The world of professional wrestling has lost another legend…
Joe Scarpa, 83, a Philadelphia native who became one of the best-known professional wrestlers of the 1970s and ’80s after he took on the persona of Chief Jay Strongbow, an American Indian whose war dance foretold the downfall of many opponents, died on Tuesday. He had reportedly suffered a fall at his home in Griffin, Ga., last year and never fully recovered. Mr. Scarpa began his career in 1947 as Joltin’ Joe Scarpa. He put on his feathered headdress in 1970 and began performing as Chief Jay Strongbow, one of many wrestlers who fought as ethnic caricatures in the 1970s and ’80s; the Iron Sheik and Mr. Fuji were among the others.
Mr. Scarpa, an Italian American, bought into the role. In addition to his sleeper hold – a choke hold that appeared to render an opponent unconscious – he used signature moves such as the tomahawk chop and Indian death lock. Mr. Scarpa won the world tag team championship four times. He was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1994. LINK
Like many kids growing up in the 70’s professional wrestling was a TV favorite of mine. Considered by many (including myself) to be the golden era of TV wrestling, weekends were filled with battles between colorful characters like Chief Jay and others. Chief Jay Strongbow was always a fan favorite. I never knew he wasn’t a real Native American but that never mattered. I can only imagine what an uproar such a portrayal would cause today. Back then we all understood it was all in good fun. Life wasn’t always so serious and political correctness hadn’t warped our every judgement.
An Italian guy from Philly playing an American Indian in a wrestling spectacle was just good clean fun and we loved it. I remember lazy saturday afternoons sitting in the big recliner in our row house living room cheering on the Chief and my other favorites. God speed Chief Jay, may the Great Spirit guide you home.