August 3, 1934|
|Died||December 7, 1989(aged 55)|
|Professional wrestling career|
|Billed height||6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)|
|Billed weight||640 lbs (290 kg)|
|Billed from||Morgan's Corner, Arkansas|
The gargantuan wrestler was one of the foremost drawing cards during the industry’s “Golden Age” of the 1950s and 1960s, sporting his trademark white T-shirt, blue overalls, and horseshoe necklace. He is recognized as a chief pioneer of the sport’s super-heavyweight attractions.
Born on August 3, 1934, William Dee Calhoun grew up on a farm in McKinney, Texas; a rural suburb located in Collin County about 30 mi (48 km) north of Dallas. William was an unusually large child with an extraordinary appetite, it was said that he regularly ate a dozen eggs for breakfast; and by age 14, he already weighed 300 lb (140 kg). Still wanting to get bigger, by the time he was in his early 20s, Calhoun tipped the scales at over 600 lb (270 kg), prompting his personal physician to suggest he did not have long to live, unless he reformed his diet.
However, Calhoun enjoyed his enormous size and owned an astonishing degree of physical strength in that he was usually able to perform the manual labor of several men while working on his family’s farm. In fact, legend says that Calhoun was eventually discovered by a group of traveling wrestling promoters while physically moving his cows by literally picking them up off the ground and carrying them across the field. Regardless, Calhoun first broke into the sport in 1955; and he began competing for local promoter (and the inaugural National Wrestling Alliance World Champion) Orville Brown, who recognized how a behemoth of his size could become a major box office attraction for a sport that was in great need of added popularity.
Initially performing under the name “Country Boy Calhoun”, he soon established himself as a feature attraction due to his mammoth size performing in various regional territories, including Houston, Kansas City, and even in Canada. However, he first burst upon the national scene while appearing on Art Linkletter’s House Party, a televised variety show where Calhoun’s brute strength was showcased as he tossed bales of hay into a high loft. As a result, he was consequently given the nickname “Haystacks”; recognizing the showbiz potential of such a gimmick, Calhoun looked to exaggerate on his hillbilly persona by adopting the stage birthplace of Morgan’s Corner, Arkansas, while sporting a bushy beard, white tee-shirt, blue overalls, and a genuine horseshoe around his neck. Despite his imposing presence, Haystacks Calhoun possessed a mild-mannered reputation as a charming country boy; and he thus became a favorite of the fans, as word quickly spread of this 640 lb (290 kg) colossus. Moreover while promoters rarely considered Calhoun to be championship-material, he seldom ever lost a match; and he was often booked in special attraction bouts, competing in handicap matches and battle royals, much the same way that André the Giant would be booked a couple decades later.
However, while Haystacks Calhoun’s gargantuan size contributed to his wrestling celebrity, he was determined not to be stereotyped as a carnival attraction; he was revolutionary in that he was the sport’s first super-heavyweight who actually possessed a genuine repertoire of grappling maneuvers. In addition, he eventually became renowned for delivering his “Big Splash” finisher. In fact, never was Calhoun’s “athleticism” more evident than when he was matched up against fellow wrestling giant Happy Humphrey (real name: William Cobb) in a series of highly anticipated altercations during the early 1960s. At over 800 lb (360 kg), Happy Humphrey actually outweighed Calhoun by over 150 lb (68 kg), yet Humphrey was barely able to move himself around the ring. Conversely, Haystacks was an accomplished wrestler, and he consequently took the majority of the decisions, many by countout (as Humphrey often could not get himself back into the ring by the count of 20).
