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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: Johnny Valentine deserved better
By JOHN F. MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling

"Out, damned spot! Out, I say!"
-- Lady MacBeth
From William Shakespeare's play "MacBeth"


In Act 2, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's play "MacBeth", Lady MacBeth conspired with her husband to kill King Duncan.

By the time Act 5, Scene 1 rolls around Lady MacBeth is so guilt ridden that she begins sleepwalking. Even though it was her husband who plunged a dagger into King Duncan, Lady MacBeth starts hallucinating. She thinks she sees a spot of King Duncan's blood on her trembling hand (a symbol of her growing guilt and paranoia) and tries in vain to scrub it off.

But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't rub it off. As Lady MacBeth becomes more insane as the play progresses, she comes to realize that she will have King Duncan's blood on her hands forever, serving as a constant reminder of the foul deed she and her husband committed.


Johnny Valentine at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, August 30, 1958. -- Toronto Sun files
Our Johnny Valentine Photo Gallery

More Valentine stories

  • April 28, 2001: Piper remembers Johnny Valentine
  • April 26, 2001: Memorial planned for Johnny Valentine
  • April 25, 2001: The fans recall Johnny Valentine
  • April 28, 2001: Johnny Valentine passes away
  • April 24, 2001: Flair, friends remember Johnny Valentine
  • Dec. 21, 2000: Johnny Valentine's fight for life
  • Dec. 28, 2000: The plane crash that changed wrestling
  • Just like the wrestling industry will never be able to wash away the blood of Johnny Valentine from its collective hands.

    I never saw Johnny Valentine wrestle. I was still in diapers when the Cessna 310 plane carrying Valentine, at the time the U.S. Heavyweight champ, and four others (including Ric Flair) crashed to the ground in 1975, paralyzing him for life and ending his wrestling career.

    Still, I understand his place in wrestling history and why he was so revered and respected.

    Johnny Valentine paid his dues. He paid them every time he took a hard bump to the cold, hard canvas in some dingy, smoke-filled arena. He paid them every time he told someone like Wahoo McDaniel or Tim Woods to really lay into him during the course of a match. He paid then by making promoters like Vince McMahon Sr., Sam Muchnick, Jim Crockett Jr. and a host of others into millionaires.

    And he paid them every time he stepped into the ring, producing matches that were an orgy of twisted flesh, broken bones, bloody brows and sweat-soaked torsos. Matches that a generation of wrestling fans still recall in great detail to this day.

    A huge gate attraction during his prime, Valentine single-handedly turned around the Mid Atlantic office in the early '70s, taking it from a sleepy, all but dead circuit to a vital, thriving promotion that became the hottest and most influential territory in wrestling history.

    And he did it because he was able to draw heat better than anybody else at the time.

    Valentine was the archetypal heel. The type of heel promoters would kill to have on their roster. He played the part of the villain 24 hours a day, fully committing himself to the character he portrayed. Valentine was able to draw and elicit such visceral hatred from fans throughout the territories he worked that he took his life into his own hands every time he left building after the show.

    And yet, he was still respected. A month after the 1975 plane-crash, Crockett held a tournament to crown a new U.S. Heavyweight champion. Johnny Valentine was brought out in his wheelchair during the show and the crowd of over 16,000 fans at the Greensboro Coliseum gave him a 15-minute standing ovation. The same audience that had booed and berated him countless times before the crash.

    Hated heel or not, Valentine had earned their respect.

    And it wasn't hard to understand why. With his hard-hitting and uncompromising style, more than any other wrestler before or since, Johnny Valentine made fans believe wrestling was real. During his 28 years in the ring he had the reputation of being the toughest man in the business. But it was for the 25 years following the tragic plane crash that he showed his real toughness.

    Only able to walk with the assistance of crutches, Valentine never let his injury stop him from living life. He helped to train young wrestlers in his home. He traveled the world. He was a gourmet cook who liked to experiment in the kitchen and prepare lavish meals for his wife Sharon. His competitive nature continued to burn as he worked out for hours on end every day, hoping to some day make it back into the ring.

    But he never did. The obstacles were too great.

    Doctors who told him he'd never walk again. Nurses who told his wife there was nothing they could do for him. Medical insurance carriers that looked for every loophole possible to escape their responsibility to pay for his medical treatment. And an industry he sacrificed such much for, pro wrestling, that deliberately and systematically turned its back on him.

