September 15, 1954|
Buffalo, New York
|Died||July 4, 1988
Lewisporte, Newfoundland, Canada
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Adrian Adonis
|Billed height||6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)|
|Billed weight||338 lb (153 kg)|
|Billed from||New York City|
|Trained by||Fred Atkins|
Professional wrestling career
Early career (1974-1979)
Franke trained under Fred Atkins and debuted in 1974, wrestling under his real name. In the late 1970s, he adopted the ring name Adrian Adonis and the character of a brawling, leather jacket-clad biker.
American Wrestling Association (1979-1981)
In the late 1970s, Adonis joined the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association. In 1979, he formed a tag team with Jesse Ventura. The team was called the East-West Connection because Adonis was from New York (in the East), while Ventura was from California (in the West). The East-West Connection was awarded the AWA World Tag Team Championship on July 20, 1980, when Verne Gagne (one half of the tag champions with Mad Dog Vachon) was unable to defend it because he was vacationing in Europe. They held the belts until June 14, 1981, when they were defeated by Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell.
World Wrestling Federation
Adonis and Ventura debuted in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) later that year, working both as a team and in singles matches. Adonis was a frequent challenger of WWF Champion Bob Backlund and Intercontinental Champion Pedro Morales throughout the first half of 1982.
When injuries caused Ventura to stop wrestling regularly, Adonis formed a tag team with the Texan Dick Murdoch, called the North-South Connection. The team debuted in late 1983. Around this time, Adonis (who had previously been a beefy but generally conditioned man) gained a large amount of fat. On April 17, 1984, The North-South Connection defeated Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson to win the WWF World Tag Team Championship. They held the title until January 21, 1985, when they were defeated by Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo. The team split shortly after the loss.
"Adorable" Adrian Adonis
In late 1985, after being briefly managed by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and adopting the DDT as a finisher, Adonis' gimmick began to change. First, Jimmy Hart became his manager. With Hart in his corner, he defeated Corporal Kirchner to advance in The Wrestling Classic pay-per-view tournament in November, then lost to Dynamite Kid in the quarterfinals. In early 1986, Adonis started carrying a briefcase with the phrase "Relax with Trudi" on it and a spray called Fragrance. During an edition of Piper's Pit, Adonis gave his signature leather jacket away to host Roddy Piper (who wore it for years afterward). Adonis then became the effeminate "Adorable" Adrian Adonis, bleaching his hair blonde and wearing pink ring attire, as well as scarves, leg warmers, dresses, hats, and clownish amounts of eye shadow and rouge. Around this time, his weight ballooned, peaking at over 350 lb (160 kg; 25 st). He defeated Uncle Elmer in quick fashion at WrestleMania 2 and feuded extensively with the Junkyard Dog and George "The Animal" Steele, while also unsuccessfully challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship on multiple occasions.
In May 1986, during Piper's five-month hiatus from the WWF, Adonis (with Hart) debuted his own talk segment, The Flower Shop. These segments were the primary backdrop for Paul Orndorff's slow-building heel turn against his friend Hulk Hogan, with Adonis relentlessly needling Orndorff about living in Hogan's shadow. In August, shortly before Piper's return, Adonis obtained the services of Piper's bodyguard, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, who took to wearing a pink cowboy hat. A feud with Piper heated up when Adonis, Orton, and Don Muraco attacked him during a "duel" between the two talk segments, injuring his leg, covering him in lipstick and damaging the Pit set. A week later, Piper destroyed the set of The Flower Shop with a baseball bat. It was never rebuilt. On the October 4 edition of Saturday Night's Main Event, Piper struck Adonis with a crutch, resulting in a two month absence from TV with an alleged separated shoulder. After Adonis returned in November to attack Piper on the Pit, the two agreed to a hair vs. hair match at WrestleMania III. Piper won the bout with help from Brutus Beefcake, who cut off the majority of Adonis' hair afterward.
Return to AWA (1987-1988)
Franke (now with a shaved head) left the WWF shortly after WrestleMania III and returned to the AWA, where he was managed by Paul E. Dangerously during 1987. He maintained his "Adorable" Adrian Adonis gimmick, feuded with Tommy Rich and lost the final match of the AWA International Television Championship tournament to Greg Gagne in December 1987.
Early in 1988, Franke was scheduled to tour New Japan Pro Wrestling along with other AWA talent, but an ankle injury kept him from participating. In addition to this financial setback, Verne Gagne stopped paying his weekly salary. When Gagne turned down his plea for financial help, Franke unsuccessfully tried to return to the WWF.
Franke was killed on July 4, 1988, in Lewisporte, Newfoundland, in a minivan with fellow wrestlers William "Mike Kelly" Arko, Victor "Pat Kelly" Arko, and Dave "Wildman" McKigney. Franke, McKigney, and Victor Arko were killed when the driver, William Arko, allegedly swerved to avoid hitting a moose and, blinded by the setting sun, inadvertently drove into a lake. William Arko was the sole survivor and sustained severe leg injuries.
Championships and accomplishments
- NWA Hollywood Wrestling
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Southwest Championship Wrestling
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
- "Adrian Adonis profile". Online World of Wrestling. Archived from the original on 2 December 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-12.
- Schramm, C. (July 4, 2001). "Triumph and tragedy on July 4th". Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
The year before was not as lucky for three men. Mike Kelly was driving Adrian Adonis, Dave "The Wildman" McKigney, and his twin brother Pat Kelly in Lewisporte, Newfoundland, when Kelly lost control of the van, trying to avoid a moose. The van went off of a bridge into a creek. Mike Kelly was the lone survivor.
- Shields, Brian; Kevin Sullivan (March 2009). WWE Encyclopedia. Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 978-0-7566-4190-0.
- "Adrian Adonis". Accelerator3359.com. Retrieved May 31, 2007.
- Milner, J. "Jesse Ventura". Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
- "History of the World Tag Team Championship". WWE.com. Archived from the original on 15 May 2007. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
- Duncan, R. and Will, G. (2007). "WWWF/WWF/WWE Tag Team Title History". Solie.org. Archived from the original on 13 June 2007. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
- "Deaths - FAQ". WrestleView.com. Archived from the original on May 13, 2007. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
On July 4, 1988, Keith "Adrian Adonis" Franke died when his rented minivan hit a moose while on a wrestling tour in Newfoundland, Canada. Moose/vehicle accidents are rather common in Newfoundland in the summer months, however very few are fatal (maybe 5-6 deaths per year). Adonis' accident happened just before sunset, with the low-lying sun blinding the driver. In the crash were wrestlers Pat Kelly and Dave McKigney. The driver who was also a wrestler Mike Kelly was not killed but had a severely injured leg.
- "Dave 'Wildman' McKigney". Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
- "Kelly Twins, Pat & Mike". Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved May 30, 2007.