Adrian Street: The Wrestler in Sequins Who Represented the Fight In Us All
It is impossible to encapsulate the career of wrestling legend Adrian Street, who sadly passed away at 82 on July 24th, 2023, in just a few words.
He published seven books on his life and wrestling career, which began in 1957. Titles such as "Sadist in Sequins," "Merchant of Menace," and "So Many Ways to Hurt You" give hints to what kind of personality Adrian Street harbored in his interior.
He was a fearless trendsetter who played by his rules, whether you liked it or not. The word "can’t" just meant "prove them wrong."
Street became a personality that was always talked about and never became irrelevant.
Most importantly, he was not one to be deceived by his looks. Street was known among his peers to be able to hurt you in the ring if needed, without even smudging his mascara in the process!
His story is that of a kid from south Wales who seemed destined to be a third-generation coal miner like his father.
His father was someone he never had a good relationship with, as his way of showing love was by openly expressing his disdain for his son. Street explained in an interview with huckmag.com, "I didn’t get the hero I thought I was going to get, the dad I expected to love me. Instead, I got a hateful bigot who never had a kind word to say about me in his life."
Street added, "When he came home from World War II and a prisoner of the Japanese, he didn’t like me, and I disliked him very much too. Even then, though, I tried making excuses for him – not that he ever deserved it – and would blame the way he was towards me on the ordeal he’d suffered as a Japanese POW. But he was always fine to my older brother and sister.”
After WWII, Adrian Street’s father returned to work in the mines in the Welsh town of Brynmawr, just like his father had before. He wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. There really were few other ways to make a living in that area.
In an interview conducted by Scott Teal in his book The Wrestling Archive Project Volume 1, Adrian Sr. would tell his son, "I can’t wait for you to leave school so you can work in the coal mines with me. Then you’ll know what it’s like."
Adrian would answer, "I’m not workin’ in a coal mine." To this, his father would reply, "If it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you."
Adrian was taken out of school and worked in the mines for one year at the age of 15; he’d work six days a week, crawling through 10-inches of ice-cold water in the dark, where his hands would be calloused and bloodied from wielding a pickaxe.
Physical disputes with other miners, usually larger than Adrian, were common. Still, they were part of this harsh trade his father eventually wound up doing for 51 years, a trade he started at 14.
Adrian Street decided that mining was not the life for him. Having been a wrestling fan for years, he obtained older copies of "Boxing and Wrestling" with the little pocket money left from his meager wage and could catch the train across town to go to some wrestling shows in Cardiff.
Sometimes he could only watch a couple of matches because he had to hurry back to get some sleep for the next workday, where he had to wake up at five o’clock in the morning. If he stayed for the whole show, he would get no sleep that night and have to go straight to work the next morning and return to the unforgiving conditions the coal mines demanded.
He also enjoyed looking at bodybuilding magazines and had been lifting since a very early age, so Adrian decided to try and make it as a wrestler in London despite the discouraging remarks by his fellow workers in the mines who said that he was too short and didn’t weigh enough.
At 5’7″ and 150lbs, logic dictated that they were right in their assertions. He even heard his father saying once, "He’ll be back; he likes his mother’s cooking too much."
People would tell him two things when he said he was going to London to be a wrestler. "Ah, you can’t. You’re too little. Have you seen the size of those guys? They’re gonna rip you in half!" Or "What do you want to do that for? It’s all fake; it’s not real."
Adrian once summed up why he wasn’t meant to follow in his father’s footsteps: "I hated the mines. It’s dark down there, and I was made to be seen."
Street could not get a job in London, but being a member of the Forester’s Club, he’d go there and weight train and wrestle five nights a week. He also began to work out intensely at the YMCA, managing to get himself up to 179 lbs and pushing for 200. He would wrestle as much as he could, whether against amateurs or pros.
He wasn’t smartened up to pro wrestling’s inner workings, so it didn’t make a difference to him. To make money, he posed for bodybuilding magazines and boxed at a fairground booth, sometimes as many as seven fights daily.
Street admitted that he wasn’t very adept at pugilism and claims he was so bad that he was entertaining. Instead, he dedicated himself more to wrestling because it had less stringent rules that suited him better.
Wrestlers told him he needed another job because they had to fall back on something else; the grappling game was not a sustainable endeavor in London. But Street wasn’t interested in doing anything else. He wanted to be like his idol Buddy Rogers and all the other American wrestlers he had seen in his magazines.
