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WRESTLING WITH TRAGEDY:
The Von Erich Family's Sad History: Conclusion

from the Dallas Observer, Nov. 20-26, 1997

A WRESTLER NOBODY WANTS TO WRESTLE

from The Wrestler, Vol. 1, No. 2, February, 1967

By Roger Baker

SUPPORTING ACTOR LETS ROCCA DOWN

from the New York Post, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 1955

By Lester Bromberg


Volume 5, Issue 575 - June 30, 2000
Editor's Note: Unfortunately I was so busy over the last week that I never got a chance to watch any of the weekly shows except for snippets here and there. So I was faced with a problem - what do I publish for this edition. Fortunately I have a vast store of classic articles so I chose to publish the conclusion of the sad story of the Von Erichs followed by an amazing article about human wrestlers going up against a wrestling bear, and finally reaching all the way back to 1955 for a story about wrestling legend Antonio Rocca.

WRESTLING WITH TRAGEDY

(Dallas Observer, Nov. 20-26, 1997)

By Robert Wilonsky

Part 8

After his career ended, Kevin spent much of his time with his family and his father, watching the legend fade into shadow. Doris and Jack were divorced in July 1992, a year before Kerry's death, and Kevin could never figure out how Jack had withstood losing his family. Although Jack had lost so much, he had still held onto his home in Denton County and a net worth estimated at more than $600,000.

On July 25 of this year, Jack suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with brain cancer. He knew he didn't have long to live, and he welcomed death, said he was anxious for the chance to see his sons again.

As always, Kevin was there for his father, even though Jack, though never in much pain, was "hard to be around," fluctuating between being moody and happy. Jack and Kevin rarely spoke about the many tragedies they had both experienced -they didn't have to.

On September 8, Kevin and Jack were at Jack's house watching Monday Night RAW when, during the fourth quarter, Jack began suffering enough for him to call the nurse to administer morphine. Jack slept throughout the rest of the day, then died quietly and quickly on Wednesday.

"He got out with no pain at all, and you have to think that's a good thing," Kevin says. "I've visited people that were suffering so bad it would take me days to get over it. But see, like, I'm telling you all this sad stuff. I am sure you've got sad stuff too."

Now Kevin begins the task of collecting that sad stuff and showing it to the world. He and Mike's ex-wife are now assembling the family history and putting it on the Website, which is located, appropriately enough, at.www.vonerich.com. There, Kevin will provide pictures and bios of his brothers and father, celebrating their place in pro-wrestling history--not the tragedies, he hopes, but as heroes. He will sell old videotapes of the brothers and Fritz; Jack had left behind hundreds of black-and-white reels and old wrestling films, which Kevin one day hopes to market on the Website.

"Someone asked me if I wanted to do the Website as a way to keep my brothers," Kevin says. "I said, `No, not necessarily.' I just think it was a hell of a wrestling show, and I'd like people to see it."

Kevin often says that when people first meet him these days, they treat him as though he is "a ghost." There are those who wonder why he is not dead or how he kept from becoming another dead Von Erich. That is why he is willing, though not necessarily happy, to rehash the past one more time. If nothing else, he, maybe someone can learn something from his tragic story. Meanwhile, he is still trying to figure it out for himself.

"I'm from the country, and last winter, there were persimmons growing on the trees," Kevin recalls. "Well, persimmons drop off during the winter. They fall to the ground and rot. The wind was blowing hard on this one persimmon, and it hadn't fallen off--and it was the dead of winter. I was thinking,`I'm like that persimmon. I'm not going to let go of the vine. The wind's, it's killing me, but I'm not going to let go.'

"I didn't have a choice. What was I supposed to do? Lay down and die? I'm a married man. I have kids. There were times when I thought, `I can't stand any more of this.' But I think God strengthened me, and I can take it. It's different now. I have everything a man could want. I have children, I have a wife who takes care of my kids so I'm free to do the dad-like play catch and things like that. I think things couldn't be better for me."

Minutes later, as if on cue, the cellular phone next to him rings. It's his son. He has been sick in bed all day with a cold. He wants his dad to come.

Copyright 1997 - Dallas Observer


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A WRESTLER NOBODY WANTS TO WRESTLE

from The Wrestler, Vol. 1, No. 2, February, 1967

By Roger Baker

Part 1

The clock on the wall pointed to 10:10. Time for the main -- the BIG -- event of the evening.

The fans fidgeted nervously in their seats, every pair of eye directed at the two aisles which led to the ring, straining for a first glimpse of the one wrestler they had all come to see. Soon wrestlers of all shapes and sizes started to move quickly down the aisles to mixed boos and cheers. It looked like a parade. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven . . . eight, nine, ten of them! And more were on their way! All these guys in ONE match? Ridiculous!

