Randall “Randy” Johnston, the son of Ontario veteran Bull Johnson and younger brother of the late Bullwhip Danny Johnson, has died. He was 67.
Unlike his father and brother, Randy’s career in the ring did not last as long, but his career, lasting roughly six years, is very entwined with his father and brother.
Ron “Bull” Johnston (though usually credited as Johnson) used a ton of wrestling names through the years, including Bulldog Johnson, Bobo Mongol, Mysterion, Mr. Wrestling, Nicolai Kosloff and Nicolai Petrov. He had five children, and his two sons ended up as pro wrestlers.
“We used to travel with my dad all the time, mostly setting up the wrestling ring, which we also got to meet all the wrestlers and that. So you kind of got an idea, who you kind of liked, the way they wrestled back in the day and you wouldn’t mind actually being him as you grew up,” recalled Randy Johnston in October 2022. “I think we started setting the ring up about 10, 11 years old, for God’s sakes. We were quite young.”
Danny, two years older, dropped out of high school, and pressured Randy to start training too. Randy had aspirations of becoming a gym teacher, a regret he had the rest of his life.
“I thought I’d give that a shot. It didn’t take that much more education or whatever it is, to be a wrestler, compared to being a teacher back then. So I just kind of followed, more or less, in my old man’s footsteps,” said Randy.
At the time, the old Bull owned Bull’s Gym in Hamilton, and there was a ring and weights there where the boys learned their new craft. “We got the groundwork all figured out in that gym there. Then it was more or less getting in front of the people and being able to wrestle in front of people the main thing. You can’t be scared. Things just fell into place. The more you trained, the better it ended up getting for the match,” said Randy.
They were Danny and Randy Sharpe, the Sharpe Brothers, in the early years. Bull knew Mike and Ben Sharpe, retired Hamilton wrestling legends, and asked their permission to keep the name alive. (This is before “Iron” Mike Sharpe Jr. debuted.)
The Bull’s connection helped often. Randy worked twice on shows at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. Very early in his training, he beat fellow youngster Frank Marconi on May 12, 1976, and then was back on December 26 that same year, teaming with The Beast (John Yachetti) in a draw against Geeto Mongol and Waldo von Erich.
“Everything just fell into place for us. You know what I mean?” said Randy. “[Bull] always said, ‘Don’t ever take anybody’s sh** in the ring.’ ‘Don’t let the person make you look bad, and if he does, kind of shoot with the guy,’ which kind of turned it into real. He was trying to more or less protect us from looking bad and that, but that was about it. I guess he was proud as a peacock that his sons were into the wrestling.”
Robert Johnston was Randy and Danny’s cousin, and grew up close to them, as his mother died when he was seven, and his father — Bull’s brother — did shift work, so he was always around. Robert was there to help clean the ring apron in the backyard on Cope Street, and often traveled to wrestling shows when he was old.
“They had single beds, they put them together, so the three of us could sleep in one,” Robert recalled. “I would always get the middle. But I was always yapping away. And I remember one time Dan said, ‘You’ve driving me nuts.’ And he pulled the beds apart and I fell on the floor. ‘You’re staying on the floor until you shut up!'”
He stayed close to Randy throughout the years, and has been asked to be the executor for Randy’s estate. “I always got along great with him, and we had a great relationship,” said Robert, launching into a story. They were out on their bicycles when their buddies took off, leaving just him and Randy.
“He pulled out a chocolate bar out of his pocket. He goes, ‘I was saving this for you and me, I didn’t want the other kids to see it.’ So he’s thinking of both of us rather than just himself. That’s the way we had a relationship. He thought highly of me and me of him.”
The bikes grew bigger. “We spent lots of time on our motorcycles and stuff, just going to Port Dover, Friday he 13th, stuff like that,” said Robert, lamenting that neither he nor Randy would be able to ride today. “He always was like a mentor, teacher kind of thing … he was always looking out for me as an older brother, basically. I would never go down the road he went. And our agreement was never try to get you to stop what you’re doing, as long as you don’t try to get me to start.”
