Billy Blue River, the long-time wrestler and promoter, and dedicated husband to women’s wrestling great Beverly Shade, died on May 15, 2024. He was 79.

Though he had been crippled for years, confined mainly to their home in Mississippi, many point to the death of Beverly in June 2023 as the turning point. Blue River called her “my whole life” once in a call with

In another email, as she neared the end, he wrote, “I don’t think I want to live without her. She is my best friend.”

Bill Wenhold was born on July 11, 1944.

While it wasn’t predestined that he would be a fighter, it was close. That would continue through the years as a promoter in opposition to established promotions too.

“My father was a pistol who took on all comers at fairs and never wrestled a worked match in his life,” Blue River once explained, exaggerating slightly. His father, who wrestled as Bill Wenhold and Carl Schneider, around Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey for 30 years. He later helped his son in the promotion.

Bill Wenhold, father of Billy Blue River, on a card.

Bill Wenhold, father of Billy Blue River, on a card.

The 6-foot-4, 260 pound young Bill Wenhold played football, basketball, baseball in high school.

The story of breaking into the wrestling business is a good one, and comes straight from Blue River’s keyboard in a lengthy email:

At age 17, I started training with Johnny (Swede) Carlin who was Eddie Graham’s flunky and refereed every now and then. In 1962 after vigorous training including wrestling members of the university of Tampa wrestling team days at a time I was booked on a wrestling show promoted by Carlin in Palmetto, Florida.

Being naive I did not know about opposition to the main office. There was a newspaper story appeared in the paper about me helping some children at a high school wrestling event.

Somehow Eddie Graham found my phone number and had Cowboy Luttrell call me. I went to the Sportatorium and was sitting on Cowboy’s desk talking to him when Graham came in and said, “Hey Rivers.” I turned my head and he sucker punched me. I was getting off the floor and seen [Hiro] Matsuda and Duke Keomuka ready to jump me. I was told to get out and never call myself a wrestler again.

I went home and the phone rang and it was Cowboy wanting me to come back to the office. I did so. Eddie apologized and said he wanted me to go to Tennessee to work for [Nick] Gulas. I was there a week and one night I was booked in the semi final against Alex Perez. Eddie Graham was also on the card. Alex and I worked two falls (note I was green) [and] during the third fall I came off the ropes and Perez broke my nose and while I was out dislocated both my knees. I made it to the dressing room and I was told that Eddie paid to have a job done on me.

I returned to Florida and after about six months I was able to work out. I was working out at a dojo when I met some other wrestlers including Sam Steamboat, all had heat with Graham. I decided that living in this great country I did not believe in a monopoly.

I started promoting and training wrestlers, starting with shooting then working if they made it.

Before jumping into the promoting side of Blue River, the other leading character needs to be introduced.

Billy Blue River and Beverly Shade in 1969.

Billy Blue River and Beverly Shade in 1969.

The future Beverly Shade broke into the business in 1957, worked for about three years, and took a break, re-entering it in 1968 and wrestling until 1989.

It was not a coincidence that 1968 was also the year she met wrestler Billy Blue River.

They were married a year later.

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.”

Billy Blue River and Beverly Shade.

Billy Blue River and Beverly Shade.

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.”

When Beverly Shade was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2019, Blue River conspired with Greg Oliver to write a guest column for this site: Beverly Shade’s a Hall of Fame wife too.

“Summing up my wife’s career like this is all well and good, and proves she’s a legitimate Hall of Famer,” he wrote. “But what really makes her stand out for me is how she has stood strong by my side, whether it was facing down Eddie Graham and his goons, or in more recent years, as I’ve taken ill and couldn’t do much. It kills me that I can’t be there in Wichita Falls as she is inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, but such is my lot in life.”

As a pro wrestler, Billy Blue River didn’t headline much, didn’t hit too many territories – especially compared to his wife, who traveled the world.

But he did give lots of wrestlers their starts on his very small Florida cards.

Bill White, Rock Riddle and Kevin Sullivan all got early breaks in on Blue River cards.

Blue River shared the Kevin Sullivan story. Boston promoter Tony Santos called and suggested they bring in Sullivan. “He sent him, saying he needs to get polished. And I can’t tell you exactly the rest of it. But anyway, we ended up taking him as Hippy Sullivan and used him as a babyface. He was a decent looking kid and plastered his picture all over the place. … Beverly said he wrestled two or three shows and Eddie Graham got him.”

