The obituary for wrestler Reggie "The Crusher" Lisowski, which ran Oct. 28, gave an incorrect first name for a wrestling authority quoted in the story. He is Greg Oliver. (Published 10/31/2005)
Reggie "The Crusher" Lisowski, 79, a professional wrestler whose blue-collar bona fides made him beloved among working class fans for 40 years, died of a brain tumor Oct. 22 at the Bradford Terrace Convalescent Center in Milwaukee.
A 6-foot, 260-pound specimen with a cement-mixer voice, Mr. Lisowski performed in the days before vitamin supplements and anabolic steroids were widely used. Dubbed "The Wrestler Who Made Milwaukee Famous," the barrel-chested bulldozer bragged that he worked out by running along the Lake Michigan waterfront with a keg of beer on each shoulder, building his stamina to polka all night with the local "Polish dollies." He was often photographed relaxing before a match by drinking a beer and smoking a cigar.
He was marketed as a villain, but the public loved him. He once drew 8,000 fans in the 1970s and often sold out arenas a week in advance. Earlier this year, Mr. Lisowski was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame with his most famous tag-team partner, the late Dick "The Bruiser" Afflis. The pair collected five American Wrestling Association world tag titles; Mr. Lisowski, paired with other wrestlers, won three more. He also won the AWA's world heavyweight title three times.
"I think working people identify with me because years ago I worked when I wrestled, too," Mr. Lisowski told the Milwaukee papers in 1985. "I worked at Ladish, Drop Forge, Cudahy Packing House. I was a bricklayer. But finally, I got away from punching the clock."
He punched plenty of other things with his signature finishing move, the bolo, which had a windup like a fast pitch softball pitch but ended with a whomp! to a competitor's bone and muscle. His own body was not spared the violence of the ring. Mr. Lisowski broke his right elbow seven or eight times, his son David Lisowski said, and was unable to fully straighten it. He had "thousands" of stitches in his head, countless concussions and a damaged eardrum. When he broke his right shoulder, he came home from a match, went to a pillar in the basement and yanked it back into place. He also had two hip replacements, a knee replacement and multiple heart bypass surgeries.
Yet he was so strong that he could bend a tire in half, which is harder than it sounds.
"These turkey neck bums they got wrestling, some of them couldn't shine Crusher or Bruiser's shoes," he said in 1999 at a dog track appearance in Kenosha, Wis., according to amateur wrestling historian George Lentz, who tape-recorded the talk. "I come up the hard way. I had all these cage matches. I wrestled in the cage more than any other rassler in the history of rasslin'. I got all the scars to prove it. The time I wrestled Mad Dog [Vachon] in the cage, I had to go to the hospital, and he had to go to the veterinarian to get sewn up."
Steve Oliver, an author and founder of the Slam! Wrestling Web site, said Mr. Lisowski was best known in the Midwest and Southeast until the emerging cable television networks discovered how cheaply they could air matches in the 1980s. "It was almost like the 1950s all over again," Oliver said. "Wrestling just boomed."
By then, it was almost the end of The Crusher's storied career. Although the sport is popularly regarded as more entertainment than athletics, Mr. Lisowski would have none of that talk. "People make a joke of it. But it wasn't a joke to me. It was a living," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
A native of South Milwaukee, Mr. Lisowski served in the Army during World War II, where he learned to wrestle. His first match was in 1949, as a dark-haired "baby face" who wore a star-spangled jacket, Oliver said. A few years later, he bleached his hair blond, grew it long and adopted the persona of a rule-breaker. By 1959, he had a crew cut, had picked up the nickname "Crusher" and had become a tough guy. His signature phrase became the two-fisted challenge, "How 'bout dat?"
After 40 years on the road, during which he traveled six days a week, Mr. Lisowski retired.
His wife of 55 years, Faye Lisowski, died in 2003. Survivors, in addition to his son, include three other children, nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Despite the overheated rhetoric of the ring, Mr. Lisowski was by many accounts a friendly, outgoing man who would vacation with his fellow competitors.
"We had some dandy matches," Verne Gagne, a former NCAA wrestling champion and pro wrestler, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "The Crusher never was a great technically skilled wrestler, but he was tougher than nails and a brawler. He could bench press nearly 600 pounds. And he loved to have fun. After a match, he couldn't get a beer in his hands fast enough."