respect and admiration during his illustrious career.
But he could barely respond to my questions. He would become easily flustered, blaming his diminished hearing for his lack of response.
He would retreat to familiar stories, that he had told many times. In this case, he was bragging about his brother, Paul “The Butcher” Vachon and his induction into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa.
It wasn’t Paul’s wrestling, though. Mad Dog was telling tales about the Butcher’s singing skills.
Mad Dog must have repeated the same response to a query about Bobby Managoff four or five times, rote answers.
So though this might be my final memory of Mad Dog, I cannot let it colour my memory of him.
Instead, I’ll remember the mischievous smile he had, the twinkle in his eye as he launched into yet another growly story.
The way he didn’t let his circumstances bring him down, joking about needing help in the washroom in Las Vegas because of his missing leg. Sir, it was an honour to help you.
I can proudly say that I was his introduction to the World Wide Web, as he came in for a live chat in May 1999 at the Canoe.ca offices in Toronto. Vachon asked many questions about what we were doing, astounded at the reach of the Internet, that fans were indeed sending in questions from around the globe.
He laughed that day as I proffered up a Labatt Legere beer poster for him to sign, a treasure unearthed in a Montreal antique store for $15. It wasn’t something he saw very often more than a dozen years removed from the ad campaign. The autographed poster sat on my plate rail for years in our living room, visible from the street. On a couple of occasions, having seen it from the street or the porch, people would ask, “Is that Mad Dog Vachon?”
When he was being honoured in Montreal, inducted into the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame in November 2009, I couldn’t make the ceremony, but I was invited to the family dinner the night before. There are few people I would drive five hours to have dinner with, turn around, and drive back home.
It was worth it.
After all, he was one of the most famous, well-known, beloved figures in Canadian history — forget just wrestling history.
And, through time, we became friends.
He’d tolerate my attempts at French, patiently answer questions about his career, his colleagues, his post-wrestling adventures. He’d take my calls, but decline others who had asked me to act as middle-man for interview requests.
And it was more than just Maurice. One of my favourite memories of the Hall of Fame inductions in Waterloo, Iowa, was sitting with his wife, Kathie, and hearing her stories of living with the Mad Dog. On other occasions, I met his son, Mike, who briefly wrestled, and had lunch with one of his daughters. His brother, Paul, and his wife Dee, always have time for me, on the phone or in person (I earned that by scoring him great tickets once for the Expos in town to play the Toronto Blue Jays). At the final count, I think I met seven of the 13 Vachon children.
But the greatest of them all, which they would all agree, was Mad Dog Vachon.
Rest in peace, Mad Dog.
Greg Oliver is gutted by this news. Rest in peace, Mad Dog. Thank you, merci, for all the memories and time through the years.