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Office Politics: Igoe remembers Curt Hennig


You know, its amazing what can bring a newsroom to a temporary halt. Sometimes it's a disaster on the scale of 9/11. Other times, it's the resignation of a U.S. Congressman. And I should know, I've seen both. Last week, however, a good portion of the same newsroom came to a halt with three words I said:

Mr. Perfect died.

That's all I said. I didn't say Curt Hennig died. I didn't say former AWA and Intercontinental Champion Curt Hennig died. Mr. Perfect was enough to say it all. It was much the same situation not long before when The Sheik died. Maybe there were a few that thought I was talking about the man who Hulk Hogan beat for his first title, but the older fans immediately knew I was referring to the man who defined evil for about 40 years. Most of them didn't know that this man could ever die.

Yet it happened. In the Sheik, we lost our past. In Curt Hennig, we lost a great deal of the present and some of the future. I don't have a guess as to which is the bigger loss. Of course, anytime a great sports figure dies, it's so easy to hear the snickering of the Grim Reaper taunting all of us, saying, in essence, "This was someone you looked up to, who you wanted to be like, and I disposed of him easily enough. So what chance do you have to duck my blade?"

While it is true that the Sheik was in failing health and in advanced age, it doesn't explain Hennig, who was still going strong. Or Bruiser Brody, stabbed to death in a crowded locker room full of men who saw nothing. Or Yokozuna, who conquered all but himself? Or Eddie Gilbert. Or Rocco Rock. Or Junkyard Dog. The list goes on.

It reminds us all that the Reaper does what he does because he can, and that he smiles because he knows we can't do anything about it. No one on earth can create life, but anyone who can aim a gun, swing a baseball bat or start a car with a .18 BAC can create death.

I recall walking into a local drug store a few months after Owen Hart died and cruising the toy rack to find a little something for my son. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. A perfect condition Owen Hart bend-em figure. I guess I didn't want to see someone buy it and make blood money off of it on eBay (like one bum who tried to see what he claimed was actual footage of Owen's death on other sites) or maybe I bought it out of a sense of loss...OK, I have no idea why I bought it, I just did. A week later, I turned around and gave it to Toys For Tots. Seemed like the right thing to do. Then a month later, same store, another Owen Hart bend-em. I bought that one, too. I'll never sell it, and if you try to steal it out of my apartment, I'll hurt you, bad. It'll stay with me forever. Again, that seems like the right thing to do. It's just my way of remembering Owen, along with all the other people who we've lost in our sport.

I must admit that I have never watched my tape of the event where Owen Hart died, though I have watched the tribute tape several times.†But then, I remember it all so well anyways. Jim Ross, with as pale an expression as I've ever seen, talking about an accident that had occurred and that Owen was being taken to the hospital for treatment. I remember the main event and a look of total disassociation on the faces of everyone involved.

I must also admit that I never met Mr. Perfect. I remember seeing him outside the Pittsburgh Civic Arena once before a show as he was going to the arena, but that was it. My memories of Curt Hennig are all I have, and they date back to his first run in WWE. Hard to believe there was a time when Hennig and Eddie Gilbert were responsible for putting over the likes of "Playboy" Buddy Rose, but it happened back then.

The highlight of that run was a match on national television between Hennig and the original Tiger Mask. I think it was Tiger Mask's only appearance on WWF television, but he made the most of it. Tiger showed moved I'd never seen before, unfamiliar with Japanese wrestling as I always have been, but Hennig matched him move-for-move and put on a show that sent shockwaves through the arena, which was so used to the likes of the Samoans and the Strongbows crashing into each other.

Hennig didn't accomplish much more back then, until he moved to the old Don Owen territory in Oregon and graduated top of the class in that finishing school. That, of course, led to a trip to the AWA, where Hennig learned the swagger that he combined with his peerless skills to become Mr. Perfect. It was like those old horror movies where John Carradine or Vincent Price injects a man with a serum that turns him into an unstoppable monster. But to me, the high time of Curt Hennig's career began in that old barn in Allentown when he showed that given the chance, he could catch a tiger by the tail.

