Lanny Poffo: Remembering a Genius Friend

With a heavy heart, we say goodbye to our beloved friend, Lanny Poffo, who sadly passed away on February 2nd, 2023, at the age of 68. Known to wrestling fans as “The Genius” and “Leaping Lanny,” we remember an incredible person both in and out of the ring.

Lanny Poffo over the years. The last image on the right was taken just one day before he sadly passed away. We honor and remember our friend, a man known to wrestling fans as "Leaping Lanny" and "The Genius." [Photo composite by JP Zarka/Pro Wrestling Stories]
Lanny Poffo over the years. The last image on the right was taken just one day before he sadly passed away. We honor and remember our friend, a man known to wrestling fans as “Leaping Lanny” and “The Genius.” [Photo composite by JP Zarka/Pro Wrestling Stories]

"I’m not really a genius. I just play one on TV." – Lanny Poffo


Lanny Poffo: A Genius of a Man and Friend

For such an amazingly eclectic and multi-talented man, Lanny Poffo was awfully humble.

Whether it was mastering gymnastics, delivering a perfectly executed dropkick, performing the epic Casey at the Bat by memory, writing anti-smoking and poetry books, or belting out Broadway show tunes, the man could do it all.

I met Lanny Poffo in 1993 at Dr. Mike Lano’s wonderful Sam Muchnick tribute convention in St. Louis.

Lanny had "transed himself in," not accepting a penny to appear. Instead, he wanted to pay homage to the ailing elderly promoter who had showcased his family.

I was a young sheet editor and timidly approached Lanny for an interview. Ever so accommodating, he readily agreed.

It didn’t take long to see he revered his father and brother and was incredibly proud of their accomplishments.

"My father, Angelo, holds the world record for 6,033 consecutive sit-ups," he gleefully informed me.

And he emphasized that Randy was a man who "has character," not merely an all-time great wrestler.

No sibling rivalry there, folks.

Angelo Poffo, the father of Lanny Poffo and "Macho Man" Randy Savage, holds the world record for consecutive sit-ups. He completed 6,033 sit-ups in four hours and ten minutes. According to Lanny, after 6,000 sit-ups, he did 33 more, one for each year of Jesus's life.
Angelo Poffo, the father of Lanny Poffo and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, holds the world record for consecutive sit-ups. He completed 6,033 sit-ups in four hours and ten minutes. According to Lanny, after 6,000 sit-ups, he did 33 more, one for each year of Jesus’s life.

He also boasted of his mother, Judy, who held down the ship while they were all on the road. It wasn’t an easy life for her, and he spoke of her adoringly.

"You know, my mother is Jewish, and my father is Italian, so technically, I’m one of the tribe," he grinned.

Judy Poffo proudly receives a kiss from her sons "Macho Man" Randy Savage and "The Genius" Lanny Poffo. Lanny shared this photo on his Facebook account on her birthday, January 28th, only five days before his own passing.
Judy Poffo proudly receives a kiss from her sons “Macho Man” Randy Savage and “The Genius” Lanny Poffo. Lanny shared this photo on his Facebook account on her birthday, January 28th, only five days before his own passing.

Then there was his beloved daughter and two grandsons (“Abuelo,” as he liked to be called. “Much cooler than being called ‘Grandpa,’ he’d share with me in private). Wrestling wasn’t his be-all and end-all.

Yet he loved the wrestling business. Not everyone in it, but he certainly held no bitterness toward the promoters. He paid his dues and "saw the world on their dime."

Yes, wrestling had taken him to faraway and exotic places that most kids raised in Downers Grove, Illinois, would never have gotten to see.

He cherished the friends he made in wrestling, like Rick Martel and Nikolai Volkoff. "What a nice man," Lanny would emphasize about Nikolai with the greatest of affection.

He spoke less kindly of those he felt disrespected by in the ring, like Bam Bam Bigelow, Adrian Adonis, and Ox Baker ("He hit me so hard I felt like my chest had caved in").

And he loathed the term ring rats. "Why are they rats? They were our friends. They took care of us."

Lanny avoided the obligatory bar stops with "the boys" after the matches, wherein drunk fans would challenge the wrestlers and not end up well.

"I’ve never been in a real fight in my life," he said proudly. Hey, he loved people.

"There was a party every night. But I went back to the hotel room and saved my money."

He didn’t do drugs, wasn’t a drinker, ate cleanly, and even shared dietary tips.

In a profession filled with too many train wrecks, you couldn’t help but admire the man.

Lanny Poffo was indeed pouring his heart out to me. It somehow felt like we knew each other forever.

I could never have imagined this would begin a thirty-year friendship where I was honored to have him stay by me many times. And we ultimately shared all kinds of creative endeavors, travels, and adventures.

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As Associate Producer of The Wrestler, I brought Lanny in for a reading with director Darren Aronofsky. Darren was enamored of the charming and literate grappler. But he told me after the sit-down, "Evan, he looks too healthy."

Hey, Darren liked his films dark. And Lanny was ever so amused by the unique rejection.

