Provided by J Michael Kenyon through WRESTLING AS WE LIKED IT.
STRANGLER LEWIS, WRESTLER, DEAD
August 8th, 1966
MUSKOGEE, Okla., Aug. 7 (AP) -- Ed (Strangler) Lewis, a wrestler who parlayed bulging muscles, a nasty headlock, a frightening name and a talent for publicity into ring earnings of more than $4 million, died here today at the Veterans Administration Hospital. He was 76 years old.
Mr. Lewis, whose real name was Robert H. Friedrich, was blind and poor in his last years, but he said of his afflictions: "This is just another test to prove the allness, the omnipotence of God. I'm going through a beautiful experience."
IN THE RING AT 14
As musicians are born with perfect pitch and sharpshooters with perfect eyesight, Ed Lewis was born with a perfect wrestler's body. In 1904, at the age of 14, he carried his 200-pound frame into a wrestling ring in Madison, Wis., and won his first professional victory.
He had taken the name of Lewis, as a form of disguise, because his parents did not approve of wrestling. The Strangler part of the name was given him two years later by a Chicago Tribune reporter who saw in the formidable youth a resemblance to a famous old mat champion called the Strangler.
As the youth matured, he grew, adding more muscle to his large-boned frame, until, in the 1920s and 1930s, he was climbing into the ring at weights of 260 and 270 pounds. His neck was said to be larger than some men's thighs, measuring 21 inches around. Ordinary neckties did not fit him; he had his made at least eight inches longer than the normal necktie.
The heavyweight wrestling title was as legitimate as the kingship of Graustark, but for what it was worth, Lewis was said to have won it five times, the first time in 1920 in a match with Joe Stecher at the 71st Regiment Armory in New York.
FIVE AND A HALF HOURS IN THE RING
That was not the first time they had climbed into a ring together. On Independence Day of 1916, in Omaha, they fought what may have been the longest wrestling match on record, going five and a half hours to a draw. Stecher was the inventor of the scissors-hold and was a formidable opponent.
The man who took the title from Lewis finally was Gus Sonnenberg, a former Dartmouth football star. It was in 1932 (sic) and it marked the end of an era. Sonnenberg developed the flying tackle, a free adaptation from his football experience, and is said to have started wrestling down the road to showmanship and away from serious tests of strength, agility and cunning.
But long before that Lewis achieved worldwide fame and wealth through judicious use of publicity and an unusual hold. His headlock caused riots of protests from angry fans; it was declared unfair by the Illinois Athletic Commission, and the New York State Assembly tried to legislate it out of existence.
Lewis' adeptness at holding the headlines was proved in 1922 when he declared to the sports writers of America that wrestling was superior to boxing. He then challenged Jack Dempsey, the world heavyweight champion, to a mixed match to the finish. The dispute was fought, after a fashion, in the newspaper columns, but the two champions never squared off against each other in a ring.
CONDEMNED NEW STYLE
In 1937, returning to the United States after a tour around the world, Lewis declared that he was quitting the ring. He condemned what he called the new style of "slambang wrestling" as "terrible and awful" and said: "If you put on a good scientific match, they (the wrestling fans) walked out. They want to see slamming."
But there were many codas to Lewis' ring career, and he continued to wrestle after his announced retirement. His last match was in Honolulu in 1947.
By his own record-keeping, Lewis appeared in more than 6,200 matches and lost only 33. At the peak of his fame, in the golden age of sports in the 1920s, he was ranked with Babe Ruth, Bill Tilden, Bobby Jones and Dempsey.
So great was Lewis' drawing power that he was able to demand $125,000 guarantees to perform. By his own admission, he squandered most of the money he earned.
Lewis later turned to other endeavors, becoming a restaurant operator, a rancher and athletic director of a health club. He also tried the moves, and acted in such films as "Stranglehold" and "That Natzy Nuisance."
Lewis twice suffered blindness. He lost his sight after a siege of trachoma early in his career but recovered and credited the recovery to prayer. He became deeply religious in the 1940s and said later that faith had enabled him to sustain his life after he was again stricken with blindness.
"I have come to realize a true sense of values through this tribulation," he said.
(ED. NOTE from J Michael Kenyon : For a man who spent more than a half- century in the glare of the public spotlight, the above obituary is remarkably littered with error. His full name was Robert Herman Julius Friedrich. The last name evolved, during his youth, from Friedrich, to Friedrichs, to Friedricks, and several other variations.
"I began as a professional at age 14," Lewis told Portland Oregonian sports columnist L.H. Gregory not long before his death. "I weighed, believe it or not, 195! I was put on against one of the great old veterans, Fred Beell. What he did to me that night! Among other things something to my neck which made my head hang down on one side -- how ashamed I was of that, and scared, too; for a year I was very wary of wrestling. Then I took it up again in dead earnest to learn about some of the things Beell had shown me."
For an article printed July 22, 1956, in the Los Angeles Times, Lewis told the paper's Dan L. Thrapp that he began wrestling the farm boys back in Wisconsin when he was 13 and weighed 194 pounds "and he has been taking on all comers ever since."
Arthur Mann, in the August 1961 issue of Sport magazine, tells us "Bob Friedrichks (originally spelled Friedrichs) (was born)_ on June 30, 1891, in Nekoosa, a Wisconsin River settlement numbering a few hundred people, many of whom were Chippewa Indians. He was the second of four children, the only son, of Jacob Friedricks, who dealt big in Wisconsin lumber.")