“Classy” Freddie Blassie was one of the most hated heels in professional wrestling history. He knew how to antagonize the fans, how to “get heat”, and death threats were frequent. Blassie, by his own admission, triggered over 100 heart attack-related deaths in Japan, was stabbed by incensed fans 21 times and was even once doused with acid. All the while, he reveled in his role as a bad guy.
Keith Elliot Greenberg has been doing his part to preserve professional wrestling history for the past few decades. The “Shakespeare of WWE” made an appearance on The Genius Cast back in early December and he certainly had a few good stories up his sleeves!
Outside of being an award-winning television producer, the New York Times best-selling author began writing about professional wrestling for a number of newspapers and magazines in the 90s and from there moved on to become a regular writer, contributor, and reporter for WWE. He has written a number of wrestling biographies including Freddie Blassie’s The Legends of Wrestling, Ric Flair’s To Be The Man, “Superstar” Billy Graham’s Tangled Ropes, and the unreleased biography of The Iron Sheik which, despite being chockful of stories that would be sure to make your jaw drop, will never see the light of day. Most recently, he co-authored the 2016 edition of WWE Encyclopedia of Sports Entertainment.
While writing The Legends of Wrestling, Greenberg got to know Freddie Blassie quite well and mentioned in his appearance on The Genius Cast that Blassie really opened up to him. Blassie, well-known for exaggerating a story or two, stated that when he was wrestling Rikidozan in Japan, 100 Japanese wrestling fans dropped dead of heart attacks because the matches were so gory.* Blassie also told Greenberg that women used to come up to him on the street and just gawk at him because he was God’s gift to women!
Hear Keith Elliot Greenberg’s share stories about “Classy” Freddie Blassie on The Genius Cast below:
How Bruno Sammartino saved Freddie Blassie from being killed by the mob
Over his 22-year wrestling career, Freddie Blassie had many notable feuds. One that stands out was his rivalry with Bruno Sammartino in the early 1960s. The two of them had a great relationship off camera, but because kayfabe was well and truly protected during this time in the business, unless you were on the inside, you never were to know that a heel and face got along in real life. As Greenberg shares it, Bruno used to have many people follow him around in the back, many of which were purported to be in the mob. In one memorable instance, Blassie, playing up the heel character, would berate Bruno’s followers backstage with promos, calling them derogatory names such as “grease ball” and “spaghetti bender”. Of course, these mobsters thought he was putting them down for real.
“Bruno always had a huge entourage hanging around him,” Greenberg wrote in “Classy” Freddie Blassie – The Legends of Wrestling. “When he’d go to a town, the most powerful Italians would latch themselves onto him and decided they were his protectors, whether Bruno liked it or not. Some of the guys were businessmen, some were political types, and some others – I’m sure – were mobsters. I’m not implying that Bruno would ever have any dealings with the mafia on his own. Bruno had gotten so famous that he couldn’t always pick the boneheads from the rest.”
In this particular story, Blassie won a match by count-out in Roosevelt Stadium when he kicked Sammartino in the breadbasket while the referee was distracted. Back in the dressing room, Blassie realized he was in the wrong one. They had no connecting hallways, so he was stuck with a bunch of these people, kayfabing his gimmick as Bruno was being hauled in on a stretcher. “Typical Italian stunt! You hit a guy in the neck, he grabs his balls!” One of the men was Jilly Rizzo, Frank Sinatra’s #1 sidekick and the owner or his own saloon. He heard Blassie say that and whipped out a gun saying, “I’ll kill that sonuvabitch!”
Bruno kayfabed him. “No. Let me take care of him in the ring.”
By doing this, he saved Freddie Blassie’s life.
Lanny Poffo, speaking to his friend Keith Elliot Greenberg on The Genius Cast, shared the story of the time he and Freddie Blassie were in Hawaii in 1968. Lanny was only 12 or 13-years-old at the time. Lanny approached Blassie, who always had three girls with him, saying he “needed some relief”.
“Here’s some money,” Blassie would say. “I want you to get four Orange Juliuses for me, the girls, and you.”
Poffo at first played it small and declined. However, Blassie said he would toss his drink in the sand if he didn’t drink it, so Lanny took the offer. Lanny stated that though Freddie Blassie never knew how to save his money well, he always had enough due to the fact that he was never a drinker and saved a lot of money in that regards.
Blassie’s father was a heavy alcoholic. He hated his father for it and hated how his father never had any self-control over the matter, as well as being abusive towards his beloved mother.
According to Greenberg, Gorgeous George, towards the end of his career, wanted to form a tag team with Blassie, however, Blassie wanted nothing to do with him because he too had a massive drinking problem and felt that it would “hit too close to home”. Blassie also resented “Superstar” Billy Graham, at first, due to his association with Dr. Jerry Graham, who in kayfabe was Billy’s older brother. Lanny would go on to state that Jerry Graham “had no business living the last 15 years of his life” due to his drinking problems. Lanny said that if a wrestler had a bottle of cologne in their bag, or even rubbing alcohol, Jerry Graham would take it out and drink it. Greenberg would add that Jerry Graham’s drinking issues may have been combined with mental illness.
Freddie Blassie on being an absentee father and how his son’s attempt to make amends came too late
Towards the end of Freddie Blassie’s life, he began to realize that it all may be coming to an end soon. He felt this was his chance to tell his life story before moving on. Blassie would show Greenberg dozens of notebooks with “beautiful cursive handwriting” in which he kept track of all of his matches during his career including personal anecdotes.
Blassie also wanted to make it clear through his final memoir that he was an absentee father as he was on the road for most of his son’s life growing up. This resulted in a weak relationship between the two. Freddie had been estranged from his children for the majority of their lives. Many people close to him actually had no idea that he had children in the first place. Take Linda McMahon, for instance. When the wife of WWE’s Chairman and CEO had heard about this, she accosted Blassie saying, “I didn’t even realize you had any kids!”
At Freddie Blassie’s wake, a family member came up to Keith Elliot Greenberg saying that Freddie’s son had read the book and was ready to make peace with his father, however, sadly, Freddie passed away before he could ever speak to his son again.
Greenberg’s memoir on Freddie Blassie was released just three weeks before he died in 2003. He had been in poor health for quite a while and it was as if he wanted to wait to get his story out before he passed on. Freddie accomplished that goal and did so in grand style, as only he could.
*The 100 deaths claim was an exaggerated myth that Blassie used. According to Dave Meltzer, “legitimately there were three [deaths] in Japan from elderly men watching a match with Togo in Japan and it became this myth that [Freddie Blassie] exaggerated.”
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