LEGENDARY ANNOUNCER, GORDON SOLIE, 71
(Associated Press, July 29, 2000)
NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. -- Gordon Solie, a professional wrestling announcer whose graphic commentary became a fixture of Florida matches in the 1960s and 1970s, died at 71.
He died Thursday of brain cancer at his home in New Port Richey. Late last year, Solie lost his larynx to cancer, the result of years of smoking.
"He was the man -- the absolute best to ever call a match,'' said legendary wrestler Dusty Rhodes. "Back in the '70s, the announcer wasn't in on everything that was going on in the ring and behind the curtain, so Gordon had to call it like he saw it.''
Solie grew up in Minnesota with dreams of becoming a broadcaster. He joined the Air Force after graduating from high school and moved to Tampa after he left the military. He worked as a disc jockey and a radio reporter before landing his first job in pro wrestling.
"I made $5 a night emceeing a weekly wrestling card in Tampa,'' Solie said in an interview last year. ``From there I worked my way into the announcer's spot.''
He became a fixture on Championship Wrestling from Florida telecasts for nearly two decades before he was hired by Ted Turner to work the Georgia Championship Wrestling on cable superstation WTBS in the 1980s.
"If you grew up in Florida or Georgia you knew who Gordon Solie was,'' former wrestler Steve Keirn said. "Me, Hulk Hogan, Dick Slater. We all imitated Gordon. He used the most detailed descriptions and adjectives in describing the action, he was an original.''
Barbara Clary, a Spanish teacher in Zephyrhills, once worked for Solie.
"I was bilingual and he wanted me to conduct interviews with some of the wrestlers in Spanish for all the wrestling fans that watched the shows in Cuba,'' Clary recalled. "He was a wonderful, wonderful person with a great and loving family. He will be missed.''
THE VOICE OF WRESTLING IN SOUTH FLORIDA
(Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, July 28, 2000)
By Alex Marvez
The voice of the most famous announcer in professional wrestling history has been silenced.
Gordon Solie, who hosted Championship Wrestling from Florida for 27 years, was found dead Friday at his home in New Port Richey after succumbing to brain cancer. He was 71.
"He was probably the absolute best commentator quality-wise," said Wayne Coleman, who wrestled for more than two decades as "Superstar" Billy Graham. "He could make a guy who was a poor technical wrestler sound like a Greco-Roman champion. He was so smooth that words were like butter coming off his lips."
Before the World Wrestling Federation began enjoying nationwide popularity in 1985, Mr. Solie was one of wrestling's most well-known figures because of the amount of announcing he did. Mr. Solie served as host for Georgia Championship Wrestling on TBS -- which was the top-rated show during the early years of cable television in the late 1970s and early 1980s -- and promotions based in Alabama and Puerto Rico.
But in South Florida, Mr. Solie was best known for describing the staged mayhem on CWF shows that aired every Saturday morning from 1960-87. Mr. Solie's catch phrases -- such as describing the blood spewing from a wrestler's forehead as a "crimson mask" -- and his ability to make matches sound like legitimate athletic competition were his true strengths.
"We were a team together in an era that kind of led to us where wrestling is at now," said Virgil Runnels, who headlined the CWF territory for much of the 1970s and early '80s as the "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. "We used to call each other the Howard Cosell and (Muhammad) Ali of wrestling. He could call a match better than anybody."
When the CWF folded in 1987, Mr. Solie went to work two years later for Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling until 1993. Mr. Solie underwent surgery for throat cancer in 1999, which officially ended his announcing career.
Born in Minneapolis on Jan. 26, 1929, Mr. Solie broke into the wrestling business as the CWF ring announcer in 1950. Ten years later, Mr. Solie became the promotion's television announcer when hired by owner Cowboy Luttrall.
"Other announcers at the time treated wrestling like a comedy act," Mr. Solie said Sunday during his final media interview. "When I got the job, I went to Cowboy Luttrall and asked him how he wanted me to handle it. He looked me in the eye and said, 'It's like your paycheck. Treat it very seriously.' That's what I did ever since."
CANCER CLAIMS REVOLUTIONARY ANNOUNCER
(SLAM! Wrestling, July 28, 2000)
By John Molinaro and John Powell
The wrestling world suffered another major loss as Gordon Solie, the ‘Dean of Professional Wrestling,’ succumbed to the ravages of throat cancer.
Solie passed away last night at his home in New Port Richey, Florida. He was 71.
