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Killer Kowalski

Killer Kowalski then...
REAL NAME: Edward Walter Spulnik
6'6", 280 pounds
BORN: Windsor, Ontario
DIED: August 30, 2008, Waltham, Mass.
RETIRED: 1977
AKA: Masked Executioners, Masked Destroyer

  There are many stories told of Killer Kowalski. Some are even true.

Here are a few facts:

  • He was born in Windsor, Ontario, the son of Polish immigrants. For a time, he worked in an auto plant with his father before getting the call to go into pro wrestling.
  • He wrestled for 26 years, in over an estimated 6,000 bouts.
    Killer Kowalski
    Killer Kowalski in October 1998.
  • He retired in 1977, and soon became a teacher, operating the Killer Kowalski Institute for Professional Wrestling in Massachussets. His most famous student would probably be the late Big John Studd. Together teacher and protege held the WWF tag team titles for a short time in 1976 under masks as the Masked Executions. Captain Lou Albano managed them, and Nikolai Volkoff was also an Executioner. His best known student in today's mat game would be Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
  • In Oct. 1952, at the Montreal Forum, Kowalski kneedropped Yukon Eric, and severed a piece of Eric's ear. As the story goes, he was now a heel. He did visit Yukon Eric in the hospital, however, but began laughing at Eric's huge headdressing for the severed ear. Reporters caught him laughing, and called him sadistic (despite the fact that Yukon Eric was laughing too). Killer Kowalski was born.
  • Jan. 14, 1953, Kowalski was involved in the first professional wrestling match to be televised in Canada. He was matched against Yukon Eric in the Montreal Forum.
  • He faced all the top names over the years. Whipper Billy Watson, Nature Boy Buddy Rogers, Gorgeous George. Said Whipper to Maclean's magazine: "Kowalski was a rugged customer. I considered him to be in the Top 10 in the business."


    Stories

  • Killer Kowalski Photo Gallery
  • Killer Kowalski Career Record
  • Sep. 7, 2008: Don Leo Jonathan reflects on Killer Kowalski
  • August 30, 2008: Killer Kowalski dies
  • August 19, 2008: Killer Kowalski removed from life support
  • August 10, 2008: An uplifting visit with Killer Kowalski
  • August 9, 2008: Outlook for Killer Kowalski improved
  • Jan 24, 2005: Confessions of Killer Kowalski
  • Aug. 18, 2003: Kowalski's school closing
  • Feb. 10, 2002: Kowalski gets top CAC award
  • Oct. 10, 2001: Review: Kowalski photos, video don't quite click
  • Feb. 6, 2001: Killer Kowalski slams Chyna's book
  • Nov. 25, 1998: Killer Kowalski a true storyteller
    Memories

    Oh, Killer. He's an outstanding wrestler. Killer's about six-foot-seven, six-foot-six. I wrestled him one time for 45 minutes and I was in fairly good shape. I was up and down, up and down, up and down for 45 minutes and he was still as fresh as a daisy at the end of the 45 minutes. I was wondering when he was going to run down. He was a vegetarian and a kind of a religious fellow too ... He used to fly a plane for me sometimes. I had a Comache 250 and Kowalski would fly the plane sometimes. Kowalski was a hell of a man on the mike ... Kowalski became one of the most skilled speakers, vicious speaker. He could sell a house out just interviewing him on television. He was a powerful speaker. ... He'd just give Ed [Whalen] a hint of what he wanted and he would get it. He [Whalen] was a professional. He could get a good story out of anyone he had in front of him. The fellow got to thinking he was a public speaker after being interviewed by Ed. They fancied themselves as talented after a while.
    Stu Hart from a Nov. 1997 interview with SLAM! Wrestling
     Killer toured my native Australia many times from 1964 under the Jim Barnett promotion. He was the archetype heel who gave our local boys heaps of beatings over the years. He feuded with Dominic Denucci who had a large Italian following Down Under.
      He made headlines in the mainstream press when he applied his dreaded claw hold on talk show host Don Lane. Lane was goading Killer about wrestling being fake so Kowalski took matters into his own hands -- literally. Lane was howling and not at all impressed, threatening law suits etc. The question of wrestling's legitimacy never came up after that. (The public loved it by the way because Lane was a loud Yank.)
      I saw him Wrestle Mark Lewin live at Melbourne's festival Hall in 1971. He is fondly remembered by all wrestling fans in Australia. If he was around today he'd kick ass big time.
