By Mike Mooneyham
May 13, 2007
Bruiser Brody was stabbed to death on July 16, 1988, in the locker room of Juan Lobriel Stadium in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. His influence, though, is still felt in the wrestling industry two decades later.
Before there was Mick Foley, before there was Extreme Championship Wrestling, Bruiser Brody roamed the planet as the undisputed king of hardcore wrestling. The 6-5, 280-pound Brody, the archetypal big man in wrestling, made brawling an art form before the term “hardcore” was coined. A loyal friend and devoted family man, the multi-faceted Brody also was a confrontational businessman who fought for every penny he felt he deserved in a cutthroat wrestling business.
Brody was a pioneer who paved the way for the hardcore style that would become a staple during the 1990s. Foley, who most consider to be the hardcore legend of the current generation, admittedly studied hours and hours of Brody’s Japan tapes while training to be a pro wrestler, and even patterned his ring style after him.Foley, though, wasn’t the only one. Dozens of pro wrestlers copied Brody’s brawling style and mannerisms. But there was only Bruiser Brody.
Brody’s lasting legacy and tragic tale is captured in a new book, written by Emerson Murray and edited by Scott Teal, simply titled “Bruiser Brody.”
“Brody was the ultimate outlaw in the world of professional wrestling,” says Murray. “He was the modern-day Jesse James. Brody worked all over the world and drew a crowd everywhere he went.”
The book project, says Murray, came about almost through an act of divine intervention.
“Bruiser Brody was one of my heroes as a kid. He was right there between Bruce Lee and Johnny Rotten. Really, I had been floundering in the film and video industry, just making ends meet, when I realized it was a very technical field, not much creativity. I really wanted to do my own project, something that artistically struck a nerve with me.”
Murray’s interest was piqued when he came across a striking photo of Brody while leafing through some old wrestling magazines.
“This slender beam of light came down around me and these angels started singing, it just hit me, right in my chest. I knew I had to do a documentary on the life and death of Bruiser Brody. I went through my life savings of $10,000 and the project nearly died after only a handful of interviews. I knew I couldn’t let this thing die, and I decided to do a book.”
The result is a well-crafted tome, related by friends, family, contemporaries and scholars, on one of pro wrestling’s most unique and controversial characters.
An enigma Brody, whose real name was Frank Goodish, was an outlaw and rebel who marched to his own drummer and refused to kowtow to the whims and demands of promoters. Feared and hated by some wrestlers and more than a handful of promoters, the unpredictable Brody was notorious for ignoring instructions from bookers, deviating from the script and refusing to put over certain wrestlers.
But Brody, with his enormous size and charismatic gimmick, was a marquee star and an attraction who drew fans and money.
“He had an air about him that got him over almost everywhere he went. On the other hand, he took advantage of that attitude, too. If you were in the ring with him, if you didn’t have the guts to cut him off, he’d just eat you alive,” said former NWA world champion Harley Race.
Brody was one of wrestling’s most complex, and misunderstood, characters. “Frank Goodish/Bruiser Brody was a very complex man,” says Murray. “His motivations were simple enough; everything he did was ultimately for the well being of his family. But the ways he went about achieving this goal were very hardcore and sometimes mystifying. He was the ultimate outlaw in wrestling, and that drove promoters crazy. If he was told he would be getting $750 for a show but the gate was smaller than expected, and the promoter wanted to pay him less, he would walk.”
That attitude took root early in life. Brody, a football and basketball star in high school, briefly attended the University of Iowa before transferring to West Texas State University in Canyon, near Amarillo, an outlaw, small-college football factory that produced such future wrestling stars as Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Dick Murdoch, Tito Santana, Tully Blanchard, Bobby Duncum, Scott Casey, Ted DiBiase and Stan Hansen, who would later become Brody’s most successful tag-team partner. Brody, however, eventually was kicked out of school for disciplinary reasons.
Brody would go on to serve stints playing pro football in Canada and semi-pro ball back in Texas, and well as spending the 1968 season as a linebacker on the Washington Redskins’ taxi squad. He worked as both a sportswriter and a bouncer for several years before breaking into pro wrestling in 1973.
