Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

USA: Killer Kowalski, Wrestler, (vegetarian) Dies at 81 - (Obit) - NYTimes.com

Expand Messages
  • Pamela Rice
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/01/sports/01kowalski.html?tntemail0=y&emc=tnt&pagewanted=print The New York Times September 1, 2008 Killer Kowalski, Wrestler,
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2008
    • 0 Attachment

      The New York Times
      September 1, 2008
      Killer Kowalski, Wrestler, Dies at 81

      Walter (Killer) Kowalski, one of professional
      wrestling's biggest stars and most hated villains
      when wrestlers offered a nightly menu of mayhem
      in the early years of television, died Saturday
      in Everett, Mass. He was 81.

      Kowalski's death was announced by his wife,
      Theresa, who said he had been hospitalized since
      a heart attack in early August.

      At 6 feet 7 inches and 275 pounds or so, Kowalski
      was a formidable figure who delighted in applying
      his claw hold, a thumb squeeze to an opponent's
      solar plexus, when he was not leaping from the
      top strand of the ropes and descending on his
      foe's chest.

      Emerging as a featured performer in the early
      1950s, he became a TV celebrity with wrestlers
      like Antonino Rocca, Lou Thesz, Gorgeous George,
      Haystacks Calhoun and Nature Boy Buddy Rogers.

      Kowalski wrestled on the pro circuits for some 30
      years and appeared in more than 6,000 matches, by
      his count. Early in his career, he called himself
      Tarzan Kowalski. But, as he often related it, one
      particular match, at Montreal in the early 1950s,
      literally made his name.

      "I was leaping off the rope, and Yukon Eric, who
      had a cauliflower ear, moved at the last second,"
      Kowalski told The Chicago Tribune in 1989. "I
      thought I missed, but all of a sudden, something
      went rolling across the ring. It was his ear."

      Yukon Eric was taken to a hospital, and the
      promoter asked Kowalski to visit him and
      apologize for severing his ear. Reporters were
      listening to their chat from a corridor.

      "There was this 6-foot-5, 280-pound guy, his head
      wrapped like a mummy, dwarfing his bed," Kowalski
      said. "I looked at him and grinned. He grinned
      back. I laughed, and he laughed back. Then I
      laughed harder and left.

      "The next day the headlines read, 'Kowalski
      Visits Yukon in the Hospital and Laughs.' And
      when I climbed into the ring that night, the
      crowd called out, 'You animal, you killer.' And
      the name stuck."

      Kowalski came to incur the wrath of the fans. As
      he told Esquire magazine in 2007: "Someone once
      threw a pig's ear at me. A woman once came up to
      me after a match and said, 'I'm glad you didn't
      get hurt.' Then she stabbed me in the back with a
      knife. After a while, I got police escorts to and
      from the ring."

      Walter Kowalski, his legal name, was born in
      Windsor, Ontario. His parents, Anthony and Marie
      Spulnik, had emigrated from Poland. He hoped to
      become an electrical engineer, but while he was
      working out at a Y.M.C.A., someone who was
      evidently impressed by his physique suggested he
      become a wrestler. He made his pro debut in the
      late 1940s.

      He eventually tussled with all the famous names
      of wrestling, and in his later years he teamed
      with Big John Studd as a tag team called the

      "He was a hell of an attraction," Thesz told The
      Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1998. "He had a great
      body back then. He was not a sophisticated
      wrestler, but every promoter wanted him because
      he made a lot of money."

      Kowalski retired in 1977 and founded Killer
      Kowalski's School of Professional Wrestling in
      Malden, Mass. His protégés included the wrestlers
      Triple H and Chyna. He sold the school in 2003,
      and it is now in North Andover, Mass.

      Kowalski married in 2006, his first marriage. In
      addition to his wife, of Malden, he was survived
      by a brother, Stanley Spulnik.

      Beyond the ring, Kowalski displayed a gentle and
      even aesthetic side. He became a vegetarian in
      the mid-1950s, pursued charitable work for
      children with special needs and delighted in
      photographing fellow wrestlers. His work was
      sometimes displayed at galleries.

      "I wanted to take action pictures," he told The
      New York Times shortly after retiring. "But I
      went up to the ring, the fans screamed at me and
      threw garbage at me. It was detrimental to my
      health. So all I took were posed pictures. I sign
      my photographs Walter Kowalski. I used to be a
      villain, but now I'm a good guy. I kiss old women
      and pat babies. I've gone from Killer Kowalski to
      a pussycat."

      Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.