When wrestlers, or devoted fans, of a certain generation are asked the question, "Who was the best wrestler who never made it?", the answer quite often comes back as "Chris Colt". That answer, at least to that specific question, is not entirely correct. Chris Colt DID make it, in a sense, as he had a number of main event runs in territories across the US during the 1960's and 1970's, wore championship belts, had memorable matches and feuds, and left a mark on any fan who ever saw him.
However, those runs were often brief, interrupted by Colt's outside-the-ring proclivities, and those fans' memories have been dimmed by the passage of time and the fact that much of his best work came before the era of video tape. The territories he headlined were often smaller ones, companies that had more patience for a talent that could be as big a problem child out of the ring as he was an impact player inside it. Perhaps the better question to ask is, "Who was the best wrestler you ever saw that no one remembers today?" THAT answer most definitely comes back Chris Colt, and it's a shame, because in an industry that for decades was filled with one-of-a-kind individuals, Chris Colt stood out--for good and bad--even amongst his most outrageous peers. After all, who else could have formed a tag team with the inimitable Don Fargo, and had the boys consider Fargo the "normal" one?
When I first saw Chris Colt as a young 13 year old fan in 1975, I had barely heard his name before. I had seen a few pictures in some of the wrestling magazines, the ones with smaller circulations, and a publicity picture of he and his new tag partner, "Hippie" Mike Boyette, and valet, "brother" Bill Colt, landed on the merchandise table right about the time of his first appearance in Louisville. As was par for the course with Colt, his tag partner had already changed. Colt and Boyette had wrestled a few preliminary matches in Memphis, but by the time of their first angle, an attack on area top star Jackie Fargo, Boyette was gone, replaced by Bill Dundee. Dundee was fresh off a run as the top heel team in the territory with partner George Barnes, but after Barnes got homesick and returned to Australia, Dundee had little to do. Boyette, who had almost as many extracurricular habits as Colt, was sent packing for reasons lost to time, and Dundee was inserted into the spot probably as much for the fact he could keep an eye on his partner as for the fact he could hold up his part of the in-ring.
At any rate, by the time they hit Louisville to do battle with the reunited Fabulous Fargo brothers, Jackie, Don, and Roughouse, the heel team consisted of Chris and Bill Colt and Bill Dundee. With all due respect to Dundee, the star of that team was Chris Colt.
In those pre-national TV and VCR/DVD days, you were educated to who was a top star by the TV announcers, or the newstand wrestling magazines. By the time I saw Jackie Fargo live for the first time, I had been told by the announcers over and over he was the greatest wrestler of all time (at least as far as Tennessee wrestling was concerned). When stars made their debuts in your local town, you had probably read about them and seen their pictures in the magazines. If a talent was returning after a long absence, the older fans in the arena were there to talk them up, and praise their classic battles of years gone by.
None of this applied to Chris Colt. He went out and, in his first match ever in Louisville and facing the first-ever appearance of all three Fargo Brothers in the Derby City, stole the show. He got over the old-fashioned way, the hardest way there is in wrestling, almost completely cold, with only one brief clip having appeared on TV the weekend before the match, and pretty much solely due to his performance in front of that raucous, roaring crowd of nearly 6000 Fargo fans. I wondered where the heck he had come from, instantly became a fan, and couldn't wait to see more of this long-haired, wild-bumping heat magnet.
I was to be disappointed.
A rematched 6 man with the Fargos drew another near-selout the following week. The next week, Colt was booked in a singles prelim and lost to Steve Kovac. The week after that, Chris and Bill Colt were booked in a prelim tag against Kovac and Robert Fuller--Bill made it, Chris did not, being replaced by Sputnik Monroe, and Fuller pinned Bill to win the match. Both Colts were out of the entire territory after that.
So what was it that caused him to get over with me at first sight? Not being "smart" to the business at that time, and with no internet--or any other way, for that matter, for a young fan to GET "smart", all I would have been able to say was that he was exciting to watch no matter what he was doing. Thankfully, a film of one of those 6 man tags with the Fargos, from a sellout at the Memphis Mid-South Coliseum, still exists, and when I watch it now with the benefit of 40 more years' experience in wrestling, I have a better idea of what made him so exciting.