Brody, at one time one of the highest-paid wrestlers in the industry, was one of the leading international superstars in the game from the late ’70s into the ’80s, and was the top foreign attraction in both Japan and Puerto Rico. He remained a hot commodity on the independent circuit and the international market as Vince McMahon was expanding his business nationally during the mid-’80s.
“Brody made a living working in Japan,” notes Murray. “He made enough money for his family to live comfortably. The work he did in the United States was extra. He drove promoters insane because they were so used to wrestlers that needed their work no matter how paltry. Brody would come along and his name would ensure big money at the gate, but that promoter had to pay Brody what he promised him or Brody was gone. Brody would also go and tear the house down. If a card was lagging or if Brody was wrestling someone he respected, or even if the mood struck him, Brody would hit the ring, put on a show, take it to the floor and just tear the place apart. The blood would flow, the chairs would all get thrown and knocked over, the fans would be running, screaming.”
Blood flowed like water whenever Brody would tangle with monster heels such as Abdullah The Butcher. His feuds with the likes of Ric Flair, the Funks, the Von Erichs, Bruno Sammartino, Dick The Bruiser and Andre The Giant are legend.
“Brody and Abdullah the Butcher went all over the world beating each other to a pulp. The ironic part is that the more they beat each other, the more they bled and sweat, the bigger the house, the more they were paid and the better friends they became. It’s a great irony in wrestling,” says Murray.
With shaggy, shoulder-length dark hair, a scraggly, unkempt beard and fur-covered boots, Brody was as uncontrollable as his appearance. Wildly swinging a metal chain while barking and letting out bloodcurdling shouts, Brody entranced audiences wherever he appeared. Outside of the ring, though, Brody was shy and reserved. He was known as a loyal friend, a loving husband and father who put up with promoters’ lies to support his family.
Although pro wrestlers are labeled independent contractors, Brody was one in the truest sense of the word. He never wanted a taxing, full-time schedule that took time away from his family, and his goal was to eventually be financially able to get out of the business and retire to a life of relative normalcy.
It never happened.
Surrounded in controversy in life, Bruiser Brody was even more shrouded in controversy in death.
During the final swing of a four-day Puerto Rican tour, the 42-year-old Brody was slain in a hot, steamy locker room, the victim of several stab wounds to the stomach that punctured his lung and liver. A ring opponent, sometimes partner and booker of the World Wrestling Council promotion, Jose Gonzales aka The Masked Invader, was charged with murder.
Wrestler Tony Atlas witnessed the incident while in the same locker room. Atlas told authorities that Gonzales had approached Brody in the shower with a hunting knife and plunged it into Brody’s torso several times.
“That man got stabbed for doing absolutely nothing,” says Atlas, who recalled Brody speaking some of his final words to him. Just minutes before the stabbing, Brody had been admiring a portrait Atlas had been painting of Chris and Mark Youngblood, who also were on the card that night.
“Brody liked it. He asked me to do a picture of his young son. He told me he had a picture done before, but it was a caricature. I told him I could have that done before he left. He handed me the picture.”
Brody was then summoned into the shower by another wrestler. That’s when the stabbing occurred.
“He pulled the picture back, walked into the shower. He was holding his son’s picture in his hand when he got stabbed,” says Atlas.
Atlas accompanied Brody to the hospital where the wrestler died on the operating table after doctors were unable to get his blood to clot and stop the bleeding. The card went on as scheduled. Gonzales returned to the building, wearing a new shirt, and worked his scheduled match that night. Abdullah The Butcher met Brody’s wife and young son at the airport the following morning with the tragic news.
Gonzales was arrested the next day on charges of first-degree murder and a weapons violation. The alleged murder weapon, a knife, was never recovered by police as it had disappeared from the scene of the crime. Gonzales was indicted on charges of voluntary homicide.
Atlas, though, never testified at the trial months later, and Gonzales was acquitted after pleading self-defense. Without Atlas’s testimony, a Brody family attorney said, there was no case.
