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October 14, 2009

Remembering Capt. Lou Albano

He was the maker of champions. The Guiding Light. Often imitated, never duplicated.

He was the greatest professional wrestling manager that I have ever seen.

Capt. Lou Albano, who died this morning at 76, was one of the most recognizable and over-the-top characters in the business during his heyday in the WWWF and WWF in the ’70s and ’80s.

albano.jpg

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Albano played a major role in WWE becoming a pop culture staple. As the story goes, Albano met ’80s pop star Cyndi Lauper on an airplane and the two became friends. He played her father in the video for her big hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” and he later brought her to the WWF for an angle that led to a match between The Fabulous Moolah (managed by Albano) and Wendi Richter (managed by Lauper) live on MTV. The Rock and Wrestling Connection was born and it wasn’t long before Mr. T came on the scene and Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper became mainstream celebrities.

My first exposure to Albano occurred while watching the WWWF’s syndicated show on a Saturday afternoon in 1973. Being 6 at the time, I found the wild-eyed, boisterous, gravely-voiced, slovenly manager to be a frightening individual. My earliest memories of Albano are of him being interviewed by a young Vince McMahon, and Albano yelling about how his charges were going to destroy the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Chief Jay Strongbow and Pedro Morales.

Albano, who had rubber bands sticking out of his face and usually had his shirt unbuttoned to expose his bulbous belly, was hands down the top heel in the company, and he transferred his heat to the men in his stable as well as any manger ever has. You bought a ticket to see the top babyfaces of the day beat Albano’s men simply because of your intense hatred for Albano.

Of course, it was even better when Albano donned the tights himself and got his comeuppance. Albano, who was a member of a mid-card tag team known as The Sicilians in the ’60s, was far from a great worker, but after he made a name for himself as a manager, his matches were must-see events.

I had the privilege of seeing Albano wrestle on quite a few occasions at The Baltimore Civic Center. From the moment he made his way down to the ring, the heat for the match was off the charts. The atmosphere was electric, as chants of “Albano is a Bum” filled the arena.

Every Albano match was pretty much the same. He would beg off and avoid locking up before the babyface eventually got his hands on him. After being on the receiving end for a bit, Albano would gain the advantage with the aid of a foreign object. The babyface would make a comeback, take the object from Albano and use it against him. Albano would blade – usually in full view of everyone without any attempt to conceal it – and then run to the back, losing via count-out.

Albano was such a despicable figure that even some of the heels didn’t care for him. In the angle that turned Pat Patterson babyface in the early ’80s, The Grand Wizard sold Patterson’s contract to Albano, but Patterson – who was a low-life heel himself – wanted nothing to do with The Capt. because he was “a fat slob.” Albano also was involved in the famous angle in which Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka turned babyface and became the most popular wrestler in the country before being supplanted by Hogan.

Albano’s initial claim to fame was that he was the manager of Ivan Koloff when “The Russian Bear” ended Sammartino’s title reign of nearly eight years in 1971. Albano was best known for being the manager of numerous tag team champions, including The Valiant Brothers, The Wild Samoans, The Blackjacks, The Moondogs and The Executioners.

Even though he was nowhere near as clever or smooth on the mic as managers such as Bobby Heenan or Jim Cornette, Albano cut highly entertaining promos. He would yell and scream and what he said usually was nonsensical. He also used the same phrases over and over, such as saying that if you put (insert babyface here)’s brain into a parakeet it would fly backward. As much as you hated him, you had to laugh sometimes at Albano’s antics.

One frequent target of Albano’s insults was Strongbow, who passed himself off as a Native American but in actuality was a guy named Joe Scarpa, an Italian just like Albano. The first wrestling angle that I remember involved Albano and Strongbow. For months Albano wore a cast on his arm, claiming that Strongbow had attacked him and broken his arm. The Chief always denied it. Finally, during a TV match involving Strongbow, Albano bludgeoned him with the cast and revealed that it had all been a ruse. That set up a series of heated matches between the two.

In the mid-80s, the unthinkable happened, and the man fans loved to hate became the man fans loved. Albano turned babyface, going from a sleazy, maniacal character to your fun-loving, crazy uncle. In typical campy fashion, it was revealed that Albano’s bad behavior all those years was because he had “a calcium deposit on the medulla of his oblongata.” Once doctors performed “surgery,” Albano underwent a transformation and began using his wrestling acumen for good instead of evil, managing the likes of George “The Animal” Steele and The British Bulldogs.

Albano parlayed his celebrity status from the ’80s wrestling boom into an acting career, as he got a part in the 1986 movie “Wiseguys” along with Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo, and also made appearances on a number of TV shows. In the late ’80s and early ‘90s, he played one of the Mario Brothers on “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show.”

The word on Albano was that he could be as much of a loose cannon off camera as he was on. He had the reputation of being a hard drinker and wrote in his autobiography that Vince McMahon Sr. fired him on a number of occasions but always quickly changed his mind and brought him back. Albano also has said in interviews that he and Vince McMahon Jr. had their ups and downs.

