Growing up in the East Los Angeles and
areas of Southern California with
approximately 50% of my family members being gang affiliated, I had already
seen some pretty crazy stuff by the time I was 10 years old. But what I was watching on the television
screen on a particular Saturday afternoon in 1978 really blew my mind. Moondog Mayne, the current ’s
Heavyweight Wrestling Champion was being interviewed by Jeff Walton at the
Olympic Auditorium about an upcoming match and… and he was eating glass. America
This went far beyond the things I saw some of my less developed schoolmates ingest and I was really concerned because one of my favorite wrestlers in the
area at the time was “El Halcon” and he was to be Moodog’s next opponent. One by one, opponents had been falling in
defeat to the wild Moondog and not just preliminary guys either. Established and capable veterans like Black
Gordman, Chavo Guerrero, and Hector Guerrero had fallen at the feet of the Los Angeles ’s
champion. And as time went on, the
urgency of getting rid of this madman increased, and his opponents began to
challenge him in “Mexican Death matches” and “ America ” matches. Each time, I hoped Moondog’s opponent would
prevail, but it was not to be. Loser Leave
El Halcon was a former National heavyweight wrestling champion in
and when entered the area I felt he was a great wrestler and would be the one
to rid of
the Moondog. But after watching the
glass eating incident I seriously began to question his chances against this
crazy man. As soon as that episode of
wrestling ended I ran out to find my friend Michael, my partner in crime, who
at that moment was also looking to find me, so we could both talk about what we
had seen. And no doubt many people of
all ages did the same thing after watching a Moondog Mayne interview. He was just that fascinating. L.A.
Little did I know that during that same time period, Lonnie Mayne was also taking trips up North to the
area, only there, he was wrestling as a
“good guy”! Before the days of the
internet and the widespread availability of cable, Lonnie was able to wear “two
hats” so to speak, and with his tremendous talent was able to work as both a
villain and a hero in 2 different territories within the same state! Not only that, but he simultaneously held 2
major title belts, the America’s title in Southern California and the United
States title belt in San Francisco, a belt which he captured by defeating Don
Soon he would up the ante in
as he joined forces with Rowdy Roddy Piper who had been the top heel in the
territory for 2 years at that point. And
when it came to stirring up trouble, causing headaches for the wrestlers who
were fan favorites, and increasing ticket sales for the arena events, the two
proved to be a formidable pair. It
would’ve probably left me in a near catatonic state however if I was aware at
the time, that while they were partners in crime in Los Angeles,
the Moondog and Piper were bitter enemies in . San Francisco
The Spanish International Network which broadcast the Spanish language editions of the televised wrestling programs from the Olympic Auditorium had a strong satellite feed. As a result people in other parts of the country, including the Bay area in Northern California, were able to watch Moondog and Piper team up to wreak havoc in L.A. while at the same time they were engaged in a an intense feud in San Francisco.
“I was a little confused at the time when I saw that” says San Francisco resident and wrestling fan Fred Lazarus, “because the matches they had at the Cow Palace were great, and come next Wednesday, they’d be teaming together in Los Angeles!”
|Photo Courtesy of Jim Fitzpatrick|
While the program between Lonnie and Piper would only span 3 matches from late June to late July of 1978, it was a very memorable one, for both its intensity and for the attention grabbing interviews that were part of the promotion for those matches in which they traded the U.S. Heavyweight title. Each week, they would try to one up one another, and those promos were so captivating and entertaining that they almost overshadowed the great matches that they had.
Lonnie was tremendously impressed with Piper and Lonnie’s younger brother Shawn recalls Lonnie try to arrange for Shawn to meet him at one of the wrestling cards, saying, “I want you to meet this guy. He’s great, and he’s going places in this business!” Lonnie had an eye for talent and his statement was an understatement if there ever was one, and it was also an example of how Lonnie really rooted for the success of his peers. If he saw someone had talent and was a hard worker, Lonnie would encourage that person and hope that they’d make their mark in the wrestling business. That’s a quality not always seen in a competitive business where too many are often concerned that someone else will steal their “spot”. As Shawn Mayne told me, “I’ve never come across anyone in the business or ever heard of anyone who had a bad thing to say about Lonnie.”
Meanwhile, back in
Los Angeles, Lonnie
had lost the ’s
Heavyweight title but was seeking to gain it back from Hector Guerrero and Mil
Mascaras had come to town to face Lonnie in a Mexican Death match. While I was happy to hear that my hero Mil
Mascaras had defeated the Moondog in that July 28th match at the
Olympic, the Moondog was still in Southern California, and 2 weeks later on
August 11th, he regained the America ’s title from Hector
Guerrero. And up in America San
Francisco, he was preparing to meet his next challenge for the
title on August 19, with Buddy Rose as his opponent. However it wasn’t to be. U.S.
