May 8, 2002
Lou Thesz, Skilled Pro Wrestler, Dies at 86
By FRANK LITSKY
ou Thesz, the most celebrated professional wrestler of the mid-20th century and one of the last who relied on physical skills rather than show business gimmicks, died on April 28 in a hospital in Orlando, Fla. He was 86 and had undergone triple-bypass surgery and aortic valve replacement three weeks before.
In the late 1940's and the 1950's, when professional wrestling was a mainstay of early television despite, or perhaps because of, preordained outcomes, Thesz was a hero even to his peers. He knew amateur wrestling holds, and unlike his colleagues who bleached their hair or pranced around the ring or taunted the crowd, he really wrestled.
He once said: "I am a wrestler. Not a wrassler, not a clown. A wrestler."
He competed in seven decades, starting his professional career in 1932, at age 16, and finishing in 1990, at 74. His last match was in Japan, where he was an icon. At 215 pounds, he wrestled Masahiro Chono, who was 27 and weighed 260. Thesz lost after his artificial hip buckled.
Why wrestle at age 74? He told The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., "I was old enough to know not to do it, but I did it anyway."
He was the six-time world champion of the National Wrestling Alliance, the most important governing body of the era, winning his first title at 21. He held the title a total of 13 years, a record. In a time when pro wrestlers sometimes fought legitimate bouts, he won 936 consecutive matches from 1948 to 1955.
He sometimes wrestled 200 to 250 times a year, often after driving all night from one site to the next. By his count, his career encompassed 6,000 matches, 200 broken bones and 16 million miles.
Aloysius Martin Thesz was born April 24, 1916, in Banat, Mich. He grew up in St. Louis, where he was taught to wrestle by his father, Martin, a cobbler who had been an amateur champion in his native Hungary.
The handsome youngster grew to 6 feet 2 inches and 225 pounds and became a quick success. He wrestled in memorable matches against such stars as Gorgeous George, Killer Kowalski, Gene Kiniski, Verne Gagne, Pat O'Connor, Baron Michele Leone and Bronko Nagurski. Thesz was the kind of superior wrestler known as a hooker, one of the few who had command of the most difficult and potentially crippling moves.
To the critics who dismissed pro wrestling as merely show business, and bad show business at that, he said one essential point linked wrestling to other pro sports.
"They're all entertainments with an economic bottom line," he said in "Hooker," his autobiography, "and they're staged for no other reason except to give the paying customers entertainment. Once you sell a ticket to an athletic contest, it stops being a sport and becomes a business.
"The `winner' wasn't always the wrestler whose hand was raised, but the one whose performance stuck in the mind of the fans as they headed home after the matches, the one they would pay money to see again, regardless of whether they hated or admired him."
Still, he did not like what his sport had become. In the 90's, he said that contemporary pro wrestling was "choreographed tumbling, a clown act, a circus, with no dignity."
In his autobiography, published in 1995, he wrote: "The reality, or substance, of professional wrestling is the ability to perpetuate a fantasy. I never distinguished between fantasy and reality. I made my fantasy reality for over 60 years."
Thesz helped create a national wrestling hall of fame in Newton, Iowa, near Des Moines. Until his last illness, he worked out in a gymnasium three or four times a week near his home in Winter Garden, Fla.
He is survived by his wife, Charlie; three sons, Jeff of Las Vegas, Robert of Vero Beach, Fla., and Patrick of Cambridge, England; three sisters, Ann Rode and Kay Schmidt of San Marcos, Calif., and Helene Haack of St. Louis; and 10 grandchildren.
Stylin' and Profilin' - Custom Made from Head to Toe.....courtesy of Michael's of Kansas City
This is the best of the obituaries I've read so far, because it actually recognizes that wrestling was fake when Lou worked, as well. My only gripe is with the silly remark about the artificial hip buckling, as if that had anything to do with his loss.
I go away on vacation and my NYT is being stopped. I wait two weeks for the obit to run and of course, it's while I'm away.
Still, I'm glad they finally ran it.
Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform, And tell you every detail of Caractacus's uniform; In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral, I am the very model of a modern Major-General.