I never really had an opportunity to interact with Albano except for a very brief conversation at the WWF Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Philadelphia in 1995 (Albano was inducted in 1996).

During the ’80s, I attended several tapings for the WWF’s Tuesday Night Titans show when Albano was a guest. For those too young to remember, TNT was wrestling’s version of “The Tonight Show,” and it took place in a small TV studio in Owings Mills, Md., before a live audience. Albano, who was a babyface at that point, would come into the audience during breaks and crack us up with his off-color humor and bad jokes. It was great watching McMahon, who was the host of the show, sitting behind his desk and rolling his eyes at Albano much the same way he would when interviewing Albano back in the day.

Those were good days. Rest in peace, Capt.

Note: A private wake will be held at Balsamo-Cordovano Funeral Home in Carmel, N.Y., from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, according to a release from wrestlersrescue.org. A funeral Mass will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. James the Apostle Church in Carmel.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 9:33 PM | | Comments (40)
        

Comments

Some of my earliest memories of pro wrestling involve Lou Albano . .... a sad day , indeed .
RIP Capt'n Lou .

Great article Kevin, sure brought back some fun memories of a guy (by the mid-80s at least) you just couldn't help but like.

Great article Kevin, sure brought back some fun memories of a guy (by the mid-80s at least) you just couldn't help but like.

The captain was certainly an icon of my youth. Thanks for the nice brief summary of the exceptional entertainment he provided.

I hope he didn't die from rubber band poisoning.

RIP, Capt. Lou Albano..you brought me and my late grandfather many exciting moments back in the day.

Great piece, Kevin. You really helped me remember how great Capt. Lou was. The calcium deposit line was awesome!

Do you mean that the audience would all be aware that he bladed, as in he didn't attempt to conceal the blade job?

RESPONSE FROM KE: Yes.

I reamber him from wrestling, but my fondest memories will always be from the Super Mario Show. So bad it's good. DO THE MARIO!

I'm hell when I'm well and never sick, I'm mean when I drink and I drink a little every day, I'm a legend in my own mind often imitated never duplicated, All the Captain Lou Albano, how friggin classic is that. RIP Lou you were often imitated (and need to be imitated now) and never duplicated(hope somebody can come close soon)the business sorely misses characters like Lou and needs some now. Let's hope somebody takes this as an impetus to bring back the managers of old, the business needs some "Captain Lou's, Fred "the pencil necked geek" Blassie's a Grand Wizard,and a Bobby Heenan or 2, they don't let these guys learn to talk in the territories anymore so the best way would be to have someone talk for them. Hell I'd love to see a Paul Ellering, Oliver Humperdink, Gary Hart, or Diamond Dallas Page for that matter. Forget the eye candy the business needs talkers and heat attracting managers to help these young-ins along, can I get a witness!

Very respectful tribute to the Captain,thank you.
He used to live here in Sussex County Delaware but I would always see him at the Iron Horse lounge in the Boston Garden/North Station.He was indeed,always "on".And I always got a kick out of his "History of Music" song.His matches with Strongbow were horrible wrestling matches but they gave the crowd what they wanted-a busted-open captain.Those were such good years for WWWF.
Ciao Louis.

RIP oh Captain my Captain. Proud to say I got to shake your hand at a TNT taping back in the day (told my boss I had a doctors appt. that afternoon)Truly one of a kind and will be missed.

I've read 6 other Captain Lou obits, and this is by far the best I've read. I'm impressed with how you really gave captain Lou his due in making wrestling a huge media phenomenon, which no one else seemed to have included in their pieces. It's good to see some personal connection to him as well. Fine piece of writing Mr. Eck. Cheers.

Thanks, Kevin, for the great article. I was a college student in the early '80s when the Rock & Wrestling Connection was the start of something big. Those were great times, as the old WWF shows had good action, but even better humor. I miss those days: WWE is now primarily a vulgar, humorless show featuring a bunch of guys shouting at each other. Cap'n Lou had it all.

Kevin you are correct he was a wrestling legand one of the greatest managers in the last 50 years of wrestling wheather you talk about WWWF(WWF),NWA,or AWA . I was first introduced to Captain Lou in 1981 when he was in control of one of the greatest tag teams(in my opinion)of the last 30 years Afa and seka The Wild Somoans,Ray Stevens,and Super fly as a rule breaker.He was along with the one and only Grand Wizard the best.

There stood some kind of man. A true character, true OF character. G'night Captain, and thanks!

I go back a little further and remember him when he tagged teamed with Tony Altimore. Neither were great wrestlers but they were always able to get the fans riled up with their antics, as well as have you laughing at their interviews.

Always entertaining, "never duplicated", he truly was one of a kind and probably as important (if not more with Lauper's help) as Hogan for the WWF's growth in the 80s,

Rest in peace Capt. Lou

The Strongbow/Capt/Cast storyline was an early favorite of mine as well. Wasn't Mike Graham the Albano charge involved?
As a total Chief Jay mark. it would kill me when an Albano team would defeat the Chief and partner for the belts - Executioners, Samoas, Moondogs, etc.
As always, thanks Kevin for the memories

I felt like part of my childhood died when I read this. I remember waiting in line at the JC Pennys at my local mall for like an hour to get an autograph and a picture. Thanks for the memories Capt. Lou!

