by: Bob Magee

Posted on December 30, 1999 at 09:12:15 by Bob Magee

Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets

Welcome to three new sites carrying AS I SEE IT: WrestleMart 2000 from the United Arab Emirates, Wrestling, and This now makes 40 sites carrying AS I SEE IT as we move into 2000.

As the year 1999 ends, it's a good time to reflect upon the good and the bad within our own lives and within wrestling.

1999 brought us the spectacular in Matt and Jeff Hardy...the ultraviolent in such promotions as the New Jersey-based Combat Zone Wrestling...the adult styled storylines of the WWF... classic WRESTLING matches such as Bret Hart and Chris Benoit, Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn... memorable returns such as the Sandman at the ECW Arena...humor like the running adventures of the Rock and Sock Connection.

But while there were many memorable moments that thrilled and amazed us, it seemed that we said far too many goodbyes this year. We lost too many within the wrestling business in 1999: Brian Hildebrand, Owen Hart, Rick Rude, Robert (Gorilla Monsoon) Marella, Rick (Renegade) Wilson, Giant Baba, Joe LeDuc, Boyd Pierce, Yuel Lovett, Jackie Sato, Lord Jonathan Boyd, Tony Rumble, Hiro Matsuda, and Robert (Diceman) Lash.

January brought the passing of Japanese wrestling legend and All-Japan Pro Wrestling promoter, Shohei (Giant) Baba, from bowel cancer.

In February, Rick Wilson committed suicide in his home after losing his job with WCW four months in late 1998.

In April, Rick Rude died as the likely result of a heart caused by use of the drug GHB. GHB, along with so-called "recreational" purposes, is used for body-shaping purposes by bodybuilders to cut fat. At the time of his death, it had been reported that Rude was contemplating a return to the ring, and thus may have been looking for quick ways to redevelop his trademark physique.

Whatever the reasons for his death, Rude was mourned by many all over the wrestling world.

In May, strongman Joe LeDuc, well-known in Southern promotions, died from the effects of diabetes at age 54.

In July, Alex (Yuel) Lovett, died at age 28, under what some viewed as mysterious circumstances from cardiac arrest in a restaurant while on a tour with US wrestlers in Peru.

August brought the death of two notables in the world of wrestling: Japanese women's legend Naoko "Jackie" Sato, who died from stomach cancer in August at age 41; and Lord Jonathan Boyd of the original Sheepherders who died from a heart attack. It also brought the death of Pennsylvania independent worker, Robert (Diceman) Lash, who was killed in a freak swimming accident.

November 1999 brought the passing of Robert Marella, known to us all as Gorilla Monsoon, left the world at age 62 after complications from a recent heart attack that affected his kidneys. Marella chose to be removed from kidney dialysis, and died two days later.

As I said in a November column about Bob Marella:

"...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'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 got nationwide attention at a time when being a wrestling fan was still a dirty secret you didn't talk about in certain company.

In 1980, Marella ended his in-ring career and became a top wrestling broadcasting commentator, and teamed with the man who became the most colorful governor in recent years, Jesse 'The Body' Ventura. They were the lead commentators for WWF television during the mid and late 1980s. They were called to announce the first Wrestlemania in 1985, and followed with several more through the remainder of the decade.

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'...

Aside from the ring, some readers know that Robert Marella and his wife Maureen also adopted a son, Joey. who became lead WWF referee in the late 1980s and 1990s. Some of us who knew of this relationship got to enjoy the 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....

That all ended with Joey's death on July 4, 1994 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, only miles from the Marella family home in Willingboro, NJ.

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 those who say he never recovered completely from Joey's death.

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 this year's WrestleMania in Philadelphia, and was greeted with a loud ovation from the local crowd."

Leaving us in November as well was NWA-New England promoter, founder, and former wrestler Tony Rumble, who died from a heart attack at age 43; and Hiro Matsuda, wrestler and trainer. Along with his training of Lex Luger and other wrestlers, he was known for his series of matches with US and collegiate Junior Heavyweight legend Danny Hodge.

The death that hit me the most personally this year was the death of WCW referee and my friend, Brian Hildebrand.

As I wrote in the AS I SEE IT column of September 9th:

"Of all places, I was [in the funeral home] at a wake for the uncle of friend Kathy Fitzpatrick, when my younger brother John called her on her cell phone at the funeral home, and passed on the news after receiving it from PWBTS's Fritz Capp....

I will always remember Brian Hildebrand as a man who lived and loved the wrestling business, who got to live his dream of making a living in wrestling as referee Mark Curtis for World Championship Wrestling. I remember a man who lived to his last day with more courage than anyone I've ever had the privilege to know.

