By Mike Mooneyham
April 25, 2004
Professional wrestling lost one of its greatest champions and most beloved goodwill ambassadors when Lou Thesz passed away of complications from open heart surgery at the age of 86 on April 28, 2002. From the day he first won wrestling’s most coveted title on Dec. 29, 1937, to the day he died nearly 65 years later, Thesz represented the profession with class and dignity.
While the sport lost an icon, his wife, Charlie, lost a soul mate. Two years after his death, she still feels the loss as painfully as if it were yesterday. To commemorate the two-year anniversary, she plans to scatter some of his ashes Wednesday in the Chesapeake Bay. Many of their friends will join her.
“I do understand the significance of the two-year mark. I cannot seem to get to an emotional two-year place,” she says. “I am thankful friends are not pressing me to date or introducing me to friends. Since they knew Lou so well, they understand my plight – who could possibly measure up? I am moving on, but lots of Lou comes with me.”Life, she admits, has lost most of its “zing.” She left Florida, where they had moved several years ago, and returned to the Virginia coast, where they had spent their happiest years. They enjoyed living in an area where many of Lou’s wrestling contemporaries had taken up residence after retiring, but didn’t care for the extended humid summers. She and Lou had lived in Norfolk longer than either had ever lived in one place, and made wonderful friends there.
“I have made a few new friends, but have reveled in the old ones,” she says of her new home. “It is wonderful to be around friends with lots of Lou history. These people knew him as a friend and neighbor and loved him for who he was as a person. I love to hear him worshipped and adored, but loved because he was a terrific human being is a better balance for me.”
She’s renting an old house on the beach in Norfolk that some friends had bought. Lou, she admits, would have not been as excited, but she does hear his laughter throughout the place. She loves her new job at an arts center in Newport News and going on band and choir trips with her own tour company.
“Being back on the Chesapeake Bay is great for me, too. At times, I can almost see my ancient mariner’ out in his johnboat dropping his crab traps. He loved living on the bay, and we are both home. I have some ashes left and will scatter them in the bay. So many friends here would love to be there, too.”
Ashes already have been scattered in St. Louis, where Lou was born, and in Japan, where he is revered as an icon. She also plans to send some of those ashes to longtime friend Sammy Mohuaki, who wrestled under the name Sam Steamboat, in Hawaii. Tim “Mr. Wrestling” Woods had taken ashes to scatter in his backyard shortly before passing away several months after Lou.
“I do find some peace here. I am hoping scattering the ashes will be good for all of us.”
When Lou died, says Charlie, he left with no regrets. He lived every year, every day, to the fullest. Thirty years his junior, she’s trying hard to do the same. “Life is just plain old boring without Lou – and I stay busy!”
One of the most haunting memories of Lou’s illness, she says, was a get-well card from a fan that said, “I know you will be fine because you are Lou Thesz.”
“I think that pretty much says it for how we all felt,” says Charlie. “Poor Baby! He did have us all convinced he was invincible, and it made us all feel as if we were, too – on a diminished scale, of course.”
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected] He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment.” For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.