Often called the "Walter Cronkite" and the "Howard Cosell" of professional wrestling, Solie set the standard for today's wrestling commentators and was respected by those in the industry and the fans alike as a living encyclopedia on the sport. Solie has been battling cancer for quite some time. In November of 1999, he underwent surgery to stop the cancer from spreading in his throat. His voice box had to be removed. It was a blow to Solie, a man who voice was as memorable as his quick wit.
Sadly, Solie's wife, Eileen, whom he affectionately called "Smokey", also died of cancer passing away in 1997.
SOLIE REMEMBERED FONDLY BY FRIENDS
(SLAM! Wrestling, July 28, 2000)
By Greg Oliver
Just as Howard Cosell made Muhammed Ali into a bigger star and cultural icon, so did Gordie Solie affect the life of ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes.
In conversation with SLAM! Wrestling Friday night, Rhodes was subdued, reflective on his experiences with Solie in Championship Wrestling from Florida, and later in the Crockett's NWA / WCW circuit. "He helped create the American Dream persona, make it alive on TV. My hat's off to him."
"In the ‘70s, my fondest memory was calling ourselves the Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali of the wrestling industry," Rhodes said. "We had a run together, television-wise, that was so unique because he was the best call of a match. Ever. If I was going to compare somebody to him today, it would probably be Jim Ross if anybody could come closest, touch him."
Rhodes recalled that
the business in the '70s thought that playing 'kayfabe', keeping the
inner workings of the business a secret was so important that Solie
was kept out of the loop by Florida promoter Eddie Graham.
SOUNDTRACK OF THE RING
(St. Petersburg Times, July 29, 2000)
By Mike Brassfield
Before there was Smackdown or Monday Nitro. Before there were flashpots, fireworks and screaming guitars to accompany every wrestler to the ring.
Before all of that, there was Gordon Solie, a microphone and a collapsible card table in Tampa's Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.
Mr. Solie, whose low-key announcing style was the soundtrack for televised professional wrestling for four decades, was found dead of brain cancer Friday in his New Port Richey home. He was 71.
Pro wrestling was big in Tampa before almost anywhere else. It dates back to the days of the "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes and Eddie Graham knocking bellies at the armory, and Mr. Solie ending his Channel 44 broadcasts from the Sportatorium with "So long from the Sunshine State."
Born in Minneapolis in 1929, Mr. Solie broke into the wrestling business as a ring announcer in Tampa in 1950. Ten years later, he started announcing the Championship Wrestling from Florida television show that aired in the state every Saturday from 1960-87.
Mr. Solie had a deep, gravelly voice. But his true strengths were his catch phrases such as "foreign object," "pier six brawl," or describing the blood spewing from a wrestler's forehead as a "crimson mask," as well as his ability to make the staged mayhem sound like legitimate athletic competition.
"We were a team together in an era that kind of led us to where wrestling is at now," said Virgil Runnels, who headlined the CWF territory for much of the 1970s and early '80s as Dusty Rhodes, a bad guy turned good who pummeled opponents with his "atomic elbow."
"We used to call each other the Howard Cosell and (Muhammad) Ali of wrestling."
Before the World Wrestling Federation began enjoying nationwide popularity in 1985, Mr. Solie was one of wrestling's best-known figures because of the sheer amount of announcing he did.
He hosted Georgia Championship Wrestling on TBS, the top-rated show during the early years of cable TV in the late '70s and early '80s, and wrestling shows based in Alabama and Puerto Rico.
"He could make a guy who was a poor technical wrestler sound like a Greco-Roman champion," said Wayne Coleman, who wrestled for two decades as "Superstar" Billy Graham. "He was so smooth that words were like butter coming off his lips."
Mr. Solie called the matches of wrestlers such as Jack Brisco, The Great Malenko, Handsome Harley Race and Nature Boy Ric Flair. When Championship Wrestling from Florida folded in 1987, he went to work two years later for Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling until 1993.
In the mid-90s, he announced matches via satellite, his commentary translated into six languages and beamed out to Europe, India, Africa, and Japan by Eurosport, Europe's counterpart to ESPN.
His rise from local TV personality to international play-by-play announcer showed just how far pro wrestling had come.
Today, wrestling is a huge ratings draw. Superstars like Steve Austin, The Rock and Mankind have their own action figures, T-shirts and books. The WCW markets its own cologne.
But Mr. Solie wasn't a fan of the WCW and WWF.
"You can't argue with their success. What they do, they do very well," he said in 1997. "It's just not what I call wrestling."
Mr. Solie said he always took a low-key approach to calling matches and let the action dictate his tone, whereas today's announcers seem to scream the entire match.