      Go Killer !!!
     dwarfiel
     Killer Kowalski is the greatest all around wrestler in the history of the sport. He could wrestle scientifically,brawl or mess around and get hardcore. I'll remember his matches with Bruno Sammartino as some of the best matches of that era(late-60' and early-70's). Then again,would you expect anything less? They were two of the greatest stars of their era. Johnny Valiant said,"He wasn't afraid of a monster". Well,Johnny,that's because he was one.
     Reinaldo Luciano
     I have many personal memories of Killer Kowalski. I use the term 'personal' because I have the honour of calling Killer Kowalski...Uncle Walter. As a kid, the fact that I had a famous uncle was a little bit lost on me. I think the only important thing to me was the neat stuff he would bring me every time he visited. As I grew older, however, I soon decided that having Killer Kowalski as an uncle was definately cool! School bullies would keep their distance and the young girls wouldn't. How perfect. By the time I was ten or eleven, I was old enough to tag along with my uncle to all his local fights (in Montreal), even though my mother protested ferociously! It was during those times that I found out that Killer Kowalski is a completely different person, and personality, from Walter Kowalski. I couldn't believe that this man could be so viscious. In fact, such was my disbelief, that I once asked my uncle, "Is wrestling fake?". There was a two second flash of anger across my uncle's face and then he said something to the effect of "Do you go to a movie because it's real? Or do you go to see a great show?" I think that he was trying say that the skill and work that goes into the performance of professional wrestling is what should be recognised by the audience. However, not every audience member has such a firm grasp on reality. I'll give you an example. Every time I went to a fight with my uncle he would drop me off at the front door and then 'go look for a park'. At the end of the match he would, once again, leave me at the front door, always with his wrestling bag, and 'go get the car'. It was only last year that he told me the story behind that ritual.
     You see, for the likes of Killer Kowalski, entering and, especially, leaving the venue was a dangerous undertaking. A few wrestling fans looked upon my uncle as a truly evil person and they thought it was their duty to wait for him in the parking lot with baseball bats and metal pipes. He always made me wait at the front door to protect me from injury! As I think back, there seem to be times when he returned with the car looking a little worse than when he left. If there are any wrestling fans out there who have done, or plan to do, something similar, don't be an idiot. These wrestlers work hard for your entertainment. They also have wives,sons,daughters,nieces and nephews who love them and don't want to see them hurt.
     Thanks for your time.
     Mark Spulnik,Sydney,Australia, spulnik@optusnet.com.au
     One of my memories regarding wrestling goes back to the late 50's or early 60's when I was about 12 years old. I attended my first live match at the Montreal Forum and the main event was the Championship match between Killer Kowalski and Edouard Carpenter. In those days Championships were decided with the best 2 out of 3 falls and it was not unusual for a main event to go well over an hour in length. The Forum that night was packed to the rafters just as it would be for a Canadiens hockey game.
      The match itself was a classic with each winning one fall, (Killer winning his with the famous Claw Hold to the stomach), and by the time the bell rang for the third and deciding fall to decide the championship, (Killer was the Champion at the time) the crowd was in a frenzy.
      I can remember it as if it was yesterday as Carpenter focused on working on Kowalski's supposed injured knee. The match went back and forth until finally Carpentier got the 3 count and was crowned the new Champion. The crowd of course was ecstatic as the world's biggest heel had gone down to defeat at the hands of the local hero. Although Carpenter was from France, Quebecers both English and French, had adopted him as their own.
      I believe in later years Carpenter became part of the WWF French language broadcast crew.
      I am a fan who likes the heels more than the faces and Killer Kowalski was definitely a heel lovers heel. It was him that made me the wrestling fan I still am today.
      Steve Boydell, Calgary, Alberta
      Being a young man of 23 years, one might ask, "What in the heck do you know about Killer Kowalski?" Well, what I remember is something that may be the most special kind of memory. My grandfather was a huge wrestling fan. He worked on the railroad for nearly forty years and was always being sent the New England area and some times into the Quebec area of Canada. His entire paycheck would get sent home to my grandmother but grandpa always kept a little back to eat and if the right show came up he'd go. We'll papaw was a huge wrestling fan and would tell me stories of the matches that he and the other workers would go and see. At that time it was the biggest of events. Men would dress up in their best suits and go see the real men grapple to the end. Papaw always liked the bad guys so I heard stories about Haystacks Calhoun, Gorilla Monsoon but mostly I heard the stories over and over about the "meanest, toughest man in the history of the world!" That man was of course, Killer Kowalski. Pap's eyes would get as big around as silver dollars as he would brag about Killer working the crowd and how he would get the fans so worked up they would be ready to push over the guard rail and go after him right there. Pap would get so animated when he would talk about Killer. "He was vicious!" Pap would always say. "He'd come after ya, and he'd never stop!" "I remember one time I saw him fight Bruno Sammartino, the greatest champ of all time, and Killer gave him the fight of his life!" Pap will tell over and over how Killer would slap the claw on his opponents stomach and "try to rip the guts right out of a man!" Though I've only seen Killer Kowalski wrestle once on an old black and white reel, I feel like I've watched him wrestle a thousand times and I guess I have in my head, visualizing in my mind, while pap described his favorite wrestler, Killer Kowalski, terrorize and destroy yet another opponent. One day I hope to meet Killer Kowalski, I carry a peace of him with me in my heart whenever I take my children to my parents house to visit their papaw and my mind drifts off to my papaw and those stories he'd tell. Two men are the toughest men in the history of the world to me. John Wayne and Killer Kowalski. And if the Duke had ever dawned the tights, I'm almost positive Killer would have "ripped his guts out!"