The Sheik came during a different time than we now know. It was a time before 9/11, before talk of jihads, Ayatollahs, oil embargoes, or suicide bombers. Far as I can remember, the Sheik was not anti-American as much as he was just contemptuous of everyone who wasn't him. His snakes, his fire and his endless supply of weapons made him the personification of evil. Bobo Brazil barely kept him in check. Same with Dusty Rhodes. Even Bruno Sammartino, who in my neighborhood was considered a step below Superman, had his hands full with the Syrian Madman.

The Sheik was the subject of a movie called "I Like To Hurt People," which portrayed him as the target of a plot by the top faces to eliminate him from the sport. It featured not only Rhodes, but Andre The Giant. That really showed how much of a super heel the Sheik was. There was no film about a conspiracy against Ivan Koloff or Stan Hansen.

Anytime a wrestler dies, the name Brian Hildebrand immediately comes to mind. Hildebrand, as you may know from Mick Foley's second book, was a referee who occasionally wrestled in gimmick matches and went by the name of Mark Curtis. He was a native of the Pittsburgh area and very widely respected by the area's wrestling community.

So when it was announced that he had cancer, it was like a punch in the stomach for all of us. Immediately, a show was organized by local wrestler Mark Keenan (aka Cody Michaels) at an ice rink/arena in Rostraver Township to help him out. Chris Jericho was there, one of his few in-ring appearances between his WCW and WWE stints. Chris Benoit was there. Dean Malenko. Al Snow. Mick Foley. Eddie Guerrero. Shane Douglas. D-Lo Brown. Chris Candido. Even Sammartino interrupted his exile to speak on behalf of Brian Hildebrand. A lot of these guys were doing the show at a personal loss financially, and they still thought they were fortunate.

I helped publicize and cover the show. Having lost family to cancer, it was an honor to help. It was a bigger honor to meet Hildebrand, who at that time did not look at all like a man with cancer, but a man who was going to quickly be done with his ailment and move on.

Not much later, sadly, word hit that Brian Hildebrand had finally lost to cancer and had passed on. It was a death that produced that frustrating feeling that you want so much to be angry, but you have no idea who you want to be angry at. God? Like any of us are in position to question him? Once the anger goes away, then comes the sense of loss, which never really leaves.

Maybe it's our fault. Maybe we need to look at Mexico and other Latin American countries where the dead are honored, not mourned. Where the day we call Halloween is not a day for candy and tick-tacking, but a day for picnics in the cemetery to remember loved ones as they were, not as they are.

Is that what we should do from now on? Try to stop wondering what might have been and what we'd do different if we'd have only known and just try harder to appreciate the time and memories that we did get from someone's life?

It would be hard as hell I know, since human nature is to feel loss upon a person's passing, but after the loss and anger is felt, it's worth a try.

For example, maybe we can all remember Brian Pillman and Rick Rude as two talented, unpredictable characters whose antics were so entertaining that wrestling organizations were glad to pay them to stand outside the ring for other people.

Maybe we can marvel at how the Von Erichs managed to hold the state of Texas under a spell that the Cowboys, the Ewings and Nolan Ryan had a hard time matching.

Can we remember Gorilla Monsoon as a man who took his craft very seriously, but not himself?

Shall we recall that Andre The Giant, Lou Thesz and Gorgeous George were men who, at separate times, grabbed the public by the throat and forced them to notice all those guys in funny costumes in that square platform with the ropes around it?

Let's point proudly to Brody and Gilbert, two men who were instrumental in creating the movement we now call "hardcore".

Let's remember them all, Larry Cameron, Eric The Red, Buddy Rogers, Dino Bravo, Chris Adams, Terry Gordy, Bobby Duncum Jr., Eddie Graham, I know I'm leaving out a few hundred of them.

The good thing is that though we can't reasonably fill the printed page with all of them, we have the unlimited capacity of our memories and our hearts to remember all of them.

And now, we must regretfully, yet fondly, add two more to the Dream Time of our mind. But we can also remember that they were all part of the tradition of professional wrestling, and for as long as pro wrestling lives, they will also live.

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