"I was like a golf announcer, building up to the excitement," Mr. Solie said. " "He moves from the corner and goes for single leg takedown. He applies pressure. ... AND HE TURNS HIM OVER INTO A BOSTON CRAB ... ' "
"Gordon changed the face of wrestling announcing. He called it like a legitimate sporting contest," said Alex Marvez, who writes a syndicated pro wrestling column for Scripps Howard News Service. "Then it became more of a comic-type industry that Gordon didn't care to be a part of."
For a man who called a sport that most people consider fake, the rewards for Mr. Solie were quite real. He and his wife raised five children in a large home on Lake Keystone in northern Hillsborough County. He moved to New Port Richey in 1994. Mr. Solie underwent surgery for throat cancer last year, officially ending his announcing career. "Over the last several weeks, he had been visited by many longtime friends and colleagues," said Tedd Webb, co-host of WFLA-AM 970's popular weekday morning show A.M. Tampa Bay. "His spirits were very high till the end, and he maintained the sharp sense of humor we all came to love him for."
THE ‘DEAN OF WRESTLING’ IS GONE
(Tampa Tribune, July 29, 2000)
By Joey Johnston
Gordon Solie's signature line was delivered with a wink and a salute to his viewing audience. So long from the Sunshine State. That's how he closed "Championship Wrestling From Florida,'' a homespun precursor for today's slickly produced wrestling shows.
Sometimes, those productions look the same, complete with pyrotechnics, outlandish costumes and dangerous stunts. But in his era, alongside timeless characters inside dingy arenas, there was Gordon Solie. The voice of wrestling. One of a kind.
Solie, who had been battling throat cancer, died quietly Thursday at his home in New Port Richey. He was 71.
"There will never, ever be another like him,'' said wrestler B. Brian Blair. "He was the dean of wrestling for an entire generation. He made a bad match sound good. He made a dull match sound interesting. He was the greatest.''
For the last year, Solie was forced to communicate through the vibrations of a voice box. His raspy delivery had been robbed, although he never lost his sense of humor or the love for regular lunches with close friends. But in recent weeks, Solie learned the cancer was spreading. A large party in his honor had been planned for early August. A few weeks ago, Solie told friends to cancel it.
Solie is survived by four children - Pam, Eric, Ginard and Greg. Funeral arrangements are pending.
"He was the man - the absolute best to ever call a match,'' said former professional wrestler Dusty Rhodes. "Back in the '70s, the announcer wasn't in on everything that was going on in the ring and behind the curtain, so Gordon had to call it like he saw it.''
Solie's interviews were straight-faced and dramatic, much like he was questioning the president. His descriptive phrases were widely known - and widely imitated.
"It's a Pier-6 brawl,'' Solie deadpanned before adding, "we'll be back as soon as order is restored.'' When a wrestler bled, "his face was a crimson mask,'' Solie said urgently. When a sleeper hold was applied, Solie instructed his audience that "the hold is pinching the carotid artery, limiting blood flow to the brain.''
"Gordon Solie absolutely led the way,'' said "Mean'' Gene Okerland, the announcer for World Championship Wrestling (WCW). "He showed so much dedication and respect for wrestling. He leaves a lot of good friends in this business. What greater tribute could there be for him?''
Solie, originally from Minneapolis, came to Tampa in 1950 after a stint in the Air Force. He began as a disc jockey for an Ybor City radio station, then branched into announcing and promotions for auto racing and professional wrestling.
He attracted a loyal and growing audience with "Championship Wrestling From Florida,'' which was syndicated throughout the state. The familiar venues were the Sportatorium and Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. The big names were Jack and Jerry Brisco, Duke Keomuka, Hiro Matsuda, The Great Malenko, Cowboy Luttral, Pak Song, Buddy Colt, Dory Funk Jr., and Rhodes. Solie became nationally known when WTBS began broadcasting wrestling cards.
After his retirement from the sport in 1995, he sometimes lamented the sport's direction. "It's getting too suggestive ... the themes are in poor taste and usually outright disgraceful,'' he said in a 1999 interview. "They don't know a wristwatch from a wristlock. Whatever happened to wrestling?'' Solie fell into despair when his wife Eileen -- known to friends as "Smokey'' -- died of cancer in 1997. Solie's four-pack-a-day smoking habit led to some of his health problems, but he maintained a brave face publicly. He told some friends he knew the end was near.
"He had a pillow in his home that said, ‘Screw the golden years,' '' Blair said. "He had it rough. We grieve for ourselves now because we miss him, but I can almost see him now, dancing with his wife in the clouds.
