The silence on the other end of the telephone lasted for at least 15 seconds. Antoinette Jones, her older brother, Donald (“Donnie”), and his wife Delores were floored that their little brother, Mike, made international news upon his death on February 28, 2024.

Michael Charles Jones was the youngest son of Warren Sr. and Isabelle Elizabeth Jones of Wilkinsburg, a dwindling suburb along the border of the city of Pittsburgh that it’s often suggested that the borough police and fire services merge with the larger municipality. “Mike was just my brother,” comment Antoinette, “Toni” Jones. Her brother Mike had passed away in a Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, hospital and the world was just starting to mourn with her.

Fans of professional wrestling everywhere knew Mike Jones as “Virgil,” the hired muscle for “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, in the 1980s. Instantly identifiable with a shaved bald scalp, muscular arms, stern look and silent demeanor, Mike Jones’ face looked like Virgil until the very end of his life.

During an hour-long conversation on Sunday, March 3, Toni and Donnie Jones reminisced and often howled at the fibs their brother told over the years. It was clear they adored their brother, especially Toni, who was on her way to the hospital to see Mike when news came that he had peacefully passed in his sleep.

Warren Sr., a janitor by trade, died when Donnie was 12. So, the rest of the kids — including Warren Jr. who passed away at 72 in 2013 — were raised by a single mother in the 1950s. Toni said she and Mike raided their mother’s purse for two dollars, ran off, tore the bills to pieces and scattered them in a nearby wishing well. Their wish? To not be spanked by their mother.

Isabelle Jones toiled at several jobs as she raised the children. She worked in offices and drove access buses to make sure others got to doctor’s appointments and the like. Isabelle, who Mike Jones called “Elizabeth,” died in 2006 at the age of 84.

Mike and Toni Jones were “Siamese Twins” who rode bikes together around their Wagner Way home and took turns doing household chores. One day, Toni remembers, the duo wanted to see “how long a train was” and followed the locomotive along railroad tracks that were a block away from their home. Once their mother discovered her kids “missing,” the authorities were called, and a frantic search was conducted. They were soon found in Edgewood, the next town over. Geographically, it was only about a mile away, but to the pipsqueaks, it was an adventure. Was Mike a troublemaker? “No, it was me,” said Toni matter-of-factly. “He was a good kid, who didn’t get into trouble.”

Donnie remembers his brother weightlifting, playing basketball and baseball, and boxing. “He was a champion in all of them,” he said. For years, Mike said that he had a brother who was “in his eighties and bench pressing 500 pounds.” Quietly and with a chuckle, Donnie said, “That’s not true.”

Mike Jones in 1980 in a football photo from his time at Wilkinsburg High School.

Mike Jones in 1980 in a football photo from his time at Wilkinsburg High School.

Mike played in the defensive backfield for Wilkinsburg High School, and pursued the sport at Virginia Union College, a historically black school. It’s uncertain whether Mike graduated (he was never a high school or college math instructor. That’s been reported and no one is certain where that claim originated). He reportedly tried out for National Football League teams in the mid-1970s. In fact, former WCW color commentator Mark Madden, who was a long-time high school sports journalist in Pittsburgh before he found wider wrestling appeal, had a newspaper feature on Jones in 1980 when he played for a semi-pro team. Madden reported that Jones, pictured with a full beard and head of dark hair, played defensive back for two NFL teams in 1975 and 1976. Online rosters from those years do not show a Mike Jones on any roster. Donnie Jones refutes rumors that Mike was on the radar of the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints.

Another legendary football reporter, Pittsburgh’s John Clayton, also mentioned Jones in game recaps in a local newspaper.

As for wrestling pedigree, Mike Jones was discovered by “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas. Jones has told people it was in a bar, and others it was in a weight room. Impressed by Jones’ physique (it’s been reported in print that Jones won a “Mr. Heaven” bodybuilding tournament, but proof can’t be easily found), Atlas encouraged him to call what was then the WWF offices. That history is for another day.

Mike Jones during his bodybuilding days.

Mike Jones during his bodybuilding days.

Toni Jones does remember getting ringside tickets at Pittsburgh’s long-leveled Civic Arena for a WWF show. “Virgil” accompanied “The Million Dollar Man” to the ring. Toni shouted, “Mike! Mike!” as Virgil tossed money around and led DiBiase to the ring. Both DiBiase and his manservant ignored the shouts. Unfamiliar with the ways of the sport, Toni was incensed that her brother ignored her and hustled away from the ring once the match was over. Later, Mike Jones called his sister. “I’m Virgil to those people,” he had to explain. She was reminded that “Virgil” traveled the globe with Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and the like and performed at WrestleMania. Toni, who at 73 still works at a major department store in Pittsburgh’s North Hills, continues to find his fame nearly impossible to fathom.

