Tojo Yamamoto was one of the most notorious and successful heels in professional wrestling history. He played the role of a ruthless Japanese villain who provoked the anger and hatred of the American fans. He was also a loyal and respected wrestler who held numerous titles and trained many future stars. But behind his fearsome persona, he was a troubled man who struggled with depression and loneliness. His life ended in a tragic suicide in 1992. This article will explore the life and death of Tojo Yamamoto, and his lasting legacy in the wrestling industry.
Early Life and Career
Tojo Yamamoto was born as Harold Watanabe in Hawaii in 1927 to a Japanese father and an American mother. He served in the United States Marine Corps and worked as a judo instructor. He started his wrestling career in the late 1950s as P.Y. Chung, working in the Northeast and the Carolinas. He later adopted the name Tojo Yamamoto, combining the names of two infamous Japanese leaders who were involved in the bombing of Pearl Harbor: Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. He used this name to capitalize on the anti-Japanese sentiment that still lingered in the US after World War II.
Rise to Fame and Infamy
Yamamoto moved to Tennessee in the early 1960s and became a mainstay in the NWA Mid-America territory, run by promoters Nick Gulas and Roy Welch. He quickly established himself as one of the top heels in the region, using his martial arts skills, foreign objects, and dirty tactics to cheat and defeat his opponents. He also used his broken English and exaggerated mannerisms to mock and insult the American fans, who responded with boos, jeers, and sometimes violence. He was known for his infamous pre-match speech, where he would pretend to apologize for the Pearl Harbor attack, only to reveal that he wished Japan had bombed the town he was in instead. He was so convincing in his role that he often received death threats and had to be escorted by police to and from the arenas.
Yamamoto had a long and successful career as both a singles and a tag team wrestler. He held over 50 tag team titles with various partners, including Jerry Jarrett, Jackie Fargo, Jerry Lawler, and Bobby Eaton. He also held three singles titles, including the NWA Mid-America Heavyweight Championship, the most prestigious title in his home territory. He was a master of psychology and storytelling in the ring, and could have a good match with anyone. He was also a mentor and trainer to many young wrestlers, such as Jarrett, Lawler, Eaton, and Jimmy Hart. He taught them the basics of wrestling, as well as how to draw heat and work the crowd.
Personal Life and Demise
Despite his fame and success in wrestling, Yamamoto had a difficult personal life. He was married four times and had several children, but he was often away from his family due to his busy schedule. He also suffered from chronic pain and injuries from his years of wrestling, and became addicted to painkillers and alcohol. He was diagnosed with diabetes and had to undergo several surgeries, including a kidney transplant. He became depressed and isolated, and felt that he had no purpose or friends in his life. He also faced financial problems, as he had spent most of his earnings and had no savings or pension.
On February 19, 1992, Yamamoto was found dead in his home in Hermitage, Tennessee. He had shot himself in the head with a pistol, ending his life at the age of 65. He left behind a note that read: “I’m sorry. I love you all. Please forgive me.” His death shocked and saddened the wrestling community, who remembered him as a great wrestler and a good friend. He was buried in Nashville, and his funeral was attended by many of his colleagues and fans.
Legacy and Impact
Tojo Yamamoto is widely regarded as one of the greatest heels and performers in wrestling history. He was a pioneer of the Japanese heel gimmick, and influenced many other wrestlers who followed his footsteps, such as Mr. Fuji, The Great Kabuki, and The Great Muta. He was also a respected and influential figure in the Tennessee wrestling scene, and helped shape the careers of many stars, such as Lawler, Jarrett, Hart, and Eaton. He was inducted into several wrestling halls of fame, including the NWA Hall of Fame, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.
Tojo Yamamoto was a complex and tragic character, who lived a life of fame, glory, pain, and sorrow. He was a wrestling legend who entertained and enraged millions of fans, and a troubled man who struggled with his demons and loneliness. He was a hero and a villain, a friend and a foe, a mentor and a student. He was Tojo Yamamoto, and he will never be forgotten.