AS I SEE IT: Remembering Again…
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets
As I do each time July 4 comes close…I remember the passing of former WWF referee Joey Marella, who died 21 years ago as the result of an automobile accident on the New Jersey Turnpike, while traveling to Newark, NJ from a WWF show in Ocean City, MD.
But since that tragedy happened, so much has taken place in our world and in all of our lives. The world is a very different place than it was then, with terrorism (both foreign and domestic) and war now an everyday concern. The fruit of our country’s youth has come home in body bags from Iraq and Afghanistan. Others are living without arms or legs, or physically damaged by the horrors of war.
Along with this anniversary, I’m thinking a bit more about the issue of people with wrestling suffering untimely deaths (whatever the cause or reason) after the recent passings of Dusty Rhodes and Buddy Landel….and of course, this past December, my own Mom.
The death of one person, and our need to remember them, still stands out above and beyond things that we often can’t understand or control; like terrorists using God’s name as a justification for their actions, or people hating in God’s Name, or the actions of nation against nation, or the actions of nations against their own citizens. We have to remember those who are and who were important within our lives…or within our areas of personal interest, like wrestling. If we do, they continue to live on…if only in our memories.
So as we celebrate another July 4, I do my annual remembrance. It has a foreword from Kathy Fitzpatrick, who is, as always, is mentioned in the article below:
“On this 4th of July after the picnics and parades, I always do one thing that I thought I wouldn’t ever have to start a tradition of doing…going to the cemetery to remember a dear friend, Joey Marella. Joey was taken away from his friends and family way too soon, and this is the anniversary of his passing.
That fateful day will always stay with me no matter whatever may happen to me. The reason it sticks with me is that I was one of the last people to see Joey. it was after a WWE show in Ocean City, MD and I was staying with friend in Baltimore. I am the person that Bob speaks about in the column below that wanted Joey to stay with us. But Joey and Bruno Lauer had to go to Newark to drop a car off and fly out.
I will always remember his last words to me… no, nothing mushy… just “call me I go to the Philippines on Friday’. Well, that Friday was when Joey was laid to rest in New Jersey. Joey was a great friend and will always have a special place in my heart.
I just want to say that Joey was a very important person to me and so many other friends and co-workers; and on this remembrance of his passing. I just wanted to remember a friend by saying I love you Joey. My prayers are always with your family…
Looking back on the memory of…
The dance we shared…
‘neath the stars alone…
For a moment…
all the world was right…
How could I have known…
that you’d ever say goodbye…
Dance, (Garth Brooks and Tony Arata, 1989)
Every July 4th, most people remember the holiday for fireworks, barbecues, and patriotic speeches. But some of us remember it each year for different reasons.
I remember July 4, 1994, all too well. I was sitting down, eating lunch, getting ready to watch an early round World Cup soccer game when the phone rang…two friends, one of whom was a ECW referee; had left messages on my phone within five minutes, but I didn’t think anything of it.
Then the phone rang again. I finally picked it up, realizing something had to be wrong. I heard the agonized voice of a friend over the line… I could make out about every third word being said. Gradually, I pieced together the news.
Joey Marella had been killed in an automobile accident while returning from a WWF show in Ocean City, MD the previous evening. He had fallen asleep at the wheel on the New Jersey Turnpike; and was involved in a one car accident together with Bruno “Harvey Whippleman” Lauer. Joey wasn’t wearing a seat belt, and was killed only miles from the Marella family home in Willingboro, NJ.
Only hours before, my friend had been with Joey and friends after the show…they’d tried to get him to crash with them up in Baltimore, but Joey told them he had to get going, up to Newark Airport before going overseas. The person was on the phone going through horrible, but unnecessary, guilt for somehow not making Joey come to Baltimore with her.
For many readers of this column who might not have been around back then, Joey Marella was a WWF referee who worked many high-profile WWF matches during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Joey’s career highlights include PPV main events, such as the legendary Hogan-Andre the Giant match at WrestleMania III from the Pontiac Silverdome in March 1987, Ric Flair‘s first WWF title win at Royal Rumble 1992, Bret Hart-Davey Boy Smith at Summer Slam 1992 from London’s Wembley Stadium, and Owen Hart-Razor Ramon in the final match at King of the Ring 1994 from Baltimore. He also worked many high profile WWF TV events, including the NBC and Fox Saturday Night Main Event shows, and the 1993 debut of Monday Night RAW. Joey even made a brief appearance as himself in the Hulk Hogan movie “No Holds Barred”.
Aside from the ring, some readers may even know he was the adopted son of Robert (Gorilla Monsoon) Marella. This led to a running inside joke on WWF TV of Monsoon telling viewers how “horrible” that referee Joey Marella was each time Joey “missed” heel interference in a match.
But some knew another side to Joey.
Joey Marella was a “big brother” to many within the wrestling business, particularly the World Wrestling Federation. He was always there with a shoulder to lean on, or with time to listen to those who needed it.
Joey was loved by many, including a friend of mine who was quite close to him, who’s kept a special place in her heart for him to this day….the same friend of mine I told you about earlier.
I knew Joey through this friend, so on that July 4th, the feelings weren’t from the death of someone distant. They were strong and deeply personal. Joey’s loss was felt deeply by many in and out of the World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment. The loss is still felt deeply to this day.
As one example, WWE ring announcer Tony Chimel (the announcer on Smackdown and house shows) named his newest son after his friend (who had been Godfather to his other two children) Joey Marella.
Some would argue the young Joey Chimel is just as mischievous as his namesake. One hopes he’s half as good a person.
On this upcoming July 4th holiday, please keep a special place in your thoughts for Joey Marella, who left this world at the age of 31. Keep also in your thoughts those others who left wrestling far richer for having been a part of it, yet poorer for having left the business and their loved ones too soon.
Finally, on this upcoming July 4th weekend, I’ll repeat the motto I leave you with frequently: Be sure to treasure those in your own lives… for we are never promised tomorrow.
“And now, I’m glad I didn’t know…
The way it all would end…
The way it all would go…
Our lives are better left to chance…
I could have missed the pain…
But I’d of had to miss the dance…”
I once received a kind letter from Joey’s sister Valerie regarding the version of this column that was published in 2002:
“I just happened to come across your article about Joey while I was at work, and I wanted to thank you. You really seemed to know a lot about him, not just as a referee, because we both know he was so much more than that.
I am his younger sister, and in addition to Tony Chimel naming his son after him, I had twin boys 2 years after he died; and named one Joey after him, and named the other Gino after my father.
Thanks for making my day.”
Hopefully…in an era when lives seem to mean a lot less, when war, terrorism, and 24 hour cable/satellite TV, together with social media, make the deaths of Americans and others in foreign lands reported on the news as far too close to scores in some obscene video game; we can remember Joey’s passing in some manner similar to the way his sister did…and take time to remember those important in our own lives.
Take a minute to say a prayer for or give a thought to them, as well as all within wrestling who’ve left us too soon as you approach this holiday weekend; and remember to see human beings, and not just as anonymous performers when you watch RAW, Smackdown, TNA, Ring of Honor. or your local independent promotion…because some of those performers were and are remarkable human beings.
Until next time…