With the passing of “Rotten” Reggie Love today at a nursing home in Hamilton, Ontario, the world is a lot less funny. In all my years covering professional wrestling, I’m not sure there’s a single individual that ever made me laugh more than Johnny Evans. And it wasn’t just out and out comedy, it was his delivery, his wry asides, and even his own personal quirks.
He’s a great example of a crazy uncle, a wacky member of the family who told outrageous stories about himself and his adventures.
Except it was all true.
Or at least mostly.
Wait, who knows? Does it really matter?
I detailed a lot of Rotten Reggie’s life in a long feature on SLAM! Wrestling in 2006 — Reggie Love: Bizarre and so much more. So to cover a lot of the wrestling and acting stuff, go read that one and then come back. Or keep reading, and then go read.
Like Reggie might say, I’m just happy you’re still here.
Unfortunately, the last few years, Reggie wasn’t still here. He was in a home and dementia had ruined a lot of his greatness. He’d repeat stories, not always recognize friends, and seemingly went from a childish 85 years young to an ancient 87 overnight.
One of the last times I talked to him, he complained about the home he was in: “I hate to say this, but there’s a lot of older people here, and I don’t like that.”
At least for the germaphobe Johnny, who would compulsively use hand sanitizer when we were out somewhere, “it’s a nice place and clean.”
Now, with his death at age 90, there’s a chunk of mirth gone from my life, but so many memories.
There’s the Titans in Toronto dinners, and I think he was at them all. What a sweetheart. But nothing will compare to his entrance at the one and only Titans in Toronto breakfast, held in 2012, in conjunction with the WrestleReunion. He came in late, with the daughter of the late, great Kurt Von Hess, Paige Sutherland, soaking wet from the April rain but still managing to strut with his umbrella once he realized that he had everyone’s attention.
The last time I saw him in person was in 2015 at the Hamilton tribute to Angelo Mosca, who is also out of the public eye with his own battles with Alzheimer’s Disease. It was a reunion of the Love Brothers, with Rotten Reggie there along with Hartford Love (Wes Hutchings) in from Newfoundland and Labrador, and Beautiful Bruce Swayze up from Kentucky. It was like putting three old high school buddies together again, laughing childishly one moment and sharing deep, cherished memories the next.
Johnny Evans was originally from Wales. His father, who served in World War I, was a competitive amateur wrestler, and showed Reggie moves. “I learned a lot from my dad. When I was a young man, it was the Depression, and we were on welfare all the time. We couldn’t afford steaks or anything,” Evans once told me. “I used to go around, my buddy and I, to different neighborhoods and wrestle anybody on the lawn. That’s where I learned my wrestling. And we did it over and over and over again. … I could fight like hell too.”
There were five Evans boys, and their father was a hero figure to them, moving from the army to the Royal Air Force. “Because airplanes had only been out a short time. He was a wizard at mathematics, so he was the navigator for two years, and they were shot down by the Red Baron. In those days, they didn’t have all the equipment they have now, so they had to depend on the stars, the moon.”
Evans’ brother Peter fell in love with flying like his father, and also served his country, shot down at the age of 20, flying a Spitfire over Belgium. Peter was also a wonderful artist, and Johnny proudly showed me some of his brother’s works.
The family came to Canada, as the steel giant Stelco always needed manpower.
But that wouldn’t be Johnny’s path. Well built and handsome, a Hamilton policeman suggested that he might be a good fit for professional wrestling. Soon he was training under Al Spittles and learning the ropes alongside Jerry Aitken (Jerry London), John Foti, Skull Murphy, and later, Jim “Brute” Bernard.
It wasn’t long afterwards that Johnny Evans was in action, teaming with another Hamilton son, Bull Johnson. “In my very first match in a tag team [in Detroit], with Bull and I, who do you think was the referee? Joe Louis, my favorite. My first match! He hit Frenchy in the neck, Frenchy had a 40-inch neck if you remember. It made a big smack.” He recalled they were fighting in the corner, and Louis tried to break them up, and Bernard said, “F— off, Louis.”
His first road trip resulted in a different kind of laugh. It was to Boston with Bull Johnson, to wrestle for promoter Tony Santos. “We go up to the office. We’re supposed to be villains. Bull looks the part. When I got in, the guy at the back broke up laughing at me. He said, ‘You’re a villain? No way.’ I remember this like it was yesterday: ‘You’re white meat!’ So they turned me into a Swede. Right away I started getting big matches.”
And so was born Vic Pederson, the Swedish Adonis. “Of course, I can speak a word of Swedish, and people are asking me to come back to their house. I’d say sorry, that I was adopted.”
Evans figures he was a Swede for maybe a month, and then came home for the birth of one of his daughters; he and Carol would have eight kids in all.
