Pro wrestling pioneer Walter "Killer" Kowalski died early Saturday from the effects of a massive heart attack. He was 81.
Kowalski died at Whidden Hospital in Everett, 12 days after his family decided to take him off life support. He had been in critical condition in the hospital since his heart attack on Aug. 8, wife Theresa Kowalski said.
"I was right beside him. I put my hand on his chest, I felt his breathing slow down and his heart beat stop," she said. "The doctor said he was brain dead ... I was waiting, hoping somebody could do something.
"We've been together over 10, but we've been married for two years. He was a bachelor all his life. He was a wonderful man, never drank, never smoked and he was a vegetarian for almost 60 years."
An obituary posted at Weir Mac Cuish Family Funeral Home's Web site said Kowalski began his professional career in 1947 as "Tarzan" Kowalski. His hulking 6-foot-7, 275 pound frame and a brutal wrestling style soon earned him a nickname "Killer."
Kowalski began to be known as a villain after hurting Yukon Eric during a match in Montreal in 1954.
He visited his opponent in hospital after the match to check up on him and "the two men began laughing at how silly Eric's bandages looked. The reporter incorrectly printed that Killer was laughing at his victim and soon after, Killer quickly became wrestling's most renowned 'heel' or 'villain,'" according to the Web site.
Kowalski later became famous for various moves, including a stomach vise grip called the "Killer Clutch."
Kowalski retired in 1977, a year after he and Big John Studd captured the WWF World Wrestling Tag Team Championship as members of "The Executioners" team.
He went on to open a wrestling school in Malden. He sold the business in 2003.
Kowalski was inducted into several wrestling halls of fame, including the World Wrestling Federation Hall of Fame and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.
A funeral is scheduled at Weir-MacCuish Golden Rule Funeral Home and burial service is set in St. Joseph's Church on Thursday morning.