Saying Good bye
As a 10 year old during that summer of ’78, I often found myself occupied with distractions, trying to make the most of my time off from school, plus spending some of my weekends at the homes of relatives for family get-togethers. Most of my relatives weren’t fans of professional wrestling so occasionally I’d miss the televised wrestling programs while socializing. During the 3rd week of August, I approached my friend Michael, asking him to update me on Moondog Mayne’s next challenger. What he said next floored me.
“He’s dead.” I couldn’t believe what I had heard. “What?!” I asked. “He’s dead” he repeated. “They said on television that he got hit by a car after a wrestling match.” That isn’t exactly what happened of course, but the result was unfortunately the same. Lonnie “Moondog” Mayne was no longer with us. It was a very odd feeling for me, for as much as I had wanted to see him defeated in a “loser leaves town” match, I felt a little empty. It was hard for me to reconcile those feelings, as I saw him as a despised heel, someone whom I wanted one of my heroes to rid the area of, but nonetheless, the feelings were real. I was saddened and I greatly missed him. Such was the man’s appeal, whether he wrestled as a “face” or a “heel.”
On August 13, 1978, Lonnie had appeared at the San Bernardino Arena for his scheduled match with Chavo Guerrero. The promoter of that night’s card Jeff Walton recalled seeing Lonnie drinking a little brandy in the locker room before his match. Lonnie explained that it was to help with his cold, because despite being sick, Lonnie still showed up for his booking.
After the matches were over Chavo Guerrero recalled seeing Lonnie standing outside of his car, double over. “He was puking” Chavo would say, and when he asked if he was alright, Lonnie replied that he was. A short time later, while driving on the Riverside Freeway, Lonnie Mayne’s car crossed the meridian and since the freeway was still undergoing construction, there were no concrete barriers and his car collided with an oncoming car, killing both himself and the other driver. He was 4 weeks shy of his 34th birthday. When the news of the accident and Lonnie’s death was heard, wrestling fans across the country were stunned.
|Courtesy of "The Nito Gomez Collection"|
The news was broadcast on the August 19th airing of the “Big Time Wrestling” television program in
Northern California. That evening, the main event was changed as
Buddy Rose and Dean Ho would now compete for the title that Lonnie held at the
time of his death. Fans at the U.S.
who had not heard the news yet were shocked upon hearing of Lonnie’s death, and
some even cried as they rang a 10 bell salute in honor of his memory. Cow Palace
“It shocked the hell out of a lot of us” recalls Nito Gomez, who was at the
that night. “It was dead quiet in the Cow Palace
and I had never like that before. To
this day it is hard for me to believe, as it was the first death that I had to
deal with as a wrestling fan.” Wrestling
commentator Joe Sousa was also there that night and adds: “The silence was so
loud, if that makes any sense. I cried
big time.” And Ken Faria who grew up as
a fan of the Roy Shire promotion remembers: “I was shocked! I guess I was 14 or 15 at the time and in a
way it was a lot like when Brody died, the two of them both being as tough as
nails, but in the end, just as frail as the rest of us. Hell, Lonnie ate nails, how could he die?!” Cow Palace
On Kayfabememories.com, Buddy Rose would later write, “I was supposed to be his next title match in the
Cow Palace for the title. I was looking forward to working with a man
who helped me early in my career in United States . He also told me just before I left for
Portland, to stay at the Bomber Motel when I get there, because that’s where
all the ‘boys’ stay until they find a house.
He was a great worker, and a master of psychology, when it came to
working the fans. I have nothing but
kind things to say about the man, and his career. He is, and will always be missed.” Texas
Portland they held a Memorial service
honoring his memory during the wrestling card that was held on August 24th
at the Lane County Fairgrounds Auditorium in . Fans said a tearful good bye not to “Moondog”
but to their “Pied Piper”, the man they simply knew as Lonnie. Eugene, Oregon
Los Angeles they held a tournament
for the ’s
title that was now vacant, and they would soon have a new title belt, as the
one that Lonnie wore would pass to his young son. In an article in the Press-Courier, Bob Kubik
who was referred to as the assistant promotions man for the Olympic Auditorium
was quoted as saying in regards to Lonnie, “It will take an awful lot to
replace him.” In truth, while they may
have been able to find a substitute for his matches, there would never be
anyone who could replace Lonnie Mayne. America
Immediately there was speculation as to what caused the accident. Lonnie was known to have a problem with alcohol abuse and some people felt that may have been the cause, while a smaller minority actually proposed that it might’ve been a suicide. Admittedly when I became older I too wondered if alcohol was to blame. While many may overlook the faults of celebrities or those they admire, I was never prone to being influenced by someone’s fame or how I personally felt about them.
Chavo Guerrero, who had wrestled Lonnie that night, stated that Lonnie wasn’t inebriated. “He wasn’t drunk”, he would say, “I saw it.”