Adrian Street, aka Kid Tarzan
Adrian Street had his first match in 1957 in a town called New Addington, just south of London, and it is one nobody in attendance on that night will ever forget.
At the event, promoter Johnny Childs (also known as Johnny Charles) tried to see what Street and "Gentleman" Geoff Moran would do in their match. In his early years, Street went by the name Kid Tarzan Jonathan.
Street claimed he wasn’t aware of how pro wrestling worked and was told to go even fewer rounds than he had done previously in boxing. Wrestling at that time in England also had rounds, so this felt like a demotion to him!
When the promoter left it up to them to figure out the match’s details, Adrian and his opponent had a funny conversation.
Geoff Moran would tell Street, "Okay, I’ll tell you what. I’ll do this, and I’m gonna do that, I’ll do something else, and I’ll pin you in the third round…" And to this, Street responded, "Jeez! You bloody fancy yourself, don’t you?"
Street believed at the time that his opponent was underestimating him so much that not only was he telling him that he was going to pin him, but also exactly how!
His opponent would ask him a question like, "What are you going to do for a fall?" and Adrian, in his mindset, wanted to confuse his opponent, so he’d reply, "Don’t worry about it. You’ll find out about it when it comes."
Adrian Street’s Eventful First Match
When the match started, Geoff Moran was rolling around the ring, expecting Adrian Street to react, and it puzzled him when he didn’t. All through this, Street was calculating his move. When Moran came together with him to lock up and stuck his arm out, Street grabbed it, put a hold on it, and dislocated Moran’s shoulder, ending the match almost as quickly as it had begun.
A very confident Street returned to the dressing room and went to the promoter, asking him when his first championship match would be. Needless to say, he got an earful. "What in the hell were you doing out there!? What in the hell was that all about?"
"Geoff Moran was a window cleaner other than a wrestler, and his wife stormed into the dressing room and yelled obscenities at Street. Street got upset and had never heard a woman say that word in his life. He answered in a Welsh accent, "If you was a man, I’d punch your ‘ead off." He continued, "Go over there and cry with your husband, the bloody big baby."
Learning That Wrestling Was a Work, the Hard Way
Street wanted to become a wrestler because, in his mind, it was a real man’s sport, and here, his first opponent was sobbing and holding his arm alongside his wife.
The promoter told Adrian they were interested in doing things with him despite this accident with Moran, but he needed to go to Johnny Kilroy’s Gym. He was told to ask for "Iron Jaw" Murphy and Tony Scarlo with the message: "Teach me to die."
Once there, to the dismay of a young Street, pro wrestling was revealed as a work and not a shoot as he originally had thought, but of course, not before they tried to teach him a little humility with a lot of pain.
He was constantly told not to use full force so as not to injure his opponent. He had a terrible attitude because he could not accept the truth. "I was disappointed that it wasn’t real. I never got over that. I’d stuck up for it for so long and argued with people, trying to convince ‘em it was real, but I really didn’t have a clue."
The Change That Set Him Apart from Other Wrestlers
In 1962, Adrian Street saw that he was a good wrestler but almost indistinguishable from everyone else. British pro wrestlers generally lacked any individuality. It was an image of working-class men beating each other up without the pageantry he saw in his U.S. magazines.
So in the mid-’60s, he began to dye his hair with peroxide and started wearing matching ring attire in colors like powder blue and purple, along with elaborate robes. This began distinguishing him from his peers, but he also got a crowd reaction he wasn’t expecting.
"When I walked out there, I imagined I’d get a great response, like, ‘Oh, doesn’t that guy look tough? Doesn’t he look great?’ Instead, people would blow kisses and cat-calls, saying, ‘Ooh, isn’t she cute? I could give you a kiss. I’ll see you later, Mary.'”
Adrian remembered that one guy even yelled, "Hey, Wooly-Woofter!" That was Cockney slang for calling someone a homosexual.
It was not the reaction Street was looking for, but he realized that nobody else was getting a reaction close to that, and he says that he became addicted to the shouting and screaming.
Street’s opponent decided to mock him as well, but when he turned his back, Street ran across the ring and slapped his behind, and then his outraged opponent got a kiss right on the lips. All this got a rise from the crowd, and he figured he was onto something good.
The promoters told him he needn’t do that "poofy" stuff. Still, Street, determined to do things in his image, continued pushing the limits of what was considered socially acceptable. And this became his calling card.
As a kid, he remembered using candy wrappers to create costumes for his toy soldiers. It was a way to attract attention. Knowing the other wrestlers would resent this, he knew it would bring out the best of them inside the ring.
