2007-10-03 12:39:34 UTC
Good guy found fame and pain as the Missing Link
He stayed in character outside the arena, avoiding eye
contact and speaking in grunts, as steroids and marijuana
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 3, 2007
Success came late to Dewey Robertson. It wasn't until he was
in his 40s that he achieved international attention as a
professional wrestler. And to do so, he had to chisel his
body with the use of steroids, shave most of his head, paint
his face green with blue accent and stop talking.
The transformation from a good-looking hero from Hamilton,
known across Canada through the Maple Leaf Wrestling
television program in the 1960s and 1970s, to the cartoonish
Missing Link caveman character in the 1980s was one of the
most remarkable in the colourful history of the bizarre
pseudo-sport of wrestling. It was such a complete change
that it even fooled old friends.
Dale Hey, a bodybuilder from Vancouver, wrestled against Mr.
Robertson in the early 1970s under the name Dale Roberts,
half of a bad-guy tag team known as the Hollywood Blonds.
Mr. Hey praised Mr. Robertson's work as a clean-cut good
guy, and considered him a friend. Then in a dressing room in
Oklahoma in 1984, he was confronted by a "weirdo" who kept
staring at him. "I thought I recognized him. But he totally
freaked me out. I kept looking at him, looking at him. And
he kept looking at me," said Mr. Hey. "Finally, he laughed
and said, 'It's Dewey Robertson.' I just remember hugging
him, saying 'God, I don't believe it.' "
The switch helped at the box office as well, explained Bill
Watts, who promoted the Universal Wrestling Federation.
"Dewey Robertson was a high-class guy I was really proud of,
to be working with our group, in our area, but it just
didn't convert into money. And I can remember trying with
him pretty hard because I was so impressed with him, but it
just wasn't there as far as box office," Mr. Watts said.
"But then as the Missing Link, it added some ingredient and
I think he actually became that alter ego."
As the Missing Link, Mr. Robertson even stayed in character
away from the arena, avoiding eye contact, never speaking
more than guttural grunts, moving his head by grabbing his
hair and nodding slowly, mouth agape. Often, he was
accompanied by his wife, Gail, who served as the Link's
"handler," Sheena, catering to her charge's whims.
But what the character actually masked was a man in turmoil:
He was addicted to steroids, which kept up his massive
physique, and marijuana, which kept him calm and soothed the
pain of the constant travel and physical abuse in the ring.
Few would have predicted such a road for Byron James John
Robertson, nicknamed Dewey by a grade-school classmate. For
a while, a career in hockey seemed certain for the
first-born son of Ken and Ethel Robertson of West Hamilton,
who divorced when Dewey was 14. School was not a priority,
and Mr. Robertson dropped out after Grade 9.
In 1958, when he was 19, Mr. Robertson tried bodybuilding to
bulk up for hockey. Many wrestlers also worked out at
Spittles's gym, run by a former wrestler, and he was invited
to give it a try. "He told me he was bodybuilding and all
that, because he thought he was too thin," said his mother,
Ethel. "Then he came home and said he was starting to
wrestle. I didn't like it but there was nothing I could do
Mr. Robertson wrestled part-time through a variety of jobs -
making nails at Stelco, cutting furs and lifeguarding at
Mountainside pool in nearby Burlington, where he met Gail,
with whom he had two sons. By the mid-1960s, he was
travelling as far as Pittsburgh, three or four wrestlers to
a car for $25 a match. It was a way of paying his dues.
The big break came when Mr. Robertson was invited to join
Toronto-based Maple Leaf Wrestling, run by promoter Frank
Tunney and the most famous wrestler in Canada, (Whipper)
Mr. Robertson moved to Keswick, Ont., built a home on part
of Mr. Watson's rural property and became the older man's
The trips grew longer - St. Louis, Oklahoma, Louisiana,
Australia - as Mr. Robertson's skills improved and his name
circulated. But the family decided to settle in Burlington,
where Mr. Robertson ran two gyms: Dewey Robertson's Athletic
Club (1973 to 1976) and Dewey's Gym (1976 to 1979). He
helped train weightlifters and wrestlers, running weekly
Wrestling in Maple Leaf Gardens, Mr. Robertson donned a
simple white fabric mask to cover his face. A broken leg and
a bout of Ankylosing spondylitis (a type of spinal
arthritis) kept him sidelined for a spell, but he would
recover and travel to Japan to wrestle.
In 1978, Mr. Robertson was invited to work for Jim Crockett
Promotions, based out of Charlotte, N.C. The family moved
with him, and the Burlington gym, mismanaged by friends,
went under. He was still a feature performer in Toronto, and
won the Canadian heavyweight championship in a 1979
tournament, defeating Greg (the Hammer) Valentine in the
final match. This period marked the financial pinnacle of
his career - he made $4,000 some weeks - but also the
beginning of his downfall.