Brian fought stomach cancer for nearly two years, after being diagnosed in October 1997. He refused to allow cancer to stop his incredible spirit and his wonderful sense of humor. He seemed amazed and somewhat embarrassed at all the attention his battle with cancer received...

Brian kept himself going through sheer will and determination that he refereed a match for a local independent promotion only days before his death.  He had the often-expressed hope of returning to work fulltime for WCW, and never gave up that dream.

It can be said that at the time Brian Hildebrand left this world, he knew he was loved and respected by all within the business he himself loved so much.

While a small man in stature, Brian showed us all a giant heart that is an example for us all."

Then there was the passing that was the most public, and the one that perhaps affected the largest number of people: Owen Hart. I was reminded of that again as I wrote this article, seeing Owen mentioned on Christmas Day on a special ESPN SportsCenter about those who had died over the past year.

Owen was special enough of a person, and his death was such a public event that his death transcended the usual division between the reporting of legitimate sports and sports entertainment; and was featured by ESPN on that show along with legends Walter Payton, Wilt Chamberlain, and others who were remembered for their passing in 1999.

Back on that night of May 23rd, we learned that real men do cry, and that many of us felt the need to that night and the next day; as a man known for tremendous talent... for his legendary ribs on others within the wrestling business... for his great love for his wife Martha and his children Oje and Athena... was taken from this world far, far too soon in a tragic accident at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City.

May 24th saw the staff and workers of the World Wrestling Federation dedicated their two hour Monday Night RAW to their fallen friend and co-worker in a moving tribute at the Kiel Center in St. Louis. The irony of the location had to be painful for the entire Titan crew, as only 18 months previously, Brian Pillman was mourned by the WWF and the fans after his death earlier that day alone in a hotel room hundreds of miles away in Minneapolis.

The ten bell count was sounded as the entire Titan staff came out under a picture of Owen Hart on the Titantron. Many of those there were openly weeping for Hart, most notably Brian (Road Dog) James, Mark Henry, and Paul (Hunter Hearst Helmsley) Levesque.

That special show had numerous segments, with wrestlers and office personnel expressing their feelings about Owen ranging from the humorous to the deeply felt. Friends like Paul Levesque, Jeff Jarrett, Debra McMichael, and Brian James, repeatedly broke down while sharing their feelings with the TV and live audiences.

Steve Austin ended that show, without saying a word publicly. He simply came out, brought his trademark beers, , slapped them together; said something privately, and toasted the image of Owen on the Titantron screen. There were some who questioned Austin's sincerity, feeling he may not have made his peace with Hart after the 1998 Summer Slam injury that nearly ended (and may yet end Austin's career). But I know that the moment that made me absolutely lose it while watching that RAW, was that simple salute to Owen.

Even though I never personally met Owen Hart, I think I had this feeling about his death so strongly because I've had the privilege of seeing the human side of the business and writing about it.

These are very real people that work as professional wrestlers. They aren't just characters to me. I've been blessed to have acquaintances and friendships with many within wrestling. From those relationships, there have come other added friendships with workers and fans over four continents, all of which have been a source of great joy. I've gotten to know how much these performers give, both physically and emotionally, to entertain people all over the world.

With all those who've left us in 1999, how better to end this column with than some lyrics from Steven Tyler that make us look at getting another year older, hopefully another year wiser, and understanding that we, as well as those we love, aren't promised tomorrow:

"Every time that I look in the mirror,
all these lines on my face getting clearer...

The past is gone...
It went by like dusk to dawn...

Isn't that the way...
Everybody's got their dues in life to pay...

Yeah, I know nobody knows
where it comes and where it goes...

I know it's everybody's sin
you got to lose to know how to win...

Half my life's in books' written pages,
live and learn from fools and from sages,
You know it's true...
all the things come back to you.

Sing with me, sing for the years...
sing for the laughter and sing for the tears...

Sing with me, if it's just for today...
maybe tomorrow the good Lord will take you away.

Dream on, dream on, dream until your dreams come true."

For all of us, may the coming year 2000 grant us the ability to learn from the good and the bad of the year that came before. With that knowledge, may we make some better choices within our lives.

In the coming year, may those within wrestling use better judgement in terms with the fictional situations they depict. Most importantly, may the wrestling business have the courage to make better choices regarding the real-life issues like drug use that confronts it.

Until next time... a happy and safe New Year to all of you.

See you in 2000.

(Song lyrics-Steven Tyler, Dream On, Classics Live, April 1986, Columbia)

(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at