On August 30, 2008, Walter “Killer” Kowalski died just days after being taken off life support following a heart attack he suffered earlier in the month. He was 81.
Born Edward Wladyslaw Spunick in October 1926. in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, Kowalski majored in electrical engineering in college and worked at the Ford Plant in Detroit. Making just $50 a week Kowalski learned he could make more money in the ring, so he eventually decided to try pro wrestling.
He began his career as Tarzan Kowalski, but also wrestled as Hercules Kowalski, the Polish Apollo, before eventually settling on Killer Kowalski. He would go on to legally change his name to Walter Kowalski in 1963.
Kowalski was a legendary heel during wrestling’s ‘Golden Era’ and one early television’s most recognizable stars. His unusually angular build and horrific facial expressions made him a natural ‘bad guy’ to the audience. That reputation reached legendary status in 1952, when he ripped off part of Yukon Eric’s cauliflowered ear. He also accidentally knocked out boxing great Jack Dempsey in a match when he faced Pat O’Connor in 1958.
In 1972, Kowalksi was the first man to score a pinfall win over Andre the Giant in North America. He would go on to capture the WWWF Tag Team Championship with Gorilla Monsoon in 1963, and again with Big John Studd as the masked Executioners in 1976.
After retiring in 1977, Kowalski started a professional wrestling school in Malden, Massachusetts. His most famous students are Triple H, Chyna, Perry Saturn, John Kronus, Big John Studd, April Hunter, Christopher Nowitski, Brittany Brown, Eddie Edwards, Frankie Kazarian, Damien Sandow, and Fandango.
Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (1996)
WWF Hall of Fame (1996)
Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (2003)
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Stanley Weston Award (2010)