Kevin Sullivan on a Blue River promoted card on June 165, 1970.

Kevin Sullivan on a Blue River promoted card on June 165, 1970.

Bob Roop said that both Ron Hill and Billy Blue River, running in competition to the established Eddie Graham, had targets on their back.

“Ronnie had a little wrestling school in Florida, and Ronnie had been in the mainstream wrestling business – I didn’t even know this at the time. But when I broke in, Eddie Graham just hated him, just hated the fact that he had this, and Billy Blue River ran shows in little bars over in St. Pete, and Eddie just despised – he acted like, you’d have thought these guys were like Ole Anderson was when Vince McMahon was trying to take Atlanta from him. These people weren’t any threat. Ronnie Hill’s little school wasn’t any threat, and Billy Blue River’s bar shows wasn’t any threat, but to Eddie, God, you’d think these guys were carrying the Andromeda Strain or something. He just hated them. He’d got almost into a frothing fit about them.”

Blue River loved to tell the kidnapping story involving Graham, as scary as it might have been at the time.

As the crowds began to grow at our Joyland shows, Graham forced some of his wrestlers to attend the matches and cause a disruption. Not one to sit idly by, Beverly had them escorted out by the Bay Area Security. Things began to worsen as Beverly asked former NWA champion Ella Waldek to wrestle for us, followed by one of Graham’s top wrestlers, Ray Villmer. Crowds increased so much that there was no more room in the facility’s large parking lot. The Sheriff Department had to stop people from parking on US 19.

Well, all hell broke loose.

Graham called Beverly and told her if we promoted another show she would find her husband — me! — in a ditch with his head cut off. Her reply? “If this happens, I will blow your Sportatorium sky high” … and then she hung up.

After the following show, it was my mother who got a nasty call from Graham, who told her that he planned to blow up their house. Naturally, my mom was scared to death — and we were furious, as was my dad, who was an old-time shoot wrestler, who knew how to break bones.

Days later, I was the one who was kidnapped, by Eddie Graham, Hiro Matsuda and Duke Keomuka — none of them are alive anymore to give their side, but it happened; ask Bob Roop, who’s in the same 2019 PWHF Class as Bev. They would not let me go until Bev and I stopped promoting; naturally, to get out of there, I agreed.

My wife had other ideas.

She showed my dad how to construct a wrestling ring, and armed with a number of new rings, the next thing I knew, we had 14 towns to promote all over Florida.

In fact, Blue River loved telling stories, period. He and Shade been been telling their tale to writer Scott Teal.

Billy Blue River faces a bear.

Billy Blue River faces a bear.

Pro wrestling was never the main gig for Blue River, though. His was employed by Joseph Schlitz, Can Division, and then moved to Quality Assurance Manager with the Reynolds Aluminum Company, for both a better salary and better benefits. They lived near Tampa, Florida, and then Monticello, Indiana, Kansas City, Missouri, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

It was in Oklahoma where he realized that he was too sick to work. “They gave me the plant manager’s job for a period of time, until this disease took over my body. They put me on disability, gave me a good disability, but we ended up with five pensions plus a good lump sum. We had fun with it though.”

Ankylosing spondylitis was a foe he couldn’t defeat. “Now, I can’t even hardly get to the toilet, I’m so crippled up. I can’t even get out our house because it’s on like a little hill,” Blue River said in 2022. “About three years ago, my hearing went out in the right ear, they misdiagnosed me at the hospital and it caused me to get dizziness, loud noises like an ocean in the ear. … Then almost died when I my bowels ruptured so I got a colostomy.”

Beverly and Billy had two sons.

Blue River had many loves, including the website, and was a dedicated reader.

One more email from him to sum up a life well lived:

“Be it rain, hail, wind, or snow they will be there on time never fear, when they are scheduled to wrestle they’ll be there be it far or near. Punishment yes they accept with a grin, their bones may be broken too. But that’s the sport of wrestling, for years it as been nothing new. Be they married or single they enter the sport with high hopes of getting on top, most of them make it in their fine careers you do not find many a flop. So lets salute all the wrestlers as they give us the thrills we demand and when they step into that ring lets give them a marvelous hand.”

Greg my good friend Wild Red Berry wrote this, I sat last night thinking of him and his many stories I was only 19, but I remembered this and one other. Still looking at your site 3 times a day. You may post this if you like.

Billy Blue River