Fast forward to the modern day: Virgil had been living in a small, cramped California, Pennsylvania, home not far from the Monongahela River with a roommate. The man previously claimed that he took Virgil in when he was near homelessness. It’s been said that Jones told people he didn’t want to live with his family, but that can’t be substantiated. In 2022, the roommate said Jones did borrow his cars for trips to area casinos and damaged them in the process. The two had moved around a lot in recent years, and as Mike Jones’ health quickly began to deteriorate due to a diagnosis of dementia and strokes on both sides of his brain.

There were also claims that Virgil suffered from cancer. Several sources say that has always been untrue. Donnie Jones said he hadn’t heard about dementia until the telephone conversation. “I can’t get this through my head,” Donnie said. “I still see him as young and on-the-go.”

Toni Jones, sometimes with her daughter Monique, visited her brother in the hospital daily. His health varied by the day. Two days before his passing, Mike Jones was nearly comatose. Right before then, he expressed a desire to return home to his own bedroom, and the television that helped pass his days.

Mark Charles III, Koko B. Ware and (seated) Mike "Virgil" Jones on February 3 in Washington, PA. This was Virgil's last public appearance. Photo by Tom Leturgey

Mark Charles III, Koko B. Ware and (seated) Mike “Virgil” Jones on February 3 in Washington, PA. This was Virgil’s last public appearance. Photo by Tom Leturgey

On February 3 at his last, unofficial public appearance, Jones visited Koko B. Ware at an autograph signing and card show at a Washington, Pennsylvania, mall. Bearded and frail, Jones was excited to see his friend. Largely due to his long basketball player gait, Jones was still capable of disappearing from caretakers when their back was turned to find ice cream.

All the stories delighted the remaining Jones siblings. Toni is two years older than her brother. “April 7, 1951, was his birthday,” said Toni Jones. News organizations and the WWE itself were hoodwinked by what appears to be a random, nowhere substantiated claim of a June 13, 1962, date of birth. “Virgil” was always coy about his age, but a peek at his expired Pennsylvania Driver’s License was proof of the truth.

“He was 61,” Donnie Jones recited from a plethora of postings. “No, April 7, 1951,” corrected Toni. [It took diligent contributors to Wikipedia around-the-clock clicks to fight off fraudsters. Google finally made the correct date official on March 5.]

Donald Jones, 83, was away from Pittsburgh the same amount of time as his youngest brother and because of the age difference, they didn’t grow up together. He was in the Army, a long-distance tractor trailer driver, municipal bus driver and married to Delores for 58 years and the father of 11 children. “It’s gotta be more than that,” laughed Toni Jones. It’s clear the Jones siblings enjoy each other’s company, whether they see each other in person or not.

Mike Jones didn’t father any kids. He would hilariously and frequently joke that he wrap himself in protection “three times” the necessary amount. In fact, neither Donnie nor Toni remember Mike ever bringing a woman home to meet their mother. “He was all business,” said Donnie. “Always looking to make money. Everyone knew what he was up to.”

“He treated everyone the same,” said Delores Jones, Donnie’s wife. “He was kind to everyone.”

Mark Madden, who covered Mike in football, and then in wrestling, in an email recognized “Virgil’s” proclivity for strangeness, but punctuated his comments with “he was a star” and “I liked him.”

Toni Jones toyed with the idea of having Mike’s brain tested for CTE, but ultimately decided against it. Virgil had a neck injury that could have set him back; however, he just went to the gym and built muscle around it. It’s believed that he broke an ankle in the ring but did what he could to stay away from surgery.

The extended family, which includes a “boatload” of nieces and nephews, are preparing for a funeral service on March 16. They still can’t believe that “Michael” is gone, but they are extremely gratified that the wrestling universe loved him so fondly.

EDITOR’S NOTE #1: Trapper Tom Leturgey also wrote a piece on Virgil just after Mike Jones’ death on his website: He Will Be Missed By Many: The Last, Great “Worker” Mike “Virgil” Jones Was 72

EDITOR’S NOTE #2: There is a GoFundMe account set up to raise funds for Mike Jones’ funeral expenses. The funeral will be Saturday, March 16, 2024, with viewing from 10 am to 2 pm, and the service to follow. It will be at Coston Funeral Home, 427 Lincoln Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206