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Reggie Lisowski, 79; wrestler crushed his foes for 40 years

WASHINGTON -- Reggie ''The Crusher" Lisowski, a professional wrestler whose blue-collar bona fides made him beloved among working-class fans for 40 years, died of a brain tumor Oct. 22 at the Bradford Terrace Convalescent Center in Milwaukee. He was 79.

A 6-foot, 260-pound specimen with a cement-mixer voice, Mr. Lisowski performed before vitamin supplements and anabolic steroids were widely used. Dubbed ''The Wrestler Who Made Milwaukee Famous," the barrel-chested bulldozer bragged that he worked out by running along the Lake Michigan waterfront with a keg of beer on each shoulder, building his stamina to polka all night with the local ''Polish dollies." He was often photographed relaxing before a match by drinking a beer and smoking a cigar.

Mr. Lisowski was marketed as a villain, but the public loved him. He once drew 8,000 fans in the 1970s and often sold out arenas a week in advance. Earlier this year, Mr. Lisowski was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame with his most famous tag-team partner, the late Dick ''The Bruiser" Afflis. The pair collected five American Wrestling Association world tag titles; Mr. Lisowski, paired with other wrestlers, won three more.

''I think working people identify with me because years ago I worked when I wrestled, too," Mr. Lisowski told newspapers in Milwaukee in 1985. ''I worked at Ladish, Drop Forge, Cudahy Packing House. I was a bricklayer. But finally, I got away from punching the clock."

He punched plenty of other things with his signature finishing move, the bolo, which had a windup like a fast pitch softball pitch but ended with a whomp to an opponent.

His own body was not spared the violence of the ring. Mr. Lisowski broke his right elbow seven or eight times, his son David Lisowski said, and was unable to fully straighten it. He had ''thousands" of stitches in his head, countless concussions, and a damaged eardrum. When he broke his right shoulder, he came home from a match, went to a pillar in the basement, and yanked it back into place. He also had two hip replacements, a knee replacement, and multiple heart bypass surgeries.

''These turkey neck bums they got wrestling, some of them couldn't shine Crusher or Bruiser's shoes," he said in 1999 at a dog track appearance in Kenosha, Wis., according to amateur wrestling historian George Lentz, who tape-recorded the talk. ''I come up the hard way. I had all these cage matches. I wrestled in the cage more than any other rassler in the history of rasslin'. I got all the scars to prove it. The time I wrestled Mad Dog [Vachon] in the cage, I had to go to the hospital, and he had to go to the veterinarian to get sewn up."

Despite the overheated rhetoric of the ring, Mr. Lisowski was by many accounts a friendly, outgoing man who would vacation with his fellow competitors. After 40 years on the road, he retired.

His wife of 55 years, Faye, died in 2003. In addition to his son, Mr. Lisowski leaves three other children, nine grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.

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