For pro-wrestling fans of a certain age, Captain Lou Albano was a larger-than-life figure who helped turn what was once a low-rent, cable-access sport into a pop-culture phenomenon. The World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer died on Wednesday morning (October 14) at the age of 76, according to the WWE and Wrestler’s Rescue, an organization that helps raise money for retired wrestlers’ health care.
Wrestler’s Rescue reported that Albano had been in hospice care earlier this week, but no cause of death has been revealed.
Born Louis Vincent Albano on July 29, 1933, in Mount Vernon, New York, the former football player and bouncer entered the wrestling game in the late 1950s. His four-decade wrestling career kicked off when he created the tag team known as the Sicilians, playing a stereotypical Italian gangster alongside partner Tony Altimore. The pair won a few regional tag-team championships and briefly held the United States Tag Team title before losing it in 1967 to Bruno Sammartino and Spiros Arion.
Albano eventually moved on to managing wrestlers, compiling a stable of some of the toughest, meanest heels in the business, including Crusher Verdu, “Classy” Fred Blassie and “Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff, often sent into battle against nemesis Sammartino in an effort to strip him of his crown. Albano’s biggest success was in the tag-team area, where he led pairs such as the Wild Samoans, Valiant Brothers and British Bulldogs to titles.
Along the way, the hefty Albano developed a unique persona — a ranting, hoarse-voiced blowhard who favored Hawaiian shirts and wore a goatee held in place by a rubber band, oddly accented by more rubber bands dangling from his cheek. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996 and during the 1980s managed some of wrestling’s most beloved stars, including Hulk Hogan, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, the Iron Sheik, Andre the Giant and Greg Valentine.
But it was his legendary decision to mix music and wrestling, launching the so-called “Rock n’ Wrestling” era, that helped to bring him worldwide fame while dragging wrestling into the mainstream. Teaming up with then-hot girl singer Cyndi Lauper, Albano appeared in a string of her music videos for such hit songs as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “She Bop,” “Time After Time” and “The Goonies R’ Good Enough.” He even lured Lauper into the wrestling world by once claiming to be her manager and making derisive sexist comments about her that came to a head at a televised joint MTV/ World Wrestling Federation 1985 Madison Square Garden smack-down called “The War to Settle the Score,” in which the two buried the hatchet on their manufactured beef.
Albano parlayed his MTV exposure into Hollywood fame, appearing on TV shows ranging from “Miami Vice,” “227″ and “Hey Dude” to the movies “Wiseguys” and “Body Slam,” as well as starring in the “Super Mario Bros. Super Show” as Mario. He also briefly managed the long-running jam-rock precursor band NRBQ, who penned a song in his honor, “Captain Lou.”