In the real fake world of professional wrestling, Bruiser Brody had a reputation as a badass. This was saying something, for professional wrestling is full of alpha males with testosterone oozing out of every pore, muscles bulging, and veins popping. Even among these physical specimens Brody had a reputation as the toughest of the tough. He lived up to his rep, and eventually it cost him his life.
In the beginning he was Frank Goodish, growing up in a Detroit suburb with his parents and three sisters. The girls remember having pillow fights with their only brother. Frank, they all said, was sweet with a devilish streak. His first love was playing football. His sisters remember it was all he talked about doing. Frank never mentioned wrestling, and his sisters said wrestling was not on television in their home.
In high school Frank played tight end on offense and tackle on defense. He had soft hands that could catch almost any pass, and at 6’4” and 215 pounds he was a ferocious run stopper. Frank received a football scholarship from Iowa State but only lasted a year. He bounced down to Wayne State, and finally to West Texas State, the “island of misfit toys” on the college football circuit. Players with issues went to West Texas. Many of the team’s football players went on to become either professional football players or professional wrestlers.
Goodish played with Mercury Morris, who won a Super Bowl with the Miami Dolphins in the 1970’s. Other teammates were Stan Hansen, Ted DiBiase, Bobby Duncum, and Terry Funk (all became professional wrestlers). Funk’s dad Dory ran a wrestling promotion in Texas. Frank started attending matches. He was impressed that the Funks and other wrestlers on the circuit were legitimate celebrities. Terry Funk said,
“Frank loved being physical, the camaraderie, and the attention that came from playing football…He was a great football player. Hardnosed and tough. But it was a lark to him. He was nuts back then.”
Goodish wanted to major in journalism but got kicked out of West Texas before graduating for disciplinary reasons. He hooked up with a semi-pro football team, the San Antonio Toros, and landed a job with the sports department at the local newspaper. Frank was a decent writer. His nemesis was the typewriter. His huge fingers invariably hit two or three keys at once, trying the patience of an already impatient young man.
Goodish got a tryout with the Washington Redskins, who at the time were being coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi, one of the few people Frank was in awe of. “After working with Lombardi,” Frank recalled, “I realized I had the ability to do something in football. It was an education I got too late.” Lombardi contracted cancer and died. His replacement cut Goodish from the team. “I was just as fast and tough as all of them,” Frank said, “but they had all the fundamentals down cold and I fought trying to learn them.” The Redskins tryout was Goodish’s fifth and last chance to play football. He failed every time and was honest about it: “I was uncoachable.”
Frank returned to San Antonio a failure. He started worked on a loading dock, and lifted weights fanatically. By now he was huge: 6’8” and 300 pounds of solid muscle. He met another lifter, Joe Bednarski, who shared Goodish’s passion for football. Bednarski had just started making serious money as a professional wrestler. He called himself Ivan Putski, the Polish Hammer. He was working the Texas circuit with promoter Fritz Von Erich. Frank started training with Bednarski and worked his way into Von Erich’s stable of wrestlers. Goodish’s love for football transformed into a love of professional wrestling.
Frank had never wrestled before, but he had the physique, the look, and a charisma in the ring and in front of the camera. Equally important, Goodish was finally “coachable.” Von Erich took Frank under his wing and taught him the basics. Goodish listened and learned from one of the most experienced men in the business. He improved quickly and was soon in the ring working his way up the card. He ran into his old West Texas State football pal, Stan Hanson, who had been wrestling longer than Frank. They teamed up and won a regional tag team championship.
Frank was very “stiff”, that is, he didn’t pull his punches or kicks. Professional wrestling is an art form, an athletic ballet where two men tell a story in the ring. Both wrestlers, even though they appear to be in combat with each other, are cooperating in the story telling in order to keep the crowd in a suspended state of disbelief. They are also protecting each other from getting seriously injured. Even though wrestling is fake, the injuries are real, and back then wrestlers had no health insurance. Their bodies were their livelihood.
Goodish learned that instead of competing against his opponent he had to cooperate with him in the ring. But Goodish always wanted his wrestling style to appear real, so he didn’t let up on his opponents. Frank’s punches and kicks hurt – a lot. He would seriously beat down his opponents. He also learned how to “sell” a punch (act like his opponent hurt him). And he learned when not to sell. Frank’s refusal to sell his opponents strength made him enemies of other wrestlers and promoters. He also refused to “job” for other wrestlers (lose to get another wrestler ‘over’, that is, popular with the fans). His fellow wrestlers thought Frank was selfish and wouldn’t cooperate. They were right about the lack of cooperation. From Frank’s point of view he was a big man and thought it ridiculous to act like a little man could hurt him. He thought that selling a smaller man made the match seem less real. Wrestling is a business of give and take. Frank wasn’t good at that.
Frank began traveling the country. He became a star with his size, charisma, and ability to do promos. Promos are interviews wrestlers do to attract fans to their matches. Frank’s charisma and intelligence made for great promos that helped fill houses. Frank worked out his gimmick. He changed his ring name to Bruiser Brody, grew a full beard, grew out his hair down to his shoulders, wore a fur vest, and ran to the ring swinging a metal chain over his head to Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song. When Brody hit the ring all hell broke loose.
