An article by Mike Mooneyham
Published Feb. 26, 1995
Eddie Gilbert lived to wrestle. He was born into the business and never spent a day without wrestling being the most important thing in his life.
The son of a Tennessee wrestling star, Thomas Edward Gilbert II embraced the business with a passion rarely seen today in the sport of pro wrestling. From his first day in kindergarten, he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“At four years old, everyone wanted to be a fireman or a policeman or something like that,” he once said. “But right off the bat I knew I wanted to be a wrestler. It was something I always wanted to do, and something I’ve always loved doing.”
Eddie Gilbert, whose nickname of “Hot Stuff” was as much a reflection of his sometimes volatile and fiery nature as it was his patented strut and confident ring demeanor, was laid to rest Friday in his hometown of Lexington, Tenn.
Gilbert, who would have turned 34 in August, had been found dead six days earlier in his apartment in Puerto Rico. The cause was an apparent heart attack. Gilbert had been in Puerto Rico for several weeks working as booker for Carlos Colon’s World Wrestling Council. Friends had dropped him off at his apartment early Saturday morning, and Gilbert was supposed to pick them back up later that afternoon prior to a wrestling show. When Gilbert never arrived, they returned to his apartment.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Wrestler Ken Wayne was forced to get into the apartment through a bathroom window. When he rounded the bedroom door, he could make out a form on the bed. There were no signs of physical movement, no statement. He apparently had been lying in bed listening to his Walkman. But Eddie Gilbert was dead.
The story of Eddie Gilbert is a complex one. Many of his ring associates say there was more than one Eddie Gilbert. There was the lovable, easy-going guy who endeared himself to those he met. But there was also a side that was fiercely independent and burned bridges at will.
It was the latter side that may have prevented Gilbert from reaching a level of stardom achieved by few others in the business. Gilbert learned from a young age the inner workings of the trade, but the internal politics and behind-the-scenes machinations of the profession were always in conflict with Gilbert’s headstrong nature.
Gilbert, whose ring and interview ability more than made up for his 5-9, 200-pound size, was regarded as a rebel who more often than not went against the grain. His talent inside the squared circle was surpassed only by his creative genius in the booking office, and he parlayed those skills into high-level booking positions with WCW in Atlanta, ECW in Philadelphia, the USWA in Memphis and the UWF in Bill Watts’ Mid-South territory.
His most successful booking performance, however, was the transformation in 1988 of a dying territory in Alabama known as Continental Championship Wrestling into a thriving, dynamic company renamed the Continental Wrestling Federation. Gilbert brought in Paul E. Dangerously as a manager, paired a couple of relative newcomers – Shane Douglas and a masked monster billed as Lord Humungous (Sid Vicious), and introduced fresh new angles that revived the promotion. The success of that territory led to Gilbert achieving one of his dreams of being the booker in Memphis.
Gilbert’s life in professional wrestling was marked by controversy – inside and outside the ring. Three failed marriages – including two to wrestling personalities Missy Hyatt and Madusa Miceli – were personal setbacks. He survived a near-fatal accident in 1983 when his car went under an 18-wheeler in Allentown, Pa., and suffered a broken neck, spinal injuries and a bruised heart. His condition was touch-and-go for the first couple of days.
“I almost died in the intensive care,” Gilbert had recalled. “Everything was so focused on my broken neck that nobody really knew about the bruised heart. But I made it through. I was real lucky. I’m here by the grace of God.”
Gilbert, however, made a remarkable recovery and was back in the ring five months later. But the effects of the accident remained with him.
“My neck hurts every day when I get up,” said Gilbert, whose beard hid scars from the accident. “If I go to sleep in a motel room or at the house and the air is on too high, it’s just like arthritis in my neck when I wake up. It’s real tough, and I still feel it.”
“That lick that he took pulverized the top part of his heart,” said Gilbert’s father, longtime Tennessee wrestling star Tommy Gilbert. “He nearly went into cardiac arrest. “But there’s no pain anymore. He’s taken care of now. He’s in the good Lord’s hands.”