      Steve Gaines, Pro Wrestling Insiders
     Many eons ago I remember seeing Kowalski when he was staring out. It was at a card held at East York Collegiate Stadium which had just been built. Whipper Watson was a local hero and fought Sky Hi Lee that night. They introduced a new guy, Wladek "Tarzan" Kowalski, from Hamtramck, MI as I recall. He later became the heel, Killer. I recall a student teacher at high school who said that he had known Walter Kowalski in Windsor.
      Later on when he became a name Killer wrestled Whipper for the British Empire Title ( Whip held that for years and years). Then he was billed from Windsor. I can remember Yukon Eric suddenly coming from the Yukon instead of Fairbanks, Alaska in order to challenge Whipper for that title.
      Ah, memories.
      Howard Birnie
      I have very fond memories of KILLER wrestling in the Pittsburgh area...I remember you wrestling Bruno Sammartino in the 70's I had the pleasure of meeting you in Pittsburgh in November of 1998 and it was the thrill of a lifetime......I was very impressed with your wrestling abilities and skills..I hope that you are doing ok//and safe and happy??????? May God be with you
      frank thomas hodnik
      During the early 80s Killer took some of his students from his wrestling school and booked some time at a TV studio in Lowell, MA. The program was called Bedlam in Boston, and it was a rather quaint way to see how the business was handled back then.
      They would tape about six hours worth of matches and then chop it up into hour long segments, broadcasting weekly (Saturday mornings, I think). The talent was thin - his students were eager but not very good - so The Killer brought in a few veterans, including Dom Denucci and Bull Curry (Yes, Bull Curry!) and some guys who were midcarders in the WWF at the time (Ron Shaw and Hans Schroeder, who were not stars, engaged in a wild brawl that surprised the heck out of all of us at ringside.)
      I remember Killer greeting people at the door like he was hosting a party, and that some of his students would shake our hands as we left, "Thanks for coming!" they'd say.
      Bedlam from Boston didn't last long, probably not more than a few months, but I have fond memories of it.
      Don S.
      Here's a Bedlam from Boston memory.
      Killer not only ran the show, he would wear his blue mask once in a while and actually mix it up with one of his students. Killer named himself "Champion" of whatever federation was being touted (he may have called himself The Grand Prix Champion, but I'm not sure on that...)
      Anyway, I was ringside during a few of their endless taping sessions. Killer got in the ring with a tall skinny wrestler known (I think) as The Black Diamond. After a few uneventful minutes of grappling, Killer slung Diamond into the ropes and readied himself to deliver a standard forearm blow to the chest. Killer missed his spot, or Diamond timed it badly, and Killer slammed his arm right into the poor guy's nose. The guy went to the canvas, clutching his face, blood spurting from his nose. I heard Killer yell to the ref, "Count him out!" Killer merely placed his hand on the guys chest whike the ref gave a quick 1-2-3. Later on, my friend and I saw Mr. Diamond in the parking lot behind the TV studio. He had enough wiring and tubing in his nose to go scuba diving!
      If anyone asks Diamond if wrestling is fake, all he has to do is recall the day Killer broke his nose!
      Don S.
     In 1985 I worked up the nerve to dial a phone number that would supposedly connect me to Killer Kowalski's wrestling school.
     I was 22 at the time and really in need of something to do. To my shock, Killer picked up the phone on the third ring. I recognized his voice from countless TV interviews.
     At the time he charged a flat fee of $1,000 to join his school. He kept chanting it to me ($1,000...$1,000). He would answer any question I asked by saying "A thousand dollars."
     We chatted for a few seconds. I was nervous, because suddenly I realized how silly I was being. I stand 5'9 and weigh 175. Killer was disgusted with me. I could hear it in his voice. (What kills me is that I have uncles who are well over six feet tall and they couldn't give damn about wrestling.)