Throughout the 1960s, Haystacks Calhoun continued to serve among the sport’s most sought-after box office attractions, as his presence usually ensured sell-outs and record gate receipts for industry promoters. Being the only man to lift Haystacks off his feet contributed to the career and legend of Bruno Sammartino. Although mainly active in the eastern half of the United States, he also wrestled in Australia, on tour with other American wrestlers in bouts promoted by U.S. promoter Sam Menacker. He also wrestled for NWA: All-Star Wrestling in Vancouver, where he twice won the NWA Canadian Tag Team title with Don Leo Jonathan. He formed a tag team with the over 600 lb (270 kg) Mountain Man Mike on the West Coast. At a combined weight of over 1,200 lb (540 kg), they are the second heaviest tag team in professional wrestling history. (The heaviest being the McGuire twins.) After engaging in a memorable feud against legendary rulebreaker Dick the Bruiser, Calhoun then generally traveled from territory to territory, never staying in one region for too long so as to maintain his status as a celebrated babyface enforcer. As a result, Haystacks subsequently established himself as one of the most well-known wrestlers in North America, with his mainstream popularity eclipsing that of the World Heavyweight Champion at times. Moreover, Calhoun soon emerged as perhaps the sport’s premier break-out television superstar, as he was a familiar sight on Thursday night televised wrestling shows across the country.
Despite never really challenging for the World Title, Haystacks Calhoun nonetheless excelled in the tag team division; and in 1966 he won both the Tri-States U.S. Tag Team Titles and the NWA Canadian Tag Team Titles while teaming with Jack Brisco and Don Leo Jonathan, respectively. Moreover, he then helped attract fans to a fledgling Northeast promotion known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation, where he was a consistent attraction at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden. On May 30, 1973, Calhoun even paired with Tony Garea to defeat the feared Japanese duo of Mr. Fuji & Prof. Toru Tanaka for the WWWF Tag Team Titles. However, his massive weight and ailing health eventually forced him into retirement, and he was ultimately confined to a double-wide trailer after losing his left leg to diabetes in 1986. He died at age 55 on December 7, 1989; and WWE has since honored him among its 50 all time greatest wrestlers. He is buried in Scott Cemetery, Collin County, Texas. His only daughter, Kathy, donated mementos of his wrestling career to the Collin County museum.
As one of the sport’s premier all-time box office attractions, he laid the groundwork for future ring goliaths like Gorilla Monsoon, André the Giant, The One Man Gang and King Kong Bundy, as well as serving as the muse for various “country-bumpkin” brawlers like Hillbilly Jim, Uncle Elmer, and the Godwinns.
Calhoun was more directly an influence on British superheavyweight wrestler Martin Ruane, best known in America for his stint as Loch Ness in WCW. Ruane achieved household fame in his home country as Giant Haystacks, a modified heel version of Calhoun's gimmick. Ruane first wrestled as "Haystacks Calhoun", a direct copy of the American original, while working for Wrestling Enterprises (of Birkenhead) in the early 1970s, before modifying his name and character. Thus adapted, Ruane would later move to Joint Promotions where he would achieve television exposure and national fame as the tag team partner - and later archenemy - of Big Daddy
Calhoun is also known for collapsing the lung of an opponent while training early in his career. The lawsuit that followed, in which Calhoun was acquitted of all charges, is thought to have made a name for the up-and-coming wrestler, as it was in the news for several weeks.
Calhoun appears briefly at the end of the 1962 theatrical motion picture version of Rod Serling's teleplay "Requiem For A Heavyweight." The protagonist, played by Anthony Quinn, is a punch-drunk prize fighter slipping into oblivion but his manager, played by Jackie Gleason, finds a way to squeeze a few more bucks from his career by lining him up for a "professional wrestling" match. The opponent's name is stated on a poster for the event, and announced as Quinn's character approaches the ring, but only the upper fourth of the wrestler's torso is seen, from the rear, on screen. He scratches his head in response to the behavior of this unknown newcomer. The film's credits make no reference, however, to Calhoun's participation.
Championships and accomplishments
- NWA: All-Star Wrestling
- NWA Tri-State
- World Wide Wrestling Federation
- OWW Profile
- Find a Grave has a picture of Calhoun
- William 'Haystacks' Calhoun at the Internet Movie Database
- Haystacks Calhoun photos from the Collin County Historical Society, hosted by the Portal to Texas History
- Deceased Superstars - Haystacks Calhoun
- Haystacks Calhoun