He began to go all out with his character by adding a little makeup, then a lot more, mascara, eyeshadow, and later face paint with glitter and even more flamboyant outfits coinciding with the glam rock era. All this effectively separated him from his countrymen in looks alone. Nobody was ever going to confuse Street with anybody else.
A valet named Miss Linda began accompanying him to the ring and later became his best friend and wife. They became inseparable, and she became instrumental in solidifying the Adrian Street image.
He became hated by many and adored by others, but he could never be labeled as "boring." He went from very athletic and rather ordinary to extraordinary. Prissy, snobbish but backing it up with solid technical wrestling, and now guaranteed to be noticed.
He wanted to combine both the excellent ring skills of British wrestlers with the more flashy personalities seen in the USA, like Gene Stanlee, Gorgeous George, and Buddy Rogers, who he admired from afar.
Even with this transformation, Street was oddly hesitant to wear lipstick while still working in England.
"It was actually quite a long time before I wore lipstick, even though I wore rhinestones and all kinds of goop on my eyes. I’d tell the boys, ‘I’m not wearing bloody lipstick. That’s bloody girls’ stuff!'”
Adrian Street Beats Jimmy Savile “To a Pulp”
In 1971, Adrian Street refused to put over Jimmy Savile- a DJ and broadcaster, not a wrestler. He was there to draw a big crowd, but the night before, Street had just beaten the World Lightweight Champion George Kidd, who he considered a top technical wrestler.
Street felt that ending his match in a draw to a DJ would hurt the sport’s credibility.
Adrian recounts, "[Savile] was wearing a gown and more or less aping me, which the crowd loved. But once the bell sounded, I kicked and punched him all over the place, tearing clumps of hair out until his head was bleeding. He never wrestled again after that."
Revisiting the Coal Mines
In 1973, after winning the European Middleweight title, a national newspaper wanted to do a story on Adrian Street’s success. He agreed, but only if he could have his picture taken next to his father at the coal mines he had left.
The fabulous-looking Street ensured he took pictures with all the other miners who had also given him a hard time. This was payback for them doubting him and his father’s lack of faith.
"There’s nothing I like more than somebody telling me I can’t do something," says Adrian, "It was very, very satisfying. It was my two-finger salute to how they’d treated me."
"The Exotic One" Invades American Soil
In 1981, 24 years into his career, Adrian Street felt it was time to move on. He explains, “A promoter called Max Crabtree brought his big horrible, fat, flabby brother – Shirley Crabtree AKA Big Daddy – out of retirement. Urggh,” huffs Adrian, rolling his eyes.
“Push him on his backside, and he’d rock himself to sleep trying to get back up. And don’t talk to me about Giant Haystacks either – suddenly, I was surrounded by bad actors, not athletes.
“It wasn’t like that in America, though, and I started to rediscover what had made me proud about wrestling in the first place.”
So he made the trip to North America. First to Canada, then south of the border to Mexico, and finally to the USA in places like Tennessee, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and California, where his image continued to clash with what was deemed decent by mostly a conservative mentality, similar to what he faced in England.
Defying the Naysayers
Before leaving the U.K., they were not only saying he was still too short, especially in the land where big wrestlers were common, like in the States but now being told he was too old at age 40.
They even went so far as to suggest he should think about quitting.
But knowing Adrian Street, this only fueled him to work harder to succeed and prove everyone wrong once again. To counter the stigma of being "too short," Street got special soles on his boots that gave him about three more inches in height, and he began wearing feathers in his hair to give the illusion of height.
In the ‘80s, the sport increasingly transitioned into an era of big personalities, flamboyant outfits, and outlandish angles. The "Exotic One" seemed right at home and was ahead of the curve many years before.
He realized kayfabe (mostly the part about bad guys and good guys not being seen together outside of the ring) was very important in North America. In England, he remembers that the fans accepted that wrestlers socialized outside the ring, but this was not the case on "this side of the pond."
Feuding with Randy Savage
At the beginning of 1985, now "Exotic" Adrian Street was going to be working with "Macho Man" Randy Savage in Memphis, Tennessee, as explained in his seventh book, "Merchant of Menace."
"Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert was relieved that he wouldn’t work with Savage anymore because he claimed that he was unpredictable, difficult to work with, and would even throw soda all over him. He went on to tell Street, "He’s a complete nutcase. They figure you’re the only one in the territory who can control him."
Adrian Street, who was never one to hold back, didn’t think Savage was that great a wrestler.
