January 9, 2007
Midget star Cowboy Lang dies
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
As a wrestler, Cowboy Lang played some of the biggest venues in the sport on some of the biggest nights -- Madison Square Garden, the Superdome, the Metrodome for WrestleRock. But at the end of his life, he died virtually penniless, a homeless person on the streets of Portland, Ore. He was 56.
It was a long, winding road for the 4-foot, 109-pound Lang. Born on a farm in Saskatchewan, and raised in Rimbey, Alberta, Harry Lang dreamed of being a truck driver before catching midget wrestling on television.
His initial training came in Edmonton, and in 1967, he hopped a train and headed east to Ontario, where he started training to be a professional wrestler at the age of 16 in the mid-'60s on Lord Roger Littlebrook's Havelock farm, outside Peterborough.
From there, the road was his life, wrestling taking him across North America and into Asia, Africa and Europe. At various times, he was based out of Calgary and Red Deer, Alta., St. Joseph, Mo., and Portland. He was billed for at least part of his career as being from Oklahoma. Lang worked infrequently as a midget wrestler up until about 1998, making for a 30-plus-year career.
Harry always came to Alberta during Stampede Week to wrestle, and always made a point of coming to Red Deer and area to visit his family.
Wearing a cowboy hat to the ring, and cowboy boots in the ring, Lang portrayed a babyface for most of his career. Among the names he teamed with were Little Eagle, Lord Littlebrook, The Haiti Kid and Coconut Willie. Opponents included Billy The Kid, Tiny Tom, Little Toyko, Little Bo Diddley, Little Coco, Pepe Gomez, Little Crusher, Mighty Atom, Bobby Dean, Cowboy Bradley, The Atom, Little John, Billy Gunnar and Wee Willy Wilson.
Frenchy Lamonte figures he faced Lang off and on for more than a decade, especially through the 1970s. "I had many years with Cowboy," said Lamonte. "I had some great matches with the guy."
Lamonte praised Lang as a "super guy" who was "very agile in the ring" and better than a lot of the midget wrestlers of the day.
The midgets could always be counted on to boost a good crowd to a better one, and Lang appeared on some big shows:
Working for the WWWF meant that he hit all the big East Coast arenas as well, from New York's Madison Square Garden to Philadelphia's Spectrum to the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. Lang can also be found on the commercially-released video tape, The Best of the WWF Vol. 9, taking on Lord Littlebrook.
His greatest opponent was probably Little Tokyo (Shigeri Akabane), with whom he switched the World Midget belt in the early 1980s.
Lang was involved in a few memorable angles with the bigger wrestlers over the years too.
He was a good foil for J.J. Dillon, a newly-minted manager in Dallas, in April 1976. Dillon and his charge The Mongolian Stomper (Archie Gouldie) were to face Rocky Johnson and a partner of their choosing. Lang was Dillon's choice. With the sneaky manager taking advantage of the situation, he managed to bodyslam and pin Lang for the tainted win. "The best part about the finish was the bragging rights that I got out of it. To me, that was good heat," Dillon wrote in his autobiography.
In April 1984, Lang was teamed with a young Marty Jannetty in the Central States territory, based out of Kansas City, to take on the villainous duo of Little Tokyo and Roger "Nature Boy" Kirby. Lang would get his shots in on Kirby, despite the rules that called for both teams to tag at the same time so that like-sized grapplers faced each other.
"He was a hell of a performer," Central States promoter Bob Geigel recalled of Cowboy Lang.
Away from the ring, Lang was known as a fun-loving guy.
In his autobiography, Ric Flair talked about Cowboy Lang behind the scenes. "He'd walk around the dressing room in his cowboy hat and boots, with his dick hanging practically below his knees. He was a good guy, and loved to party after the shows. But he always expected me to get him laid," Flair wrote, launching into more sordid details.
For the last number of years, Lang was paired up with Lil Nasty Boy (fellow Canadian Danny Campbell). "He took me under his wing. He did a lot. He had so much respect in this business. People respected him, so he could get us work, basically, wherever we wanted," said Campbell, who admitted that Lang did enjoy a good practical joke. "In the early days he was [a big ribber] because he had a few pulled on him, then he pulled a few on all the other guys. He basically took me under his wing and made sure nobody pulled ribs on me. He didn't pull ribs on me. I really enjoyed being around him."
Mike Rodgers, editor of the Ring Around The Northwest newsletter recalled his first meeting with Cowboy Lang, around 1993. "The first match that I refereed was L'Il Nasty Boy and Cowboy Lang. [Ed] Moretti and [Buddy] Rose were on the card, girls were on the card. Cowboy Lang was the one I was most nervous about. He was very cool. It's true, I told him, 'I used to watch you when I was a little kid.' He just goes 'F you.'"
In 1994, Lang, along with Pat Patterson, Pepper Martin, and Hard-Boiled Haggerty had a mini-reunion in Seattle where he captivated all the reunion guests with his amazing stories. "He really stole the show. All the boys loved him. He was really a nice guy. It's unfortunate that I don't know more about him," said Dean Silverstone, who hosted the reunion.
In a 1999 interview with the Topeka Capitol-Journal, Lang talked about some of his aches and pains.
"Your body can only go so long before you start hurting," Lang is quoted as saying. "I know I'm going to hurt after the match tonight. I know I'm going to hurt tomorrow morning." He lamented not being able to move like in his prime. "I can't move like I used to. I can't fly no more."
Lang fell on hard times the last decade of his life. Apparently, there was a car accident and he battled the bottle. Then on Jan. 4, 2007, he died in Portland.
"The last couple of years, it was really strange because he soloed himself out from everybody," said Campbell of his friend. "He had a bad run and lost everything, basically his ex-wife took mostly everything and he basically gave up his will and intention to try for a future. I tried to help him out when he was on the streets. He stayed with me for a while. He decided he didn't want to be a burden on me, and he went back out, and the last I heard he was back in downtown Portland. I heard in the summertime he was just on the streets, then when it was colder in the winter, he was in the hospital, or a homeless shelter. Then last week, they called me, that he was in his bed and wouldn't wake up.
"I tried to stay in contact with him ... He was just so humiliated because he'd lost everything. He was a very independent person; most little people are because of the way we're brought up in life. We don't, myself personally and him, we just didn't want handouts from people just because we're different or something. It's like, 'No, I can do anything anybody else can do.'"
An autopsy will be done to discover the exact cause of death, but the result won't be released until family can be contacted.
Greg Oliver founded SLAM! Wrestling with John Powell way back in 1996, and has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. Later in 2007, his third book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels (with Steven Johnson) is set to come out from ECW Press, complimenting The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams (also with Johnson) and The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians. Order them both from the SLAM! Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.