Details are coming in about the sudden passing of Lanny Poffo. He was 68.
Hacksaw Jim Duggan shared the news on Twitter: “With a very, very heavy heart, I’ve been asked to let everyone know about the passing of our friend and colleague Lanny Poffo, The Genius.”
To wrestling fans who saw him in the heyday of the World Wrestling Federation, he was either the poet “Leapin’ Lanny” or villain known as “The Genius.”
His father was professional wrestler Angelo Poffo, and his mother was Judy Sverdlin. Life on the road was normal for the family, and Lanny was actually born December 28, 1954, in Calgary, Alberta. His older brother, known to fans as Randy Savage, was born in Columbus, Ohio. The Poffos settled in suburban Chicago for the kids to attend school. They were raised in the Jewish faith, as detailed in a feature from last year on the site: Family matters to Lanny Poffo.
“I remember dreaming all throughout my school years in Downers Grove, Illinois of what I’d like to do when I grew up,” Lanny Poffo told New Wave Wrestling magazine in 1986. “Wrestling and baseball were all I ever thought about. My favorite baseball club was the Chicago Cubs. I was also very busy with gymnastics and training with my father. At age 14, I sent a photograph of myself to Strength And Health magazine. They published my photograph, and they also printed my prediction that I would have a successful career in wrestling. Isn’t that something?”
Lanny would debut at age 19, in 1974.
“When your father’s a wrestler, you just don’t know any other way. … I was the youngest in the family, so I didn’t know it was different,” Poffo told this writer. “Then as I grew up, I realized it was a little strange, what he did. But I thought it was very appealing. I was encouraged to try every sport. I would have liked to have been a baseball player, but unfortunately, they cut the team. … That’s the reason we all got into wrestling, because we all wanted to be baseball players.”
Under his father’s tutelage, and many connections, Lanny became a solid hand in the ring as his brother pursued a baseball career.
There were many mentors, noted Poffo in 2006: “My dad is a very nice man and he can tell you what you’re doing wrong without taking away your self-esteem. That was before we had that word. We would just talk over the match. It was always a good learning process. When I got to Atlanta, Thunderbolt Patterson gave me a lot of advice on interviews, and a lot about my individuality and being myself. Going in a car with him was an education because he was the biggest star at Gunkel Enterprises. I also got a lot of help from a lot of the great ones. Lord Alfred Hayes helped me a lot, Lord Athol Layton. … [Layton] was not famous for being a great worker, but he was a great salesman of wrestling. … a totally fastidious man, always carried himself well and great on the microphone, gave class to wrestling.”
The jump to the mainstream, national WWF was a turning point. George Scott was the booker at the time who brought him in, but left not longer after Poffo arrived.
The relationship between Savage and Poffo was never mentioned on WWF television. While Savage was pushed to the top, Poffo was a mid-carder at best, at least until he started with the poetry.
The poems came about almost by accident. While on Tuesday Night Titans, Poffo recited a poem to host Vince McMahon, and was encouraged to do more.
“I mean, I’ve stolen from Edgar Allen Poe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I promise you, I’m not a real genius, but I never, ever recited a poem that I didn’t write,” Poffo told John Law of the Niagara Falls Review in 2011. Not everyone was a fan of the poems.
“I bought a 49-cent notebook and I started writing every possible poem for every possible circumstance that I could ever have,” Poffo told Law. “We were low tech back then. So I wrote all these poems for everybody they could put against me, and if not, I’d do a generic poem. And I found with my back to the wall, sometimes I’d be able to write a poem within five minutes.”
The poems — and the frisbees he threw them out to the crowd on — had a legacy outside of the ring. He published a book, “Leaping” Lanny’s Wrestling With Rhyme, and has recited poems in many locations, including at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Florida, for a tribute to baseball star Ted Williams.
Poffo’s WWF character was not “Macho” at all. “One of the reasons I went to the effeminacy is that nobody else was doing it,” he said. But it wasn’t comedy, he stressed. “I always made sure that my punches and kicks looked real. In other words, I was a comedian but you couldn’t see through my work. I took a lot of pride in that. Plus the athleticism, I included that, but then I would let the babyface upend me, because you can’t out-babyface the babyface. Otherwise, I should be the babyface.”
The switch to The Genius character, working with “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, was perfect. It resulted in a main event against Hulk Hogan on Saturday Night’s Main Event on NBC. “In the 21 years I had as either a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond, I had four months of stardom when I was the nemesis of Hulk Hogan. With my ability, with my size, and being a non-steroid person in the steroid era, I’m very lucky to have had four months of being the nemesis of Hulk Hogan, and I love Hulk Hogan for putting me over on NBC, and making me an overnight star even thought the stardom was finite and brief. But all you get is one brief, shining moment,” Poffo said in 2006. “I look back at my career, and I’m one of the few people that ended up, first of all, I have a pulse. I’m one of the few people from that era that you can talk to that’s still alive.”
There was never really a “retirement” from the ring for Poffo. He made appearance after appearance, whether active in the ring or at a collectibles show (he had a signing set for February 3, in Rockville Centre, New York). A sought after interview, Poffo loved to talk about the wrestling business.
He was always proud to have stayed in shape. “I’m a health nut. I’m always looking for bigger and better. I want to extend my life and I want to be happy, healthy and free. Without health, a million dollars wouldn’t help you,” he said in 2006. He was vehemently anti-smoking as well, and created a chapbook, Limericks from the Heart (and Lungs).
Post-wrestling, Poffo did a number of different jobs, including credit counseling and selling used cars.
He had one daughter, Megan, and was divorced from his wife. It was something he could joke about: “To me, a mark is somebody who goes down the aisle more than once,” he once told this writer. “I lived with my wife for three years, and I was really sure. Then as soon as I married her, the other shoe dropped.”
Poffo’s passing on February 2, 2023, came out of the blue. He was a shared on social media — big time — and all his friends knew he was in New York City recently. They also followed along as he moved to Quito, Ecuador.