January 26, 2004
Jack Tunney dies
By GREG OLIVER - Co-Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
Longtime Toronto promoter, and former WWF President Jack Tunney died Saturday in Lindsay, Ont. He was 68.
Tunney was known worldwide for his appearances on WWF television as the promotion's figurehead promoter, suspending wrestlers, stripping them of titles and ordering matches, all a part of the peaking days of Hulkamania.
But the Irishman, born John Tunney, was actually from a long line of promoters in Toronto. His father, John Tunney, and his uncle Frank Tunney were promoters in Toronto of wrestling, with John being the head promoter until his sudden death. Frank Tunney was an incredibly well-known and liked promoter, both in the city and around the NWA, in which he had great sway.
As a young man, Tunney entered into employment in the Queensbury Athletic Club -- the proper name for the Toronto Wrestling promotion for many years -- and worked alongside his uncle, Frank, announcer Norm Kimber, Frank Ayerst, Ed Noonan and wrestlers Whipper Watson and Pat Flanagan. The offices were across the street from the famed Maple Leaf Gardens. Later, Tunney ran his operation out of the Gardens itself.
The Tunneys promoted all over southern Ontario, and what they didn't promote, they still had control over, allowing small promoters to run small towns where it suited them.
When Frank Tunney died in May 1983, Jack Tunney and his cousin Eddy Tunney (Frank's son) took control of the Queensbury Athletic Club. With the years of experience under his belt, Jack moved into the spotlight his uncle loved, and Eddy was a silent partner.
In July 1984, Jack Tunney switched allegiances from the NWA and aligned himself his Vince McMahon's WWF. It was a brilliant business move, signing up just as the WWF was about to hit it big. He had positioned himself as Canada's WWF promoter, leading McMahon's army as they destroyed promotion after promotion. Soon, wrestling promotions across Canada fell on hard times as Tunney helped McMahon take over their territories. All-Star Wrestling in Vancouver expired. The AWA stopped coming into Manitoba. Stu Hart's Stampede promotion began eroding until he too was forced to sell to McMahon (and later starting up again for a few years). Grand Prix out of Montreal fought Tunney, but also eventually succumbed. Dave McKigney's Big Time Wrestling couldn't make a go of it due to Tunney's pressuring of Ontario's Boxing & Wrestling Commission to make insurance too expensive for the little guys.
Jack lived life large, and was a big man himself. He dressed well, usually in dark business suits, rode around in a Cadillac and carried himself with a regal air. Jack Tunney was no big fan of the wrestling fans. "Jack is known to be unfriendly to the fans," wrote Jim Friedman in Drawing Heat. He was known to enjoy a drink and cigar until swearing off both in the early 1980s.
"He was a very kind and gracious man who did a lot for charities, too," said Toronto Sun writer Frank Zicarelli, who reported regularly on wrestling for almost a decade and often had Tunney handicap the annual Wrestlemania.
He met his wife Ann in Grade 4 at St. Bridget's Separate School in Toronto's east end. They married and had two daughters. She died in 1991. Jack Tunney is survived by his daughters Jane and her husband Bill Tunstead and Jackie and her husband Dennis Gregoris, two grandchildren, two sisters and three brothers, and his longtime partner, Patricia Zownir.
The funeral will be celebrated from Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church, 354 St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto, on Tuesday, January 27, 2004 at 10 o'clock. Donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation or the Canadian Cancer Society would be appreciated by the family.
-- with files from the Toronto Sun
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 the SLAM!
Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.