INDY WRESTLER “THE JOKER” GEAR GOING TO PRO WRESTLING HALL OF FAME

Posted May 16th, 2017 by 1Wrestling News Team

No Kidding: Joker’s Gear Is Going To The PWHF

by Trapper Tom Leturgey

Pittsburgh–In Greater Pittsburgh’s professional wrestling scene, there was only one “Joker.” Many wrestlers and other personalities in and out of the ring had fond memories of his various shenanigans, but almost everyone would be surprised to find out that his immediate family knew almost nothing of his exploits.

Frank Edward Keith died suddenly at the age of 42 on Thursday, May 4 after battling heart issues nearly his entire life. His physical limitations never stalled his passion for wrestling. A fan of the sport since he was about 10, Keith videotaped and devoured every wrestling program he could find on his Harmony, PA television. He studied the programs and loved everything Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage did.

“He began to collect figurines, magazines and anything associated with wrestling,” said his mother Ruth Keith. Keith’s father Jim took his son to the former Civic Arena in Pittsburgh to watch matches, and young Frank would find other appearances where the wrestlers could add to his voluminous autograph collection. He had the same love for music and concerts. Keith also discovered the independent wrestling scene.

Debbie Harper reminisces with a hearty chuckle that her cousin would con her into impromptu wrestling matches in the Keith’s living room. “Do you know what Jimmy Snuka does,” Harper remembers Keith saying. “Lay right here.” Then he would splash her from the couch. “I learned not to do that again,” she said laughing.

It wasn’t long before Keith realized he might find a spot in the oftentimes wacky world of professional wrestling. Case in point: In 1999 to complete secrecy, Keith virtually vanished from his family’s home about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. Incredibly, he had enough money to book a flight and enrolled in Adrian Street’s wrestling school in Pensacola, Florida. According to his mother, that’s where Keith developed the “Joker” character that would define his unorthodox calling.

And it’s that unique career that will soon be on display at the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Wichita Falls, Texas. Thanks to Keith’s long-time friend Lord Zoltan, one of “Joker’s” robes (and possible other items) will be transported to the Hall of Fame and be put on display in the PWHF’s growing Independent Wrestling Wall Display.

“The Independent Wrestling scene just doesn’t get the notoriety that it should,” said Johnny Mantell, President of the PWHF. “We are working on a little corner of the Museum to continue the legacy of guys like this.”

The Independent wrestling scene was a perfect fit for “The Joker.” Early in his career, Keith donned a dazzling white robe with “Joker” emblazoned on the back when he seconded Lord Zoltan to the ring. When Keith stopped dead in his tracks, Zoltan questioned why. It seems Keith had long struggled with physical ailments and hadn’t given a thought to climbing the ring steps. Joker simply couldn’t get into the ring, so he patrolled the outside.

Aside from climbing sometimes rickety steps, Keith was “fearless,” said Harper, who is “two months” younger than Joker. In a moment of uncertainty and retrospect “He once said to me, ‘why do you care what anybody thinks?’” It was that encouragement—a personal motto–and his daily texts to make sure she got home from work alright that stick with Harper. In fact, she can’t tell a story about her cousin without smiling. “I wish I had an ounce of that attitude.”

Another case in point regarding Keith’s secrecy: his mother has no idea where that dazzling white robe or any of his personalized wrestling gear (some of it inspired by the late Bam Bam Bigelow) came from.

He had boots with lightning bolts on the side. Even though Joker was a manager figure, he did occasionally don tights and boots. In his excitement, Joker once prepared for a Battle Royal by putting his boots on the wrong feet. After a snicker, the error was pointed out and Keith disappeared from the dressing area only to return with his feet properly protected. Joker took the ribbing in stride and ultimately got tossed over the top rope just like nearly everyone else. He loved every second of it.

Joker’s career was not long, nor riddled with championships that so many independent talents cherish. It was flush with fun for the 1994 graduate of Seneca Valley High School. He worked as a manager for Far North Wrestling, and was always convinced that his next appearance was only a phone call away. His mother says Joker’s bag of gear was always at the ready, packed with boots, bandanas and a variety of clothing.

It’s widely believed that Joker’s final wrestling appearance was at the last Deaf Wrestlefest in 2012, the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf fundraiser Lord Zoltan spearheaded for many years. In that match, Joker managed the team of KSWA Megastar Justin Sane and Bushwacker Luke in a tag team match against KSWA VIPs Shawn Blanchard and Lou Martin. “Big Bully” Nick Busick was the Special Guest Referee for that contest.

Ruth never saw Joker in action, despite driving him to the bookings his father didn’t. “We weren’t allowed,” added Harper. They both remember that Jim Keith was once chastised by his son for talking to a wrestler for “too long.”

In the past year, Keith’s father Jim passed away from diabetes. Keith’s own heart defect got worse. He first had open heart surgery at 4 ½ and had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2009. In January, fluid caused a weight gain and more visits to the doctor. On May 4, Ruth helped her son and his swollen legs navigate into the front seat of the family car. She walked around to the driver’s side, got in and immediately saw Keith’s eyes were closed. Cardiac arrest.

In addition to mother, Frank Keith is survived by his sister Mary Ann of Reston, Virginia.

The PWHF is in the midst of its 16th annual Hall of Fame ceremony. Since the Hall moved from Amsterdam, New York to Wichita Falls, it has welcomed more than 10,000 visitors from 18 countries and 47 states, according to Mantell. He says that the non-profit organization is the “perfect” place for memorabilia such as Joker’s. “This is the place to bring it.” That’s where everyone, including his family, has the chance to see it.

Category: Wrestling.

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