11.06.06

Sputnik Monroe, RIP

Posted in Professional Wrestling at 12:38 am by

Roscoe Brumbaugh aka Sputnik Monroe, Memphis wresting icon of 1950′s and ’60′s, passed away Friday at the age of 79.


From Smokebox.net :

There were many aspects of Sputnik’s persona and character that set him apart from his wrestling peers. Early in his fighting career, he had been beaned on the head by an opposing pugilist using a wooden chair as a weapon. When the wood splinters were removed from his scalp, a patch of white hair grew around the wound. Sputnik beat out the punks for colored hair by a good twenty years.

Sputnik was a mean brawler. His self-definition of his wrestling style was “scientifically rough.” When asked to elaborate on this, he explained, “Win if you can, lose if you must, always cheat, and if they take you out, leave tearing down the ring.”

But Sputnik Monroe’s most important contribution to Memphis’ society was the fact that he single-handedly desegregated the wrestling spectator community. Like all wrestlers, Sputnik would seek the approval of the audience once he had destroyed his opponent. Just as the surviving Roman gladiators would strut their stuff to governors, patricians and other assorted Roman gentry in the arena, Sputnik would perform his victory romp, exhorting praise from the crowd. But unlike any other white wrestler, Sputnik would not focus his attention on the front rows, nor the women, nor the box seats, nor the predominantly white on-lookers. Instead, he would turn to the small black audience, segregated away in the upper rafters of Ellis Auditorium, and it was from them that he received kudos.

Sputnik was fast becoming a draw card and the promoters and wrestling money people knew this. He was able to use his notoriety to exact changes in the wrestling establishment. He recalls, “There used to be a couple of thousand blacks outside wanting in. So I would tell management I’d be cutting out if they don’t let my black friends in. I had the power because I’m selling out the place, the first guy that ever did, and they damn sure wanted the revenue.”

The way the business people would limit the black audience was by counting the number of black people allowed entrance into the auditorium, knowing exactly the seating capacity of the “blacks only” section. Sputnik would bribe the employee, who counted black people, to lie to his boss, giving the boss a much lower number of attendees than there actually were. So, when the overseer would demand numbers, the door guy would say something like “thirty” when there were really five-hundred or more black folks in the building. Jim Dickinson, a well known fixture of the Memphis music scene, remembers, “Finally, the audience got so big and heavily black that they had to integrate the seating. There’s no other single event that integrated the audience other than the wrassling matches and Sputnik paying the guy to lie.”

Sputnik’s one-man campaign had ripple effects all across Memphis, not only in the black community, but also amongst young white kids. Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Sam Phillips had already opened the valve, releasing emotions in young white people that caused grave concern for the enforcers of the status quo. And here was this upstart wrestler, not just playing with young kids minds, but messing with the gas that fueled how things ran in Memphis, namely racism. Another fan of that era, Jim Black says “I went through my whole twelve years at school having never been able to share an experience with a black, and I was starting to resent this, because I was also listening to radio and Dewey Phillips, and hearing all these great black records and realizing that these were some talented artists, this was another culture. Where, at first, we’d gone to the matches hoping to see Sputnik get beat, we started to realize that he was pretty fucking cool. He had his audience, and he never played down to ‘em, never talked down to ‘em. He became a role model.”

He even went as far as announcing himself as a candidate for sheriff. “People thought prostitution and incest would flourish, ‘motherfucker’ would become a household word,” he said. “I could have run for mayor, and made it. I could have blackmailed the city. I could have done anything I wanted. I was general of a little black army.” Johnny Black recalls, “If you would have had some kind of election about who was the best-known face in Memphis at that time – Sputnik, Elvis or the mayor – Sputnik would have been real close to Elvis.”

(2001 NPR interview with Monroe, Real Player required)

17 Responses to “Sputnik Monroe, RIP”

  1. billy wicks says:

    HE WAS MY HERO, NOT MY ROLL MODEL,BECAUSE HE FEAR NO ONE. MUCH RESPECT,I LOVE HIM LIKE MY BROTHER,I CURST HIM BECAUSE WE HAD A DEAL HE WAS SAPPOSE TO READ MY OBITUARY BEFORE I READ HIS.

  2. halee thompson says:

    he is my great grandfather, i love him and i miss him i am only 8 yrs old but at leat i had eight years of my life with him, even though we lived about 4 hours away from one another i still got to know him. if it wasnt from me seeing him it was from my family telling me about him. i love you and i miss you popa rock.

    your granddaughter
    halee thompson.

  3. Robin Boring says:

    I don’t know who will be reading this but Sputnik was a close friend to my family when I was young. I remember him being at our house talking about wrestling and all the cool things he did. Just a few months ago my mom bought tickets to the match in Mississippi at the DeSoto Arena that he was going to perform at but when she and my dad arrived the realized Sputnik wasn’t there. My mom spoke with Lance Russell who informed her that Sputnik was to ill at the timeto make it to the match. We searched hard after that to find him. We searched the internet and all available resorces to no avail. It has been probably 10-12 years since we heard from him but we thought of him often.