"And I can see the wrestlers who have passed, all up there with him. There's Gordon with his microphone, describing the action as always. He's gone home. We'll never see another one like him.''
VOICE OF WRESTLING NO LONGER HEARD
(SLAM! Wrestling, December 8, 1999)
By Chris Schramm
The voice of wrestling can no longer be heard.
For Gordon Solie, a man who has been called the Dean of wrestling, years of smoking have finally caught up on him. Cancer has grown so large that he was forced to lose his prize piece as result, his voice box in a recent surgery.
Solie is known as many things to those who know him, but for those who have never heard him will never get that pleasure. Old tapes will be the only refuge.
"Caring, funny and a true professional," said Bill Apter, Editor of WOW Magazine, about Solie. Apter has worked with Solie a number of times, and he called him a "true friend."
He walked into the surgery in mid-November with little hope. He thought he would die from the operation. His aging body was not going to make the operation easy.
He gave his fans some last words in a letter on the Internet. "Thanks for your well wishes and IÕll be in touch."
In a press release before Solie's death, NWA President Howard T. Brody, wrote "On a personal level, Gordon Solie, who along with Hiro Matsuda, had been one of my mentors in the wrestling business. I am proud to say that he has been a very close friend of mine for the past 18 years and until May 11th, had been my business partner in NWA Florida, working behind the scenes to help our group lay the groundwork to revitalize the Florida territory".
Solie's remarkable broadcasting carrer began in the 50's as he took a job as radio sports announcer in Florida after leaving the Air Force. Covering many minor league events, Solie was known as the guy who would report on the lesser-known, grittier sports such as stock car racing, boxing and...pro wrestling.
At $5.00 a night, he took a job as a ring announcer for Cowboy Lutrell's promotion. Solie approached this position with as much seriousness and professionalism as he did his other ventures in journalism. His ringside interviews with the grapplers revolutionized the way wrestling shows were done. As the company grew, Solie also took over the publicity chores.
From 1960 to 1987, Solie hosted Championship Wrestling from Florida, one of the most revered wrestling shows in the 80s. His work on the show led to him being picked as the host of Georgia Championship Wrestling on Ted Turner's TBS station, one of the most watched wrestling shows on cable ever, from 1974 to 1985.
Solie, who lived in Florida, would travel to the TBS studios in Atlanta every week do broadcast the show where the likes of Roddy Piper, The Freebirds, Tommy Rich, The Road Warriors and Don Muraco first became national stars. At one time he was also the host of Continental Wrestling, the NWA's office based out of Alabama.
He joined World Championship Wrestling in 1989 where he did play-by-play on several of their syndicated programs and offered colour analysis alongside Jim Ross on their nationally broadcasted programs on TBS.
He stayed with WCW until 1995 before he quit, but not before he was inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame at the Slamboree pay-per-view event in his home state of Florida.
Solie had earned the reputation of being the most credible and respected broadcaster ever in pro wrestling. His ringside interviews were done in a probing and inquisitive manner that brought a great deal of legitimacy to wrestling. He paved the way for today's announcers, including Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone who have both cited Solie as major influences on their respective careers.
At press time, there is no word on where funeral arrangements will be held.
"Eddie Graham, his mentor, would never make him privy to what was going on as far as what was going to happen on TV," Rhodes explained. "So he had to really call it. Solie was out there, 'the crimson mask', the whole thing. He made up great cliches that will live forever. He was a pretty cool guy."
Kendall Windham was one of those young wrestlers who came along in the 1980s after the business had gone more mainstream, more towards sports entertainment. The son of Blackjack Mulligan and brother of Barry Windham recalled that when he started, Solie was quick to help out the youngsters.
"He always helped you out," Windham said. "It was his job basically to help you get established and he would get you established. He did his job very well as announcer, commentator for Florida Championship Wrestling."
Solie was a professional's professional when it came to announcing. "He was always on top of the game. He always knew what to say to help get guys over," Windham recalled.
Gil Hayes was in Florida in the early '70s and recalled Solie as "one of the most colourful for the era of professional wrestling. He always had good taste, dressed well, well-spoken and gave the business a little class."
"He had a unique style," said Rhodes, 'The American Dream.' "It was almost TV-radio. He'd make you feel the colour of the guys trunks to his face to his eyes. Our industry was very lucky to have somebody like him, especially my era to come along and feed off of."
Dewey Robertson went through Florida when he wrestled as the Missing Link in the early '80s. The veteran Robertson has a different perspective of his colleagues from the past.
