Captain Lou Albano R.I.P.
I don't know why I started liking wrestling, but I can tell you my first memory of it. I was sitting upstairs in the O'Keefe house in Staten Island, watching the Saturday morning WWF (sorry, World Wildlife Fund, but that's what it was) show. The main event was a battle for the tag team title between the Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika) and, my favorites, Rocky Johnson and "Mr. U.S.A" Tony Atlas. The Internet tells me that this match was on November 15, 1983, which would have been my seventh birthday, though I think that's the date of the actual match and not the airing. In any event, I was still a little kid, blissfully unaware that pro wrestling was all fake and all the outcomes were predetermined (sorry if you just found out about that now, but it's true, unless you're "Dr. D" David Schultz, in which case, I take it back--wrestling is 100% real).
As the match drew to a close on the TV that day, I saw something my seven-year-old eyes could not believe. The Wild Samoans' manager, Captain Lou Albano, stepped into the ring with a wooden chair and prepared to smash it over Tony Atlas's head while one of the Samoans held him (the ref, if you can believe it, was out cold). Then, at the last second, Atlas turned away, and--wham!--the chair went right through the Samoan's head. Amazingly, the ref recovered consciousness--and somehow didn't see the chair the Samoan was wearing on his head--just in time to count the 1-2-3 and crown Johnson and Atlas champs! Holy crap! How awesome was that? It was probably one of the greatest mornings of my life at the time.
The moment was immortalized on the cover of the first WWF Coliseum Video I ever coveted (I don't think we even had a VCR yet), the totally awesome "Wrestling's Bloopers, Bleeps and Bodyslams":
I know I wasn't supposed to, but I kinda felt bad for Captain Lou. It wasn't really his fault. How could he have known Tony Atlas would duck out at the last moment? What a bad break. Even though I was supposed to hate the Captain (he was, after all a manager of bad guys, or heels, if you speak wrestling), I found it pretty difficult. First of all, his interviews were pretty funny, with him gyrating around and talking fast. Second, there were the Hawaiian shirts, which are always a plus. And last, and perhaps, most important, there were the rubber bands he wore pinned to his cheeks. C'mon, now. How can I hate a guy who has rubber bands pinned to his face? Impossible.
So, I was relieved when Captain Lou eventually turned babyface (again, I'm speaking wrestling here, try to follow) and started managing good guys like the British Bulldogs. Now it was OK, even encouraged, to like Captain Lou. So I did. And I continue to do so.
I met him for the first time at a wrestling convention at the Hotel Pennsylvania (then known as the Penta) in Manhattan and had him sign a page from an issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Though I met several wrestlers that day (including little person The Haiti Kid, NWA legend Lou Thesz, and G.L.O.W. superstar Queen Kong, who clasped me to her bosom), I was most excited to meet the Captain. I met him several other times, including a Honeymooners comic book signing in Staten Island, a completely unexpected book signing at the B. Dalton in the Staten Island Mall, a few Chiller Theater conventions, and, most memorably, at a wrestling convention on the morning of my friends' wedding in Long Island. It was only a few miles away, and I wanted a picture with the Captain. I got it, and eventually I got the photo signed for my friends. I'm sure they're putting it on eBay as I write.
And I haven't even begun to mention the Captain's connection to one of my favorite bands, NRBQ. Their collaboration, "Lou and the Q" (which preceded the whole "Rock and Wrestling" phenomenon by a few years), is still one of my all-time favorite albums, and when my friends and I started up a magazine the year after I graduated college, Issue 2 featured an appreciation of the album. And, of all the great concert moments I've experienced, I'm not sure there was one better than seeing the Captain sing "Captain Lou" live with NRBQ at their 30th anniversary show at the Bowery Ballroom.
Plus, there was the Captain's work as "Captain Lou Morano" in my favorite movie about wrestling (suck it, Mickey Rourke), "Body Slam" (I've got the soundtrack on vinyl, signed by Captain Lou, Roddy Piper, and Tanya Roberts, who couldn't have seemed less pleased to remember being in the movie when I gave her the record to sign) and as "Frankie the Fixer" in the underappreciated "Wise Guys," easily the best Joe Piscopo movie you'll ever see. (If you've got 90 minutes to kill, you can watch "Body Slam" in its entirety here; you'll have to work a little more for "Wise Guys.")
I'm sure I could go on and on about my fondness for Captain Lou, but my point here is that it sucks that the Captain passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 76. A little bit of my childhood goes on with him. Rest in peace, Captain.
The Captain at the mike:
I never called the number, but I do have fond memories of the commercials:
Ah, sweet goodness: