by Mike Lano
RIP Billy (who I stayed in contact with since we became pals in '72 while shooting WWWF stuff ringside
Just seconds ago received an email from Karen saying Billy Kunkel had passed away. Wasn’t it just days ago he, Phantom, Karen, Bill’s loving wife Laurie and I were all emailing back and forth about some ridiculous thing in wrestling like Matt Hardy’s behavior or WWE blowing CM Punk’s momentum? But this isn’t some ridiculous storyline. This is a real and true family member. Gone? Why?
Bill, I’m hoping this is just your possible Andy Kaufmanesque rib and that we’ll learn you’re alive and well. But I know Laurie and Karen would never make light of something this serious. That makes it really tougher to digest and process.
Bill and Arnie Katz were “it” back east (before he and Laurie moved more recently to Vegas, then Michigan) in the early 70′s. They had one of the earliest wrestling radio shows ever, alongside that of Bill Apter (which catapulted him to becoming my editor at Stanley Weston’s magazines, and Bill said he helped his two friends out, and there was a lot of mutual respect.) They produced programs and magazines for WWWF, they shot alongside me, George N, Apter, Frank Amato and others ringside at MSG, Boston Garden, Philly Spectrum and other Vince Sr. venues along with tv. Bill also was the master at making fun of perhaps the worst wrestling radio show of all time in Jimmy Mack and Jay Rose circa 1975, which we’d bring up and recollect for years and years. Few remembered their dates and history like Billy. Forgive me if I continually call him a genius. But Phantom and guys, wasn’t he? He was.
Bill accomplished all the above with style, and far more. Then he re-invented himself in the 80′s and became the premiere wrestling comic writer and cartoon artist which turned into a major computer game and design career for a real genius, sharp guy, great friend to all. Bill and I wrote weekly columns for the Torch, (until Bill led a revolt and exodus of some writers when we weren’t getting paid, and which we later made up just fine with WK) Pro Wrestling Sushi, and Ron Lemieux’s Arena to name a few. (Arena became Chairshots which begat Dave Scherer). Also MMA guru Jeff Osborne’s fledglingCasette Wrestling News Sheet, Shenaomake Post and others. And Billy did all the sarcastic cartoons for my last newsletter series – Wrestling Wreality - througout the 90′s. Bill and Phantom did the serious journalism thing together at the award-winning Wrestling Perspective newsletter (plus they had been writer/editors at the old Wrestling Eye magazine as well as others I believe, doing their best with Carmine D/Eubie Marx).
There really wasn’t anything the always young and vital wrestling/computer “hippie/artist/genius” hadn’t done spectacularly and succeeded at.
After several decades of only talking by phone or doing Vegas radio together with another deceased close mutual pal of ours in Rick “Hotline” Carter, Billy and I got together at one of the last Moolah/Mae Young LIWA convention messes in Vegas at what Bill called “the worst casino/hotel for tourists” in the Union Plaza dump. We had a blast making fun of the place and snapped pictures bigtime capturing the looks on the faces of Bull Nakano, Akira Hokuto, and their mothers from Japan, when Pat Patterson pulled down the drawers of Red Bastien at the podium showing what Billy called “that Red really is a natural red.”
So many wonderful memories just on my end with Bill Kunkel. I know Phantom will write the definitive on him, as they were in even greater contact. We had our own health scare a while back with Phantom, and praise everyone, he came back and is hopefully 100% now and feeling great.
So why, why is Bill gone at so young an age? I know it’s selfish to think that, but it’s a painful loss for all of us. And especially Laurie and the family – I can’t even comprehend what they’re going through. We’re all probably shocked and totally out of it losing this dear friend so suddenly. The only thing I can think of amidst the grief, is God Bless Bill (I’m sure he was Agnostic), but God Bless Saint Bill anyway. And thank whoever our maker is for giving him to us, allowing us the time we did have with wonderful Bill.
Love and prayers to Laurie at this incredibly awful time. We’re all in shock and miss ‘ya, ‘ya big galoot.
Journalism (not just wrestling journalism) has lost a giant. So I’m sure Bill right now is asking Sheik, Frank Goodish, Blassie and Tolos, Baron Scicluna and Killer Kowalski to pose while he snaps pix and draws their caricatures.