"I would say within the last 10 years, I've been hearing about all these guys going down, and it's devastating. When I was young, and all the other guys would say 'oh, so-and-so died, so-and-so got sick,' -- it wouldn't mean anything to me, I didn't know them," Robertson said. "Now, Gordon Solie, I've got a picture of him with my son. He was quite a friend of mine."
The surgery was deemed a success. Support from friends and family members made his time in the hospital shorter than expected. He started rehab days after surgery and was sent home within the same week.
His voice may only be scarce for a short time. After recovery, he will be fitted for an internal voice box sometime early in the new year.
His friends were quick to thank everyone for their support. "I know when Gordon gets his new voice box, he will be able to thank you all himself," said one friend in an email to a wrestling legends egroup.
Friends are now at his side, but it is not always this way for Solie. Living outside of Tampa, Fla., he tries to cope with a lonely life.
His dog, Aimee is the only friend he sees everyday. It was just a little over two years ago that his wife, Eileen, died.
Many wondered how Solie would live through the death of his wife, who he called Smokey. She fought cancer till the end, but Solie continues to battle.
"I woke up just before five, and she was gone," Solie said in a 1999 interview. "I wake up every morning at four and stay awake for an hour."
It has been fifty years next year since Solie made his first appearance in the world of wrestling. Solie made his home in Florida after his stint in the U.S. military service. He took a small job at a radio station in Ybor City, Florida. He was the only sports anchor, and he found himself interviewing local wrestlers on a regular basis.
Promoter Cowboy Luttrel offered Solie $5 for one night of ring announcing. Solie accepted, and it was the start of what Solie often called "The Solie Era."
Soon the promotion he worked for became televised, and after clamoring to save money for using a big name, Luttrel offered the job to Solie. He accepted, and his role became a play-by-play man for the matches.
Although talking as if he was Julius Caesar, Solie was a real quiet and down to earth announcer. He took wrestling for what it was worth. He did not want to insult peoples' intelligence. He did not sugarcoat, but he did make every move and every match seem just as technical and rigid as the next.
His announcing soon became so innovative that many announcers were being hired based on how well they could do Solie's style.
"He became the person every broadcaster in the '70s and into the '80s became compared to," said Apter. "The question was always, 'Is he as good as Gordon,' whenever a new announcer was considered for a position."
"I don't think there's a guy behind the wrestling microphone in the world today that wasn't affected by Gordon Solie," said "Mean" Gene Okerland in a 1997 article.
A sleeper hold wasn't a sleeper hold till Solie renamed it. "The hold is pinching the eartoid artery, limiting blood flow to the brain" would be how Solie would describe it.
"His face is a crimson mask," "it's a Pier-6 brawl" and his infamous "we'll be back as soon as order is restored," were sayings that Solie created during his time behind the microphone.
But it worked the other way around. "Let me tell you something, Gordon Solie," was the natural way every wrestler would start an interview. He not only gained respect from the fans, but he gained it from the wrestlers. Something that was not easy to do.
"He was my idol at the time," said Norman Smiley to SLAM! Wrestling. "I remember when I first moved here from England, I went straight to Miami, and would always watch the show at 12 o'clock on Saturday afternoons. 'Live from the Sunshine State!' he'd always say. And the first time I went there, it was Barry Windham, Luger, Scott Hall, so I was overwhelmed with these guys, even with their presence back then. Gordon Solie was one of the guys I was impressed with too. The guy with the golden tongue."
Gorilla Monsoon, the recently-deceased long-time announcer for the WWF, took much of his style from Solie. Monsoon would use terms only pulled out of medical books to describe body parts. Monsoon did not use a book, but he used Solie. Solie said a chest was really a "pectoralis major" and a head was a "glutus maximus."
Solie worked in Florida his whole career, but he also ventured to Georgia and other southern states to announce matches. He also was the announcer for the aborted third promotion, the Global Wrestling Alliance out of Florida.
Most wrestling fans outside the Southwest would first see Solie when he commentated on "World Championship Wrestling" on WTBS. Ted Turner, owner of the Atlanta-based station was able to gain a satellite connection, and the whole nation was able to see Solie's face on a weekly basis.
Solie stayed there till his retirement in 1995. His departure was not a happy one. He became tired of the wondering from why he started in the business, wrestling. "The homosexual themes ... the crucifixes ... it's disgraceful."
Wrestling is not the same as he once called at the Tampa Sportatorium.
"Today they don't know a wristwatch from a wristlock. They don't know, and they don't care," he once said.
Through all he has been through, he will never see wrestling live in the same format as he once announced it. And fans will never see announcing in the same way and style Solie did it.
People will always quote Solie, but no one will ever match him.
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