Charlotte was where he began using steroids and a variety of
recreational drugs. In his autobiography, Bang Your Head!,
written with Meredith Renwick, he freely admitted the use of
steroids and drugs, especially marijuana.
In Kansas City, Mo., he got a chance to work as a "bad guy"
for the first time. His addictions got worse there, however,
and the family was always broke. At one point, Gail hocked
her jewellery to buy groceries.
"I began smoking every day to get high and to forget all the
troubles that low income brings," Mr. Robertson said.
Desperate for direction in a career and life that was
spiralling out of control, Mr. Robertson turned to an old
friend, Gene Lewis, who was wrestling in Texas as the
Mongol, with a black tuft of hair on a shaved head and a Fu
Manchu mustache. Convinced that a tag team would be a
success - despite Mr. Lewis saying the territory had enough
villains - Mr. Robertson cut his hair and changed his
"I walked into my house and there's Dewey sitting in my
chair with his bald head and his hair cut like the Mongol,"
Mr. Lewis recalled. "He had this smile on his face and he
While begging for employment in the Dallas office, a
telephone call came in from the Louisiana territory run by
Bill Watts. It needed a bad guy right away. Mr. Robertson
went, and "Mad Max, the Missing Link" was born. His beard
would grow bushier, black fur was added to his boots, knee
and elbow pads, and face paint was applied. The 270-pound
Missing Link moved around the ring slowly and meticulously,
growling and stomping like a beast. His head became his
primary weapon - he would grab the large tuft on the back of
his skull and wallop his forehead into wooden tables, metal
chairs and opponents. "I knew if I wanted to be the Missing
Link, I had to act like the Missing Link. Changing my face,
not speaking, not looking at anybody," Mr. Robertson said.
In demand again, he was back to making thousands of dollars
a week. But under cover of his new persona, he descended
further into addiction, wrestling while stoned and forcing
his manager to move him from town to town.
The World Wrestling Federation, having seen the double-page
photo of the Missing Link in a Sports Illustrated feature,
came calling in 1985 and offered greater recognition. The
chance was there for Mr. Robertson to get rich. But angry at
the changes the WWF wanted to make to his character and the
separation from his wife, he abruptly left after six months,
content to return to work in Texas and Louisiana.
The professional wrestling business was changing, and
smaller, regional promotions were on the way out as cable
television powerhouses such as the WWF took over. In the
summer of 1988, the Robertson family had their furniture and
memorabilia stolen from a storage locker. With no money,
they drifted in and out of friends' homes, often eating out
of restaurant dumpsters. Unable to afford steroids, Mr.
Robertson lost 70 pounds, but was unable to shake his need
for alcohol and marijuana.
Just before Christmas, the Robertsons returned to Canada
with $26 to their names and borrowed winter clothes. Mr.
Robertson landed a job as a court escort, and working with
young offenders, got interested in helping young people
straighten out. In 1991, he quit and entered rehab to kick
his own marijuana addiction. The next year, he started
attending Alcoholics Anonymous and began a speaking career,
aiming to warn youngsters off his path.
In 1993, he began having mental-health issues due to past
drug use. While in the hospital, doctors discovered cancer
and he had one of his kidneys removed.
The next few years were a blur. Mr. Robertson continued to
wrestle occasionally, including a tour of Japan, and helped
train wrestlers in his backyard. A few acting roles came his
way, including YTV's Maniac Mansion and CTV's Due South.
Gail left him in 1995, and Mr. Robertson went on marijuana
binges, not eating for days before being hospitalized.
In 2000, he began working in earnest on his life story, a
focus that brought him back into the wrestling fraternity.
He attended fan fests and conventions in Texas, New Jersey,
New York and Las Vegas. The autobiography came out early in
2006. The high of the book launch was marred by a recurrence
of kidney cancer. A year after the diagnosis, he entered
Hamilton's Henderson Hospital, where he was told that the
cancer had spread to his liver and lungs. He did not leave
the hospital again.
Wrestler Jay Bowles, also known as (Soulman) Rocky Johnson,
praised Mr. Robertson for his honesty.
"He was like anybody else that had a substance abuse
problem, they didn't want to recognize it. And back then,
Dewey wasn't alone, mind you. It just trapped him a little
bit more than some of the other guys, but there was a bunch
of guys doing it," Mr. Bowles said. "And he's completely
honest, that's what I love about him. 'This is what I did -
good or bad, this is what I did.' "
Byron James John Robertson was born in Hamilton on Feb. 28,
1939. He died in Hamilton on Aug. 16 of lung, liver and
kidney cancer. He was 68. He is survived by mother Ethel;
brother Ken; son Mark, daughter-in-law Kim and granddaughter
Katherine; son Jason, daughter-in-law Chrissy and
granddaughters Courtney and Brittany.