Lanny fared far better, showcased in our 350 Days documentary detailing his gratitude to the veterans who helped him survive on the road, traveling from town to town.

I also spent a wonderful weekend with Lanny at author Jeff Archer’s home in San Diego and Killer Kowalski, Tiger Khan, and Bryan Walsh as we promoted Jeff’s Theatre in a Squared Circle book featuring a chapter on Lanny.

Tiger Khan, Lanny Poffo, Bryan Walsh, Killer Kowalski, and author Jeff Archer at the Theatre In A Squared Circle book promotion event in San Diego in 1998.
Tiger Khan, Lanny Poffo, Bryan Walsh, Killer Kowalski, and author Jeff Archer at the Theatre In A Squared Circle book promotion event in San Diego in 1998. [Photo: Jeff Archer]
And how can I ever forget the weekend in Los Angeles for the Hollywood Collector’s Show convention with Lanny, The Iron Sheik, Nikolai, Greg Valentine, Lou Albano, Jimmy Valiant, and adult film legend Seka?

Greg would suddenly take bumps on the gorgeous hotel carpet, to the horror of passersby who didn’t know they were wrestlers just clowning for their own amusement.

They were great times, but so many of our friends are gone. So many. And now, unbelievably, Lanny, too.

Sobering.

“Uncle Lanny”

Lanny Poffo was a dear friend of many of us here at Pro Wrestling Stories, having contributed six unique and unforgettable articles on our site and many hours of cherished conversation on The Genius Cast with Lanny Poffo podcast alongside Pro Wrestling Stories founder and editor-in-chief JP Zarka.

“Lanny was that rare kind of friend who was the first to pick up the phone to call me after the passing of my parents in 2021,” JP poignantly shared. “He was also the first to wish us well after the birth of our daughter last year.

“To the wrestling world, he was ‘The Genius.’ But to my girls, he was ‘Uncle Lanny.’

JP Zarka, owner of Pro Wrestling Stories, Lanny Poffo, and Evan Ginzburg.
JP Zarka, owner of Pro Wrestling Stories, Lanny Poffo, and myself. Before taking this photo, Lanny joked, “Look, there’s a church! Let’s take a picture in front of it so we don’t go to hell when we die!”

JP continued, “Lanny was so connected to those around him, and he had the ability to make everyone in the room feel special. A kind-hearted man who listened intently and made you feel seen, he had that rare trait I wish there was more of in this world.

“My last phone conversation with him occurred after we landed in Berlin two weeks before his passing. We had just gotten into my wife’s father’s car when he called. My phone was connected to the car’s Bluetooth, so everyone conversed with Lanny on speaker as we drove down the autobahn.

“Like the gentleman he always was, he tried his best to speak German with my father-in-law.

“Spontaneous interactions like this happened regularly with Lanny.

“Our final text exchange occurred on January 28th, 2023. He shared how happy he was to see his daughter and grandsons that day. In this fog of sadness, it’s positive to know he had the chance to see them only five days before his death. They were his world.

“Lanny was more than a friend, he was part of the family. His sudden passing leaves a tremendous hole in our hearts.”

Final Days of Lanny Poffo

Lanny Poffo had moved to a gorgeous property in Ecuador in 2020, was financially secure, semi-retired, and took bookings only when they interested him. Often seen accompanied by beautiful women in exotic locales, he was living well.

Lanny Poffo with a friend after seeing the whales and snorkeling to see the tortoises in Puerto López, Ecuador, on September 11th, 2022. Lanny loved living in Ecuador during his final years.
Lanny Poffo with a friend after seeing the whales and snorkeling to see the tortoises in Puerto López, Ecuador, on September 11th, 2022. Lanny loved living in Ecuador during his final years.

And in his final days, he traveled home to see his family, attended a wedding, and took a few wrestling-related bookings in New York City.

The night before his death, he attended a viewing of the play Wicked at Gershwin Theater in New York City. A fitting final night out, for he loved the Arts and his Broadway shows.

Yes, Lanny Poffo indeed saw the world ("on the promoter’s dime," he would often say), headlined Madison Square Garden and huge venues as The Genius, and knocked it out of the park versus Hulk Hogan on NBC’s Saturday Night Main Event viewed by millions. He led quite a life.

But something he said to me keeps playing through my head like a loop today.

"I’m in my 60s, and I still have dreams. Shouldn’t I still have dreams?"

And though he lived more life than most, there seems to be something very random and unfair about Lanny Poffo being suddenly and inexplicably gone.

Listen to author Evan Ginzburg, Buddy Sotello, Dr. Mike Lano, Jonathan Schwartz of Slam Wrestling, and daughter of Pampero Firpo Mary Fries pay tribute to their friend Lanny Poffo on Wrestling and Everything Coast to Coast:

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Evan Ginzburg is the Senior Editor for Pro Wrestling Stories and a contributing writer since 2017. He's a published author and was an Associate Producer on the Oscar-nominated movie "The Wrestler" and acclaimed wrestling documentary "350 Days." He is a 30-plus-year film, radio, and TV veteran and a voice-over actor on the radio drama Kings of the Ring.