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So long, Captain

October 16, 2009 - John Mehno

Captain Lou Albano died the other day at 76 after struggling with a number of health issues, including Alzheimer's.

Lou was one of the few old-time wrestlers who was able to stick around for the national expansion and make some money in the Wrestlemania era. By then he'd been reinvented as a manager, a career switch that was suggested to the old WWWF  by none other than Bruno Sammartino.

Lou was an average wrestler who spent most of his career in The Sicilians tag team with Tony Altomare. They worked preliminary matches a lot, but in Pittsburgh, where Bruno owned the promotion, they were main eventers. Albano wasn't a great technician in the ring, but he had a knack for infuriating fans. And that, really, is what professional wrestling was all about. You bought tickets because you wanted to see the bad guys get what they had coming.

Back in the day, wrestlers would come into Pittsburgh for the weekend. They'd work shows on Friday and Saturday nights, plus live TV on Saturday evening. They stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel on Sixth Street, and Frenchy's restaurant across the street was the big hangout. Lou was one of those people who got more aggressive when he drank, and he was the central figure in more than one melee that spilled out into Sixth Street.

He was effective as a manager because he was an expert at working a crowd. He would sneak in cheap shots, and his off-the-wall style on interviews worked well. As he gained weight, Albano started wearing Hawaiian shirts that he'd leave open to show his giant belly. He put safety pins and rubber bands in his face. Anything to get people going.

Lou was fired dozens of times, mostly for incidents related to his drinking. But they always brought him back because he was money in the bank. In later years, he focused on doing work for charity.

"Captain Lou" was a one of a kind character, but I'll always remember him best as half of The Sicilians. Here's a photo of Lou (right) with partner Tony Altomare.

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