Ridiculous! Perhaps. But not in the state of Texas. Anything can happen in Texas, and this was happening Deep in the Heart . . . in the famous Panhandle city of Amarillo at the Sports Arena on the old Tri-State Fair Grounds, to be exact.

Soon no fewer than 12 burly wrestlers (average weight: 240 pounds) were cramped in the ring. Not ordinary wrestlers, mind you, but internationally famous names. And, strangely, the crowd was still looking at the aisles, completely ignoring the men busily flexing their muscles in the ring.

Then it happened. At the head of the left aisle, away back at the rear of the building, there appeared an enormous beast. It was difficult to make the thing out in the dim light because it was the color of coal. All you could see was a mountainous outline.

But as it started to waddle toward the ring, the thing took shape and seemed to get bigger and bigger as it emerged from the shadows.

It was a bear! An enormous bear.

"I'll bet that thing weighs half a ton," a man in the audience exclaimed. The man's estimate wasn't exactly right. The bear weighed 608 pounds.

The animal was well muzzled, and with a thick rope attached to the muzzle. The other end of the rope was wrapped securely around the wrist of a big, good-looking man who himself wore the badges of professional wrestling: mashed nose, twisted ears, scarred cheeks and forehead. But he was dressed in snow-white, form-fitting shirt and slacks, not wrestling trunks.

The man led the great bear up the wooden ringsteps, spread the ring ropes as far apart as he could and said, softly, "Come, Ted. Now." The bear, without a moment's hesitation, gracefully eased its enormous body between the opening in the ropes as the crowd gave him a big hand.

Terrible Ted, the famous wrestling bear, was ready to go to work.

Work on this particular night was to be what imaginative Amarillo promoter, Dr. Karl Sarpolis, had billed as a "Tag Team Battle Royal," with a $1,500 prize going to the winner. The winner being the last guy -- or animal -- still able to stand.

But, remember, this wasn't to be an ordinary Battle Royal in which a bunch of guys are thrown into a ring and the last one able to stand is the winner. This would be between six tough, experienced tag teams trying to murder each other, and for the best reason any of them could think of -- $1,500. Here was the way the teams lined up:

1. The Mighty Yankees
2. Tony Borne and Hans Schmidt
3. Iron Mike DiBiase and John Tolos
4. Jose Lothario and Indian Joe
5. Tarzan Tyler and Tim Woods
6. Dory Funk Sr. and Dory Funk Jr.
7. Terrible Ted

The promoter correctly assumed that Ted didn't need a partner.

It would take a lot more space than we have available to describe what happened in that ring, but we can sum it up in a paragraph: Ted nearly killed Hans Schmidt, and when Hans' partner, Tony Borne, tried to save him, Ted smacked Borne across the face with his left paw, sending Tony flying over the top rope and clear out of the ring. He was unconscious for half an hour.

The last human being remaining in a standing position was Dory Funk Sr. Ted lunged at him. Funk sidestepped. Ted lunged again. Funk ducked behind him. Then Dory tried to grab the beast's legs, hoping to upset and knock him off balance and then fall across his shoulders for a quick pin. What a laugh! When Funk hit Ted's tree-like limbs, he rebounded like a snapping rubber band. But what was worse, picking on his legs made Teddy Bear very mad. With a snarl, he shot out his great left paw and caught Dory squarely on his bald head. The blow was so great that Funk bent at the knees. Then his whole body collapsed. Terrible Ted was the winner and $1,500 richer.

Of course, Ted isn't paid off in dollars. Instead, he gets king-sized bottles of Coke and gobs of rolled oats. He also gets a lot of tender lovin' care. The one who gets Teddy's dollars is the man who holds the other end of the rope and leads Ted into the ring, a shrewd, ambitious promoter-wrestler named Gene Dubois. So far in 1966, his gross take is in excess of $40,000. It figures to reach $55,000 before New Year's Day.

Dubois gets all the money because he raised Ted from a cub, fed him, cared for him, taught him, loved him. Dubois deserves the rewards because caring for a 600-pound wild animal seven days a week is a job not many people will put up with.

Gene fondly recalls how he came to adopt Ted. "It was in 1955," he said. "I was wrestling up around Drydon, Ontario, which is 20 miles north of Toronto. One day, while I was taking a walk on the outskirts of town, I happened to see this cub bear lying in a pile of dirt near the side of the road. I walked over and started to play with it. I stuck out my hand. It stuck out its paw and knocked away my hand.

"'Hey,' I thought to myself, 'this feller's got real spunk.'

"Although I didn't realize it at the time, I had adopted the little orphan and I've never regretted it for a minute. I don't say this because I've made a lot of money with Ted. I say it because we've really become close friends. I love him and I know he loves me."

