When Nicole Bass walked into a room, everything just stopped.
Perhaps they’d never seen a woman quite her size. Possibly they recognized the former bodybuilding champion, WWE, ECW, and Howard Stern Show star. Or maybe they heard the booming, joyful laugh that usually preceded her grand entrances. She was a walking parade, and she was my beloved friend.
The Heartwrenching Death of Nicole Bass
Generally, when someone close dies, I will pour my heart on the printed page. But with Nicole, it was just too painful. I couldn’t bear the finality of it all. And it’s taken a year even to attempt it.
Visiting her on her deathbed the very night before they pulled the plug, I just looked at her powerful frame connected with tubes, machines, lights and beeping sounds. I could barely grasp in the horror of it all, though I said what I needed to say.
"We need you to wake up, Nicole…"
Yet deep down, I knew it was fruitless.
Walking out stunned, it was the hardest thing to keep my composure on what felt like an endless train ride back home.
I braced myself for "the call." And when it came, it hit me like a knife piercing my heart; her unique voice just played through my head as if to comfort me.
"I miss you. I love you, Evan…"
For those were the very last words she had left me, and it was a weird sort of guilt that I hadn’t returned that call a few days earlier—busy as always, who could ever have imagined THIS.
The Life of Nicole Bass
Over the years, I had gone with her to her lectures, wrestling appearances, autograph signings, and most everything in between. I even got her on a stage to do standup. She was a natural just being herself. And the road trips were always a blast.
"Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" she’d rib and torment whoever was driving and laugh that huge deep laugh of hers.
Eating in restaurants was always a production. She inevitably had some special, complex diet she was following and had almost a doctor’s knowledge of food, nutrition, and the human body.
But it was always those talks that meant the most to me, whether on the phone or on a long road trip or in those many, many roadside diners and such. Because if she let down the walls and knew you were her friend, she’d bare her soul. She spoke of her hopes and dreams and how she wanted to be a role model and mentor to kids and her frustrations when that didn’t quite fall into place.
One conversation always stayed with me.
"Evan, I’d love to come to your party," she confessed with a tinge of sadness in her voice. "But, I don’t feel like being Nicole Bass tonight."
You see, when she walked out the door, she had to be "on," and everybody wanted that picture, that autograph, that Howard Stern anecdote, that little piece of her. And although she told me she loved "Howard" and his fans and generally took the jokes in stride, there were those moments when the "Are you a man?" shtick wore on her. To counter that, she just adored looking feminine and getting compliments on her appearance.
"It’s not easy being different," she’d say in a reflective moment.
Nicole had mixed emotions about pro wrestling, as well. The injuries. The backstabbing. The payoffs, or lack thereof. Not to mention the trauma of being there the fateful night her friend Owen Hart plummeted to his death and being expected to perform while in a fog after he had been wheeled right past her before having to walk through the curtains.
Yes, a brutal and even deadly business.
Nicole deeply loved and ultimately became a caretaker for her much older husband, Bob, who was also quite the colorful character. In his own way, he was her biggest fan, boasting of her trophies and awards, including winning the 1997 NPC National Bodybuilding Championships; he took great pride in her accomplishments and notoriety. A former gym owner, he’d boast, "Nicole can bench press 315 pounds." Deteriorating for years from a heart condition, his passing hit her hard. During this period, she sometimes seemed quite lost and suffered mightily.
There were times she just seemed lonely.
Yet as always, she pulled herself together and fought on. A former amateur boxer, she was a fighter by nature.
Dealing with her own health issues, she faced death on more that one occasion, and I’d rush to her side each time. And then months later, she’d miraculously somehow be back "in shape," the eternal gym rat where she was in her domain.
But during her last year, she ran out of miracles, and the world lost this most unique and inspirational individual.
Nicole Bass remarkably conquered more than one world, becoming a star in bodybuilding, a pro wrestling attraction, and known and loved by millions on the radio. Few can claim to have climbed the heights in three different fields.
She billed herself as "The world’s largest female bodybuilder." And at 6’2 230 pounds, there wasn’t a soul who didn’t look when she strolled down the block.
But to me, she was "my friend, Nicole."
She was special. Wonderful. Street smart. Both fun and ever so funny with the biggest of hearts to match her biggest of bodies.
She brought an awful lot of people a lot of happiness and laughs.
And I can still hear that big laugh of hers that made people’s heads turn.
I miss her every day.
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