Sunday, April 22, 2012

From Iowa to India, fans can't forget 'The Butcher'

Paul "The Butcher" Vachon and his brother, Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon


From Iowa to India, fans can't forget 'The Butcher'

by  Ron Kantowski
Las Vegas Review-Journal


The Wrestler's things - stacks of photographs, four self-published books about his life in and out of the ring, a bamboo cane bearing his signature - were spread before him on a table in one of those meeting rooms at the Gold Coast as the clock on the wall began a finishing move on the annual gathering of the Cauliflower Alley Club.

It was 3:30 p.m.; the show closed at 4. Billy Corgan, front man of The Smashing Pumpkins and a lifelong pro wrestling enthusiast, had left the building.

"Remember that steel cage match in Des Moines when you hit such-and-such upside the head with a folding chair? That was awesome!"

His fans remember. The Wrestler said he remembered. He had sold 19 of the 20 autographed bamboo canes he had brought to the show.

Two tables over, a masked wrestler was barking about ripping off the head of some pencil-necked geek in that raspy growl that all pro wrestlers cultivate while smoking cigars in the backseats of station wagons on the way to Des Moines.

I reached across the table and offered my hand to The Wrestler.

Paul Vachon - Paul "The Butcher" Vachon - gave it a firm shake. A folding chair, unoccupied and unthrown, was set up next to him.

Over the next 41 minutes and 40 seconds, according to the counter on my tape recorder, I would learn that Paul Vachon has professionally wrestled in all 50 states and in 33 countries, traveled more than eight million miles, met the Duke of Edinburgh at Royal Albert Hall and had his head split open with a folding chair by Dick the Bruiser.

And that he believes the best things in life are smiles, friends, sunsets, sunrises, children, old folks and family.

While in the Far East, he attended Nehru's funeral and sang for Duke Ellington and wrestled in front of 85,000 Pakistanis who thought he was Russian, and wanted to kill him.
During border clashes between India and Pakistan, he hired a motorized rickshaw to circumvent delays at the airport in Bangladesh. He saw dead people on the side of the road. Some had their throats slashed.

He followed the road to Nepal from New Delhi en route to Katmandu. He has traveled the nomadic Nullarbor Plain in Australia, the Autobahn in Germany, the San Diego Freeway in California. He knows every two-lane road to and from Milwaukee, home of, he says, the best pro wrestling fans in the world.

He was bashing heads into turnbuckles in France when he bumped into an old pal who invited him to the Paris premiere of "Goldfinger." Toshiyuki Sakata was known as Tosh Togo on the wrestling circuit. In the movies, he was known as 007's nemesis Oddjob.

Butcher Vachon said Gorilla Monsoon was the strongest man he ever wrestled, next to 7-foot-4-inch, 475-pound Andre Rene Roussimoff, aka "The Eighth Wonder of the World," aka "Andre the Giant." Nobody was stronger than The Giant.

The Butcher has married three times - four if you count an actress that a young Vince McMahon Jr. hired to boost ratings on Tuesday Night Titans. (George "The Animal" Steele gave the faux bride away, for those scoring at home.)

Vachon and his third wife, Deana, a former Marine staff sergeant, live in a log cabin they built themselves in the Green Mountains, about a quarter-mile from Vermont on the Canadian side of the border, close to where each grew up in country farmhouses.

Butcher's brother Maurice - the "Mad Dog" among the 12 Vachon siblings - was his partner when he won the world tag team title; his sister Vivian was one of the first famous female wrestlers; his adopted daughter, Luna, was even more famous than her aunt.

Then the wrestling gods put a chokehold on the Vachon family and would not let go.
Vivian Vachon and her 10-year-old daughter, Julie, were killed by a drunk driver in 1991; Luna Vachon, fighting bipolar disorder, died in 2010 of an accidental prescription drug overdose; Mad Dog Vachon had a leg amputated after being struck by a hit-and-run driver while jogging.
Butcher Vachon has beaten alcoholism and cancer of the colon and cancer of the throat and jaw.
But he cannot sing like a bluebird anymore.

He cannot stand up straight, either, because of arthritis in his back, due to having wrestled more than 6,000 matches, to having been body-slammed at least that many times by guys named Bruiser, Crusher, Giant, Hacksaw and The Hulkster.

He gets around with a walker. Next month, he will be 75.

As Butcher Vachon, he was one of pro wrestling's ultimate heels. As Paul Vachon, he is one of pro wrestling's greatest ambassadors and kindest souls.

This December will mark the 13th Christmas that he has served as Santa Claus at the Berlin Mall near Montpelier, Vt., which surely would come as a surprise to Captain Lou Albano, were he still alive.

It was almost 4:15 when Paul Vachon handed me his last autographed bamboo cane. The Butcher wanted me to have it.

He said he and Deana would be leaving for Laughlin in the morning. They would take their time driving back to Vermont, hoping to find a few roses along the way they have yet to smell.

When I left him, The Wrestler was hunched over the table at which he had been sharing these stories, alone, struggling to collect his things.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

http://www.lvrj.com

(Article used with permission)

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