Here Lies Wally George

The story of the father of combat TV as told by female wrestlers, punk rockers and a furniture-throwing pacifist

Myers: Here's this good lookin' gal. What the heck is goin' on? And, like, a year later, she brings in their daughter, and I'm trying to imagine this couple that created this baby.

Thorpe: I was one of the most abusive callers, but I loved Wally, and I still do. One time, I [called Hot Seat Hotline and] said something about his wife . . . and they bleeped it out. He was very, very angry. He said, "Come down to the studio, meet me outside, and I'll break your nose!" and I'm, like, a 13-year-old boy at the time. After he threatened me and everything—and I remember it like it was yesterday—he looked into the camera and said, "Your mother should have had an abortion."

Schreck: After I hadn't seen him for years, I remember one of his last wives had [moved] to England with their daughter, and I thought that was very strange. You just got the impression that there was something weighing on him.

In Wally we trust
In Wally we trust

McIlvany: I was on Hot Seat Hotline the day his wife [left]. He asked me things that, as an 18-year-old, I didn't know how to answer, like, "Why would she leave me and take a gun with her?" In my head, I was thinking, "Well, maybe she's feeling a little claustrophobic," but I didn't want to tell Wally that, so I said, "I'unno." Then he had his radio show and complained as if he had heard all the things [Tom] Leykis had said [about his wife leaving], when really it was me who filled him in.

Matthews: It was a shame because he was like a tragic figure. Bad things always happened to him.

   

THE HOT SEAT COOLS DOWN
Despite all of the national buzz, George only remained a regional cult hit. Nationwide, George was a media joke—Howard Stern memorably referred to him as a "wig-wearing hump." KDOC canceled his show in 1993 but allowed George to host weekly clips of Hot Seat classics.

Tolcher: He claimed to be in more than 160 television markets in the United States, including being on in Australia and Britain.

Blade: I think he always wanted a little fame, a little accolade, a little adoration. He got it in a small way with the TV show. If you hear him talk about the TV show, he talks about millions of people watching, and it's seen all over the U.S. and and South America, places like that. It was all B.S. None of that was correct. There was maybe a cable channel in Milwaukee that had it on channel 87, which in those days was impossible to find because most TVs only went to 13.

The Poorman: I think he was so broke that Calvin Brack, who was the owner of KDOC, he actually . . . Wally was living at [Brack's] house in the later years because he was broke, and Cal took care of him.

Tolcher: Jerry Springer's net worth is $75 million. Wally, at the end of his life, was unfortunately not good. He didn't make a lot of money doing this show.

Kuc: He filed for bankruptcy.

In the pages of the Weekly in his final years, he was a recurring object of loathing and pity. In a story from 2000, Greg Stacy wrote, "Wally was going to do an appearance at a local titty bar. . . . It turned out to be one of the most depressing scenes I've ever witnessed. The place was about the size of your living room, and there were maybe eight guys in the audience, none of whom were there to see Wally. Wally's handlers led him in, and my heart sank into my socks. Wally looked 100 years old. His skin was spoiled-milk gray, and he was wearing a wig. I could barely hear the club's thumping music over the sound of Wally knocking at death's door. He was signing autographs with this sweet ol' grandpa smile, and I just knew it was all over. There was no way I could kick a guy when he was this down. I got my picture taken with him (I wish I could tell you where it's gone) and fled into the night."

In 2002, after Gustavo Arellano described him as a "coffin-dodging conservative" in a food review, George threatened the paper with a libel suit—then proceeded to cry.

Former Weekly editor Will Swaim wrote in 2003, "The Thomas Edison of Combat TV was suddenly Bawly George. He was old, he said, 'and you don't know what it's like to escape death so often.' There was some near-deadly car wreck, brain cancer and heart trouble—and his prostate, I figured—all of it followed (and he made this sound dramatic) by Arellano's food review. He didn't say, 'Oh, how could you mock me?' But that was kind of the point. Could I understand how he hurt? 'Wally, I had no idea you were human,' I said. 'I'm sorry. Really. Never meant any harm.'"

George died on Oct. 5, 2003, of complications from cancer. Former music editor Chris Ziegler penned an obituary for the Weekly. In it, Ziegler recalls the time he and his friends had seen George host a karaoke event at a La Mirada bar. "Wally had spent just about 20 years gnashing at the freaks and weirdoes and longhairs and mutants and dopers and punks and burnouts, and at the end, he came back to us because, I guess, we were the ones who really loved him for what he was. . . . We clapped when he finished and started to leave. 'Hey, Wally,' said the kid in the leather jacket as Wally was shaking hands on his way out of the bar. 'What's up?' 'This guy!' barked Wally good-naturedly. 'I haven't seen you since the Hot Seat! C'mere!' And he gave him a happy, comradely hug."

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