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Gorgeous George Is Dead

Dec. 26, 1963 - Gorgeous George (pictured in 1948), the golden-haired “Human Orchid” of wrestling who made a fortune in the ring, died of a heart attack today. He was 48 years old. The wrestler, whose name was George Raymond Wagner, collapsed Christmas evening at his Hollywood apartment. He was taken to Los Angeles General Hospital, where he died. He was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis last year, and his doctors had instructed him to retire from wrestling. This, combined with financial troubles that stemmed from a recent divorce, had worsened his health. Millions of early T.V. viewers helped Gorgeous George earn a fortune in the wrestling ring. His flamboyant entrance into the arena was an immediate signal for boos and catcalls, and viewers were mesmerized. The wrestler was preceded by a valet who sprayed the ring with disinfectant. The servant, who was called “Jeffries” (right), would then stretch a satin rug and a silken towel on the mat. Then, to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” from the arena organ, George would walk majestically toward the ring. With his hair marcelled in blond curls that a woman might envy, George minced around the ring, fluttering one of his 88 elaborately embroidered robes. If the referee touched him, Jeffries would hurriedly produce a whisk broom and dust the spot. During his bouts, Gorgeous would draw persistent boos, and he generally lost. His performance, however, was good enough to earn him about $70,000 a year during his heyday. Gorgeous George was born in Nebraska and reared in Houston, Tex. He began wrestling at the age of 14. In 1940, he began to draw attention when he dyed his black hair and let it grow. He toured the nation’s arenas and was one of the leading attractions. He would step out of character only when asked about his family. “Let’s leave the better half of my life out of this,” he would say.


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