December 26, 2007
Heart attack fells B.C. veteran Mr. Gillis
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
Greg Gillies, better known to fans in British Columbia as Mr. Gillis and Doby Gillis, died on Sunday of a heart attack at his home in B.C. He was 44.
Though just 5-foot-9, the weightlifting fanatic Gillies built one of the best-looking bodies in pro wrestling at his peak.
"I've loved bodybuilding for twenty years. It's been a passion. It's been like my religion. It's basically what's kept me sane through the turmoils of life," Gillies told SLAM! Wrestling a decade ago in a profile for the Canadian Hall of Fame.
He made up for his lack of height in other ways.
"I'm not a tall man. I look fairly intimidating because I'm about as wide as I am tall. So, in the ring, I move quite quick for my stature. So I move fast and I hit hard. When I clothesline someone, they know they've been clotheslined," he said.
Once the heavyweight champion for the B.C.-based Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling, Gillis had the respect -- and fear -- of the fans, said ECCW promoter Dave Republic. "He was our champion but one time, but he seemed to have a big impact. He was certainly a believable guy, because even if he was just 5-9, 5-10, he was well put together, and the aggression level that he had was just bar none," he said. "Audience members were genuinely afraid of him. If you got a look from Gillis, you just had to stop heckling quick because he was that intense."
Born in Cornach, Saskatchewan on June 14, 1963, Gillies broke into pro wrestling in 1985, trained by the likes of Leo Burke, Ron Ritchie, Ron Starr, Bulldog Bob Brown and Stomping Paul Pellerin in and around Calgary.
He would work in B.C. as Doby Gillis in the All-Star Wrestling promotion, and out in the Maritimes in World Grand Prix in 1988 as Rock 'n' Roll Rebel Wayne Gillis, with partner Dino Ventura.
Besides the Canadian west and the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Gillies spent time in Mexico as Mr. Atlas, Puerto Rico as The Lion, Missouri as Greg Montana, and he also worked in Germany, Tennessee and Florida. Some of his travel was arranged through frequent-traveller friends Dan Denton and Mike Lozanski.
Throughout much of his career, Gillies kept up a career as a pressure welder. Unlike a lot of wrestlers who harboured a dream, Gillies was realistic, said former roommate and opponent Dan Denton.
"The whole time that I lived with him, he always said, 'I'm not in this for the long run.' I just thought of that today when I heard what happened," Denton said. "He made really good money welding. He actually had a real life outside the business. You couldn't meet a better guy. He'd do anything for you."
As a promoter, however, Michelle Starr found it difficult to count on Gillies for longer runs. "He was in and out all the time," Starr recalled of Gillies' time with Starr's WCCW promotion. "He couldn't commit to a lot of out of town dates" because of his welding job.
Gillies could often be found at the gym working out, or in the wrestling gym, helping others learn. "He often took time out to help train some of our guys at our school, the House of Pain, and even when we were training guys in the backyard, he was there training guys as well. So he was someone who gave back to the business," said Republic.
Starr believes Gillies' legacy lives on with more than just the wrestlers he helped train. "He was definitely a great champion for the world of wrestling down here. He always gave 100% in the ring and always gave the fans their money's worth, and sacrificed his own body for the sake of a good show."
He is survived by two children. Funeral arrangments are unknown at this time.
NOTE: SLAM! Wrestling hopes to have more on the passing of Mr. Gillis in the coming days.
Greg Oliver founded SLAM! Wrestling with John Powell way back in 1996, and has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. His fourth book, Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport (with Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy and Irv Muchnick) has just hit shelves. Previous books include The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels (with Steven Johnson), The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams (also with Johnson) and The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians. Order them all from the SLAM! Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at email@example.com.