The legend of Big John Studd
He stood 6’ 10” and weighed close to 400 lbs. He had long blonde hair and a closely cropped beard that surrounded his huge head. His hands were as big as catcher mitts; his barrel chest was flanked by two massive biceps. He was known throughout the world from presidents to prime ministers, to senators and celebrities, to the working class of countries worldwide. He was Big John Studd.
Big John was a successful wrestler in the '70s and '80s. Wrestling at that time was such a big entity and its popularity peaked during this time with millions glued to TVs or scrambling to pick up tickets to sold out wrestling matches when they came to their town.
Big John Studd was a major part of that success and a major personality in the popular entertainment entity. President George H. W. Bush had him at the White House several times for special parties and family get-togethers. He was in a few movies including Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, The Marrying Man, Micki and Maude and others. There were action figures made in his likeness, Big John Studd vitamins, a Big John comic book and Saturday morning kids TV shows were in the works. He was big.
Big John was a very good friend of mine and I cherished our friendship as it was real with mutual respect and appreciation. I met Big John when my friend Kevin McHale from the Boston Celtics was running a celebrity golf tournament in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Legends from the world of basketball, football and hockey would all be attending.
I was helping in the organization of the event and Kevin says to me, why don’t we get Big John Studd. I said do you know Big John, does he golf? He said I never met him but I hear he’s pretty cool and I’m a big fan. So we reach out and Big John says he’d love to join us but he’s not a very good golfer.
I go to pick him up at the airport in Boston. He walks through the sliding glass doors of the airport and it had all the drama of Darth Vader entering the universe. He was big and ominous. I introduced myself as he folded himself into my SUV and we’re driving the two hour drive to Cape Cod and I notice he has a small pink golf bag. I question him about the clubs and he says they’re his neighbor’s wife’s. He’s never played a round of golf in his life. He sees the look of shock on my face and says, “Is that a problem?” I said “Absolutely not!”
Now he’s laughing and says “you have to help me out there I don’t want to be embarrassed.” So I introduce Big John to everybody at the big pre-party the night before the tournament and Big John makes you feel that you’ve known him all your life. He fit in with all our friends very quickly.
The tournament kicks off and Big John says “Big Joe you’re coming with me.’ I have lots to do as the tournament is underway but I agree. Well we get out to the first tee at this beautiful championship course and the first hole is the longest on the course at over 600 yards. Big John opens his pink golf bag and the ladies clubs are left handed, Big John is right handed. The ABC Boston TV station is filming Big John as he comes up to the tee, I tell him just keep your eye on the ball and try and hit it.
Well he swings like he’s chopping down a sequoia tree in the California forest; the ball goes five feet, hits a rock and bounces back behind Big John and the tee. Well that was his first and last attempt at the sport of golf. The ABC Boston affiliate broadcasted that shot on TV and in typical Big John fashion he laughed it off. We spent the rest of the day riding in the cart saying hi to other celebrities and guests who were participating in the charity tournament.
As a result of that Cape Cod experience we became pretty close friends. We’d take the time to visit and I used to catch his wrestling matches when he came into town. As a matter of fact when I was living in Chicago, Big John comes into town and he’s wrestling at the Rosemont Arena which holds about 19,000 and it’s sold out. Big John says that he’s headed to a gym to workout, do I want to join him, I said sure. Now, I’m in ok shape as I used to lift a lot of weights, so I agree to go hang out with Big John and get a work out in. I pick him up at the hotel and we head to the gym. Inside there are wrestlers King Kong Bundy and Hulk Hogan, then me and Big John; the gym kind of blocked off an area and we start our workout.
John puts 250 lbs on the bar and lifts it like an umbrella. I do a couple of sets and I’m struggling but secretly thrilled to death I’m keeping up with the big boys. Well Big John says ok, enough about the warm up let’s go and proceeds to put 350 lbs on the bar. I know if I attempt that my head might explode and there’s no way that’s going to happen. I politely decline and say may back is acting up. I was so sore the next day I couldn’t move. I could fill a book of the great stories and fun times that I had with Big John Studd, he was the best.
Big John was diagnosed with liver cancer and Hodgkin’s disease after finding a lump. I was in touch with him three to four days a week when he was sick. I got a call from him towards the end and it was a soft spoken but sincere Big John who thanked me for our friendship and how much he enjoyed my company, he did most of the talking which was a rarity.
Three days later on March 20, 1995 he died at the very young age of 47. Big John was married to a wonderful woman Donna and had three children. When he was in the ring wrestling he took on the persona that made him a success. When he stepped out of the ring he was a big man that was all heart. I miss my friend and so do the millions of people that had the pleasure of watching him wrestle.