MONTREAL — While Quebec can lay claim to launching more than a few pro wrestling careers, very few extended their renown beyond the ring. Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon did, becoming a cultural icon and one of the most-recognized “vedettes” in Quebec’s entertainment industry star system.
On Wednesday evening friends, family, fans and former colleagues gathered at a Montreal sports eatery to remember and celebrate Vachon, who passed away on November 21st.
“Maurice’s funeral was in Iowa and he had lived in Nebraska for many years, but we thought it was important to do something here in Quebec for him because he was such a legend. He was more than just a wrestler,” said wrestling historian and author, Pat Laprade, who organized the evening along with Yves Theriault, who directed a 2009 film biography.
“He was a TV star here in Quebec because after his career was over he started doing a lot of TV commercials and appearances. He was really all over the place,” Laprade continued. “That’s when he became more than just the typical wrestler that you see once a week and he became that legend. Everyone in Quebec, younger or older people, at least know the name of Mad Dog Vachon.”
A less than complete list of Vachon’s professional peers in attendance included Paul Leduc, Gilles “The Fish” Poisson, Denis Gautier, Armand Rougeau, Abdullah The Butcher’s manager Deepak Singh, and Neil “The Hangman” Guay.
“He was the one who helped me get into professional wrestling,” said Poisson. “For me, he was like my father. I started in the Calgary area and it was thanks to him, through a friend that I got into the business. We’re lucky that people remember us and that we can thank Maurice Vachon, who represented us so well for so many years.”
With Laprade handling microphone duties, the formalities were handled swiftly and efficiently. A short film montage was shown on the many screens at La Cage aux Sports dedicated to the event, notable attendees were mentioned, and a note from Vachon’s widow, Kathie, was read to the room.
She began by saying that she was glad that people were gathering to celebrate Maurice’s life, that she wished that she could be able to be among them and then shared a note that she had received from her postman following his death: “I will miss seeing Maurice out in the driveway. I have had many people on my route, over the years, who have passed away but something about Maurice was special, maybe because he always made me feel special. He always would say, ‘God bless you’ which is probably the nicest thing anyone can say to you. I’m so sorry for your loss. God bless you.”
“Maurice will always remain a part of me. His heart is in my heart,” her note concluded. “Thank you and I’m sure Maurice would have liked all of you to have fun.”
The floor was then made available to anyone who wished to share.
Younger brother Paul “The Butcher” Vachon was in attendance and joined in on the last verse of one of Mad Dog’s favourite tunes, offered up by another brother, Guy. Also on hand was Regis Vachon, who followed in his older brother’s amateur footsteps, finishing fourth in Canada in his weight class in 1958.
Paul Leduc then took the mic and recalled the many bouts that he and his “brother” Jos fought against the Vachons.
“When the Mad Dog bit you, you felt it for two or three days,” he quipped before going on the mention a card in Quebec City that featured Larry Moquin as referee during which Vachon underwent a mid-bout, 180-degree change, going from heel to crowd favourite.
It would seem that Mad Dog fired his brother after the first fall of a two out of three and announced that he would continue alone against both Leducs.
“The crowd started cheering him and booing us,” Leduc said. “At that moment Mad Dog Vachon became Good Dog Vachon. The crowd turned against us and the chairs started flying.”
Once the formal part of the evening was concluded, the video monitors screened Theriault’s Mad Dog : l’homme derrière la bête (Mad Dog : The Man Behind The Beast) while the people who had turned out got down to some serious socializing.
“It took a lot of time, but it wasn’t that difficult because everybody was willing to come and pay one last tribute to Maurice, especially his family,” said Laprade when asked about the work involved in putting the evening together.
“There are many brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. Of course, his brother Paul ‘The Butcher’ Vachon is here. A few of his sons are here and [his son] Mike told me the last time there was a big gathering of the family was in 1977,” he continued.
“I think Maurice would have liked to see all the people here tonight.”
Mike Wyman is a Montreal writer. This is not only his first piece for SLAM! Wrestling but his first wrestling story. “Neat to dip my toes in something new,” he reported.