Long before there was a Cyndi Lauper connection there was the song "Captain Lou" by the greatest band in the world, NRBQ. Lauper was nothing but a poseur; the Q were Rockers, and R&B, and Jazz, and everything you could possibly imagine and more. Sound Off!

A wonderful tribute to a legendary character. I had the opportunity to have very brief encounters with both Captain Lou and Chief Jay Strongbow back in the early eighties while living in Allentown (PA), where a number of the WWF/WWWF shows were taped. Nice work, Kevin, and thank you for the memories.

There is a nice article on Albano in the online edition of today's American Spectator by Daniel Flynn who recounts seeing Albano at the Boston Garden when he was seven years old.

Great piece, Kevin. I knew you wouldn't disappoint. I looked forward to reading your tribute as soon as I heard about Capt. Lou's death. I, too, used to love those promos and the look of disgust on McMahon's face. And the tag-team matches between the Valiant Brothers and Dean Ho and Tony Garea were my favorites. (Though I hated how the shows often would end before the match was finished. "We're out of time. Join us next week!") Anyway dude, just wanted to say thanks for the trip down memory lane.

RESPONSE FROM KE: Thanks, Roch.

Just wondering when and where Capt. Lou lived in Sussex County Delaware. Maybe Bill knows.

"The Guiding Light" will forever shine bright!

RIP Capt. Lou. Amen Mickfowl

The Captain was one of the best. You are so right on Kevin. He was great at what he did and was just loads of fun to watch. Here is a great video for everyone.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJNrsNe54AE


Often imitated, never duplicated. RIP

Lou was a wonderful character. Growing up in Florida I saw Joe Scarpa (from Nutley, NJ) wrestle many times as a babyface. Then when cable TV came to be, there was Joe as Chief Jay going at it with Lou. I never could suspend my belief to see him as anybody but Joe Scarpa. Very nice requiem for Lou Albano. I think the Sheepherders may have gotten their arm swing from Lou's arm swing when he was marching in and around the ring.

i recall SuperStar Graham stating that he one time, during being on the receiving end of a beatdown by the face, would blade, in front of everyone, and once tossed the blade in the air, and it landed on the mat, in full view of everyone, Vince Sr, fired him then rehired him again, lol
God BLess Captain Lou,,

Capt. Lou lived in Millville at one time,as his summer home I guess.WGMD posted a picture of his house but was unable to nail down a time frame.I heard a radio station caller say that he attended Catholic Church in South Bethany.

The Captain lived on Dewey Beach. In 1992 the house we stayed in for senior Week was next to him. By the end of the week he was giving us signed pics and telling stories. Growing up one of my greatest memories was when he turned good.....the gold record incident in the Garden with the Hot Rod, Cyndi Lauper, David Wolff and Dick Clark!!!

Thanks for the years of entertainment you provided us with you will surely be missed rest in pease Mr. Albano.

Captain Lou Albano, we will remember you as a wonderfull showman. I always loved you performances,,,

I loved cpt. Lou Albano!! Watching him monday through fridays on tha Mario Show! RIP Lou Albano p.s. I talked to him

I would like to add my R I P to The Guiding Light Capt. Lou Albano. He was a great entertainer, as I had the priveledge to attend a great many of the WWWF t.v tapings that took place in the Hamburg, PA. fieldhouse, as well as Ag. Hall, in Allentown, PA. No one will ever take his place -- there will never be another like him.

A big THANK-YOU to his family for sharing him with all true wrestling fans of the 70's and 80's. Just really makes me realise how old I am getting when the entertainers I grew up with are passing away.

GOD SPEED CAPTAIN LOU!

This is a real tough one. Lou was a friend for almost forty years, and I will miss him greatly. There are not many of us "old timers" left. If there is a wrestling heaven there will be a helluva show coming soon. Rest in peace Lou, I'll see you up the road.
Forever friends,
Davey O'

One of my earliest memories of wrestling on TV was the match when Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson beat the Wild Samoans to win the Tag Titles (back when they meant something). Albano went to hit a chair shot on Johnson (I think) and missed, and ended up hitting one of the Samoans who was holding him, leading to the pin.

RIP Captain Lou. Another link to the best era of wrestling gone.

Often rememered but never forgotten RIP sweet Lou

Great Saturday morning memory from mstrchef13. I can hear McMahon referring to the chair used by Capt. Lou as a 'solid oak chair' and see it dangling around the neck of I believe Sika of the Samoans. That title change was a big deal back then.

My favorite memory of Captain Lou: He was working out Moolah or Richter, can't remember which, for an upcoming match. He says in his crazed manner "I'm making her drink four quarts of unborn virgin goat's milk five times a day -- no way she's gonna lose" or words to that effect. Good old Captain Lou -- he was the greatest.

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About Kevin Eck
The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Eck blogs about professional wrestling.
E-mail Kevin.
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