Wrestling legend Billy Two Rivers has passed away. He was 87.
While the news of his death on February 12, 2023, wasn’t entirely unexpected — he was unfortunately in poor health for many years — it doesn’t make it any easier to hear.
I could go on for hours about his wrestling career, his importance to the Kahnawake and Mohawk peoples, his mark on Canadian history, but today I reflect on my interaction with the man, Mr. Two Rivers.
When I was storyboarding the first season of the Grappling With Canada podcast, I thought long and hard about the 12 individuals whom I wanted to research and spotlight. Billy Two Rivers, for me, was an absolute must-cover; not just because of his impact on wrestling history, but the mark he made in Canadian history. During my research, I was afforded the incredible opportunity to interview Mr. Two Rivers himself (hat tip to Tom Fennario from APTN for making it happen). To say that the interview was thrilling is an incredible understatement.
My first conversation with Mr. Two Rivers was essentially me (probably) rambling incoherently for about five minutes before Billy took a long, deep breath, and said, “Son, you need to slow it down and speak clearly, I’m not as fast as I used to be!”
It was embarrassing for me, yet relieving at the same time to have Mr. Two Rivers be so blunt and open, and the next several hours over multiple that we spent talking were quite simply magic.
Hours of us speaking honestly seemed like minutes. His stories, whether they were tales of growing up on the reserve, to wrestling, to him cutting a promo on Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the House Of Commons were captivating. The way he was able to block out and properly contextualize the impactful moments of his life was a master class in recall.
I’m not sure if I said 20 words throughout the entirety of the interview, though it was the way he crafted and explained his stories that left me with little to add. Believe me, that was fine with me, I was absolutely lost and enthralled in his storytelling. And let’s be fair — what could I really lend to a conversation with a living legend?
It’s interesting, as I sit here and type out these words, I can’t help but have a smile on my face. Yes, truly wrestling has lost a great man. His family has lost someone much more important. I sincerely hope that people will listen to my interview with him, read the interview he previously gave on SlamWrestling.net, his feature in The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes & Icons, and watch his interviews on APTN.
However, I can’t help but think about what I gained personally from Mr. Two Rivers. I lost both of my grandfathers many years ago, and I still think about the stories they told me, and the conversations we had. When Mr. Two Rivers was describing the passing of his people’s oral history from elders through generations, I was immediately transported back in time to those past conversations. I truly hope that the grand and great grandchildren of Mr. Two Rivers were able to have those experiences with him. I’m very grateful that he was open enough to share some of them with me, and with the listeners of the program.
To the family and friends of Billy Two Rivers, I offer my sincerest condolences. To Mr. Two Rivers, I would say this: you took an chance, and allowed me to enter your life. I will always cherish the discussions we had, and I’m very proud to have met you. May you rest easy, and may your family share your stories for generations to come.