AS I SEE IT - 10/28/2003:
Wrestling loses two of its best
by: Bob Magee
I hate writing these columns...
Wrestling lost two of its best in the past week.
We lost Stu Hart, who lived a full life, influencing the wrestling world with the infamous Dungeon; having had a hand in training talents including The Mongolian Stomper, George Takano, Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Dynamite Kid, Hiroshi Hase, Brian Pillman, Kensuke Sasaki, Shinya Hashimoto, Toshiaki Kawada, "Nightmare" Danny Davis, Dan Kroffat, Gary Albright, Doug Furnas, Davey Boy Smith, Chris Benoit, Lance Storm, Chris Jericho... and his sons Bret, Bruce, and Owen, among many, many others... left us after one final fight...this time with pneumonia, a stroke, and failed kidneys, a fight he couldn't win.
And we lost Michael "Road Warrior Hawk" Hegstrand, who roared through the wrestling world of the 1980s and 1990s in Georgia, the AWA, the Carolinas, WWE and nearly everywhere else that had a wrestling ring, as part of one of the most over-the-top, fearsome looking tag teams in wrestling history as the The Road Warriors....who died in his sleep this past week. Hegstrand had recently sold his condominium to move into a new home in Florida. On October 19, his wife Dale said he told her that he was going to lay down for a while, that he didn't feel well. She thought it was from all the packing and excitement of the move into their new home, but hours later found him dead. He was 46 years old.
I was fortunate enough to have gotten the birthday surprise this year of Hawk and Animal making their last WWE appearance at the Wachovia Center on May 12th for Monday Night RAW. While it was one that had them putting others over... it gave all of us in Philadelphia who had remembered the years of the LOD over at the Philadelphia Civic Center with the Midnight Express, and the Four Horsemen.
I never met Stu Hart... but I saw tapes of Stampede Wrestling, and saw the legends in the making that he trained. I heard the same stories of the legendary Dungeon where wrestlers were trained, where those that doubted were taught respect for the business, and where a legend was born.
So Stu Hart and Michael Hegstrand have left us in the last week...but there are too many other stories like this that I've had to write this year. Just this year, wrestling has lost Naoto Morishita, The Sheik, Ox Anderson, Curt Hennig, Michiaki Yoshimura, Tony Altimore, Sailor Art Thomas, Kodo Fuyuki, Bruiser Brian Cox, Les Kellet, Ray Mendoza, Babs Wingo, Jackie Nichols, Kurt Von Poppenheim, "Miss" Elizabeth Hulette, Fred Blassie, Jack Curran, Danny Johnson, Mickey Gold, Tug Wilson, Giant Ochiai, Great Antonio, Anthony "Pitbull #2" Durante, Stu Hart, and Michael "Road Warrior Hawk" Hegstrand, to name a few. Too many families have lost people they love.
In a sad, strange sort of way... some of the most meaningful letters I've ever received as the result of columns I've written...were from the families of those who I gave tributes after their passings, some after a full life... others far too soon. The same is true of letters from fans who share their memories of those whose performances they treasured.
I thought it'd be worth sharing some of the letters I received from family members with you... not that it's important that I got them as such. Rather, it's to show how important it is for those family members that people like you and I gave those tributes to their loved ones in the first place.
After the passing of HWA and northeast indie standout, Russ Haas... I received the following from his sister Kelly:
"...My name is Kelly Church, I am the sister of Russ and Charlie Haas.
I came across your site from 1/23/02 in regards to Russ' tribute show. I would like to thank you for your support and sincerely kind words. We miss Russ very much and it helps to know that his spirit is reflected in those who knew him. Thank you for honoring my beloved brother.
Best wishes, Kelly (Haas) Church
And again from Ms. Church after Charlie Hass and Shelton Benjamin won the WWE tag team titles...
"...Ever since I can remember my big brothers, Charlie and Russ Haas, role played their favorite superstars as they would victoriously win the tag team belts. They were young boys who had a passion for pro-wrestling and always had control of the tv remote; so as I had no choice, being the youngest of four, we always gathered around the tv for those now classic pro-wrestling performances.
I liken Charlie's success thus far to a little girl's dream of becoming a fairy princess or a little boy's dream of becoming a super hero. For Charlie, his childhood dream was to be a pro-wrestler. Charlie has always been dedicated and determined to live to his full potential. He has overcome many challenges, he has fought for his physical wellness, he has fought for his place on the team, he has fought for all that he has. Our family's loss of my departed brother Russ, has pushed Charlie's intensity to a whole new level. Charlie now fights for Russ. You may notice that when Charlie goes into the ring he has Russ' name on his wrist wraps and when he wins he points to the heavens as to say, 'this if for you bro!...'"
Here was one from the daughter of Gordon Solie:
Dear Mr. Magee,
First of all I would like to thank you for the nicely written article covering my father's recent memorial service. My father was a fanatic on having information disseminated correctly. My father was born Francis Jonard Labiak. When his step-father adopted him, his name was changed to Jonard Pierre Sjoblom. However, when my father embarked on his announcing career he changed his name to Gordon T. Solie. Gordon was his grandmother's maiden name and Solie was his mother's maiden name. Gordon is Scottish, Solie is Norwegian, and Labiak is Polish. We are really part of the melting pot of America of which we are very proud.. Anyway I thought that I would pass this on to you for future
reference. Again I thank you for the tribute on your web site to my father.
Pamela S Allyn
The funny thing... she's right. Gordon Solie probably WOULD have been picky about detail and all the facts being presented correctly.
Then, there was a e-mail from Valerie Marella, sister of former WWF referee Joey Marella and daughter of WWF legend Gorilla Monsoon regarding the yearly July 4 remembrances of Joey:
"...I just happened to come across your article about Joey while I was at work... and I wanted to thank you. You really seemed to know a lot about him, not just as a referee, because we both know he was so much more than that.
I am his younger sister and in addition to [WWE Smackdown ring announcer] Tony Chimel naming his son after him, I had twin boys 2 years after he died and named one Joey after him, and named the other Gino after my father. Thanks for making my day. Take care"
Just those few examples of notes I've gotten from the families of those I've memorialized ought to give you an indication of how important it it that you, as fans, to share your thoughts of those whose part of the world of professional wrestling meant something to you. It DOES mean a lot to these people, knowing that the relative that they shared with the fans of wrestling on an everyday basis, are remembered, now they've passed on.
Please take the time to send your thoughts to the Hart family via this online remembrance from the Quebecor Media/Sun newspaper syndicate.
Please also take the time to send your thoughts to the online tribute for Michael Hegstrand at this URL. You can also contribute to the Michael Hegstrand Memorial Fund c/o P.O. Box 432, Indian Rocks, FL 33785.
Godspeed to both Stu Hart and Michael Hegstrand.
And, to end on a happier note in a week with such sad news... no matter what you think of what they do within wrestling... take a moment to think some good thoughts for Paul Levesque and Stephanie McMahon as they begin their wedded life together.
In a week like this, may they, the McMahons, the Levesques... and may we all have some happiness...
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)