Skip to main content

Pro wrestling icon and Twin Cities fixture 'Mad Dog' Vachon dies at 84

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon, a colorful character during pro wrestling's golden age and longtime fixture on household televisions across Minnesota, died Thursday morning in his sleep at his home in Omaha, Nebraska. He was 84 years old.

The "Mad Dog" schtick was one of a gravelly voiced, barely hinged French-Canadian prone to temper tantrums, but he was just as well known off the air and out of the ring for his compassion.

“He was known for helping others," says an author who wrote a book on Quebec wrestling, via CBC News Montreal. "He recommended wrestlers to new promoters. He helped wrestlers relaunch their careers."

He first rose to prominence in Verne Gagne's Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association, which in the 1960s and '70s was the premiere pro wrestling territory in the United States, with a nationally syndicated television deal. That stable grew to include, among many others, Gagne, Vachon, Baron Von Raschke, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Hulk Hogan.

Vachon, who was born in Ville Émard on Sept. 14, 1929 as one of 13 children, was a fixture on the professional wrestling circuit for 40 years, reports the Montreal Gazette.

At 5 foot 7 inches and weighing 231 pounds in his prime, he was built like a fire plug and his signature wrestling move was the “piledriver.” With his shiny bald head and black-as-coal beard, he was a striking figure.

He wrestled alone and in tag teams with his younger brother Paul “The Butcher” Vachon.

Vachon started his career as an amateur before becoming an international star, taking part in the 1948 Olympics in London at the age of 18.

"It was to his great pride that he represented Canada at the London Olympics in 1948 in an era when there was no tradition of wrestling in Canada and Quebec," one observer tells CTV News out of Quebec.

During those Olympics, Vachon also met an American Olympic wrestler from the University of Minnesota – Verne Gagne – which began a decades-long association with the Gopher star-turned-entrepreneur.

The wrestling site Slam! notes Vachon was a veteran of 16,000 bouts over 40 years and that during his farewell tour of Quebec in 1986, "Mad Dog" made the remarkable transformation from despised wrestler to beloved popular icon.

"Interviews both in print and on the air praised his contribution to society," says Slam! "He was hired to hawk beer and chocolate bars. He wrote his autobiography and made a rap album in French."

He was no stranger to endorsements in the Twin Cities, as this ad for Chicago-Lake Liquors in south Minneapolis from 1984 attests:

He picked up the moniker "Mad Dog" after a match in the early 1960s when he was wrestling in Oregon, after a wild bout that saw him attack a referee and a police officer. At least, that's how one legend of pro wrestling goes.

After a long career with the AWA, Vachon moved on to the World Wrestling Federation, now known as the WWE. He finally retired in 1986. He was a pedestrian victim of a hit-and-run in Iowa in 1987, and lost his lower right leg.

The CBC also reports that on July 14, 1973, Vachon fought opponent Wladek “Killer” Kowalski in front of 29,127 spectators at Montreal’s Jarry Park.

He was the AWA’s World Champion five times in the 1960s.

He and his brother were inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004, and into the Pantheon of Quebec Sports in 2009, according to CTV News.

“He’s the best-known Quebec wrestler outside of Quebec," one author tells the CBC. "A legend.”

Here's Mad Dog at his dramatic best in a classic AWA clip:

Next Up

Screen Shot 2022-07-03 at 9.31.25 PM

Boy found in Brooklyn Park; appeal to find his parents

The boy was found shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday.

police tape, crime scene

1 dead, 1 arrested after shooting involving teens in Duluth

A 17-year-old was arrested around 1:45 a.m. Sunday. Neither the victim nor the suspect has been identified.

Screen Shot 2022-07-03 at 1.03.19 PM

NASCAR driver joins MN boy in reclaiming 'Let's go Brandon' slogan

Brandon Brundidge gained recognition when his mother shared the story of how he found inspiration in "Let's go Brandon" signs.

Screen Shot 2022-07-03 at 10.20.27 AM

White supremacist propaganda flyers distributed in Cottage Grove

The department said the flyers have been left in driveways throughout the city.

Screen Shot 2022-07-03 at 9.32.09 AM

6-year-old Northfield girl missing, mother dead of apparent suicide

Anyone who had seen the girl or her mother in the past two weeks should call Northfield police.

Pixabay - jet skis resting

Jet skier injured in explosion on Minnesota lake

The explosion happened on Little Lake 14 in St. Louis County.

Krisit Noem

Kristi Noem's response to 10-year-old Ohio girl pregnant after being raped

Abortion is illegal in South Dakota unless the mother's life is in danger.

police lights

Sheriff: Deputy shoots gun-wielding man in western Wisconsin

One deputy fired on the man, striking him in an unknown area of his body.

Screen Shot 2022-07-03 at 7.28.32 AM

Man found dead in 26 inches of water in Le Sueur County

The 45-year-old was found in near the shoreline on Lake Washington.

police lights

Man arrested after abduction attempt in Bemidji

The incident occurred in Cameron Park on June 25.

betty danger's

Betty Danger's in NE Minneapolis for sale for $4.2 million

The asking price includes the restaurant's ferris wheel, as well as a nearby single-family home.