Professional wrestler Edouard Carpentier died at age 84 on Saturday, October 30th, 2010 in his home in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He had been suffering with poor health for the past decade.
His tough earlier wrestling and training regime had taken its toll on the former NWA Champion. His health had been failing since his previous heart attack in the year 2000.
Yes, he had been in hospital last August, and the possibility of a leg having to be amputated was one option proposed during his stay! The ailing 84-year-old was too weak to survive another cardiac event, and this last one was the final chapter for the legend known as the “Flying Frenchman”!
To anyone involved in professional wrestling history, this was a very sad day indeed. I know that many people here will not know the name Edouard Carpentier, but I do! A tingle rushed through me when I saw the name, his name! That familiar yet disturbing feeling that makes the short hairs on the back of your neck rise and a chill shoot up your spine.
Yes, that's the one, and that name was the reason for it. Many years have passed since I'd seen him, even more since I'd seen him wrestle, yet I still feel a sense of loss, which made it real for me. In my mind a flood of childhood memories came rushing back! As a young boy I remember witnessing a true innovator, pioneer and wrestling savant on that little black and white television screen.
I saw “the Flying Frenchman,” and he was a real man who did things in the ring that George Reeves, aka TV’s “Superman,” could not do. I didn’t know it then, but his incredible gymnastics style and athletic physique were remarkable to behold. He brought changes to pro wrestling that astounded all who saw him work his magic.
Here are a few video clips to give all who wish a sample of this man’s talents courtesy of YouTube:
This man wowed the crowds with backflips, somersaults and cartwheels that drove his opponents to distraction. He wrestled at a time when wrestling was both shoot style and some was scripted. He wrestled the likes of the Original Nature Boy Buddy Rogers, Killer Kowalski, Don Leo Jonathan and Hans Schmidt.
He was also teamed with Bruno Sammartino, Antonio Rocco and Raymond Rougeau. He also trained and was a tag partner with a certain Giant Jean Ferre, who everyone now knows as “Andre the Giant.” He was a high flier who used the ring ropes and turnbuckles as trampolines and vaulting apparatuses and who all today's high fliers can thank for pioneering such innovations in the ring.
Yes, he was the “Flying Frenchman”—someone who really did live up to his billing! His innovative style and aerial acrobatics had many announcers coin the phrase “High Flier” when he performed. It was for him that the term High Flier began to gain popularity.
But what about the man himself?
Who was Edouard Weicz Carpentier?
Edouard Ignacz Weiczorkiewicz was the full name he received from his parents at his birth. Hardly a French-sounding name to be sure, and definitely not one you'd expect given the region of the French countryside where he was to start his life. Yet this was the one his father and mother welcomed him into their family. Yes, born he was on July the 17th in the year 1926.
Although he was born in Roanne, Loire, France, which is just outside Lyon, his background was not just French. His father, a Russian national, was a local innkeeper in Roanne. His mother was also not French by birth, being a Polish national herself. A Russian father, Polish mother and he a Frenchman, at least geographically.
His father and his mother had moved there and enjoyed living in the small town. All was well until the outbreak of World War II. With Germany under Nazi rule, France soon was attacked. Falling to the German war machine life changed for the region.
Young Edouard grew up in France during the Nazi occupation of that country. He was just a teenaged boy yet a full fighting member of the Underground, the famous French Resistance during World War II. His bravery and fighting skill was of enough heroic caliber to be recognized.
He was captured by the invaders at age 16 and escaped being taken a prisoner of the Nazis in one of their concentration camps. Joining the Resistance, he acquitted himself well enough to be decorated for bravery.
For his efforts, he was the recipient of both the Croix des combattants and Croix de Guerre medals. Edouard received them from the French government at the end of the war! His heroics weren't only just in the pro wrestling ring; he was a real life, medal-bedecked, card-carrying, bona fide hero!
He was a very gifted athlete as he showed by being picked and participating in the Olympics on the French Olympic gymnastics team. He qualified in trampoline and rings for both the Summer Olympics in London England in 1948 and four years later in Helsinki, Finland in 1952.
However, being relegated to an alternate position both times, he was unsuccessful in gaining an Olympic medal at either, but he would continue to perfect those gymnastic skills. Being so predisposed in gymnastics, his athletic tendencies were aptly engaged by making the world of professional wrestling his focus for most of his adult life.
So how did the war hero, the world-class gymnast and the athlete Edouard Ignacz Weiczorkiewicz become the professional wrestler Edouard Carpentier?
Edouard was discovered by Lino Ventura, a stunt coordinator, while in France, who suggested he take up Greco-Roman wrestling. It was during this time that two French Canadian wrestlers, Larry (Laurent) Moquin and M. Frank Valois, saw him while they were on tour in France.
They were so impressed with the European champion that they told their promoter Eddie Quinn about this amazing find. Quinn, a shrewd businessman, listened and then sent Yvon Robert with these two, telling him to check Edouard to how good he really was. So now they went back to France, and first contact was made.
To assess this French phenom they set up a tag match with Yvon Robert and Edouard Weicz as he went by, pitting them against the team of Moquin and Valois.
To really test Edouard, Robert didn't tag up much with Edouard. He did this to better be able to watch him wrestle. Once the match was over, Robert, as a co-promoter in Quebec, offered Edouard a contract on the spot. This was the opportunity of a pro wrestling career for him in their native Canada.
His exploits in European pro wrestling had him a European Champion in short order with no competition to test himself against. To quote Edouard himself, "When I come in 1956, I come because I'm the European champion and I have no more competition," as Carpentier replied in a 1999 interview in his native Montreal.
Yes, Eddie Quinn, the Montreal promoter, saw Carpentier's potential and soon promoted Edouard throughout the wrestling circuit regions of North America.
To garner that fierce French Canadian pride of the Montreal fans and those of the province of Quebec, Edouard adopted his stage name came from the famous French boxer Georges Carpentier. The implication was that he was related to George through blood, but this was only for promotion, nothing more!
In 1957 he did the unthinkable by beating Lou Thesz in Chicago June the 14th, becoming the NWA Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.
Many stories are to be found about the amazing bouts and the accomplishments amassed, but they are enough to fill a book, so I will stop here.
To the family of this man, my deepest condolences. You have the memories and his love! We, the fans, grieve with you and mourn the passing of one of the real greats of the squared circle.
Goodbye champ—rest in peace!
Besides my own memories, here are some sites that have been my sources for this tribute to a hero from my childhood. That, my friends, comes from a time when professional wrestling was that—“professional”! Thanks for reading!!
Canadian Pro Wrestling Page Of Fame @ www.garywill.com/wrestling/canada
Slam Sports, 123people.ca, Claude "The Duke" Leduc, WRESTLING TITLES, Wikipedia http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/2010/11/01/15909511.html