Killer Kowalski – A Tribute to My Friend

Killer Kowalski headlined around the world for a good quarter-century. Few had runs that lengthy or as wildly successful. He probably wrestled Bruno Sammartino hundreds of times in major arenas up and down the East Coast.

But to me, he was more than a great wrestling villain- he was my friend.

Killer Kowalski - A Tribute to My Friend

“Mr. Kowalski”

He went from “Mr. Kowalski” upon my first mark-out meeting with him through prolific author Jeff Archer to simply, “Walter.”

He was a true renaissance man, a poet, photographer, promoter, wrestling trainer, and motivational speaker. I was honored to write the introduction for his photography book, Killer Pics, and to have him as part of both the Wrestling- Then & Now and 350 Days documentaries.

But when he offered to be a regular columnist for my long-running Wrestling-Then & Now sheet, I was floored. Having one of the business’s best minds join my team was like winning the jackpot at Online Casino NZ. The newsletter ran for some 20 years starting in 1990, and this was a piece I wrote about Walter after I had learned his days were numbered. This is the first time this article is available in digital form.

A Tribute Written During The Final Days of Killer Kowalski

It’s a weird night for me.

And it’s motivated me to write.

Just yours truly reflecting on life, mortality, and even some pro wrestling.

You see, I’ve just gotten word that Walter “Killer” Kowalski has been removed from life support and will most likely be long gone by the time you get this issue in your hands. At one time, he was a columnist and a huge part of this newsletter and someone I admired, respected, and was even on the road with.

Running his column in so many issues of my newsletter was among the wrestling work I am proudest of.

So, this is so very sad for me.

And it’s gotten me thinking about many different things.

Now I know Walter lived the life he wanted to. He loved pro wrestling, and it took him around the world. It was the life he was meant to live. He took his camera with him; his photography gave him great pleasure. He felt tremendous pride for his protégés. He trained the likes of Big John Studd, Triple H, Chyna, Eddie Edwards, Kofi Kingston, Chris Nowinski, Matt Bloom, Damien Sandow, Fandango, Brittany Brown, April Hunter, John Kronus, Perry Saturn, and Tommaso Ciampa, to name a few. He was proud of his vegetarianism and his physical conditioning. He ultimately even found “the right woman.”

Hey, how many of us can say we’ve lived the life we were meant to live?

Walter Kowalski can.

Here is a man who left a steady job to follow his dream in the heartbreaking and body breaking world of pro wrestling. How many of us would have the courage to walk away from that steady paycheck and follow a path they were born to take?

Well, Walter did.

Killer Kowalski with his trainees, Triple H and Chyna.
Killer Kowalski with his trainees, Triple H and Chyna.

Now, it wasn’t all happy. There were those public criticisms by Chyna that she made in her autobiography. She called him cheap and paid little, that the indy shows were tiny, and when a trainee farted loudly, and he allowed it. She claimed, “That’s when I knew how nasty Walter is.” This hurt him as he had done nothing but nurture her. WWE also would let him go without a helluva lot of notice after years of his supplying quality talent for them. And he sure didn’t get the Ric Flair send-off, and when all was said and done, he had sold out a lot more venues and put in a lot more years with the company than the Nature Boy.

And I know he expected more from Triple H than he got after his protégé hit the big time.

So, this giant of a man may have been a king of the ring, but he was every bit as vulnerable as the rest of us to the hurt and pain that life throws at us.

And it hurt me that time we were at Jeff Archer’s house in San Diego to see this mighty warrior struggle with his arthritis to get off the couch. Hell, this was KILLER KOWALSKI, a supervillain straight out of the comic books. This was a mighty EXECUTIONER who I saw go 45 minutes in the sauna-like setting that was Sunnyside Garden. And he took those bumps for guys just like me who marveled at this majestic athlete.

And now, I was watching, helplessly, as he struggled to get up.

Killer Kowalksi and Bruno Sammartino met in the ring more times than I can count and never once disappointed.
Killer Kowalksi and Bruno Sammartino met in the ring more times than I can count and never once disappointed.

No matter how well we take care of ourselves. No matter how much we watch what we eat. No matter how much we try to keep on that straight and narrow path, we age, we get sick, and ultimately, we die.

Even Killer Kowalski.

Yes, somehow, Killer Kowalski.

You see, if you’ve spent time with the man as I have, you know how especially important health and nutrition was to him. I honestly figured he’d live to 100 or more and go in his sleep.

I was wrong.

If illness and death caught up to Killer Kowalski, what chance do mere mortals like myself possibly have?

Ironically, for such a ferocious performer who made a living selling out arenas, he was a very shy man outside of it. But we “did business on a handshake,” and like Walter, my word has always been my bond. And, ironically, he did business that way because he’d always tell people that “everything is a work.” Yes, he honestly believed that. Baseball. Boxing. And not just sports, but everything in between. To have that cynical a view of the world and still be able to trust anyone is almost inspirational.

Yet he did.

Despite those who cheated and disappointed him, there are few in this business as beloved as he, and he earned every bit of it.

Part of me still believes that I’m going to wake up in the morning, log onto the Net, and my powerful friend and one of my heroes will overcome the odds and pull out of this. Why? Because he is Killer Kowalski.

But if this becomes my little farewell to him, I want to end it by saying that I am so honored to have known this man. I am honored to have had some relationship and connection with him, that it is honestly one of the things I’m proudest of in my many years of being involved in pro wrestling.

Killer Kowalski was no doubt a king of the ring. And in terms of honesty, integrity, hard work, and being a friend to so many of us, he was a king of men as well.

Goodbye, Walter. There will never be another one quite like you.

After suffering a heart attack on August 18, he would survive a further 12 days on life support. Sadly, he passed on August 30, 2008, aged 81, survived by his wife, family, and countless friends.

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Evan Ginzburg
Evan Ginzburg is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories. He was an Associate Producer on the movie "The Wrestler" and "350 Days" starring Bret Hart and Superstar Billy Graham. He is a nearly 30-year film, radio, and TV veteran, as well as co-host of the weekly Wrestling & Everything- Coast to Coast radio show with Buddy Sotello. He can be reached on Twitter @evan_ginzburg or by e-mail at evan_ginzburg@yahoo.com.