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Remembering those we lost in 2007
By SLAM! Wrestling Staff


The Missing Link (Dewey Robertson) and The Fabulous Moolah (Lillian Ellison) in May 2004 at the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame induction weekend. Photo by Greg Oliver

There were times when it felt that an obituary ran on SLAM! Wrestling every week; of course, that wasn't exactly the case, but many men and women who made wrestling great left this world in 2007. In our necrology for the past year, SLAM! Wrestling writers share their more personal memories of some of the deceased.

The Fabulous Moolah (Lillian Ellison) -- It was pretty intimidating calling Lillian Ellison on the phone for the first time. But I soon forgot I was talking to "The Fabulous Moolah." Our conversations were very much like the ones you’d have with your grandmother. She just wanted to chat with you. She shared stories with me about her recent trip on a cruise ship with her good friends Mae Young and Diamond Lil, and despite the trio being often recognized, she expressed that it was an enjoyable experience for her. She also took great pride in her grandchildren, saying that she wished she could show me their pictures over the phone. Ellison also had a great sense of humour and wit. During another conversation, I told her I couldn’t get over the fact that she was the youngest (and the only female) of 13 children in her family. She merely chuckled and said, "Honey, my mama was just waiting for the champ!" We talked once more about a month or so before her death, on November 2nd. It was a different Ellison this time. Her brother had recently passed away and she missed him terribly. She was very quiet and saddened. No funny stories this time. The last thing she said to me was, "Honey, could we do this another time? My heart is just not in it right now." (Jamie Melissa Kreiser)

The Missing Link (Dewey Robertson) -- It's impossible to sum up Dewey in a paragraph. He was a friend, and a regular around our house for years, as my wife, Meredith Renwick, wrote his autobiography. The last time he came by, he'd had a lemon pie made up with "Happy Birthday, Orin" on it -- somehow he thought our newborn son's name was Orin, not Quinn. When we heard he was sick, our friend Andy took us down to Hamilton to see him. He was drugged up, four days or so before he would pass from cancer on August 16 at age 68. We read him letters from fans, a passage from my new Heels book, and told him what he meant to us. It was eight-month-old Quinn, though, that got a reaction from him, by putting his little hand on Dewey's arm. I can still vividly picture that today. (Greg Oliver)

Rey Urbano -- One of the many characters that I have met over the years at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunions in Las Vegas, I can still recall sitting in a room at the Riviera Hotel, listening to Rey tell stories about working in Toronto and Hamilton, getting stabbed, and much more. Alas, unrecorded, those stories mostly died with Rey on October 16. He was 78. (Greg Oliver)

Enrique Torres -- It’s hard to convey today the impact Enrique Torres had when he burst on the wrestling scene in the mid-1940s. Billed from Sonora, Mexico, though actually from Santa Ana, Calif., Torres would be on anyone’s short list of the top wrestlers of his time. He was a world champ in the Los Angeles promotion in 1946, and eventually held all kinds of singles and tag titles from California to Georgia with stars like Bearcat Wright and Leo Nomellini. A master of the flying head scissors -- and with a good amateur background -- he was a frequent challenger to NWA world champ Lou Thesz, and their scientific battles packed houses in all kinds of arenas. Torres retired in 1968, passing the torch to brothers Ramon and Alberto, stars in their own rights, and living with wife Kata in Calgary, far from the warm environment of California. In declining health, he died September 10 at 85. (Steven Johnson)

Billy Darnell -- Billy Darnell is not a name that’s going to stir up many fans today. But if you’re part of an older generation that came of wrestling age in the 1950s, all he means is some of the best wrestling ever seen. The one-time lifeguard from New Jersey was one of the best performers of his time and, dressed in a snazzy leopard skin, the perfect foil for in-ring nemesis and long-time friend Buddy Rogers. A recipient of the Senator Hugh Farley Award from the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, Darnell was a world tag champ with Bill Melby back in the days when titles meant something. His life stretched beyond wrestling, though. He started studying chiropractic when he was still in the game, and retired at 36 to pursue his chosen career full-time, while dabbling as a bar owner and pilot. Darnell was always ready with a story, usually one that poked fun at himself, during his frequent appearances in recent years at the Cauliflower Alley Club or wrestling reunions on the East Coast. He died September 7 at 81. (Steven Johnson)

