A women’s wrestling trailblazer, Beverly “The Hammer” Shade, has died at the age of 87, due to a combination of lung cancer, pneumonia, blood clots and fluid in her lungs. She had only recently been moved from hospital to hospice, her body too weak for chemotherapy or radiation.

Her husband, Billy Blue River, shared the news simply in an email: “At 830 pm my Beverly died.”

Beverly Shade may be gone, but oh what a life.

“The first time I saw women wrestle, I said heck I can do that! I was going every Friday night to St. Louis to the matches. I pestered Sam Muchnick (promoter) so he finally sent me to Cowboy Lutrell in Tampa, Florida,” recalled Shade once to SlamWrestling. “I was trained by Ella Waldek. That was 1957. Worked off and on for about three years, started back in 1968 and worked till 1989.”

But Shade’s first experience with a pro wrestler came before that. In 2022, she talked about meeting Gorgeous George:

When I was only 17 years old, my dad was stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. And I worked at the drugstore where my mother worked, behind the soda fountain. I was a soda jerk. And they used to run wrestling in Newport News, and we lived in Hampton. And they would come by and put posters in the window for the wrestling matches in Newport News. And so we got to know the guy and he would give us passes to go to wrestling matches. And we went one night and Gorgeous George was wrestling and his beautician didn’t show up. So the guy came out and said, ‘Beverly, do you think you could do his hair?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, I do mine, I guess I could try.’ So I went back and did his hair. Had no idea what a big star he was at the time. I was just a wrestling fan, didn’t care. In fact, George and Bobby Becker from North Carolina were on the card. I did his hair, and he handed me a handful of those bobby pins.

It’s one of many stories Shade can spin from her long career, where she spent time wrestling for the NWA and WWWF and was a one-time NWA Women’s Tag Team Champion alongside Natasha The Hatchet Lady.

Beverly Shade and Natasha the Hatchet Lady

“I trained Natasha. She’s another tough old broad … I trained her in ’69. My husband and I trained her,” said Shade. “We worked against each other for a long time and then we worked as tag team partners for a long time. In fact, we had the NWA Women’s tag team belts, we defended them up in Memphis in June of ’79 against Sherri Lee and Ann Casey.”

Shade, who also wrestled as Beverly Bates and Beverly Blue River, was well-respected and well-liked throughout her career. “After moving to Florida in the late-60s, I met a wonderful woman by the name of Beverly Shade who was at that time already an accomplished wrestler. She and I became fast friends and she introduced me to the wrestling business,” said Natasha The Hatchet Lady.

She had so much respect behind the scenes, despite being a nasty heel in the ring. “I worked babyface until I went to Canada for the ‘Bearman’ in 1970,” said Shade, referring to “Bearman” Dave McKigney. “The girl I was supposed to work with didn’t show up, so I had to work against Dave’s daughter, a beautiful, long-haired 16-year-old! [Rachel Dubois] The heel came out and I loved it from that time on, so I guess there is a little ‘bad girl’ in me.”

In 1968, Shade met Bill Wenhold a wrestler under the name Billy Blue River and a year later they were married. Paul Guzzo wrote in an article, “‘Back then, a wrestler wouldn’t grasp your hand hard,’ Wenhold said. ‘They would almost just touch fingers with you to let you know they were like you — a worker. When I realized she was one, I asked her on a date and to join my promotion.’ She agreed to both requests, and a year later they were married, headlining wrestling cards as a team.”

A card promoted by Billy Blue River and Beverly Shade (with both wrestling too) in St. Petersburg, Florida, on June 15, 1970. Note the young Kevin Sullivan on the show.

Wenhold and Shade lasted as a strong couple, married for 53 years, something that is not commonly seen in the wrestling business. “We were good together,” Wenhold said. “Chemistry and trust is important, and we had both.”

Together they competed in mixed tag matches and they also promoted together for 16 years. “I had gotten tired of wrestling and Billy said why don’t you promote and just have all girls? So I got a hold of a bunch of girls. We taped 20-something matches at one time. But the guy that was going to back the television backed out. So we never did get it on TV but oh God did we have the girls. We had Moollah, Candi Devine, Misty Blue and her girls from New York, Robin Lane, anyway we had a lot of girls.”

Some of Shade’s favorite opponents over the years included: Judy Martin, Alma Mills, Carmen Monge, Cora Combs, and Mae Weston. She also said, “I worked with quite a few of Moolah’s girls and they were all great, although I personally never worked for Moolah.”

Shade came up in the generation of women’s wrestling that was historically controlled by The Fabulous Moolah, but Shade was not trained by Moolah. However, she was still trusted as a performer to regularly work with Moolah in the ring.

Ted_Gordienko, Beverly Shade, and Lisa “The Adjuster” Haynes at the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.

At the age of 82, Shade was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. She said that made her feel appreciated for all the work she did over the years, “I have met so many wonderful people, including my husband, through this business. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t change a thing!”

In 1989, Shade officially called it a career, but she still was a big part of the wrestling industry and was regularly at events, reunions and conventions. She may not have been in the squared circle anymore, but Shade was always a professional wrestler at heart as she told SlamWrestling.net in 2021:

“The body has changed but not the mind and attitude. I love this business and all the fans. If it was not for them we wouldn’t be here. Going to CAC, PWHF & Gulf Coast Wrestling is the greatest thing ever. I will be 85 in March, but when I am at one of the conventions I feel like I am 35.”

Shade died on the evening of June 2, 2023, and the news of her illness was circulated in late April, when she was given her induction plaque to the new Women’s Wrestling Hall of Fame. She is survived by her husband, Billy, their two sons and their families.

— with files from Greg Oliver

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original article erroneously noted that Beverly had one son, when in fact she had two. SlamWrestling.net regrets the error.