    To his family…my whole family loved him. To me he was like family. He will be missed by us. My mom and dad are Bill & Cookie Boring and live in Collierville, TN. My uncles were also very close to him but passed in 1996 and 1999 they were Scott & John Johnsen.

    We love you Sputnik. You left marks on our hearts. Watch over us and take care of my uncles.

    Much Love,
    Robin Boring James

  4. Bill and Cookie Boring says:

    Bill and I are saddened by the news that, (as we called him), “Sputsi”, passed away. He was the kind of person you could say “What you see is what you get”, honest, sincere, a TRUE friend and a hell of a lot of fun to be around. I mostly remember him referring to his wife, as “My Little Albino”. She also was a fun person.

    As our daughter mentioned in her comment, we were so excited to hear he was coming to Mississippi – we purchased tickets just to at least get a real life glimpse of him once again, security we knew would be tight, only to find out he was too ill to make the trip.

    Sputnik would come to my brother John’s optical lab in Orange Mound at Park Avenue and Lamar, in Memphis, TN and hang around teasing people. Those were really fun times. I have pictures of him with my brother and brother-in-law in a headlock – just messin’ around.

    Our deepest sympathy is extended to the entire family – - he will be deeply missed – but NEVER forgotten!!!

    Sincerely,
    Cookie and Bill Boring
    beowolfbill@bellsouth.net

  5. Russell Smith says:

    I just learned that Sputnik passed away, and I have a heavy heart. I was about 12 years old when I came to Sputnik. He was a great man and a superhero as far as I’m concerned. Sputnik would sit and drink beer and play cards with my Uncle Blackie and their friends, and tell me and my little brother Victor, story after story about when he use to wrestle and I would sit starry-eyed and listen hoping the day would never end. He was the first person I had ever seen with coliflower ears. I only knew him for a short while, but those memeories have stayed vivid in my mind for the last 26 years. My heart goes out to all his freinds and family. I know he will be deeply missed and always remebered.

    Love Always and Forever ,

    Russell, Victor, Tommy, Katherine, and Blackie Smith of Campti ,La

  6. DeAnna says:

    Poppa Rock is what his family called him.I prefered to call him Rock. I met him in 1993 in Houston, Texas. We became good friends and would hang out enjoying each others company. He always told me that he wanted to introduce me to his son Bubba. I met Bubba while he was working for his Uncle on a job site and It was love at first sight. Bubba and I have been good friends for 14 yrs and have always kept in touch. Bubba and I have now been together for the last 4 years. I will always be grateful to Rock for bringing his son, Bubba, into my life. He always told me that I was the one for Bubba. I will always be thankful to him. for this. Love always, your Lil Diego.

    DeAnna

  7. Jerry Few says:

    Rock worked for me as a gang supervisor in the late ’80′s in Houston. I grew to love him . . . and all of his wonderful stories of wrassling and Memphis . . . Sun Records and Elvis and all the rest.
    He could tell some of the most hilarious stories of outlandish things he’d done in the ring . . . and wild fights between wrasslers at 3 a.m. along side a two lane blacktop road in the middle of nowhere . . . enroute to the next gig.
    Rock was one of a kind . . . and I loved that old man. May he R.I.P.

  8. DAYNA TIDWELL says:

    I MET SPUTNIK WHEN I WAS A KID IN HIGH SCHOOL, SPUTNIK AND MY DAD CHARLES TIDWELL WERE BEST FRIENDS IN THE LATE 70′S AND VERY EARLY 80′S. WE LIVED WITH THEM AND HIS MOTHER IN A THREE BEDROOM TRAILOR IN ODESSA TEXAS. TO ME SPUTNIK WAS MY UNCLE AND ME AND SPUTNIK WOULD GO TO THE WRESTLING MATCHES EVERY THURSDAY IN ODESSA. ONE DAY I GOT TO GO TO THE DRESSING ROOM TO MEET OTHER WRESTLERS. I MET ANDRE THE GIANT AND MANY MORE OTHERS, SPUTNIK QUIT WRESTLING IN LATE 1978 WHEN HE WAS DRIVING A BRIGHT RED CADY THUR ODESSA AND GOT HIT BY A GRAYHOUND BUS, THE BUS LANDED ON TOP OF UNCLE SPUTNIK’S CAR AND SPUTNIK WAS TRAPPED IN THE CAR FOR A LONG TIME BEFORE THEY GOT HIM OUT. SO SPUTNIK HURT HIS BACK AND OFFICAILLY RETIRED FROM WRESTLING. SPUTNIK WAS THE GREATEST GUY IN THE WORLD AND WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU AND I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO FIND HIM FOR A LONG TIME AND I WAS VERY SADDEN WHEN I FOUND OUT THAT UNCLE SPUTNIK PAST AWAY SHORTLY AGO. I WILL ALWAYS MISS HIM.

