AS I SEE IT 6/27/2001
As I usually do when each July 4th approaches, I make mention in the column of
former WWF referee Joey Marella, who died on July 4, 1994 in an automobile accident while
returning from a WWF show the night before in Ocean City, MD.
It's also in keeping with the theme of my columns of the last two weeks of remembering the human cost to those who perform for us.
So this year, here's my AS I SEE IT from July 4 1999, in remembrance of Joey:
"Looking back on the memory of...
The dance we shared...
'neath the stars alone...
For a moment...
all the world was right...
How could I have known...
that you'd ever say goodbye...
The Dance, (Garth Brooks and Tony Arata, 1989)
Every July 4th, most people remember the holiday for fireworks, barbecues, and patriotic speeches. But some of us remember it each year for different reasons.
I remember July 4, 1994 all too well. I was sitting down, eating lunch, getting ready to watch an early round World Cup soccer game when the phone rang...two friends, one of whom was a ECW referee; had left messages on my phone within five minutes, but I didn't think anything of it.
Then the phone rang again. I finally picked it up, realizing something had to be wrong. I heard the agonized voice of a friend over the line... I could make out about every third word being said. Gradually, I pieced together the news.
Joey Marella had been killed in an automobile accident while returning from a WWF show in Ocean City, MD the previous evening. Joey had fallen asleep at the wheel on the New Jersey Turnpike; and was involved in a one car accident together with Bruno "Harvey Whippleman" Lauer. Joey wasn't wearing a seat belt, and was killed, only miles from the Marella family home in Willingboro, NJ.
Only hours before, my friend had been with Joey and friends after the show...they'd tried to get him to crash with them up in Baltimore, but Joey told them he had to get going, up to Newark Airport. The person was on the phone going through horrible, but unnecessary, guilt for somehow not making Joey come to Baltimore with them.
For many readers of this column who might not have been around back then, Joey Marella was a WWF referee who worked many high-profile WWF matches during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Joey's career highlights include PPV main events, such as the legendary Hogan-Andre the Giant match at WrestleMania III from the Pontiac Silverdome in March 1987, Ric Flair's first WWF title win at Royal Rumble 1992, Bret Hart-Davey Boy Smith at Summer Slam 1992 from London's Wembley Stadium, and Owen Hart-Razor Ramon in the final match at King of the Ring 1994 from Baltimore. He also worked many high profile WWF TV events, including the NBC and Fox Saturday Night Main Event shows, and the 1993 debut of Monday Night RAW. Joey even made a brief appearance as himself in the Hulk Hogan movie "No Holds Barred".
Aside from the ring, some readers may even know he was the adopted son of Robert (Gorilla Monsoon) Marella. This led to a running inside joke on WWF TV of Monsoon telling viewers how "horrible" that referee Joey Marella was, each time Joey "missed" heel interference in a match.
But some of us knew another side to Joey.
Joey Marella was a "big brother" to many within the wrestling business, particularly the World Wrestling Federation. He was always there with a shoulder to lean on, or with time to listen to those who needed it. Joey was loved by many, including a friend of mine who was quite close to him, who's kept a special place in her heart for him to this day....the same friend of mine I told you about earlier.
I knew Joey through this friend, so on that July 4th, the feelings weren't from the death of someone distant. They were strong and deeply personal. Joey's loss was felt deeply by many in and out of the World Wrestling Federation. The loss is still felt deeply to this day.
As one example, WWF ring announcer Tony Chimel (seen often [on Smackdown] and house shows) named his newest son after his friend (and Godfather to his other two children) Joey Marella. Some would argue young Joey Chimel is just as mischievous as his namesake. One hopes he's half as good a person.
On this upcoming July 4th holiday, please keep a special place in your thoughts for Joey Marella, who left this world at the age of 31. Keep also in your thoughts those others who left wrestling far richer for having been a part of it, yet poorer for having left the business and their loved ones too soon, including Owen Hart, Rick (Renegade) Wilson, "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert, Art Barr, Brian Pillman, Louie Spicolli, Sylvester Ritter, Jay Youngblood, Rick McGraw, David, Mike and Chris (Von Erich) Adkisson, Buzz Sawyer.
Finally, on this upcoming July 4th weekend, I'll repeat the motto I leave you with frequently: Be sure to treasure those in your own lives... for we are never promised tomorrow.
"And now, I'm glad I didn't know...
The way it all would end...
The way it all would go...
Our lives are better left to chance...
I could have missed the pain...
But I'd of had to miss the dance..."
The Dance, (Garth Brooks and Tony Arata, 1989)
Since that original column, Robert Marella, known by most of us as Gorilla
Monsoon, also left this world in October 1999.
He died at age 62 of complications from a heart attack that caused complications affecting his kidneys. Marella chose to be removed from kidney dialysis, and died two days later.
My first memories of Robert Marella, like most of you, are of Gorilla Monsoon. I missed the days of his career as a feared old-style heel from "Manchuria" lovingly referred to by Philadelphia Daily News writer Michael Tearson and 1Wrestling.com's Georgianne Makropoulos. I first remembered him as the wrestler who weeks prior to the Ali-Inoki match, when Ali "challenged" Monsoon, jabbing away at Monsoon and doing his trademark dance, followed by Monsoon putting Ali up in his airplane spin. This angle got nationwide attention at a time when being a wrestling fan was still a dirty secret you didn't talk about.
There aren't too many of us who won't remember about Gorilla telling us about an "occipital protuberance", or screaming about "a miscarriage of justice" some heel had just committed on a babyface, or someone who "didn't know a wristlock from a wristwatch".
Those of us in the Philadelphia area also remember the local team of Gorilla Monsoon and Dick Graham on PRISM Wrestling which replayed live Philadelphia Spectrum WWF shows. We also remember his weekly wrestling column during the all-too-brief existence of the Philadelphia Journal.
Those readers who are younger missed all of that and may only remember Monsoon commentating with Bobby Heenan on Prime-Time Wrestling; or acting as the on-air WWF "Commissioner" or "President" during WWF TV during most of the early 1990s.
In the late 1990s, Marella suffered from diabetes, making only infrequent TV appearances, including one last go-round as on-air President. He also made an appearance at 1999's WrestleMania in Philadelphia, and was greeted with a loud ovation from the local crowd.
It says something about the manner of man that Robert Marella was that he grieved for Joey as if he were his son by birth. There are many who say he never recovered completely from Joey's death.
Take a minute to say a prayer for them both as you approach this holiday weekend; and remember to see human beings, and not just anonymous wrestlers when you watch RAW, Smackdown, or the weekend and syndicated shows...because some of those performers were and are remarkable human beings.
Some who were more remarkable that most...
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)