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February 25, 1926|
Camden, New Jersey
|Died||September 7, 2007
Maple Shade Township, New Jersey
|Professional wrestling career|
Billy Darnell (February 25, 1926 – September 7, 2007) was an American professional wrestler and major star of the 1940s and 1950s, with his career spanning over twenty years with championships in the National Wrestling Alliance and World Wide Wrestling Federation.
Darnell was born in Camden, New Jersey. At age 16, while working as a lifeguard in Wildwood, New Jersey, he was playfighting with co-workers when a wrestling promoter spotted him and asked him to help with his roster, as many current ones were seeing action in World War II.
His first match with later rival Buddy Rogers was in February 1944, tagging with him in Philadelphia and Baltimore-Washington. Darnell would himself leave wrestling for World War II service in December 1944, joining the United States Army. Post-war Darnell returned to wrestling in Texas, once more with Rogers, who had previously wrestled under his real name Herman Rohde. At the time he was becoming "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, and Darnell was booked as his brother Billy Rogers. This was largely in part to promoter and Rogers' booker Jack Pfefer, though Darnell himself has stated he wasn't sure if the idea for the brother gimmick was Rogers' or Pfefer's.
Darnell and Rogers next went to California, with wrestling reaching new popularity thanks to television exposure. For the showmanship of it Rogers donned sequined capes, whereas Darnell first donned the leopard-skin outfit, for which he would become famous. Their careers would become forever intertwined when they began facing each other with Rogers as the heel champion and Darnell becoming a heavy fan favorite. Promoters nationwide wanted the Rogers-Darnell match, with more than 200 matches occurring between them. Despite their history Rogers still crushed discs in Darnell's neck with a botched piledriver, though he himself accidentally knocked out some of Rogers' teeth. Les Thatcher has even stated that Darnell's matches with Rogers inspired him to enter the wrestling business.
Darnell was also known for a well recognized team with Bill Melby, winning the Chicago version of the NWA World Tag Team Championship with him in 1953. In 1954, he worked with Sam Muchnick in St. Louis and also booked for an Indiana promotion. In a televised match on 20 May 1961, Darnell beat Ali Pasha (Alexander Vieira Fontes) who died of a heart attack after being slammed down.
He used his World War II G.I. Bill to attend aviation school and become a pilot, flying himself to his matches. He also ran a nightclub until 1985. Though Darnell retired in 1961, he would wrestle sparsely into the next year, then went to a chiropractic school in Glendale, California, finishing in Indiana. He would begin practicing in his home of New Jersey and moved to Florida for a period, getting back in touch with Rogers, before returning to New Jersey. Darnell regularly attended Cauliflower Alley Club reunions and received the Senator Hugh Farley Award from the Amsterdam, New York-based Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Darnell died on September 7, 2007 at his home in Maple Shade Township, New Jersey.
Championships and accomplishments
- Cauliflower Alley Club
- Other honoree (2004)
- National Wrestling Alliance
- Midwest Wrestling Association
- Worldwide Wrestling Associates
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum
- 2007 Senator Hugh Farley Award recipient
- Other Titles
- World Heavyweight Championship (Jack Pfeffer version) 
- Steven Johnson. "Billy Darnell was a consummate fan favourite". SLAM! Sports. Retrieved 2008-01-30.
- Steven Johnson; Greg Oliver; Mike Mooneyham; J. J. Dillon (1 October 2012). The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes and Icons. ECW Press. pp. 344–. ISBN 978-1-77090-269-5.
- "N.W.A. World Tag Team Title (Chicago & Indianapolis)". Puroresu Dojo. 2003.
- "World Tag Team Title (Los Angeles)". Puroresu Dojo. 2003.
- "Ohio Heavyweight Title". Puroresu Dojo. 2003.
- "Ohio Tag Team Title". Puroresu Dojo. 2003.
- "International Television Tag Team Title (Los Angeles)". Puroresu Dojo. 2003.
- "World Heavyweight title (by Jack Pfeffer)". Puroresu Dojo. 2003.