Although he did not wear an eye patch, Captain Lou Albano was the Hathaway shirt man of wresting and rock and roll. Albano was as improbable as celebrity as he was a professional wrestler. He was an endomorph who grew so large that his heart exploded in 2005. He was lucky to live to see his 76th birthday and died today, October 14, 2009. He almost single handedly turned the World Wrestling Federation (NYSE:WWE) into a business that now has revenue of $500 million a year. Its parent company is worth $1 billion. Albano may have been the invention of the WWF’s cunning chief, Vince McMahon, but it is unlikely. Even McMahon would not have taken the chance of making an overweight man who had face-piercings and infrequently washed his hair as the front man for a sport that many people still believe is more dangerous than professional football without pads and helmets.
In the 1980s Albano spent most of his time in public with Cyndi Lauper who was as unattractive a misfit as the Captain was in her own way, but one who had the voice of an angel. Albano and Lauper were a marketer’s dream. They were as popular with retirees as with teenagers. Albano tried to play a tough character, but it never really worked. He was the foil to the over-muscled WWF champion Hulk Hogan, and “The Nature Boy”, Rick Flair. Either one of them could have killed him with a single blow to the head. He was an improbable and popular foe to cartoon characters that had no wit and only clumsy humor.
Albano ended up being as big as celebrity a Hogan despite the WWF champion’s wavy white hair, which he lost over time, and large and well-muscled 305 pound body. The Captain never had a combustible family or he might have taken Hogan’s place as a reality TV star. Albano did end up on wildly popular TV shows like Miami Vice where he played besides handsome and exquisitely well-dressed lead actors who were completely unlike him.
Albano could have been a spokesman for Pampers or Jameson Whiskey. He was versatile because he was as clever as a ferret and had to endure being the butt of endless jokes. That may have bothered him, but he took a huge haul to the bank every year.
pre=””>Albano lost 150 pounds in the mid-90s. He could have had the endorsement jobs that Kristie Alley had with Weight Watchers or Marie Osmond had with NutriSystem. Albano didn’t mind making a quick buck but the fact that he was obese must have seemed off-limits.
Marketing executives choose models for print and TV ads that look better than anyone most people know. Albano had a homely charisma, would not dress up for anyone, and didn’t let the bigger guys muscle him around. RIP, Captain.
Douglas A. McIntyre