He once said, "Randy was a pure athlete, and he could certainly look after himself in a fight, but he couldn’t wrestle. You have never seen him apply the simplest of wrestling holds. Or escape from one."
He took the advice of "Superstar" Bill Dundee, who said that the Tennessee territory thrived on ‘Chicken-**** heels.’ "If I had chosen to, I was very capable of breaking Randy’s arms, legs, or neck. I was a wrestler- he was not."
Street continued, "If I went into the ring and merely wasted Randy, I would also waste a great reputation every fan believed in. If, on the other hand, I made it appear that I was afraid to come to grips with the Macho Man, the possibilities were endless."
Adrian Street on People Who Think Wrestling is a “Pantomime”
As for people who suggest that wrestling is a choreographed pantomime, Adrian Street took exception to that.
"Every sport where there’s money involved is fixed. Just because something is fixed doesn’t mean it’s fake. The promoter may have the last word as to who wins and who doesn’t, but the other guy is going to be in for a rough time either way.”
He added, "You could yawn while breaking someone’s arm, but how exciting would that look to a crowd? It takes serious work, he says, to make fights feel as genuine as they can possibly be night after night."
There was always the question as to what Street’s sexual orientation was supposed to be.
He explained the reasoning behind his ambiguity in answering the question, "Mystery and contrast have always been important to me. That’s why I would never say, ‘I’m absolutely not gay’ or say I was either. The thing is, while people are arguing about it, you’re still getting attention. If you turn ’round and claim to be one thing or another, you’ve put yourself in a box—end of story. And I never want to be in a box. That’s not for me."
He also believed that the character of “Adorable” Adrian Adonis in the WWF during the mid-’80s wasn’t done correctly.
"I’ve only got one way of doing things, and that’s my way. Before I came to the States, no one was wearing face paint, no one was wearing spandex, and no one at that time was entering the ring with a lady valet. Nowadays, all of these things are commonplace in pro wrestling."
"Exotic" Adrian Street retired from professional wrestling in 2010, not before winning the NWA Wrestle Birmingham (Alabama) title at age 70. It is estimated that he has had between 12-15,000 matches.
He remained actively wrestling with the promotion until it ceased operation in 2014.
Adrian Street Dies: His Tragic Passing
Although diagnosed with throat cancer and told to go home and prepare for the end in 2001, Adrian Street debunked the odds others tried placing on him for twenty-two years. Always defiant and wanting to go on his own terms, Street once said, "I told [the doctor] I wasn’t going anywhere because there were still people in the world I’d not [angered] yet!"
Sadly, Adrian Street died on July 24th, 2023, at Cwmbran’s Grange University Hospital in Wales, aged 82. He had recently undergone brain surgery.
Adrian suffered a stroke in July, which led to a bleed on his brain. He had recently undergone brain surgery and posted a message to his followers on social media on July 22nd:
"After several more weeks in various hospitals for both heart and brain surgery, I am back home. Let’s hope I manage to stay – if I’m lucky. It’s all due to my lovely wife Linda xxxxxxxxx. I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH XXXXXXXXX."
Linda shared how Adrian had died peacefully in the hospital surrounded by his family after developing colitis followed by sepsis.
“Death is never nice, and you’d never say there was a nice way to die, but it was as good as it could have been,” she said.
Linda described the real man behind the wrestling persona as “the kindest, most loving man you could ever meet.”
Wrestling historian and senior editor of Pro Wrestling Stories Evan Ginzburg added, “Adrian Street had a successful career. He was respected and knew how to market himself. He was short and small for those days but somehow made it all work, and he was on top wherever he worked.
“Controversial in his day,” Ginzburg added, “I watched him all the time on LA and Florida television. I only saw him live once, but it stayed with me. All in all, he had a terrific run.”
Adrian Street always craved the spotlight, and we sure as bloody heck aren’t going to deny it from him. Remember, you may be pretty, but he was beautiful!
We end our tribute to a legendary wrestler by sharing lyrics to "Merchant of Menace" by Adrian Street and The Piledrivers:
“I’m the Merchant of Menace, purveyor of pain,
no quality of mercy is the name of my game.
I’ll get my pound of flesh with every stranglehold.
With me, all that glitters is definitely gold.
My curtains are the ropes, my stages are the rings,
The canvas is the scenery, the corners are the wings.
The scripts are all identical, the lines are very few.
I always play the leading man and leading lady too.
You’ll get it as you like it, every time I hear the bell.
I can be like Romeo and Juliet as well.”
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