    For the past 25 years, Valentine forged on without any assistance from anybody in pro wrestling. Promoters all but ignored him. Former colleagues and friends lost touch. Valentine toiled in relative obscurity and fought to keep up with the mounting medical bills on his own, without so much as a helping hand from the very same people he made millions for.

    Valentine displayed his real toughness by defying the odds. Engaged in a bureaucratic war with doctors and insurance companies, he braved on and fought tooth and nail until he no longer had any fight left in him. His body was old, his spirit tired.

    In all that time he never complained, although he would have been well within his right if he had. That wasn't his style. Valentine was never bitter. He never once asked for help from the wrestling industry. He never felt he was owed something for the 28 years of service he gave to the sport. He never asked for pity or sympathy. He was much too proud and dignified to do that. And he had something that the wrestling world didn't.

    Class.

    He had too much class to 'burden' promoters with his 'petty' problems. He had too much class to ask for a job as a trainer or a manager. He never felt he was owed anything for all his years of loyal service. He had too much class to call a spade a spade and take the industry to task for not helping him out in his time of need.

    No, Johnny Valentine had too much class to do that. And for his troubles, he was repaid with neglect and indifference.

    With the exception of the shameful way the WWF continued on with the pay-per-view following Owen Hart's death, wrestling's 25-year neglect of Valentine stands as the biggest black eye on the sport.

    That Valentine died virtually penniless and destitute should serve as a permanent black cloud that hovers over wrestling. It is, unequivocally, an embarrassment of staggering proportions. Wrestling's failure and outright refusal to look after one of its favourite sons violates every precept of morality and decency that exists.

    The industry's treatment of Valentine was nothing short of criminal. In all my years of being a fan, coupled with the years covering the sport as a reporter, I can honestly say I've never been more ashamed to be associated with the pro wrestling industry than I am now. The stench from this is so foul that no amount of whitewash could ever cleanse the guilt that will forever stain pro wrestling.

    The heartless way in which wrestling dealt with Johnny Valentine's struggle for life is symptomatic of a larger problem that plagues the sport and speaks to the inherent nature of what wrestling is: a cold, insensitive con game run by scheming shysters who have no use for anybody once they can no longer produce.

    In the aftermath of the Survivor Series '97 screw job, Bret Hart boiled down the relationship between wrestlers and promoters to this simple, yet graphic description:

    "We're like circus animals. And once we can't jump through hoops or do the same tricks we once could, promoters take us out back behind the circus tents and put a slug into us."

    That's exactly what happened to Johnny Valentine.

    In its typically cruel and callous way, the wrestling industry tossed Johnny Valentine onto the scrap-heap like a common piece of refuse. For 25 years, he was all but neglected and ignored by the same industry he gave his life to.

    And why? Because dealing with Johnny Valentine was ugly and unpleasant. Dealing with the serious pain he had to live with for 25 years wasn't pleasant. Dealing with Johnny Valentine would force wrestling promoters to take a long, introspective look at themselves and force them to re-evaluate how they do business. And dealing with Johnny Valentine would mean they would have to institute serious changes in the way of workers' rights and protection.

    Johnny Valentine's condition was a constant reminder of the ugly side of the sport. A constant weight on wrestling's guilty conscience.

    Wrestling's 25-year neglect of Johnny Valentine is an indictment of the wrestling industry and further underscores a sobering reality: wrestling is a cold-blooded and morally sterile business.

    Johnny Valentine earned the right to die with dignity and grace.

    The wrestling community robbed him of that right.

    Shame on them.

    Johnny Valentine deserved better.

    Reader Feedback

  • Apr. 26:Indies: The lifeblood of wrestling


  • This is the PWE webmaster, and I would like to commend you on a great column about indy wrestling, a product in general, that is tremendously underexposed and underappreciated. Let me add that while being involved in wrestling is one hell of a trip, but every once in a while, the "inner mark" has got to get out and enjoy the show from the other side of the proverbial fence, as a fan.

    I went to another fed's wrestling show, and was sitting at ringside, marking out for guys that two weeks ago, I was working with. It was amazing and I had so much fun. It's the only thing I miss about being part of the show is being able to sit there, watch and "participate" like any good fan should. It's strange to be a worker and a fan of the workers but it is thoroughly satisfying and very necessary.

    If people look at these shows and say, "but it's not the WWF", they'll go and be ho-hum about the whole thing while being mildly impressed. However, those who go looking to be entertained, I can almost guarantee that you WILL be pleasntly surprised at the abilities of some of the local talent, thoroughly entertained and you will want to go to another one. If attended with the right frame of mind, indy wrestling can be habit forming.