  9. DAVID THOMAS says:

    At the age of 5 or 6 I was introduced to Pro-Wrestling by my father who was a member of the VFW which held outdoor weekly/bi-weekly matches.From the moment I saw Sputnik, I knew this man would create nine kinds of hell in the ring. He and Billy Wicks would have some real slobber knocker matches for the “cadillac” and his “talk” was priceless. If only I could have been as lucky as the ones who really knew “THE SWEET MAN”. Never to be forgotten and always loved.

  10. Danny Goddard says:

    Sputnik Monroe was always and will always be my hero. I met him in Atlanta about 1965 and became his fan club president, publishing a monthly bulletin, “The Blond Streak.” I’ll never forget the 3 Florida road trips when I was about 13. I’m so glad my family made a trip through Houston a couple of years ago and visited with him, allowing my now 20-year old son to meet the one I had told him about. Sputnik asked me to pray for him that day. One of the highest honors of my life will always be officiating the graveside service in Pineville, LA for Sputnik Monroe. I miss him greatly.

  11. Jeniste' Monroe says:

    My Grandfather…… My Popparock….I will never forget the first time meeting you. I drove to Memphis to see you host the 20 man Royal Rumble. I went to the back entrance of Memphis Auditorium and told the security guard I was” SPUTNIK MONROE’s GRANDDAUGHTER” with lots of pride in my voice and… ” he is expecting me.” It wasn’t but a few minutes and you came walking out the door, you walked right up to me and hugged me and rumbled out…” You look just like your daddy” in that gruff, stearn voice. You then reached for my hand and didnt let go…. I will never forget how important i felt walking up to that door. You then looked at the next security guard, with a little tear in your eye, rocked my hand in yours, and rumbled..”this is my Granddaughter!!!….and my first time meeting her.” Tears just filled my eyes, I had finally met My Popparock.
    Thank you for that special memory, and all our conversations and visits through the years…….I am truely honored to call you my Popprock!!! I LOVE YOU

  12. Jim B says:

    I knew sputnik when I was in my teens. He was best friends with my friend’s Dad ( Big John B…. I am sure some of you know who he was too.)

    Sputnik alsways stayed with Big John when he was in Atlanta. My friend and I would visit all the night clubs in Atlanta the week of the match with Sputnik and Big John. All the clubs were ’21′ clubs but nobody ever asked us for ID’s because we were with Sputnik. He made sure we went to the black clubs on Auburn ave too ! The blacks always loved him.

    I lost touch with them a few years later.

    OH, Yeah… I have said my whole life that Sputnik had the most beautiful woman in the world. He told me she was Cajun but I am not sure if that was true. She came to atlanta some of the times but ot usually.

    He was a great guy

  13. Don Marion says:

    I grew up in Detroit in the 60′s and my favorite wrestler then was SPUTNIK MONROE … while other fans chose to boo him I was cheering for him and the other fans would look at me dirty…
    I liked his rivalry with Thunderbolt Patterson and it’s just too bad that I never got his autograph…
    I found out his home address in Houston and wrote him but never got a response back…
    R.I.P. Sputnik…I really enjoyed you wrestling in Detroit…
    From one of your biggest fans…God Bless You
    Don Marion
    winner316@earthlink.net

  14. Dale Jones says:

    I rememeber Spudnik Monroe very well, When I was kid in the mid 60″s he wrestled in Odessa on Tuesday a lot. He had a real fist fight that spilled into the parking lot after spitting in another wreslers fac and I mean real, I went off to school in Tulsa,OK in 1970 And he was wrestling there . Was working at bowling alley fixing machines and he would come often and just sit there and watch people bowl. Spudnik gave the best TV interviews of any wresler ,he had tatoos that said the real thing, and during the interview he would say ” Thats right baby I” m Just like Cocola I”m the real Thing”.
    In 1977 moved back to Odessa go to a bar and there sets Spudnik Monroe ,He was working as bouncer saw him several times over next year about a year after that I was working with a guy and he mentioned being friends with Spudnik and I asked him what ever happened to him and he told me the last time he saw him was at that bar And Spudnik car was loaded and Spudnik said” I”m long gone” and he left and that was that, Never talked to him but kept running into him,
    Like I said Spudnik gave the best TV interviews of any wrestler ,bar none

  15. Terry Hicks says:

    I grew up in memphis and watched him everytime he performed he was something to see

  16. Belle says:

    RIP Popparock!! Can’t wait until we see your movie premiere in Memphis Thursday. I know you would be so proud!!

  17. Albert and Margaret says:

    Met Sputnik in Odessa Texas in early 1977 when were 2 young Aussies traveling through. He picked me up hitch hiking and offered to put us up in his 3 bedroom trailer home….he helped us a lot when we knew no one. We were sad to hear about Sputniks passing as it became obvious to us that he had been a famous wrestler who had fallen upon hard times when his back was damaged in a car accident in Odessa. RIP Sputnik

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