Chris Benoit -- Nearly seven months later, it still hurts to write down that Chris Benoit murdered his wife Nancy and son Daniel and then killed himself in June. While I never got the chance to meet or interview Chris Benoit, I like many others had a tremendous amount of respect for the man, as did many in the Alberta wrestling scene. As the first reports of Benoit's death -- and then what happened -- came to light, many of my friends in the PWA and Stampede Wrestling locker rooms could react only with stunned silence. It has been especially difficult for D.H. Smith, T.J. Wilson and Nattie Neidhart. Chris Benoit was influential both in their careers and their signing to the WWE and was a mentor to them when they worked for Deep South Wrestling in Atlanta. While fans and friends alike still try to come to grips with the tragedy, the one question that will likely remain unanswered is why?

Biff Wellington (Shayne Bower) -- I have been fortunate to write a few obituaries for professional wrestlers for the Globe and Mail newspaper in 2007, and the piece on Shayne Bower, which ran August 31st, months after his death on June 24th of a heart attack at age 42, was probably the one I was most proud of. It was gutwrenching talking to his family -- his mother, his father, his daughter, as well as his friends. I received a nice email later from Devon Fielding, Bower's best friend, saying "You did a real journalist's job; calling a spade a spade without villifying Shayne for his choices." (Greg Oliver)

Nancy Benoit -- When the whole tragedy came out, I immediate started to remember Nancy. She was such a great heel when she was Woman back when she was with Doom. I went with that story and was real pleased with the reaction I got from fans and the media. I had some major news agencies contacting me and asking me to tell them more about Nancy. She was the forgotten figure when the news broke but I wanted to make sure everyone knew her story. She was murdered on June 22 in maybe the biggest wrestling tragedy ever. (Chris Schramm)

Sherri Martel -- My favorite personal memories of Sherri were when I contacted her for an interview for The Honky Tonk Man's website a few years ago. Although we conversed only through emails, her bubbly personality easily shone through. She playfully referred to herself as "Peggy Sue,v HTM as "The Honky Man," and the wrestlers "boys and girls." I remember thinking she must have been boatloads of fun to work with. It begins to hit you when you think of the many great moments she helped create in the WWF alone, what has been lost. She never allowed that that inner little girl to die, I think she knew. How could you not chuckle when she says to you "Happy New Year, and all that gaga." (Kenai Andrews)

Ernie Ladd -- If you don’t remember Ernie Ladd as a great football player or a great wrestler, maybe you remember him as a great eater. At a banquet in Texas, he had cake for dessert. Not a piece, but the whole thing. And this was after he was recovering from colon cancer and years away from the top eating form that saw him eat 130 pancakes in a sitting. Joey Chestnut wouldn’t have had a chance. Neither did football foes when he played in the old American Football League, or the wrestlers who faced him after he switched full-time to the mat at age 31. So in demand was he that he held the top championships in the Los Angeles and Buffalo promotions, a country apart, at the same time in 1972. The WWE Hall of Famer was a proud man who first and foremost regarded wrestling as a business and a way to provide for his family. After retiring, he continued his work in ministerial affairs, answering phone calls with his familiar "Jesus Loves You" and tending to Hurricane Katrina victims with former President Bush in 2005. He died at 68 on March. 12. (Steven Johnson) 03/10/07

Ray Stern (Walter Bookbinder) -- No one entered a room like Ray Stern, who died on March 6, at age 74. Whether it was at a Cauliflower Alley Club reunion, or the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Amsterdam, Stern knew how to draw your eye. It's still in my mind's eye: Incredibly fit, tanned, with a suit on that few could pull off, and usually with his gorgeous wife, Debi, by his side, Stern would turn heads. (Greg Oliver)

