July 22, 2003
Ontario will miss Bullwhip Johnson
By GREG OLIVER -- Co-Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
Bullwhip Danny Johnson comes storming up to me, and starts raking me over the coals for neglecting to have a photo of him in the book. Taken aback, I squirmed and pointed out that Danny was featured prominently quote-wise in the feature on the movie Blood & Guts, which was filmed at his old gym. When my weak explanations were done, Danny smiled and started to laugh; he had gotten my goat pretty damn good. [Click here for a photo of Bullwhip and Johnny Powers at the book launch.]
The book launch was also my first opportunity to meet his wife, Kathy, in person. (Like a lot of wrestler's spouses over the years, I had talked to her once or twice when calling for an interview.)
Monday night, Kathy shared the details of both Bullwhip's last moments, and the slightly off-beat plan for the funeral.
"He died in my arms, and the kids were around, and his mom and his sisters," she said. "Twenty minutes before he died, he asked for the TV clicker to change the channel. He was sooo crazy about TV. He'd watch TV, he knew everything on TV, never needed a TV guide. So instead of the traditional rosary in the hand, he's going to be buried with a TV clicker in his hand."
For anyone heading to the visitation or the funeral, Kathy warned to be prepared to laugh. "This is a celebration of Dan's life, so it's not going be a morbid funeral. We did some really funny things. Dan was a real avid gardener, and he was always washing cars. He'd wash cars in a bloody snowstorm. So I went outside and I cut the garden hose, got one of his spades and took it to the florist - 'Wrap it around and make a floral arrangement.' I want it leaning against the casket. The kids picked out his cowboy hat and his whip … and we said instead of the big spray of flowers over the casket, I want his bullwhip and I want his hat, and we're going to do that with some flowers."
It was common knowledge among the wrestling community that Bullwhip had an alcohol problem, and had developed cirrhosis of the liver. "We almost lost him 18 months ago. He had a major [internal] bleed and they said he wasn't leaving the hospital. He had the last rites and they told us to make our arrangements. He came flying out of there and looked better than ever. We had 18 really good months with him, and it was really a gift."
Over the years, Kathy said that Bullwhip shared his life with many. "He worked in a group home for young offenders for a number of years and I'm sure he turned the lives of a lot of kids, certainly impressed the lives of a lot of kids, charity events for the Optimist Club, signing autographs. He was always so good to kids," she said proudly.
However, the years being around Bullwhip have not dulled Kathy either. She offered one last poke at me, obviously channelling Danny. "He's still mad at you because you didn't put his picture in there!" she said, laughing.
The funeral is Thursday, July 24 at 11 a.m. at St. Francis Xavier Church in Stoney Creek (Hwy 8 and King in downtown), with a reception to follow. Visitation hours are Tuesday, July 23 from 6-9 p.m., and Wednesday 2-4 p.m., and 6-9 p.m. at Stoney Creek Funeral Home, Hwy #8, east of Millen Rd. Call the funeral home at (905) 664-4222 for information. The family asks for donations to the Canadian Liver Foundation in lieu of flowers.
Greg Oliver founded SLAM! Wrestling with John Powell way back in 1996, and has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. He is the author of the recently published book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians from ECW Press. Order it from Highspots.com. Greg can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.