    I encourage all fans of wrestling to go to the next local indy wrestling show in their area, and enjoy the bounty that is local and regional talent. I promise that you WILL see the next 'Sexton Hardcastle'.

    Mark Hinkley, PWE Webmaster
    It is hard to go to an Indy show when You don't know they are there. This is the biggest problem with an Indy program out there. They need a way to get the word out that they are there.

    I spend a lot of time here in Philly watching ECW get off the ground & then go national. They had almost no advertising in the beginning but still the word got out that they were having a show in South Philly. When you went you felt great. You were seeing the future of the wrestling. This is what is needed to get an Indy show promoted. I would go see more show if I could.

    With a past WWF, WCW, ECW star on a local radio show promoting the show might help get the word out. But hey what do I know. I am only one wrestling fan out millions.

    Jason Moskowitz
    Certainly not arguing with you as far as your point of view concerning the indies. I just have trouble finding out about shows and most often don't know about them until its too late. (already have that time scheduled)

    Do you know of any place that has an on-going list of indie shows in S-W and S-C Ontario? I would love to go to more, but I don't know when the next time a fed is going to the manor in Guelph or some bar in Toronto.

    Mark

    REPLY FROM GREG OLIVER: I got a couple of similar emails, and was surprised. SLAM! Wrestling has tried to keep a running list of ALL indy shows across Canada for a couple of years now.
    I think the reason why a lot of people haven't attended indie shows is due to lack of availability. While I am sure they are abundant in BC, Ontario and the Prairies, the other provinces may be more lacking. I live on the East Coast, Nova Scotia more specifically. indie wrestling had been dead here until about 3 years ago. They seemed to have just given up on it. We had Grand Prix Wrestling running a half-effort season that had such long intervals between shows that it was nearly impossible to know when they were actually in town. Now, (as your site has covered) we have Real Action Wrestling that has surged the wrestling scene on the East Coast. I am sure they are as good as any Indie fed in Canada. Attendance for RAW has built strong this year, and it is evident that the indie scene is building. Maybe the reason 53% of people have not attneded is becasue their scene is similar to what the East coast had 4 yeas ago.

    Adam Sherry
    I had the pleasure of attending an indy show for $7 general admission tickets and $10 for ringside at the Alma High School gym in Alma, Michigan back in October. The group was Professional Wrestling Federation out of Lansing I believe. The headlining match was "Crippler" Brian Costello vs. George "The Animal" Steele. It was not a four star match, but it was great to see George Steele in person. At the intermission, you could get your picture taking with Steele. I paid my $10 and got my photo taken with a wrestling legend.

    The matches on the card were great. Some of those wrestlers have an excellent chance of making it big. The wrestlers that really stuck out for me were: "X-Rated" Jason Kronan, "Jumpin" Jimmy Jacobs", "Gorgeous" Gavin Starr, "Freak Nasty" Michael Stryker, and The Blitkrieg Kid (who also wrestles as Bobby Bambino).

    As to readers who haven't attended an indy show, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!

    Brett Wolverton
    I really enjoyed your column on the independant wrestling scene because it touched base with a lot of topics that my friend Chauncey and I recently have been discussing about.

    We, over the past 6 months, have become huge indy wrestling fans, as we attend almost every show we an within the radius of 2 hours in every which direction. I, as well as my friend believe that indy wrestling IS wrestling. I no longer am a WWF fan because I don't see them as wrestlers, but more as stunt fighters. If you watch stunt fighting in movies they suplex each other through tables, hit each other with chairs & ladders & canes, they are alike in many ways.

    I love the feeling of taunting the managers and wrestlers, find their every weak spot and run with it, and get a cheap pop from the fans. I enjoy talking with wrestlers such as Rockin' Rebel, Chuck, who has had history with not only indy leagues, but with Japan, England, WCW & ECW. I love how indy shows truly make you feel like YOU ARE part of the action, unlike WWF shows where the barricades, ring announcers, and over the top pizzazz makes it feel more like you're watching a movie. Indy shows you get to interact, meet people, feel apart of something. WWF shows feels like you are being trained, told what to do like you are attending a talk show, told when to pop, when to chant, we're not individuals at those shows, just a crowd. I will continue to attend as many shows as possible, and I love how your article touched base perfectly with what myself & my friends were currently discussing about.

    Chris Glavin

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