USA: Killer Kowalski, Wrestler, (vegetarian) Dies at 81 - (Obit) - NYTimes.com
The New York Times
September 1, 2008
Killer Kowalski, Wrestler, Dies at 81
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN
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
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
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
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company