Former pro wrestler from York “Gorgeous George” Grant dies at 85
04/22/2010 12:00 AM
04/22/2010 11:15 AM
Almost 40 years after "Gorgeous George" Grant the wrestling showman hung up his robes and blond hair for good and heard the last calls for his head to be smashed with a folding chair because he was the worst pansy villain there was, Gorgeous George has stepped through the ropes and out of the squared circle for the last time.
He will throw no more roses at fans demanding he be beaten into a bloody pulp.
Grant, a pioneer of televised wrestling in the 1950s and early 1960s, who himself said he "dressed like Liberace" before there was a Liberace in show business, he of the feathered capes, sequins and leg drops that caved in ribcages, died in Columbia on Wednesday at the Dorn Veterans hospital, according to his daughter Melody. This particular Gorgeous George -- there were others -- was 85 years old.
But this Gorgeous George wasn't always old, or flashy, or "gorgeous." The year was 1952, in a smoky hot arena in Marietta, Ga. The event was 'rasslin'. The crowd, beehive hairdos, overalls, chewing tobacco and Lucky Strikes, screamed for blood.
Professional wrestling in the South was huge in those days, and wrestlers rode a circuit and played before barbarous sell-out crowds of red-clay farmers, textile mill workers and their women. All wanted carnage.
George Grant had just taken a thrashing from the masked "Green Hornet." The defeat meant Grant's beard would be shaved right there in the ring. Grant, a big burly guy, well over 6 feet and 200 pounds, was left with a face as soft as a baby's bottom.
"Sissy!" the crowd screamed.
"You sweet thing!" came more catcalls -- this time from other wrestlers in the dressing room.
But Grant was on to something. A promoter gave him a woman's robe, size XXL, and his long hair at a time when no man wore long hair without a look of arched eyebrows from others -- unless he was in show business.
At the next match, the crowd howled "like a pack of wild dogs," recalled Grant in a 1989 interview. George Grant, a wrestler who got his start in his hometown of Honey Grove, Texas, in 1939, was destroyed by a traveling wrestler for the princely sum of $1.25 for losing all three falls. Grant played second-fiddle to Daniel Boone Savage and other wrestling stars right after World War II. The U.S. Navy veteran of World War II was alive but hidden. "Gorgeous George" Grant, a star at age 27, was born.
In Venice, Calif., somebody noticed that Jean Harlow, the movie star, made a fortune with dyed hair so Grant dyed his hair blond. He was hated now, everywhere, for his feathered capes and "Pomp and Circumstance" music as he strutted to the ring. The blond hair just plain made good people crazy.
"Blond hair, instant money," Grant told The Herald in 1989 of how fans stampeded to get in to taunt him.
And then Gorgeous George blazed through the country, wrestling any and all to the delight of fans everywhere as Grant was kicked and slammed. He was booed in Boston and berated in Baltimore and beaten in Biloxi.
Grant was not the original Gorgeous George. That was Gorgeous George Wagner, who was a bigger sensation around the country in wrestling's even earlier days and has been dead for more than 40 years. But this Gorgeous George Grant was an original anyway. He threw thousands of gold-plated bobby-pins to the jeering crowds who screamed even louder for justice to be done as the blond locks twirled and the white boots stomped and the skin-tight tights Gorgeous George wore were stretched. All wanted Gorgeous George to be crushed.
Grant said in interviews years before his death that he was one of the stars of the early days of televised wrestling, made good money and lived the life of a showman. But he gave it all up in 1963 -- he moved to York and started evangelizing in 1965 and never stopped. He spoke and preached at conferences and revivals, and in 2002, at the York Rotary Club, he was introduced as "The Liberace of Live Wrestling."
Up until the last few years, Gorgeous George would go to wrestling reunions and lock up old stories about being the worst villain outside of the Iron Sheik and the dastardly Hart brothers among wrestling old-timers who had so many broken noses, mashed knees and separated shoulders the reunions should have been held in an intensive care unit instead of a hotel ballroom.
"He was a great guy, and I was fortunate to know him and his family these past few years," said Jimmy Ramsey, who runs the York County prison and knew Grant from his evangelism work. "We had Gorgeous George Grant living right here in York."
Grant was an active member at Blessed Hope Baptist Church in York. A memorial service will be next week, said his daughter, Melody Grant of York.
"I had the great honor to meet Mr. Grant, and his life was certainly interesting and he added to this community," said York Mayor Eddie Lee.
A few months ago, retired York city police officer Mac "Chief Yellowbird" George, another wrestler from that era, passed on. Now, Gorgeous George Grant has left the arena.
Boxer Muhammad Ali got part of his shtick from the men who wrestled named Gorgeous George. Professional wrestler Ric Flair did, too, and certainly others such as Adrian Adonis and others who taunted the crowds with their phony lady-like bleached hair.
Dressing up like a big sissy with long hair colored blond or white, then crushing the opponents' skull -- in the world of make-believe professional wrestling -- is always in style.
Before he saved souls, Gorgeous George Grant preened and pummeled to put on a show.
Gorgeous George Grant had style.
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