Manager "Playboy" Gary Hart dies at 66, By Mike Mooneyham (Credit: Post & Courier)
By Mike Mooneyham
The Post and Courier; Charleston, SC
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
*"Playboy" Gary Hart, one of the most successful managers in pro
wrestling history, passed away Sunday at the age of 66 in Euless,
Hart, whose real name was Gary Richard Williams, had just returned
from a wrestling reunion over the weekend in Allentown, Pa., when he
died at his home from an apparent heart attack.
Hart was regarded as one of the greatest managers of all time, and
for a span of nearly 30 years managed such names as The Spoiler,
Bruiser Brody, Great Kabuki, Great Muta, Terry Funk and Abdullah The
Butcher, as well as such tag teams as Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson, and
The Missouri Mauler and Brute Bernard.
Hart also played a pivotal role in some of wrestling's most famous
angles, including the Dusty Rhodes babyface turn in Florida in 1974
when Hart managed the villainous Pak Song, and serving as booker for
a classic 1982 cage match in Dallas that involved Ric Flair, the Von
Erichs and The Freebirds.
Hart, who began his career in 1963 as a wrestler based out of
Chicago, was a major figure in a number of territories throughout the
country. He later turned to a more successful role as a cocky,
well-dressed manager who would do most of the talking for his heel
His greatest success, though, came as a booker and creative force
during the glory years of the Dallas-based World Class Championship
Wrestling, a position he held from 1979 to 1987. He is credited with
helping create the classic feud between the Von Erichs and The
Freebirds that set the territory on fire.
"I spent a lot of time on the road with Gary Hart," 16-time world
champ Flair said Monday. "He was a big part of that angle and success
One of Hart's last major high-profile stints was as leader of the
J-Tex Corporation in the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling in
1989 when he managed a stable that included Muta, Funk, Buzz Sawyer,
Dick Slater and Dragonmaster in a feud with Flair and Sting.
Hart, who had made a name for himself working as a manager for
promoter Jim Barnett in Australia during the late '60s, was brought
into the Carolinas in 1970 at the behest of veteran Mid-Atlantic star
Rip Hawk (Harvey Evers).
"I brought him in right out Australia, and I had to talk like hell
to (promoter) Jim Crockett (Sr.) to get him in here. It all worked
out. It was good for everybody," said Hawk.
"Gary was a great manager," Hawk added. "He always had his brain
working. He could get on the mic and do anything. He knew how to
handle the people and he knew how top control the wrestlers he was
with. He had a lot of good ideas."
Hawk, 77, last saw his former manager last August in Charlotte when
Hart inducted Hawk and late partner Hanson into the NWA Legends Hall
It was Hart who NWA Legends Fanfest founder Greg Price first talked
to about the Hall of Heroes concept.
"I talked with Gary a bunch about it, and he loved the idea from the
beginning. It was different because they are the true legends, instead
of the legends who are on top now. He loved the idea as far as
honoring Rip and Swede, and the history that he had with them, and
the Crocketts. He always spoke highly of the Crocketts and about how
first-class they were and how well they always treated him. This area
meant a lot to Gary Hart."
Former Mid-South Wrestling owner Cowboy Bill Watts, who called Hart
one of the greatest minds in the business, credits the manager with
helping jump-start his Oklahoma-based territory in the early '70s.
Hart had been sent to Watts by Texas promoter Fritz Von Erich as part
of his commitment to helping an early partnership that included Watts,
Von Erich, Verne Gagne, Danny Hodge and Leroy McGuirk.
"Gary and I just clicked right off," said Watts. "He wore quality
handmade suits and alligator shoes, and that was an era where
managers dressed on the cheap because they always had junk thrown at
them and stuff thrown on them. But Gary had first-class, handmade
suits, like you'd see on a banker, and sharp shoes to go with them.
And he had a way of talking to people that really hit all their hot
buttons, because he could get so down and dirty."
Along with The Spoiler (Don Jardine), "who never really had made any
money before," said Watts, the two popped the territory.
Watts also said Hart worked well with promoters.
"Gary was always extremely flexible in that he knew different ways
to take things that would work out and still protect the man he was
managing, along with his gimmick and longevity. I knew I could go to
him to get ideas about where we wanted to go. And that was huge,
because when you had the burden of booking and running a territory,
sooner or later your mind went dry because you had done everything
and had repeated it. You had to have new ideas."
Hart proved just how valuable he could be while Watts was booking
Florida in the '70s.