Colt was, for the time, on the smaller side for a wrestler--6 feet tall, maybe 210-220 pounds, but he was perpetual motion. On offense, all his stuff looked good and snug, with no mistakes serving as a buzzkiller. His body language and facial expressions were just right for any situation. At one point, Roughouse Fargo whacks him over the head with a chair so hard that the seat flies up and the chair horsecollars him around the neck--Colt then stiffens up, takes a few rubber-legged steps towards the ropes and flies over the top rope to the floor with the chair STILL around his neck. Moments later, he's armwhipped into the turnbuckles and does a flawless, high-speed upside down bump that would have made that move's innovator, Ray Stevens, jealous, and puts to shame the versions by Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels that modern fans recognize. He ran from the heroes like a coward, cheated whenever he got the upper hand, and worked the fans like a maestro at the same time.
It's taken me four decades to learn more about the enigma that was Chris Colt, and thanks to books by friends and contemporaries, or a few columns on the wrestling history sites, I'm still learning. Some facts about his life--and death--still remain unknown and will probably never be discovered by those who knew him best, much less wrestling fans in general. What follows in this column is an overview of what IS known about the man who was--apparently, at least--born Chuck Harris in Idaho in 1946.
Harris moved to Oregon as a child, and became obsessed with wrestling, getting "inside" the closed society the way many of us did in those days, by being a hanger-on/gopher for the boys. One wrestler who took a liking to him, and would figure into some of his greatest success, was Don Fargo. By the age of 18 Harris debuted in the old Boston territory as "Magnificent Maurice Chevier from Paris". It was there he met another man who would figure into not only his professional career but personal life as well. "Golden Boy" Ron Dupree was an established pro ten years older than Harris, and they became tag partners as Ron and Paul Dupree. They also became companions outside the ring, since both were gay in an era when that was, shall we say, frowned upon both in wrestling and society at large.
Between 1966 and 1970, the Duprees had a number of main event runs. They were on top in the old Arizona territory, a place Colt would frequent on and off for years. They worked the Gulf Coast and East Tennessee territories, had a run with the World Tag Title in Detroit in the late 60's, and changed gimmicks as often as locations. The bleached blonde pretty boys from Massachusetts evolved into the Comancheros in Arizona and the "Hell's Angels" in Detroit and elsewhere. One constant was that they were, as Arizona wrestling historian Dale Pierce was quoted, "the embodiment of villiany, arch-bastards among bastards."
An outside-the-ring tragedy in 1969 got Colt one of his biggest runs. Don Fargo was working as Jack Dillinger with partner Frank Dillinger as a version of the Hell's Angels in the midwest, but disaster struck when they were lured into an ambush at a biker party by members of the REAL Angels, who weren't happy about two outsiders appropriating the name. Don escaped by diving out the clubhouse window, but Frank was shot in the leg and never wrestled again. Chris Colt got the call to become Jim Dillinger, and the team was rechristened the Chain Gang. Living the gimmick, the two maniacs rode to the arenas on motorcycles, wrestled in the same clothes they arrived in, and took off into the night the same way to do it all over again the following day. They reigned as WWA Tag Team Champions in Indianapolis for Dick the Bruiser, and even defeated the legendary Bruiser & Crusher in Chicago's International Amphitheatre.
Sometime in the early 1970's, he changed his name to Chris Colt as a nod to his favorite gay men's magazine, and struck out as a single after Ron Dupree's career was ended by a heart attack. Colt wrestled everywhere from South Dakota to Mexico, but always seemed to return to Arizona, where Dupree had become a ring announcer after retiring. It was in Arizona where Colt talked a young man named Billy Anderson into becoming his "brother and valet", Bill Colt, and the 18 year old Anderson's first pro wrestling tour was the short-lived trip to Tennessee. Anderson would remain in the sport as a wrestler, trainer, and announcer for decades afterward, but not sharing any of Colt's outside habits, would later recall the Southern tour as akin to a "trial by fire."