Of course there are a lot of heartaches that go with being the master of a wrestling bear. Carting him around the world is a major problem which Dubois has partially solved by having a special trailer built. And Gene's pretty wife, Lee, is responsible for always having enough food on hand no matter where they happen to be. And being constantly stocked with rolled oats and Lubenstien brand honey, the only kind Ted will eat, ain't easy. Says Lee Dubois with a cute grin: "You don't buy that sort of thing in a supermarket."

There have been instances of tragedy and near tragedy. Like the night in 1958 when Ted was working in a remote mining town in northern Quebec. The match was over and Gene was taking Ted back to his trailer, which had been parked at the rear of the arena. Suddenly some idiot ran up to Ted and threw a lit cigar butt on the bear's long fur. Instantly there was a burst of flame and a cloud of smoke (the natural oil in a bear's skin burns as quickly as gasoline). Dubois ripped off his jacket and tried to smother the flames. But while he was trying to save Ted, the enraged animal managed to grab the idiot who had tossed the cigar. Gene instantly switched from fire-fighting to life-saving. He reached up for the bear's head to distract his attention, but accidently his arm shot into the beast's mouth. The cigar-thrower got free, but Ted's great teeth crushed down on his master's arm.

"My arm was terribly mangled," Gene recalled with a strained smile. "It was six months before I could even move it or feel any sensation. In fact, if you want to know the truth, it's been eight years since it happened the arm still is far from being all right. I don't think it will ever be fully mended."

Then there was the night in Lynchburg, Va., when an excited referee who was trying desperately to save a wrestler from being killed by Terrible Ted accidently shoved his hand into the animal's mouth. When he pulled back his hand, there were four fingers left.

"I picked up the poor guy's finger after it had dropped from the bear's mouth," recalled Dubois. "I put it into a paper cup and gave it to the ambulance doctor. I took a chance that maybe they could sew it back on. But they couldn't."

Terrible Ted has ruined a lot of wrestlers. Dubois can rattle off the names of at least 15 pros who never wrestled again after Ted got finished with them. Gene likes to stress the point that it was the wrestlers themselves, and not he, who gave his bear the name "Terrible."

"I have to admit that it takes a lot of raw guts to get into the ring with a 600-pound bear, even if the thing is wearing a big leather muzzle," Dubois said. Many a time Gene has had to kick Ted very hard in a particularly sensitive area to save a wrestler's life. "I really get scared," Dubois explained, "when Ted wraps his tremendous arms around a man and starts to squeeze. I know I gotta stop him quick or else the guy is a dead man."

Then, with a hearty laugh, old showman Dubois added, "Nobody has ever been able to execute a bearhug like my Teddy. And baby, you better believe it!"

We do. We do.


SUPPORTING ACTOR LETS ROCCA DOWN

(New York Post, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 1955)

By Lester Bromberg

Antonino (Argentina) Rocca, on some evenings in the past the nearest thing to an Edwin Booth of wrestling, probably will not record his Madison Square Garden performance last night among his gems of memory.

In justice to a sensitive artist and a thorough trouper, this letdown ought not be charged to Rocca. Nor even to the vehicle, "The Split Decision," done here for the first time in many years.

Let it be said quite frankly. The star was victimized by the inadequate support of Yukon Eric, a stolid, mountainous newcomer of stationary emotion. Eric's only kinship to Rocca, as it turned out, was the fact that he also appeared with bare feet.

The program listed Fairbanks, Alaska, as the supporting player's home and it is betraying the confidence of none present to suggest they would like to see him dispatched there without delay.

When any ballet completes its scheduled time without either participant being pinned, it is customary for the so-called officials to unanimously term it a draw. This time Eric's abject failure to respond to Rocca's soaring choreography prompted referee Johnny Garan and judge Bill Cohen to vote for Rocca. Judge James Clark called it a draw.

Fortunately, as is the producers' custom, they prefaced the nominal top act with a variety program.

A tag-team number aroused greatest enthusiasm among the 8,836 devotees who paid $26,546 to watch the spectacle, which was not telecast. Art Neilson and Reggie Lisowski, melodramatically vicious, were paid off in kind by Pat O'Connor and Roy McClarity, outraged apostles of decency.

In earlier vignettes there were performances by others who might, in the not too distant future, contribute something to their art form. One such was the graceful Raphael Halpern of Israel, who evicted The Mighty Atlas, an obviously uncouth fellow. But Halpern still borrows too much from Rocca's bouncy technique. His more proper medium would be a stalwart attitude, the King David warrior look.

Perhaps the surprise of the occasion was the two Japanese, Kinji Shibuya and Mr. Moto who, in turn, banished Tony Martinelli and Fred Blassie in a blaze of colorful costuming and mischievous light villainy. The boys could have stepped out of The Mikado, as rendered by a D'Oyly Carte company.

Yes, the theater limps somewhat these nights but it has its rewarding moments.


And that's it for this edition. I will be back with the Monday Night Wars Edition. Until then...

At least that's the way I see it...

Earl Oliver
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter



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