Killer Kowalski - wrestling's boots-and-all bad guy of the 1960s - has gone down fighting.
At 81, Kowalski hung on to life like he had it in his trademark claw hold.
He died in Boston early on Saturday, eight full days after his life support systems were turned off.
Known as a brawler who ripped one opponent's ear off, family and foes remembered him fondly.
Nephew Mark Spulnik, from Sydney, said in a tribute yesterday the 198cm, 127kg Kowalski was a kind and caring person out of the ring: "Having Killer Kowalski as an uncle was definitely cool! School bullies would keep their distance and the young girls wouldn't. How perfect."
Not everyone saw the kind uncle inside Killer Kowalski.
"A few wrestling fans looked upon my uncle as a truly evil person," Mark said.
"They thought it was their duty to wait for him in the parking lot with baseball bats and metal pipes."
Kowalski was born Edward Walter Spulnik in Canada, and wrestled as a pro from 1947 to 1977.
In World Championship Wrestling's heyday -- when 6000 fans would pack Festival Hall each week -- Kowalski was huge.
He wrestled household names such as Mario Milano, Spiros Arion, Mark Lewin Brute Bernard and Skull Murphy. Kowalski was famed for his flying knee drop, but it was his claw hold that made fans' flesh crawl.
In 1967, at the height of his fame, Kowalski put it on TV host Don Lane when an interview turned sour.
The injured Lane missed his next show, but got off lighter than some.
In 1952 Kowalski's size-16 boot grazed, and dislodged, Yukon Eric's cauliflower ear.
"His ear came off, just like you knock a fly across a table," Kowalski recalled.
"It rolled across the ring, glub, glub, glub."
Forced to apologise at the hospital, the pair burst into laughter at the absurdity.
Kowalski was pegged forever as a cruel brute who laughed in his victim's mangled face. But Ron Miller, 66, a clean-fighting Aussie wrestler who tag-teamed with Larry O'Day, remembered Kowalski as a quiet man and a vegetarian.
"He was pretty quiet and very religious," Miller said.
"Killer was an amazing guy -- six foot eight, 28 stone and that name. He was more of a brawler and just kept going, going and going and never ran out of stamina.
"He was almost unstoppable in the ring."
Outside the ring, Kowalski was happy enough to play
"Just because I get over-enthused about my work people hate me," he complained in 1961.
"Everywhere I go they throw chairs, newspapers, cigar butts, fruit and anything else they can grab. I have been burned, knifed, blinded by pea shooters . . ."
But if he took it, he could give it too. With so much of wrestling fake, he was asked once about his boots, and whether it hurt when he stomped an opponent.
"No it doesn't hurt at all," he grinned. "I wear special thick soles and it doesn't hurt my foot at all."
For all his faults, he inspired love as well as fear.
Female fans proposed marriage and, finally, two years ago, Kowalski got caught.
He wed Theresa Ferrioli, then 77, on June 19, 2006.
Asked why, he joked: "What can I do? She was pregnant." (Credit: News.com.au)
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