by Rich Landrum
Goodbye my friend. I’ll miss you.
I’m sure there are some who may have wondered why I had not posted anything sooner about Johnny’s death. Simply, it was just too emotionally difficult.
I had known Johnny, since the mid 70’s, when I started doing the ring announcing in Richmond. Which was a time when tag team wrestling was the major draw for JCP. And he was George Becker’s partner. By 1978, I was doing the World Wide Wrestling show and Johnny joined me as my co-host. If you’ve read my interview on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway, you know I dubbed him the “Dean of Professional Wrestling." But, little did either of us know, that moniker would stay with him the rest of his life. After that, Johnny would call me ”The Voice.”
After we both left wrestling, we lost touch with each other until several years ago and that reconnection was as if we just picked right back up to where we are at this point.
That Friday morning, I learned of his death quite by accident, as there was a one line post on a wrestling website that he had died that morning. I remember my reaction, as I said to myself, “No way! I just got an email from this morning. How sick can someone be to post something like that?” I then started contacting others (Ivan & Renae Koloff, Peggy Lathan, Dick Bourne and others) to confirm or deny if it was true. The first telephone response I received, said “No, it’s not true”, that they had spoken to him that morning and he sounded fine. Later, that Friday morning more replies confirmed his death. I was totally stunned and deeply saddened. My colleague and friend of 30 years, was gone. As the funeral arrangements were made public, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be there to say “Good Bye” to my best buddy.
Normally, funerals don’t have a lasting impact on me, as I rarely show my emotions. However, Johnny’s funeral has impacted me to this day and at times when I read stories about him or watch videos of him, I still get teary eyed. When my wife finds old pictures of Johnny and I on the World Wide Wrestling TV set, I just stare at them and fondly remember the time we had together.
The Sunday after his funeral, some friends at my church asked about the funeral. And I related to them, the visitation that Tuesday night and how many from the wrestling world had come to the funeral home to offer their condolences to Johnny’s daughter Wendi and other members of Johnny's family. And, how it also gave us a chance to see each other after many years and reminisce about the good old days, when wrestling was “wrasslin”. I also explained, that what they saw of us on TV or in the ring, was quite different from what it was like outside the ring. That, for the most part it was like one big extended family. We all looked out for each other and it was no different at Johnny’s funeral. We were there to pay our respects and say “Good Bye” the Dean and to support his family.
I’m happy that I had the opportunity to surprise Johnny in August of last year at what has become known as the “World Wide Wrestling Reunion” in Burlington, NC. It was the last time I saw him alive. And he couldn’t have been happier.
I shed a lot of tears that Wednesday at Johnny’s funeral and will probably shed a few more each time I see something about him. But, I rejoice in that I know he’s now in Heaven and probably working with Gene Anderson to promote some matches.
The lights may be turned out, but your memory still glows in my heart and mind.
- Rich Landrum