JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read previous columns here.
Randy Savage, 57, pro wrestler and entertainer
Randy Mario Poffo, better known as Randy “Macho Man” Savage, a professional wrestling “legend” and media celebrity for more than 20 years, died at 57 on May 20 in a one-car accident in Florida.
Savage, whose father and brother were pro wrestlers, was a top star in the wrestling world in the 1980s and 1990s, and built on that fame with product endorsements, videos, action figures, television and movie appearances, and even a rap recording.
According to his entry in the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, Savage’s “signature moves were innovative, daring, exciting, and career-threatening. Leaping over the top rope with his opponents head in hand, snapping it like a cracked whip or climbing to the top turnbuckle, flying to the arena floor and delivering a double axe handle to a waiting opponent or launching himself twenty feet through the air and landing his patented Flying Elbow Drop on his foe for another victory were the reasons that he could bring the crowd to their feet at a moment’s notice.”
The entry also noted his “epic battle” against Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III in 1987 in what has been referred to “as the single greatest wrestling match of all time.”
According to his Wikipedia entry (unusually detailed and full of pro-wrestling language and myths), Savage held 20 “championships” during his professional wrestling career and was a 10-time “world champion.”
Savage was born in Columbus, Ohio, to an Italian father and Jewish mother who met at DePaul University in Chicago and scandalized both of their families when they married.
His mother told the story of their wedding: "At the reception, all the Jewish people were on one side of the room and all the Catholics were on the other, and his mother said to him in Italian, ‘What have you done?’ "
As Randy Poffo, before wrestling, Savage played minor league baseball for five years in the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago White Sox farm systems and had a career batting average of .254 with 16 home runs in 289 games.
"I have memories of him as a great teammate and a great man," former major leaguer Larry Herndon said. "He was a pure-hearted individual. He really cared a lot about others."
Savage started his wrestling career — falling into the family business, as it were — in Lexington, Ky., where he had a show on local TV and “worked a lot of small towns in Kentucky with tiny and passionate audiences.”
With help from his father, Savage climbed the ranks of regional pro wrestling circuits until he reached the World Wrestling Federation in 1985 and received national TV exposure. Now tagged as Randy “Macho Man” Savage (he also adopted the moniker “Macho King”), he developed a colorful persona and teamed with and fought against most of the big-name wrestlers of that era, as pro wrestling grew to become a major entertainment draw on TV and in sports arenas. The storyline of the “enemies” and “feuds” featuring Savage during that era is lengthy.
Savage’s death evoked an outpouring of reminiscences from, among others, Rabbi Jason Miller, who said he grew up watching the WWF on TV and that Savage was one of his favorites.
The New York Times offered prose as colorful as Savage’s antics in describing him: “Savage … would strut into the ring to his theme song, ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ muscles gleaming and neon spandex shining, growling his signature expression, ‘Oooh, yeah!’ before diving at his opponents, elbows first. Outside the ring, he would wear brightly colored cowboy hats and outfits dripping with fringe to appear as a spokesman for Slim Jim snacks (‘Snap into a Slim Jim!’ he would say. ‘Oooh, yeah!’) or as a guest on talk shows like Arsenio Hall’s, never breaking character.”
The celebrity news website TMZ posted a colorful photo gallery. One of Savage’s last video appearances, from March, showed him with a neatly trimmed white beard promoting the video game WWE All Stars, based on characters — including an even more pumped-up version of himself — from pro wrestling.
For even more on Savage, click here to see a children’s biography of him from 1999.