Captain Lou Albano – A Life in Spandex, Championship Belts, Plumbers’ Suits & Rubber Bands
It’s a sad day for professional wrestling fans and all children of the 1980s, as former wrestler and manager Captain Lou Albano passed away earlier today at the age of 76.
While Hulk Hogan is perhaps the one name and image synonymous with the wrestling boom of the 1980s, Albano was a key component of the angle (professional wrestling jargon for “storyline”) that thrust the WWF into the mainstream subconscious. His feud with Cindy Lauper, and subsequent appearance in her video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” was the on-air catalyst for the WWF marketing bonanza known as the “Rock and Wrestling Connection” that resulted in exposure on MTV and an eventual television deal with NBC.
As a result, Albano became one of the indelible images of the 1980s. He loomed over Cyndi Lauper with boisterous physicality; scolding her as her father would, rubber bands sticking out of his beard and flailing with the same cartoonish kinetic frenzy he displayed at WWF events.
Albano started with the World Wide Wrestling Federation, a Northeastern wrestling promotion run by former boxing promoter Vincent J. McMahon (father of the more famous – or infamous – Vincent Kennedy McMahon) that ran shows primarily in and around New York. As a wrestler he gained some prominence as one-half of “The Sicilians,” a tag team running a mobster gimmick that eventually held the promotion’s tag team titles in the late 1960s.
It wasn’t until he transitioned from wrestling to broadcasting, and eventually on-air manager, that Albano became a regional and national star. He became the foil of longtime WWWF meal ticket Bruno Sammartino, managing stars such as Ivan Koloff in feuds against him and occasionally succeeding in getting the title off him. He continued in this role through the 1970s, but was eventually relegated to being the mouthpiece for up and coming talent working in the lower half of the card as the company transitioned from the era of Sammartino and into the new global construct and eventual monopoly dreamt up by Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
While a change in ownership accompanied with a wild new direction would have spelled trouble for Albano under different circumstances, he instead thrived in the new WWF. This was in part due to his ability to deliver an engaging and entertaining interview that dripped with heel charisma. Admittedly, though, nepotism may have also played a large role. Albano was part of a small circle that was fiercely loyal to Vincent J. McMahon, and he returned that loyalty in kind. So much so that as part of his agreement to sell the WWF to son Vincent Kennedy McMahon, it was stipulated that Albano and other stalwarts such as Freddie Blassie, Arnold Skaaland, and Pat Patterson be taken care of financially and always have a role to play in the WWF, so long as they wanted it.
Regardless of the reasons, Albano fit comfortably into the mold of Vince’s aggressive and cartoonish vision of professional wrestling. He thrived as a manager of heel Intercontinental champions and tag teams such as The Wild Samoans. It is a testament to Albano’s outrageous persona that he was the greatest spectacle in an entourage that included two men in excess of six feet and two hundred and fifty pounds with wild afros and a penchant for biting their opponents.
After the feud with Lauper, Albano became a fan-favorite and was given the role of a general mouthpiece that was some strange equivalent to a liaison between the world of professional wrestling and the mainstream. He quietly left the WWF in 1986 to pursue other opportunities in film and television, appearing on television programs such as “Hollywood Squares” and “Miami Vice,” among others. In 1989 he scored the role of the iconic Mario in the syndicated children’s program “The Super Mario Brothers Super Show,” which alternated between animated and live-action segments based on the Nintendo video game series.
Albano worked sporadically throughout the 1990s, appearing mostly at conventions and reunion events. While retired from the entertainment industry as a whole, he put focus on his health by losing almost 150 pounds after a health scare in the early 1990s, a move that most likely put years on his life. He died under hospice care in his home, surrounded by family and loved ones.
My most indelible memory of Captain Lou was that song of his that appeared on “The Wrestling Album,” which my brother Jack bought on vinyl and I listened to ad nauseum. His song, “The History of Music,” consisted of a minute and thirty seconds of ranting about the invention of music followed by a hook that involved him saying his name over and over again. As a kid, it was one of the greatest things I’d ever heard. As an adult…well, it sure is a fascinating bit of noise and nostalgia. A YouTube slideshow with the accompanying song can be found here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aC4EgS5Hiw).
We hope you’ve found your guiding light,
Captain Lou, Captain Lou Albano.