So what made Colt so controversial outside the squared circle? Well, by most accounts of those who knew him, if there was alcohol around, he would drink it. If there were drugs, he would take them. If there was sex to be had, he would have it, and if there was a risk to his physical well being in or out of a match, he would risk it. He actually told one opponent that he just couldn't work sober, so he never tried again. In a cage match in Phoenix in 1975, an LSD trip turned bad and he saw giant spiders trying to climb into the cage to get him--he started a riot in the process of getting out. One wrestler remembers being asleep in a hotel room in Spokane, Washington when Colt and Ron Dupree came knocking. Opening the door, he nearly fainted when the twosome led a white tiger into the room, walked a circle, and left without saying a word. Colt's rock & roll lifestyle permeated everything he did. His idol was Janis Joplin, and on a famous trip to England he worked as a roadie for Joe Cocker, as well as giving the British fans some sights in his matches there they surely would never forget. It's rumoured he was "asked" to leave the country and not to return.
Many close to him thought that the late 1975 death of Ron Dupree sent him the rest of the way off the rails. Dupree had just finished announcing Ripper Collins in an opening match in Tacoma, Washington when he had a fatal heart attack. Ironically, Collins had been Dupree's opponent in his debut match more than 20 years before. After that, Colt got REALLY out there. He began painting dark circles under his eyes like rock star Alice Cooper, wearing leather and spikes, even using Cooper's "Welcome To My Nightmare" as his entrance music--in 1976, before either the Freebirds (1979) or Bad Bad LeRoy Brown (1977). He was often introduced as "The Chris Colt Experience". He bounced--literally--from place to place, and the little amount of tape that exists show him starting to slow down as the 70's came to a close.
He returned to Tennessee in 1978-79, briefly working Memphis again and teaming with Don Fargo. I remember again how awestruck I was by the bumps he could pull out of nowhere. When he gave a splash off the top rope, he leaped high above the top buckle, landed so flat and hard that he bounced to his feet, then took a flatback bump in the same motion. Chris Candido would recreate this 20 years later, but even he couldn't make it seem as effortless as Colt did. Colt also worked the Nashville circuit for Nick Gulas, who was struggling against Jarrett's better TV's, towns and talent roster, and as such was willing to put up with more headaches, but he didn't last long even there.
Working the small-town Ontario, Canada territory in the early 1980's, frequent opponent Luscious Johnny Valiant recalled Colt telling him, "Johnny, you can't give me enough bumps. I can take these bumps all night." Washington State promoter Dean Silverstone recalled that no one individual ever gave him as many grey hairs and headaches as Colt did, but he was so "spectacular", and "phenomenal", that it took a long time to count the gate receipts from Colt's matches. Even as his body started breaking down and his style slowed, he was still a heat magnet, coming off to the fans in live events as a surly, unmitigated asshole, even though almost all accounts say he was one of the nicest guys around out of the ring--nuts, but nice.
His last run in wrestling came in the Continental territory in Alabama in 1986, when he was just 40 years old but looking, and surely feeling, older. There, he was Chris Von Colt, a full-fledged Nazi, pushing the envelope as he always had in a promotion that was beginning to struggle against the WWF's national expansion. From there, he disappeared. Not just from wrestling, but from his entire previous life.
He never wrestled again--that we know of--but a few years later appeared in a number of gay porn films, a fact accidentally discovered by folks who happened to recognize him, then vanished again. Around 1994, he popped up in Seattle, an area he had spent much of his wrestling career in, much lighter in weight and looking decidedly unwell. On a few occasions, out of the blue, he appeared before some of his old friends to talk and share bittersweet reminiscences of his wrestling days, before once again dropping out of sight.
Chris Colt is believed to have died in 1996 in a Seattle homeless mission, probably due to AIDS. But nobody really knows for sure--not his friends, fans, ex-partners or promoters. The circumstances of his death remain as shrouded in questions as many of the aspects of his life. Silverstone put it best in an interview for the book "The Heels" by Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson, when he said, "He was a mystery while he was here, and he's a mystery when he's not here. Knowing Chris, I think he would have liked it that way."