Bad News Allen (Allen Coage) -- It’s rare for me to have to attend a funeral as both fan and journalist. Such was the case with Allen Coage, whose death on March 6 at the age of 63 caught many off guard. Always a straight shooter and a legitimate bad ass, Allen pulled no punches and developed a reputation as someone you did not want to mess with. While Coage’s WWF run was brief, his legacy will remain with his Olympic judo bronze medal from Montreal in 1976, legendary Stampede Wrestling run, and his influence on Canadians in the sport, including Edge, Chris Jericho and Lance Storm, among many others. (Jason Clevett)

James C. Melby -- I still maintain my folder of e-mails from Jim Melby, even though he passed away February 11 at the age of 57. He was one of the pre-eminent wrestling writers and historians of all-time, in charge of various publications such as Wrestling News, Wrestling Revue and Wrestling Monthly during various stages of a wrestling publishing career that lasted more than four decades. In those positions, he really set the agenda for what fans would discuss and debate and was as influential as anyone in helping wrestlers gain much-needed publicity. Both the Cauliflower Alley Club and International Wrestling Institute and Museum have named awards for him. More than that, though, he was a generous, friendly man who didn’t let numerous health ailments diminish his zest for wrestling and for his friends, who value his correspondence so much that it is worth keeping. Fellow historian Steve Yohe of California called his passing a major event in wrestling history, noting: "We worked on a lot of stuff together at Wrestling Facts and I liked to think of him as my boss....but he was really just my friend. (Steven Johnson)

Sandy Barr -- Sandy was old-school. It was Dutch Savage that hooked me up on a couple of occasions to talk to Sandy, and it was akin to pulling teeth. He was guarded with his answers, but still friendly. However, once I got him on a subject close to his heart, like Stan "The Man" Stasiak, Sandy opened up. For that, I am grateful, and a big reason why I was sad on June 2nd, when he was felled by a heart attack at 69. (Greg Oliver)

Sonny Myers -- If you ever get the chance to ask someone who worked the Central States area some Sonny Myers stories, do so. The off-the-record stories are a hoot; the stories we did print were pretty good too. I believe he was the last wrestler who threatened to kick my behind for taking openly about the business being a work. Sonny died on May 5, at age 83.

John Kronus -- I have a picture of a bunch of the XPW crew up on the second floor walkway of a Ventura Blvd. motel before a show in 2001. Standing there beside Steve Rizzono, grinning madly and giving the camera the 'salute', is John Kronus. He was definately a little different in his behavior sometimes, but his acrobatic ability in the ring at his weight was unbelievable to see in person. It's too bad he never caught on after ECW as a maniac character somewhere big. Heart failure claimed him on July 18; he was just 38. (Marty Goldstein)

Dave Sheldon -- Sometimes in this writing business, you get the good stuff too late. In the case of Dave Sheldon, one of his closest friends was "Hollywood" John Tatum, who I didn't get to talk to until about a week after the story ran. Still, it's a chance to hear some more stories, and help someone deal with the loss of a friend. I'll remember this story because it also got me to chase down Steve DiSalvo, and get to talk to Michael Hayes for the first time -- after he got permission from the McMahons. (Greg Oliver)

Abe Coleman -- His passing on March 28 was notable for a number of reasons. One, while we were reporting almost weekly on young men and women dying, often broken human beings after devoting a career to wrestling, here was an oldtimer who survived, thrived, and lived the longest (101) life. Two, the mainstream press rediscovered his legacy (lifting heavily from the SLAM! Wrestling obituary) as a squat, muscular Jewish performer in an anti-Semitic time who he made his mark as a Hercules/Tarzan gimmick dropkick practitioner. Three, as it turns out, before he made his way from Poland to New York City, he ended up living in Winnipeg. I would wager Winnipeg, Canada is where he saw his first rasslin' bout. (Marty Goldstein)