     "You're too small," he said.
     "Can I be one of those midget wrestlers?" I said.
     "Are you a wise guy?" he said. He was losing interest in me; I was desperate to keep him on the line.
     I asked him if I could be a ring announcer. Killer told me he had a guy from a local radio station to do that. (I'd seen that guy - his name was Mel Simons and he was terrible. He treated the audience like we were a bunch of boobs at a game show.) I asked if I could be a referee. Killer told me his referees were all former wrestlers. I couldn't get a break. Finally he told me about some protein drinks he was in favor of, and suggested I buy some. He told me I could gain 30 pounds in a couple of months.
     "And then you'll train me?"
     And that was the end of it. I suppose a more serious fellow would have devoured vitamin shakes all summer but I couldn't see myself doing that. I thanked Killer for his time. I hung up the phone. I knew I couldn't be a wrestler. I imagined myself getting thrown out of the ring, landing on my head and breaking my neck. There had to be an easier way to make a living. At least Killer was honest with me. If he was just a money hungry bastard trying to keep his school afloat he might have taken my money and I might have been hurt by some 300 pounder trying to make a name for himself. Killer probably did me a favor by blowing me off.
     Years later I have found myself living a few blocks from his school. I walk past it when I get off the subway after work and can hear the sounds of body slams up there. I'm always tempted to go in and have a look, but I'm pretty sure I'd be chased out. I'm also pretty sure the Killer's price has gone up since 1985.
     DS
      The first time I saw Killer Kowalski was in the summer of 1974 on our 15" black and white television. I was hooked. Killer Kowalski. Just the name oh wow. But there was so much more! The way he moved the way he terrorized his opponents,this guy was different. He was special. Some inner talent just oozed out of him as he stomped on The Cisco Kid's stomach, sofetening him up for the torturous claw hold and the incredible Flying Kneedrop off the top rope that would send the Kid to the Hall Of Never To Be Seen Again Wrestlers. Killer Kowalski became my adolescent obsession. While other kids idolized rock stars my bedroom wall was covered with pictures of Killer Kowalski. Black and white pictures cut painstakingly from the pages of "The Wrestler" and "Inside Wrestling" magazines. My patient mother would wait at the magazine counter of the cigar store while i pored through magazines hoping for an article or picture of the Killer. It's hard for me to believe but this was all in the very late stages of his brilliant career. He hung up the tights in 1977 as half of the W.W.W.F. tag team champions, so I was seeing him on the verge of his retirement. What must he have been like in his heyday! Killer Kowalski provided endless hours of entertainment a kind of hero to a young boy without a father in those long ago few years and for that I will be eternally grateful to Walter Kowalski.
      Years later as the host of a radio talk show, i mustered the courage to call Killer and invite him to be a guest on my show. He graciously accepted and made the long trip to Brockton from the north shore of Boston. He told his great stories...Haystacks on the airplane...Yukon Eric in the hospital with no ear...he was such a great guest he came back to do it again! And talk about a thrill, I felt 12 again as he signed the first wrestling magazine i had ever bought, the September 1974 Inside Wrestling with him and Bruno on the cover. Killer Kowalski will go down in sports history as a legendary figure who earned respect and admiration worldwide. But to me he'll always be my hero the Killer.
      With Love and prayers for continued happiness, Steve Albert
     As a former referee and student/friend of walter he was one tuff cookie in trying to train a a lightweight 185lb he would yell to move faster and quicker I trained against him almost got killed literally I turned into a ref for his independent group doing Bedlam from Boston TV shows out of a TV studio with maybe 50 people then he hooked up with Bruno/Denuccis group out of Penn. we toured Ma,NH,Maine,RI. with people like Zybsko, Bruno Jr, Dom Denucci, Valiant bros. Walter would ref main events and wrestle once in a while I was a friend for a while he taught me to like natural food and was fun to be around . He used to get us students into WWF shows at Boston Garden and hang around dressing room Saw him recently still looks great
     Matt C, Boston
     Killer was, and still is, my all time favorite wrestler. No one mentioned the Bedlam From Boston TV program that was done in 1959, I believe. It was done in a small studio with Sam Munschnik as the announcer. Killer was the champion.
     Unlike other TV shows of the era, the program built up to the following week's program as opposed to a card at say Madison Square Garden. This was very addictive to me. The best one was when Pepper Gomez "The Man With The Cast Iron Stomach" said that Kowalski's abdominal claw could not penetrate his rock hard stomach. They made a deal that if Kowalski gave him the claw and Gomez survived, then Gomez would get a title shot. When the time came, Gomez laid down on the mat and Kowalski gave him a knee drop to his throat and proceeded to annihilate him. So much for Pepper Gomez.