“The people that were there really did not want to talk about that night at all,” says Murray. “Dutch Mantell is quoted in this part of the book from an audio interview he did a number of years ago. He was not interested in talking with me at all and has more recently actually published a version of what he saw that night which contradicts a lot of what he said in the earlier interview I have.”
Murray has his own thoughts on what transpired that fateful night.
“There are a number of factors that I believe were involved, dating back 12 years before the murder,” says Murray.
The news of Brody’s horrific death sent shock waves through the world of wrestling. One of the ironies is that a number of American wrestlers, most notably longtime ring foe and close friend Abdullah The Butcher, continued to work in Puerto Rico despite the circumstances. The reasons, claims Murray, were purely financial.
“Business,” says Murray. “Like Oliver Humperdink said, ‘Never fault a guy for trying to feed his family.’ The people that have returned needed to work, it’s that simple. You also can’t fault the entire island for the acts of one man. It will always be debated what Carlos Colon’s role was, but Jose Gonzales no longer works for Colon.”
Colon, who still owns the company, was reluctant to discuss details of the 19-year-old incident.
“I interviewed Carlos Colon, but he was very reticent to talk about that night,” says Murray. “He simply stated that it was the past and he wanted to concentrate on the present and the future.”
More on Brody
Murray’s book is the first of two being released about the life of Brody. The other, co-written by Brody’s widow, Barbara Goodish, and longtime St. Louis wrestling figure Larry Matysik, is set for an early summer release by ECW Press.
Murray knew he had to bring a different perspective when putting together his book. The two books, he says, are markedly differently.
“Larry’s book is written by one of Brody’s best friends and his widow,” he says. “I think their angle is going to be skewed a certain way. I really tried to take a 360-degree look at the man. My book is an oral biography, primarily made up of quotes from people that knew Brody throughout his life. I acted as sort of a narrator and filled in the gaps and threaded the information into a story. This way you get a complete picture from many different perspectives.”
The yet-to-be-released book is titled “Brody: The Triumph and Tragedy of Wrestling’s Rebel.” Neither Brody’s widow nor her son contributed to Murray’s project.
“I tried to contact Barbara Goodish through Larry Matysik, and then they decided to do a book together. I’ve e-mailed back and forth with Brody’s son a couple of times.”
Murray said many revelations surfaced about Brody during the course of writing the book.
“I always knew just what a polarizing figure Bruiser Brody was in the fandom of professional wrestling, I soon realized just what a polarizing figure he was within the industry of professional wrestling as well. I had no idea just how strongly some people, mostly promoters, disliked him and just how passionately some of the wrestlers felt about him. I think a lot of the wrestlers wished they could be as hardcore about the business end of wrestling as Brody was. Even Dory Funk Jr. admitted Brody influenced him in his business dealings.
Murray said it would be impossible to describe the essence of Bruiser Brody in a few sentences.
“I think that is impossible. I’m sitting here trying to do that, but after you read the book you will understand he was a very complex man. One thing I can say is that if he loved you, he would kill for you. If he didn’t like you, he just wouldn’t have anything to do with you.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Murray feels Brody would have conformed to the new era of wrestling, and would have even become a top star for McMahon. He also would have been a natural opponent for Hulk Hogan.
“Personally, I think that in the end Brody would have taken the legdrop. He was so physically beat up, that I think he would have gone to the WWF for a short run in 1989 or the early ’90s. I can see him hitting ECW and being sort of a ring general much like Terry Funk was. He probably would have continued working Japan, like Hansen did.”
Murray says he particularly enjoyed digging up information and photos from Brody’s early football days. “I was really happy with some of the photographs that I got access to. I also really enjoyed hearing about and editing Frank’s college and football years. I had so much information and so many great stories that it was a breeze to thread that part of the book together. The legend that is West Texas State in the wrestling world is almost unbelievable. The amount of wrestling talent that came out of that school is amazing.”
The book’s first printing is individually numbered and can only be purchased online by going to Murray’s Web site at www.bruiserbrody.com or www.crowbarpress.com.