John Radocaj -- John was a gentle giant and if he had possessed a more goal-oriented nature, with his huge size in the early '80s he could have been a minor attraction. Historically he will always stand as Manitoba's first professional MMA champion (under pseudo-sumo rules but still). The RCMP has yet to arrest anyone for John's violent murder in an ambush inside his home last September. He was just 43. (Marty Goldstein)

Tom Stanton -- Having never written an obituary before, getting the assignment to write about Tom Stanton, who died October 22, of cancer, was already challenging, but it was made all the more so considering Stanton was a man I knew very little about. I had to rely on the memories he had left with people I did know to put the pieces of his life together. It didn't take very long for me to understand just how respected and loved Mr. Stanton was. Everyone wanted to comment on the story and if they didn't get the chance, they were almost angry about it. Writing obituaries is never fun, but with Mr. Stanton I got the opportunity to learn a great deal not just about him, but about the wrestling business in general. And it's become quite clear to me that certain individuals do leave a legacy behind and are not forgotten. Tom Stanton was just such a man, whose contribution to the world of pro wrestling will not be forgotten; I only wish I had been given the opportunity to meet him while this same legacy was being forged. Which, come to think of it, is an entirely different lesson. (Fred Johns)

Karl Gotch -- Gotch was really one of those names who made a large impact on the sport but it wasn't because he was a huge draw or drew giant ratings. He was innovative in both his ring technique but also his training in the years when he left the ring. Who knows how the "strong-style" that is popular in Japan and organizations like Ring of Honor would be around if it wasn't for Gotch. He died July 29, but his mark on wrestling may live forever. (Chris Schramm)

Mike Awesome (Michael Alfonso) -- Simply someone who couldn't adjust to life after wrestling. It wasn't that long ago that his controversial entrance into WCW was such large news. He failed in the WWE and basically fell off the planet earth. He was working real estate and couldn't make he adjustment. He committed suicide on February 17. It makes you shake your head. (Chris Schramm)

Tracey Richards (Debra Hunter Newkirk) -- Obituaries have to be one of the most difficult things for writers to write. There’s an expectation to write an all-encompassing piece without the input of a very key source: the deceased. Adding more difficulty, when Tracey Richards passed away after a very brief bout with cancer on February 25 at age 50, I had to write about someone I had never met or spoken to. I relied on and was grateful for the thoughts of Beverly Shade and Natasha Rahme who were both torn up over the loss of their friend. The two had plenty of stories about Richards, who they remembered as an avid wrestling fan who was determined to get in the ring just like her idols and as someone who made up for what she lacked in stature with a feisty nature and physical strength. After the story was printed, Shade sent me a VHS, which featured some of her and Richards’ matches, wrestling together as the Arm and Hammer connection. Finally getting to see Richards in action, I immediately noticed the look in her eyes as she and Shade came to the ring walking tough and dressed in black as Bad to the Bone played throughout the arena. The one-time wrestling fanatic had really made her dreams come true, and she was loving every minute of it. (Jamie Melissa Kreiser)

Doby Gillis / Mr. Gillis (Greg Gillies) -- Dobie was one of the most powerfully built men I ever saw in a Canadian ring. He never lost his sensible prairie roots and was a tremendous help to me when I relocated to Vancouver. He was always just a phone call away. The reality that both he and his partner Mike Lozanski died only a few years apart and both at such young ages (Gillies at 44, Lozanski at 35) ... it's a hard thing for some of us to deal with. (Marty Goldstein)

OBITUARIES WE SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN

Sometimes stories fall through the cracks, including obituaries. For whatever reason, these never got written up, and in retrospect, should have been. They were each notable names that we had a decent amount of material on.

