I read a few weeks ago with wistfulness that the professional wrestler Tom Billington had died at his home in England.
Wistfulness because I am now at the point in my life where important parts of my childhood and growing up have started dying with regular occurrence.
Tom Billington wrestled under the name “the Dynamite Kid” since his start in 1979. Back then, wrestling wasn’t flash, steroid-abusing, pumped-up long-haired loudmouths. There was a lot of technical moves, holds, flips – it was more about slipping out of a grasp than spectacle.
My sister and her then-boyfriend would take me to see Stampede Wrestling on Saturday nights in Edmonchuck. Nearly a decade older than me, and stuck babysitting, she found it was something that would keep me occupied and captivated while they courted. I remember asking for boyfriend’s cigarette pack and a pen, then going up to Keith Hart (son of Stu Hart, brother to Bret Hart, and the rest of the Hart wrestling franchise) as a 12-year old and asking for an autograph. He was gracious, with a very cute smile and bushy moustache. I was hooked. We came back to Stampede Wrestling a lot. And of course, watching it every Saturday morning on CTV with Ed Whalen (or “Wailin’ Ed” as his nickname went, because of his nasal voice), keeping up on who won the belts, who beat who… I probably should have gotten outside a bit more as a kid!
Dynamite Kid appeared on the scene and shook the dust off of everything. He was small (5’9”), skinny, and quick. The presence he brought to the ring was undeniable. Explosive, exciting, energized, he would handspring out of holds and risk dangerous maneuvers (like headbutting his opponent by jumping from the top of the turnbuckle) to win the crowd’s favor. There was always a roar and a buzz that went through the arena when he entered and wrestled. He was so popular and successful that a generation of other kids who thought, or were told, that they were too small to wrestle, emulated his moves and his tights, right down to the same haircut.
It was fun. I was less annoying to the dating couple when I was entertained. Plus, there was always cold pop and a hot dog or some other not-so-good-for-me snack as a bonus.
There was a definite melancholic smile on my face remembering all the things I used to do to get through the long winters up in Canada. I like to think it made me well-rounded – it’s good to know about what people do for entertainment. It tells you a lot about them.
I know that Tom Billington’s out-of-the-ring persona was well-documented as nasty. He and his cousin, Davey Boy Smith, bulked up and joined up as the tag-team “British Bulldogs” and it got away from the wrestling I remember and more into spectacle and schoolyard taunting and bullying that I didn’t care for. I lost interest, and truly, I don’t know enough about it to comment. I just know, that the Dynamite Kid, fresh on the scene, made a huge impression on me. He was an enormous, notable part of my growing up in prairie Edmonton, Alberta. I hope he finds some peace now. Or at least respite from a pained, broken body.