Goodish’s rough, realistic wrestling style, his fierce, wild appearance, and his disregard for anyone’s well being made his matches dramatic and intense affairs that often involved blood. “Juicing” occurred when wrestlers secured small bits of taped up razors in their boots, trunks, or elbow pads and used them to nick their foreheads during a match. Any facial cut results in significant blood flow, which of course added to the realism of the match. Brody’s forehead became a mass of scar tissue.
He bled a lot, and his opponents bled a lot. Many of his matches were count outs outside the ring, disqualifications, or double disqualifications. Brody would take his opponent out of the ring and brawl in the stands, causing fans to scatter. Brody had many memorable feuds. The bloodiest was probably with Abdullah the Butcher, a 450 pound Sudanese wrestler with a fondness for carving his initials on his opponents faces with a fork, a repetitive tactic that referees for some reason never smartened up to. Night after night “Abbie” and Brody would gouge away at each other to the delight of the fans. It never seemed to get old.
Something that did get old was Brody’s fights with promoters. Goodish had a keen sense of his own worth, and demanded to be compensated at a high level; higher than the other wrestlers on the card. When the promoters disagreed Frank got loud and intimidating. He even beat up some promoters. He was able to get away with this because at this time (the 1980’s) there were dozens of promotions across the country, and many more outside the United States. Brody filled houses. He was valuable to promoters. So usually Goodish was accurate about his own worth. But his inflexible refusal to take a penny less than what he thought he earned would end up costing him – and his family – dearly.
After burning bridges with a number of promoters in America, Brody hit Japan and became an instant star: the American Godzilla. He had wild feuds with all the Japanese stars, filled houses, made lots of money, and alienated so many people the Japanese wrestling promotion fired him. Brody moved to Puerto Rico, definitely a downgrade from Japan. It would be Bruiser Brody’s last wrestling event.
The Puerto Rican promotion was run by Carlos Colon. The booker was Jose Gonzales, an old wrestling opponent of Brody. Back in the US Brody had demolished Gonzales in a series of matches. They were “squashes,” matches where one wrestler totally dominates the other in a definitive, devastating manner. But in Puerto Rico Gonzales was a star. And as booker, he told the boys who would win, who would lose, and how the card was going to run. Brody was notorious for ignoring booker’s directions. He had no respect for Gonzales at all, and was obvious about it.
The story goes that the wrestlers were in the dressing room getting ready for the card. Gonzales asked Brody to come into the shower area for a talk. It was not unusual for bookers to have private conversations with various wrestlers before the matches started. Brody and Gonzales disappeared from view. There were sounds of a scuffle, then groans of pain. Tony Atlas, one of the American wrestlers, ran into the shower area. He saw Gonzales holding a bloody knife. Brody was on the ground. Blood was spurting out of his chest and bubbling, a sign that his lung had been punctured.
An ambulance was called but it took a long time to come. The paramedics couldn’t move Brody because of his size. Atlas helped carry him outside to the ambulance. Then there was a delay in getting to the hospital, and another delay in being seen by a doctor. By the time he was tended to Frank Goodish had bled to death. His last words to Atlas were “Tell my wife and son I love them.”
Fearing they were next, the American wrestlers fled Puerto Rico. Jose Gonzales and Carlos Colon were wrestling and cultural icons in their country. Americans were definitely outsiders. Gonzales was arrested and charged with murder, a charge that was changed to involuntary homicide. He claimed self-defense and was acquitted. Some of the American wrestlers refused to come to Puerto Rico for the trial. Others received subpoenas to appear only after the trial was over.
The wrestlers in the locker room were of one mind: Gonzales lured Brody away from witnesses and stabbed him. Some additional intrigue involved Frank Goodish’s alleged purchase of a portion of the Puerto Rican promotion. Surely it would have been intolerable for Gonzales and Colon to have to deal with Brody continually as part owner of the promotion. Was it enough of a motive for murder? And was it really murder? Brody had attacked promoters before, so it was possible Gonzales acted in self defense.
Gonzales and Colon are still running their promotion in Puerto Rico. Brody’s widow and son remember their dad fondly. With them he was not a wild man, just a strong, gentle, loving husband and father. Barbara and Geoffrey Goodish’s lives changed permanently on July 17, 1988, when Frank Goodish died at the age of forty two. Since then he has received many posthumous awards from the wrestling industry. And Bruiser Brody is now recognized as the first “hardcore” wrestler. In the real fake world of professional wrestling, that is a good thing.
Primary source is Larry Matysik and Barbara Goodish, Brody: The Triumph and Tragedy of Wrestling’s Rebel, ECW Press, 2007. All quotations in the article are from this book.
There are a number of web sites about Larry Goodish/Bruiser Brody. Most of them focus more on his death than his life, and are heavy on conspiracy theories. I won’t cite them here, but they are easy enough to google.
(price as of Jun 17, 2015)