Walter "Killer" Kowalski, 81, a pioneering wrestler who appeared in more than 6,000 matches in a 30-year career on the professional wrestling circuit, died of a heart attack Aug. 30 in Everett, Mass.
The 6-foot-7, 275-pound Kowalski garnered the reputation as a villain in the ring during a 1954 match with Yukon Eric in Montreal. Kowalski told the Chicago Tribune in 1989 that he jumped on Eric from the ropes and "I thought I had missed, but all of a sudden something was rolling across the ring. It was his ear."
He visited his opponent in the hospital and, according to his website, "the two men began laughing at how silly Eric's bandages looked." A reporter overheard the laughter and assumed that Kowalski was making fun of his opponent.
Kowalski later became famous for various moves, including a stomach vise grip called the "Killer Clutch."
He retired from the ring in 1977, a year after he and Big John Studd captured the WWF World Wrestling Tag Team Championship as members of "The Executioners" team.
The son of Polish immigrants, Kowalski was born Wladek Spulnik in Windsor, Canada.
He had hoped to become an electrical engineer but turned to wrestling when a friend said it would help pay his way through school. He put his education aside and continued on the mat.
After retiring from the ring, he founded Killer Kowalski's Pro Wrestling School in North Andover, Mass. He sold the business in 2003.