Shawn Mayne recalled, “I talked with both Chavo and Hector Guerrero afterwards and Hector told me, ‘Shawn, I’m going to tell you the truth. Lonnie hadn’t been drinking for weeks.’”. If anyone would know, it would be Hector as he had been working a program with Lonnie in
and had the opportunity to see
Lonnie on a regular basis. Los Angeles
Some may ask, “what about the fact that Jeff Walton witnessed Lonnie drinking in the locker room that night?” Anyone who knew Lonnie knew that when he was drinking liquor he was drinking Southern Comfort. What Lonnie had been drinking that night was brandy, which some people do feel helps with a cold. With Lonnie’s reputation as a drinker it wouldn’t have been unusual for Lonnie to be seen drinking before a match as people like the late Matt Borne often said that was his habit. However if Lonnie had stopped drinking in the weeks before that night, it would’ve been unusual for him to be seen drinking and that may be why he felt the need to explain his drinking brandy that night. Why would Lonnie feel a need to explain why he was drinking, unless people had recently become accustomed to seeing him not drinking? As Shawn Mayne says, “Lonnie never felt a reason to explain anything he did.”
Some have felt that Lonnie’s vomiting and disorientation that night may have been due to a previously sustained undiagnosed concussion. Those symptoms would certainly be consistent with that. When the doctor who performed the autopsy spoke with Shawn Mayne, he said that Lonnie had low levels of alcohol in his system which I feel could be explained by the brandy earlier in the evening and as Shawn says, “From his years of drinking.” The Doctor also said that Lonnie had sustained some type of head injury (likely ring related) prior to the accident and may have in fact slipped into a coma before the crash.
And in regard to the speculation that it was suicide, for one thing, the taking of another person’s life in an auto accident wouldn’t have been in Lonnie’s character. And for another, Lonnie had too much to live for. Many people aren’t aware that Lonnie was in the process of making huge changes in his life.
He had understood that his years of drinking and his life on the road as a professional wrestler had affected his personal life and he was looking to turn things around. Shawn Mayne told me: “About a week before he passed away, Lonnie was back home and I can remember it like it was yesterday. We were sitting on the front porch with my Mom and Dad and Lonnie said that he was going to quit the business. He was going to finish up in
California, do one more tour of ,
and that he was going to finish up by Christmas and come home. He also said that he was going to go to rehab.
Lonnie had been separated from his wife, and his good friend Harry Fujiwara AKA “Mr. Fuji” would later recall talking to Lonnie’s widow Diana after his death. “She said that she loved him but she couldn’t handle the drinking.” Fujiwara had also talked to Lonnie the day of Lonnie’s death, a conversation that included Lonnie’s revealing that he planned to go to rehab for his alcohol abuse and he was going to try and reconcile with his wife. “We’re the best of friends” he told Fujiwara, “Let’s keep in touch.” Those are not the words and not the plans of a man who was looking to exit the world any time soon.
Regardless of what’s been shared here, there will always be those who will speculate or have their own ideas of what happened that night. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that on that August 13th night, people tragically lost their lives and an empty space was left in the lives of those who knew and loved them. While for years many wrestling fans have probably wondered what other exploits Lonnie may have had in the wrestling ring, it’s obvious now that Lonnie hadn’t planned for many more. Yet, even the ones he had already had at that point have given us much we fondly remember and discuss so many years later.
The true potential that had yet to be realized was his future development as a person and his potential future with his friends and loved ones. For while the fans lost a performer they admired greatly, his family lost a father, a husband, a son, a sibling, a part of them.
Someone once said, “That as long as a person is remembered, they are never truly dead.” Regardless of our personal beliefs regarding the possibilities of an afterlife, the spirit of Lonnie Mayne lives on in his son Lonnie Nathan, whom Shawn says is like his father in so many ways, and it lives on as long as we remember and discuss him. Even 35 years later, whenever we watch video of Lonnie’s matches and interviews or replay our memories of him or share them with others, it quickly becomes evident that there is still and “excitement in the air.” -RR
My very special thanks to Shawn Mayne for sharing some of his thoughts regarding his late brother, and thanks also to Nito Gomez, Fred Lazarus, Ken Faria, and Joe Sousa for sharing their memories of Lonnie.
I’d also like to than Jim Fitzpatrick of “Fine Art
”, a very talented photographer and artist
for sharing his great photo of Lonnie. I'd also like to thank Nito Gomez, another talented artist, for sharing his Cow Palace wrestling
program from the “Nito Gomez Collection”. America
Conversation with Shawn K. Mayne
Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels – By Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson
Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams – By Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson
Mr. Fuji Shoot Interview – RF Video
“Wrestling fans in mourning” By Rich Romine; Press-Courier, August 19, 1978
Eugene Register-Guard, August 24, 1978