PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Family, friends and fans gathered Monday morning to remember Pittsburgh professional wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino.
Sammartino passed away Wednesday morning after battling health issues for the last two months of his life. His wife, Carol, and sons, Darryl and Dan, were by his side.
Monday morning’s funeral mass was held at Saint Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Ross Township. It was open to the public.
From friends to fellow wrestlers to former teachers, mourners remembered the legendary wrestler and all the respect they had for him.
“There are two things you didn’t do, you didn’t curse in front of the church, and you didn’t bad mouth Bruno Sammartino. That’s the amount of respect we had for Bruno,” said Paul Sarachelli, a family friend.
Even Vince McMahon, the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, attended the funeral mass.
A former teacher recalled admonishing Sammartino for coming late to his carpentry class after working out at a local gym.
“And I said, ‘Hold it, Bruno, out in the hall.’ And he said, very polite, ‘Oh, yes, Mr. Pfeifer,'” said Sammartino’s former teacher Howard Pfeifer. “And I said, ‘You know it doesn’t look good, everybody’s in their seats and you come walking in.’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, whatever I say to you when we go in the class, you agree to, to you understand?’ ‘Yes, Mr. Pfeifer, I understand this.’ We walk in the classroom, now here’s all these guys, and he starts back to his seat, and I said, ‘Remember what I told you, Sammartino, if it happens again, it’ll be you and I out in the parking lot, you got that?’ And he says, ‘Yes, Mr. Pfeifer.”
Hundreds of mourners paid their final respects to Sammartino during visitation hours held Saturday and Sunday at the John A. Freyvogel Sons Funeral Home in Shadyside.
KDKA’s Lynne Hayes-Freeland reports —
“Bruno was the best,” said family friend Roland Lazzaro. “It was the greatest Italian immigration story ever told. No. 2 would be Christopher Columbus coming over here and meeting with the Indians and pilgrims.”
Retired pro wrestler Dominic DeNucci shared the ring with Sammartino on many occasions, often as tag team partners.
“Mr. Sammartino was loved everywhere, the whole world,” DeNucci said. “He did so many good things for the people of every country, especially Pittsburgh.”
Sammartino, who was born in Italy and survived Nazi occupation in a refugee camp, made his home in Pittsburgh for his adult life. While he was strong and powerful on the outside, family friend Dominic Dorfeo, whose family lived next door to the Sammartino family in Italy, remembers him as a gentle giant.
Sammartino was the longest-reigning champion in the history of what’s now known as WWE. He held the company’s top title from 1963 to 1971 and again from 1973 to 1977. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013.