     Another favorite memory is that Killer Kowalski was the only wrestler who during the interview would turn his back on the announcer. His huge body would block the view of the announcer and you would only see the back of Killer.
     Walter, or Wladek, if you read this, be assured that you have a special place in my heart and the hearts of all wrestling fans who appreciate the villains, as opposed to the namby pamby mama's boys they threw against you.
     Dave Leveton
     I remember one time when he came to our local high school to ref. It was great! Afterwards I went up and asked for a autograph and he gave it to me. He was very polite, nice, and cool. One day I hope to learn at his school.
      Jeff c. Massacuetts
     Killer Kowalski is a regular writer/contributor to Wrestling- Then & Now newsletter- see his photos on our website at: www.walkertown.com/wtnow
     He has a photo collection coming out shortly called Killer Pics from White-Bouke Publishing.
     EVAN GINZBURG, EDITOR- WRESTLING THEN & NOW
     I remember seeing the Killer at the old Cleveland Arena in the 50's, he was absolutely great. He had a big following there, not to mention every Polish person in town.
     Stolot Mr.Kowalski
     Leon F. Tomasic
     Kowalski may have been the ultimate heel. His voice, his body, his mannerisms, everything about him projected evil. He didn't get over with cheap xenophobic gimmicks (like the evil Japanese, evil Russians, & evil Iranians who followed him). He was, quite simply, an American Bad-Ass. I read here that Kowalski ripped Yukon Eric's ear off in the 50's. Funny, I remember reading about it in a wrestling magazine some 20 years after. The story was changed too. It said that Kowalski bit Eric's ear off and discussed Eric's quest to return the favor. Apparently Kowalski didn't actually bite the ear off, but I still have relatives that swear they saw it happen.
     I remember Kowalski as an Executioner. He was the first masked guy I positively ID'd all by myself. Of course, with a body like Kowalski's, I don't know who he thought he could fool.
     George Paul
     I held a fundraiser for a charity in 1993. I decided to live out my fantasy by including some of the 'legends' I grew up watching. Naturally, I booked Killer Kowalski to battle Baron von Raschke in a battle of the claws. I held the event under a gigantic tent in the cul-de-sac in front of my house. I had all sorts of food for the wrestlers in my house, which doubled as the dressing room. Of course, I had a special vegetarian platter prepared for Kowalski, as any self-respecting mark was aware of his eating habits. As the others were demolishing everything in sight, Killer sat silently without eating. I came in to see if everyone was okay, and noticed this. When I told him an entire platter was there for him, he smiled, and appreciated the fact that I took the effort.
     Also, as mark/booker, I had written out general guidelines for eveyone's match, mainly focusing on the finish. So, in my basement, I somewhat sheepishly hand these out to all the boys, and only Kowalski looks at me, and says, "I don't work from scripts!"
     Best of all, at the age of 68, he took a bump off the top rope, without hurting himself, at the end of the match.
     Thanks for the memories, Killer!
     Jeff Bukantz
     Killer Kowalski was a great wrestling villain. I watched him in the early '60s wrestle all the top guys and he was a fantastic draw. He had a great rivalry with Bruno Sammartino and his interviews were almost as good as his matches. One time (on television) he was signing a contract for a match with Sammartino. Sammartino was using a special fountain pen his father in Italy had given him. After they signed the contract, Kowalski grabbed the pen and snapped it half, and proceeded to spray ink all over a white shirt the stunned Sammartino was wearing. They began brawling ringside, and it was great. It built up great anticipation for their match and only proved what a lowdown, treacherous and vicious villain Kowalski was! Man, could that guy get people riled!!
     Russ
     My memories of seeing Killer KOWALSKI in action date back to 1964-66, when several of us in our mid-teens would regularly travel from Sydney's western suburbs to the Sydney Stadium at Rushcutters Bay. One leg of that journey involved about two miles of walking each way from the train station to the Stadium. On the return journey, we would occasionally encounter a group of "aspiring" young wrestlers who felt the need to "work out" their frustrations after the bouts - especially if Kowalski had beaten the hell out of their favourite in one of the matches.
     Overseas wrestlers visiting Sydney during that era were generally accommodated in hotels around Kings Cross, about half a mile west of the Stadium. One evening we walked back from Sydney Stadium only a few yards behind Killer Kowalski, Cyclone Negro and the late Buddy Austin. Needless to say, no "aspiring" wrestlers ventured near us that evening!
     Paul Rogers, ex-Sydney Australia

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