"We had billboards around town with Pak Song Nam's army and a bounty
on Dusty Rhodes and Jack Brisco. That's when Dusty Rhodes truly became
'the American Dream' in the feud with Gary and Pak Song. Gary is the
one who positioned that. He was phenomenal. In Georgia, he managed
Dick Slater and Bobby Orton Jr., who were an awesome tag team. He
also managed Maniac Mark Lewin, who was a phenomenal worker and had
that new gimmick, and then he managed Kabuki. And, of course, he was
booking for Fritz when he positioned The Freebirds' feud with the Von
Erich boys. The kids got so hot after that."
"Gary was a dear friend and a stand-up guy," said Watts. "He would
always tell you exactly what he thought. He wouldn't back down from
Watts related a story where Hart even stood up to the imposing
Abdullah The Butcher in Atlanta. Watts had asked Abby to do an angle
that the "madman from the Sudan" didn't particularly embrace.
"I was getting ready to can his (behind) when Gary Hart walked
over," said Watts. "Now Gary had no official status. But he walked
over and cussed Abdullah out right to his face in the vernacular of
the ghetto. They had started together under (Detroit promoter) Bert
Ruby years earlier. But Gary told him off and said if he wasn't going
to do things right, get the ---- out of here. I was just shocked that
he would talk to him so strongly, because Gary was never known as a
tough guy. But for somebody like that who didn't have an ax to grind
to come to my support like that, it said a lot."
Hart survived a 1975 plane crash in Tampa that claimed the life of
wrestling star Bobby Shane. The same plane that had been piloted by
Buddy Colt, who was badly injured in the crash, had been flown to
Atlanta to Jacksonville to Tampa by Watts.
"Buddy was a student pilot, and I already had my instrument rating,"
recalled Watts. "I was coming down anyway, so I flew his plane for
him. It was the same plane he crashed later that night in Tampa Bay
where Bobby Shane drowned, and Gary, Buddy and Dennis McCord were
injured. They were lucky to get out alive because they had to swim to
the beach. Gary lost his sight in one eye in that crash."
Hart had joined fellow Texas mat personalities Skandor Akbar (Jim
Wehba) and Bill Irwin over the weekend at a wrestling-themed event in
Pennsylvania. He also had been working on the final touches of an
autobiography, whose working title is "My Life in Wrestling: With a
Little Help from My Friends," that is expected to be published later
Hart hadn't been home long after being picked up at the airport
Sunday when he collapsed.
"Jason had just gotten to the house, and said his dad was acting
like he was trying to clear his throat. He was shaking real hard, and
he was having the final moments of a heart attack."
"Gary hadn't been sick," added Watts. "He was trying to talk me into
coming to some of these fan deals and meeting him there. He'd call me
about every two weeks, and we'd just talk. He was a great guy."
In recent years Hart had become a regular at fan conventions and
other related nostalgia gatherings, and had provided a major voice in
DVDs about the World Class years.
"From the little time that I was around him, I know he really
enjoyed the fanfests," said Greg Price. "He liked doing that stuff
and being around the fans, reminiscing about wrestling. Gary Hart was
one of the most intriguing men I ever met.
"The times that I got to know him and spend with him just confirmed
whatever I ever though about the guy about how smart he was and how
on top of everything he was. When I watched him manage, he was like
the consummate professional. And when I met him and got to know him,
that just confirmed everything I ever thought about him. He was
probably one of the coolest guys I ever met."
Hart indeed wore many hats. He was booker in charge of the first
Starrcade in Greensboro, N.C., in which Flair won the NWA world title
from Harley Race.
"A lot of people talk about Gary and World Class, but they forget
that he was so much more for so many years before that," said Price.
"He's what WWE now calls creative. He was creative at a time when the
business was much more protected and much more structurally relaxed.
It's completely different from what it is now."
Price says he'll have fond memories of the colorful manager.
"Gary Hart was like the best uncle you could ever have. He was that
'Uncle Gary' to a lot of people. I know Kevin Von Erich still refers
to him as 'Uncle Gary.'"
Hart, who described himself as "a kid from Chicago who worked very
hard to make it in wrestling," will be remembered as someone who
changed the landscape of the wrestling business. Even WWE
acknowledged his contributions to the business in a note on the
company's Web site.
"Gary Hart will live on in the hearts and minds of his friends,
family, and fans and colleagues."
Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or
firstname.lastname@example.org. For wrestling updates during the week,
call The Post and Courier Info Line at (843) 937-6000, ext. 3090.
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