Those Hamilton connections always helped the wrestling career of Randy and Danny. When wrestling in Tennessee for Nick Gulas, they could hook up with Herb Larsen, who ran a bar, or travel with the various locals, like Marconi, Alec Girard, Cool Cat Jackson, or Eric the Red.
Randy loved to work out, looking sharp as a Sharpe or as Randy Johnson … or as Little Boy Blue or Randy Williams … whereas his brother was less concerned with staying in shape and move into having a few beers and fun with the boys. Even through all his illnesses, Randy kept a gym in the house — much of it the original weight sets from Bull’s Gym.
Also different was their hair, as Randy’s was big, blond and poofy, and Danny’s was darker and flatter. “When I look back at some of these pictures, oh my God, no wonder they call me ‘Poosham,'” laughed Randy. When they worked in the Carolinas for Johnny Powers‘ IWA, he was mistaken for Ric Flair on more than one occasion.
Eric Johnston, a comedian by trade, is the nephew of Randy Johnston, and is working on a memoir covering the lives of his father, uncle and grandfather, titled Run with the Bull: Three Generations of Canadian Sports and Entertainment. “With this sad news of Uncle Randy’s passing, I feel fortunate that he took the time to talk to us about his life, about my Dad, and about Grandpa Bull,” he said.
There were a few film and TV roles for Randy (and Danny) Johnston through the years. The main one was the movie Blood & Guts, which came out in 1978, and was filmed in and around Hamilton with the ring, the bus and the various other wrestling-related goodies that the Johnston family owned. Friends and family were all in the movie as extras. Randy was also in another Canadian-made movie, Search and Destroy, which came out in 1979 and was directed by William Fruet and starred Perry King, Don Stroud, and Tisa Farrow.
A motorcycle accident in 1982 stopped Randy Johnston’s life, not just his wrestling career, cold. He faced a huge uphill battle to get back to functional.
“I knew right then and there after the motorcycle accident that there was no coming back from what I went through. And I wouldn’t want to take a slam anyways. I was always scared to fall after I got smashed, because I thought I’d shattered my pelvis again,” said Randy.
In the later 1980s, Danny Johnston promoted wrestling shows and kept on his brother about coming back. “He kept on trying to tell me, ‘I just want you to run in the ring.’ I said, ‘Are you insane? I’ve got a lawsuit going. I’m not gonna throw away $100,000 to pick up, what, $10, $20 from you.’ He’s going. ‘That won’t affect anything.’ I said, ‘Look, buddy, this is my ticket out and I ain’t gonna put any black cloud over any of this. Go find somebody else,'” said Randy.
Up until the accident, Randy had worked at Wabco, in Stoney Creek, which made car freight products. After the accident, he was on long-term disability, and had a variety of other issues and challenges in the ensuing years, including his home in Brantford suffering from steam damage after a pipe burst. He found he couldn’t drive at night, so stayed around Brantford. Even when his brother died in 2003, Randy only went to the funeral during the day and didn’t stay for the wake, since it would have been dark for the 30-minute drive home.
More recently, Randy claimed to have gotten lead poisoning from the tap water, and then battled COVID — and all the conspiracies around it. When he talked with this writer, he had been battling pneumonia.
According to family, Randy was reluctant to go to doctors in general, even though it was suspected that he had cancer; no cause of death was announced. He died on October 12, 2023, around 10 p.m., at Brant Community Healthcare in Brantford, not long after his family and friends had been to his bedside.
Randy had four children: Candace, Summer, Michael and Dakota.
TOP PHOTO: Danny and Randy Johnston. Photo courtesy the Johnston family
- July 22, 2003: Ontario will miss Bullwhip Johnson
- Feb. 5, 2001: Bullwhip Danny Johnson followed father into the ring