Even the trip home for the birth of his daughter results in a story. Carol had called the wrestling office. “I immediately got in my old car, a ’39 Dodge; it had no headlights, just the yel low ones at the side,” he said. “It was the old highways, and every time I saw lights coming, I’d pull over like I was having a rest.”
As you can imagine, the stories only go on from there.
But the key moment was when Johnny Powers, promoting in Buffalo, NY, and seeing the hippie movement in the late 1960s, decided to create the Love Brothers (modeled, no doubt, on the Peace Brothers in California, who were wrestlers Bobby & Jerry Christy).
For the diminutive Evans, it was a defining moment. “I was small. I hit the big time for seven years.”
In the early ’70s, the holdover hippies, with curly hair, bandannas, psychedelic-colored outfits, and love beads were heels.
“Reggie was the captain and Hartford took all the goddamn bumps,” said Powers. “Reggie was the ring general that sat at the side and said ‘Keep going, you’ve got another 10 minutes in you. I’m not ready yet.’ The Love Brothers were a pretty good tag team.”
They were masters of drawing heat by eye gouging, stomping, and especially working the face over in their corner. “They used the tag ropes as weapons, they double-teamed, and, of course, tagged in and out and kept a fresh man in the ring at all times. They knew all the tricks for keeping a referee busy,” said Ohio referee-turned manager Al Friend. On promos, and away from the ring, Evans especially knew how to stay in the limelight, and the Loves once even served as judges for a Miss Nude World contest.
The Love Brothers held the Cleveland version of the world titles in 1969, the NWF U.S. belts in 1973 and had two reigns in Toronto as International tag champions, battling the Crusaders (Billy Red Lyons and Dewey Robertson) all over the circuit. Their biggest exposure came as one of the featured teams in the IWA, the Eddie Einhorn-led attempt to create the first national wrestling product. Al Costello, formerly of the Kangaroos, and “Beautiful” Bruce Swayze were used as managers at different times, allowing for six-man tag matches.
“Hartford was the better worker,” said Mosca years back. As for Reggie, “he could talk, but he never took a f—ing bump in his life. … I used to smoke, and that f—ing Reg, I don’t think he ever bought a pack of cigarettes in his life. He’s a character. … He’d squeeze a dime and give the f—ing Queen a headache.”
In all, The Love Brothers lasted almost a decade, until Evans couldn’t take it anymore. “My back got so bad I could hardly crawl out of bed,” he said.
The duo promoted some around southern Ontario, but never any big shows of note. But it was a place for the local boys to work when the major Toronto office run by the Tunneys didn’t offer many chances.
After retiring, Evans worked in films a bit (have you read that story yet? You should), and settled outside Hamilton to a life of leisure and golf.
And lots and lots of laughs.
I loved to see him, whether it was at the monthly Hamilton old wrestler lunches at the Mandarin, or at some other event. The one Cauliflower Alley Club reunion he went to in Vegas, I felt like he was a personal trophy for me to show off – “Do you know who this is? Rotten Reggie Love!” He had a sparkle to his eye at all times, it seemed. He loved to be the centre of attention, and wasn’t as much ego as it was need.
The one time I saw him really drop his guard was when we were told by Ernie Moore at a luncheon that John’s wife, Carol, had died after a long, awful battle with brain cancer in December 2009. We decided en mass to end lunch a little early and head over to the funeral home. So here come a dozen or so old cronies of Johnny’s to see how their pal was doing. He was touched and we were moved.
It was while working on my story on Rotten Reggie’s film and TV work that I got to talk to the legendary comedian John Byner. Reggie was a regular on Byner’s Bizarre TV show, taped in Hamilton. This is an apt description that I will choose to keep with me in remembering my friend John:
“He was like my biggest fan. I’d show up on the set and we’d be told what the deal was, what wall he was going to throw me through, this, that and the other thing. We’d get all set to do it — and he was very kind and very patient with me in telling me how to fall, and all that kind of stuff — and we’d get into it. I’d get into this character, the World’s Oldest Stuntman, and he couldn’t stop laughing. His entire body would tremble, which would make me feel so good for the lift; he’d lift me over his head and throw me into the wall, and I could feel his whole body shaking from laughter. It was always a great experience working with him.”
Rest in peace, Rotten Reggie.
- Feb. 4, 2018: Getting to know the real Rotten Reggie Love, John Evans, at his celebration of life
- Apr 12, 2006: Reggie Love: Bizarre and so much more
- Oct. 8, 2014: A ‘lovely’ trip with ‘Rotten’ Reggie and ‘King Kong’ Mosca
Greg Oliver bummed about Reggie’s passing. Share your memories of Rotten Reggie at [email protected] Follow Greg on Twitter @gregmep.