Monday, 30 November 2009


My obituary of Captain Lou Albano is in today's Guardian, you can link to it here. 'Bombastic' was a great word to use in their headline, but the copy itself was trimmed to fit available space, and a few good points were lost (as well as the adjective 'great' when I described him as a 'great heel manager'. I was never a particular fan of Capt. Lou's, but bombastic he was, and when you consider all the reasons professional wrestling is both entertaining and embarassing, he makes an almost perfect example of the 'sport's' appeal. In fact Lou managing George Steele may be some sort of litmus test for wrestling fans with sentience above plant level. To get the full flavour of the Captain, here's my original copy for the Guardian:


Outrageous even by the flexible standards of professional wrestling, the appeal to teenagers of 'Captain' Lou Albano, who has died aged 76, was a key factor in the ascent to mainstream popularity of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in the 1980s. Albano's appearance as Cyndi Lauper's father in her video 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' was a sensation in the early days of MTV, and led to a programmed feud with WWF wrestlers which grew to include other 80s celebrities like Mr. T, whose popularity helped transform the likes of Hulk Hogan into household names. Albano's cartoonish act later found its perfect home playing in the live action segments, and providing the voiceover for the animations of one of the Super Mario Brothers.

Albano was one of the great 'heel' wrestling managers, and a mainstay of the Worldwide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), owned by Vincent J McMahon, which dominated the northeastern US area, and was the precursor to the modern WWF, now known as WWE. Born in Rome, Albano moved as an infant to America, where his family settled in Mount Vernon, outside New York City. A gridiron and wrestling star at Archbishop Stepinac High School, he won a football scholarship to the University of Tennessee, but soon left college to join the army. He was working as a bouncer when he met some wrestlers and began training, making his debut aged 20 in Montreal. His career took off when he joined Tony Altimore as a mafioso tag-team, 'The Sicilians'. After success in the American midwest, McMahon Sr hired them for his WWWF, which dominated the US market between New York and Washington, DC; in 1967 they won the WWWF tag titles from 'The Golden Boy' Arnold Skaaland and Spiros Arion.

Altimore was the better wrestler, but Albano's arrogant interviews inflamed the crowds. He soon became a manager, his 'captain' title a self-awarded honorific, and was especially effective for heels who couldn't talk like convincing villains, or weren't supposed to talk, in character, like the 'Russian' Ivan Koloff, who, in 1971 with Albano as his manager, ended the long reign of Bruno Sammartino as WWWF champ. Albano drew heat from fans with his rapid-fire stacatto delivery, peppered with catch-phrases like 'often imitated, never duplicated'. His increasingly bizarre appearance, an open Hawaiian shirt flaunting his great belly, numerous piercings from which he hung rubber bands, and a rubber band wrapped around his beard, matched his chaotic ringside behaviour. He was at his best managing tag-teams, the wilder the better, including the evil Valiant Brothers, the hillbilly Moondogs,and the Wild Samoans.

But his finest moment came when he double-crossed his wrestler, Superfly Jimmy Snuka (right), in order to switch to manage The Magnificent Don Muraco. Snuka then met Muraco in a 1983 cage match which ended with Snuka, now the babyface, delivering a flying 'Superfly splash' on top of Albano, to the crowd's delight.

Albano met Lauper on an airplane flight, and after making the video (a performance that may have inspired Rodney Dangerfield in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers) he began taking full credit for her success, and putting her down as a 'mere woman', which led to MTV's Rock and Wrestling Connection programme. Vince McMahon Jr. had bought his father's company, renamed it the WWF, and taken it nationwide on cable TV, where MTV was the fastest-growing channel. The feud began with Lauper managing woman wrestler Wendi Richter in a grudge match against The Fabulous Moolah, managed by Albano. Rowdy Roddy Piper stepped in, which led to Mr. T, then a huge star with The A Team, interfering, and the feuds were eventually resolved at the first Wrestlemania, which put Hogan and the WWF on the mainstream map.

Albano's popularity made it natural he turn 'babyface' (good guy) in his final years in the ring, managing the lovable George 'The Animal' Steele and the popular British Bulldogs, Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith. He explained his character change by saying he'd had surgery to remove 'a calcium deposit on the medulla of my oblongata.'. He made three more videos with Lauper, and later toured with the band NRBQ, playing their manager. A true icon of the 1980s, he acted in Miami Vice, the film Wise Guys, and the wrestling movie Body Slam, before shaving his beard to play Mario, in Super Mario Brothers in 1989-90. He later became a familiar pitchman on local New York television. But he occasionally still presided over chaos. At his 75th birthday party, police had to be called to a Mount Vernon restaurant to remove one wrestler, 'The Sandman', who began fighting with bar staff after breaking glasses while delivering a long and emotional testimonial to his hero. Albano, 'often imitated but never duplicated', died 14 October, under hospice care in Mount Vernon. He is survived by his wife Geri and four children.

Louis Vincent Albano born 29 July 1933 Rome, Italy
died 14 October 2009 Mount Vernon, NY

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