Big John Studd was a towering figure in the world of professional wrestling. He was known for his feuds with Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, and other legends of the sport. He was also a successful actor, appearing in movies and TV shows. But his life was cut short by a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Here is the story of how Big John Studd died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and liver cancer at the age of 47.
Early Life and Career of Big John Studd
Big John Studd was born John William Minton on February 19, 1948, in Butler, Pennsylvania. He was raised by his mother, Helen Hayden, after his father left the family. He joined the United States Army and served as a military police officer.
He started his wrestling training at the age of 18 under the guidance of Killer Kowalski, a Hall of Famer. He made his wrestling debut in 1972 in Los Angeles as The Mighty Minton. He later joined the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), where he wrestled as Chuck O’Connor and then as one of The Executioners, a masked tag team with Kowalski. They won the WWWF World Tag Team Championship in 1976.
He left the WWWF in 1977 and wrestled in various territories, such as Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, where he became known as Big John Studd. He also wrestled in Texas as Captain USA and The Masked Superstar II. He challenged Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship several times but never won the title.
Big John Studd’s Return to WWF and Feud with Andre the Giant
Big John Studd returned to the WWF (formerly WWWF) in 1982 and became one of the top heels (villains) in the company. He was managed by “Classy” Freddie Blassie and later by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. He claimed to be the true giant of wrestling and challenged Andre the Giant, who was seen as the undisputed giant of the sport.
Their rivalry lasted for years and culminated in a $15,000 Bodyslam Challenge at WrestleMania I in 1985. The stipulation was that if Studd could bodyslam Andre within 10 minutes, he would win $15,000. If Andre could bodyslam Studd or last 10 minutes without being slammed, he would win. Andre won the match by slamming Studd and throwing the money to the crowd.
Studd also feuded with Hulk Hogan, who was the WWF World Heavyweight Champion at the time. He teamed up with King Kong Bundy and formed an alliance with Heenan’s Family, a group of heel wrestlers managed by Heenan. They faced Hogan and Andre in several tag team matches, including a steel cage match at WrestleMania II in 1986.
Studd retired from wrestling for the first time in 1986 due to injuries and personal issues. He returned to WWF in 1988 as a face (hero) and rejected Heenan’s offer to rejoin his Family. He won the Royal Rumble match in 1989, becoming the first wrestler to do so. He retired again in 1989 due to health problems.
Big John Studd’s Acting Career and Death
Big John Studd was also an actor, appearing in several movies and TV shows. Some of his notable roles include playing himself in The Wrestling Queen (1973), playing Victor Kruger/The Rebarbative Surgeon in Micki + Maude (1984), playing Otis in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991), playing Samson in The Marrying Man (1991), playing Captain Skooner in Shockmaster (1991), playing himself in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), playing himself in Hunter (1987), and playing Djebeetoo in Beauty and the Beast (1988).
In 1991, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which caused him to lose his hair and weight. He also had a bone marrow transplant from his brother Michael Minton.
The tumor went into remission for a while but returned in 1994 and spread to his liver. He underwent another round of chemotherapy in early 1995 but it was too late to save him. He passed away on March 20, 1995, at his home in Burke, Virginia. He was survived by his wife Donna Conklin and their three children: John Jr., Janelle, and Merissa.
Big John Studd was posthumously inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame in 1995 and the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. He is remembered as one of the greatest big men in wrestling history and a beloved entertainer.
Big John Studd was a wrestling giant who had a legendary career in the WWF. He was also a successful actor who starred in several movies and TV shows. He died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and liver cancer at the age of 47. He is honored as a Hall of Famer and a fan favorite.