Frank Fozo -- The Hamilton contingent speaks highly of one of the many graduates of "The Factory." Ron Logue praised the 5-foot-10, 235-pound Fozo's work. "Talk about a smooth wrestler. I not only worked out with him on the mat, he was so, so, so light to work with. It was just like a waltz, it was a pleasure." Fozo worked as The Great Malenko in the late '50s in Alabama, and here and there under his real name, including stints in Australia and New Zealand. Often working the lightheavyweight territories, Fozo had a famous match with Rikki Starr that was featured in the A&E special The Unreal Story Of Professional Wrestling. He died on August 23, at the age of 79, in Hamilton. (Greg Oliver)

Bob Luce -- The promoter in Chicago in the 1960s and '70s, Luce once defended his work thusly: "I match the Saints against the Sinners, and the Amphitheater is the ideal site. If wrestling has an odor, as some suggest, it is not readily detectable in this arena that also caters to livestock shows and political conventions." Loud and bombastic as the host of the local wrestling show, he became as much of a celebrity as the AWA wrestlers he primarily featured through the years. "Bob was one of a kind, standing out like a colorful petunia in an onion patch in this unique business," wrote longtime wrestling photographer Mike Lano when Luce died February 8, at the age of 78. (Greg Oliver)

OTHER DEATHS IN 2007

  • Boyd Rowell; Died December 17, at age 42
  • Tim Foster; Died November 27, at age 46
  • Jack Dempsey (Thomas Moore); Died November 20, at age 87
  • David Casey; Died November 19, at age 43
  • Victoria de Beaulais; Died November 17, at age 71, of cancer
  • El Gran Markus; Died November 15, at age 64, of diabetes
  • El Santanas; Died November 8, at age 78
  • J.R. Hogg; Died October 27, at age 59
  • Isak Rain; Died October 9, at age 22, in a car accident
  • Sean "Shocker" Evans; Died October 2, at age 36, of cancer
  • Dean Ross; Died September 24, at age 64, of cancer
  • Dave Diamond; Died September 24, at age 51
  • Zack Murray; Died September 24, at age 61
  • Juanita McIntyre; Died September 22, at age 94, of natural causes
  • Monty Black; Died September 9, at age 45
  • Karloff Lagarde; Died August 31, at age 79, of natural causes
  • John Meek; Murdered August 29, at age 52
  • Lightning Leni; Died August 23, at age 50
  • Frank Butcher; Died August 22, at age 84, of natural causes
  • El Soberano; Died August 18, at age 59
  • Brian Adams; Died August 13, at age 44
  • Bronco Lubich; Died August 11, age 81, of a stroke
  • Scott Dumas; Died August 7, at age 44
  • Tor Kamata; Died July 23, at age 70, of heart disease
  • Ronnie P. Gossett; Died July 23, at age 63, of colon cancer
  • Lita Marez; Died July 21, at age 69
  • Eugene Stezycki; Died July 19, at age 82, of natural causes
  • James Fawcett; Died July 15, at age 31, of suicide
  • Moondog Nathan; Died July 4, at age 37
  • Pat Humphries; Died in July 2007
  • Clifford Wright, at age 54, of lupus
  • Buster Fowler; Died June 18, at age 52
  • Princess Tona Tomah; Died June 15, at age 72
  • Caballero Rojo; Died June 14, at age 72
  • Mephisto LePhanto; Died May 5, at age 31, of a heart attack
  • Darren McMillan; Died April 11, at age 37 Cancer
  • Steven Ranton; Died March 26, at age 22, of suicide
  • Angel Azteca; Died March 18, at age 43, of a heart attack
  • Arnold Skaaland; Died March 13, at age 82, of natural causes
  • Alejandro Ortiz; Died March 8, at age 85, of pneumonia
  • Matt Storm; Died February 24, at age 39
  • Jesus Perez; Died Februay 23, at age 91, of natural causes
  • Doug Gentry; Died January 26, at age 34, of heart disease
  • Bam Bam Bigelow (Scott Bigelow); Died January 19, at age 45, of heart disease / cocaine and Benzodiazetine overdose
  • Cocoa Samoa; Died January 9, at age 62
  • Cowboy Lang; Died January 4, at age 56, of heart disease
  • Eddie Barker; Died January 1, at age 91, of heart problems

Thanks to Rich Tate at Georgia Wrestling History for the list of the deceased in 2007.