Wrestler Johnny Weaver dead at 72
By Cleve Wootson
Observer Staff Writer
Johnny Weaver, a Charlotte wrestler who mastered the Sleeper hold, died Friday of natural causes. He was 72.
Weaver, who later became a Mecklenburg Sheriff's deputy, was found in his home by fellow deputies after he didn't show up for work on Friday. Funeral arrangements had not been finalized by Friday night.
Weaver, who started wrestling in 1955, often fought in the old Charlotte Coliseum and in the 1960s and 1970s went up against foes like Baron von Raschke and the Missouri Mauler. He was in the ring in an era when Charlotte was a wrestling capital and performers would drive themselves to matches across the South.
"He was one of us," said George South, who tag-teamed with Weaver in the 1980s and was put in a Sleeper hold by him at a Spartanburg reunion a year ago. "It was nothing to run into him getting a cup of coffee at a gas station."
In his 50s, Weaver became one of the oldest people to take the basic law enforcement test and ultimately joined the sheriff's office. He spent most of his 19-year career transporting prisoners on the same back roads he'd traveled as a wrestler and promoter, colleagues say.
"Anytime we'd need to go anywhere, we'd ask Johnny," said Capt. Mike Smith. "If you needed to get from Surry County to Buncombe County, Johnny could tell you how to get there. And he could probably tell you where to eat along the way."
Capt. Jeff Eason said many in the sheriff's office grew up watching the wrestler on Saturday mornings and Sunday nights.
"We'd been watching Johnny for years," he said. "He called everyone 'kid.'
" 'Hey, kid this' and 'hey, kid that.' That was his thing. If he was ever in a bad mood you'd never know."
Published in Charlotte Observer from Feb. 15 to Feb. 20, 2008