Franke as "Adorable" Adrian Adonis in the 1980s
|Birth name||Keith A. Franke Jr.|
|Born||September 15, 1953|
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
|Died||July 4, 1988 (aged 34)|
Lewisporte, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
|Cause of death||Traffic collision|
(m. 1972; his death 1988)
|Professional wrestling career|
|Billed height||5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)|
|Billed weight||298 lb (135 kg)|
|Billed from||New York City|
|Trained by||Fred Atkins|
Keith A. Franke, Jr. (September 15, 1953 - July 4, 1988) was an American professional wrestler, better known by his ring name, Adrian Adonis. He was best known for his appearances with the American Wrestling Association and World Wrestling Federation throughout the 1980s.
Franke trained under Fred Atkins and debuted in 1974, wrestling as Keith Franks. In the late 1970s, he adopted the ring name Adrian Adonis and the character of a brawling, leather jacket-clad biker.
In the late 1970s, Adonis joined the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association. In 1979, he formed a tag team with Jesse Ventura. The team was called The East-West Connection because Adonis was from New York (in the East), while Ventura was billed from California (in the West). The East-West Connection was awarded the AWA World Tag Team Championship on July 20, 1980, when Verne Gagne (one half of the tag champions with Mad Dog Vachon) was unable to defend it because he was vacationing in Europe. They held the belts until June 14, 1981, when they were defeated by Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell.
Adonis and Ventura debuted in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in late 1981, working both as a team and in singles matches. Adonis was a frequent challenger of WWF Champion Bob Backlund and Intercontinental Champion Pedro Morales throughout the first half of 1982.
When injuries caused Ventura to stop wrestling regularly, Adonis formed a tag team with the Texan Dick Murdoch, called the North-South Connection. The team debuted in late 1983. Around this time, Adonis (who had previously been a muscular, stocky, and well-conditioned wrestler) gained a considerable amount of weight. On April 17, 1984, The North-South Connection defeated Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson to win the WWF World Tag Team Championship. They held the title until January 21, 1985, when they were defeated by Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo. The team split shortly after the loss.
In late 1985, after being briefly managed by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and adopting the DDT as a finisher, Adonis' gimmick began to change. First, Jimmy Hart became his manager when Hart traded King Kong Bundy to Heenan in exchange for Adonis and The Missing Link. With Hart in his corner, Adonis defeated Corporal Kirchner to advance in The Wrestling Classic pay-per-view tournament in November, then lost to Dynamite Kid in the quarterfinals. In early 1986, Adonis started carrying a briefcase with the phrase "Relax with Trudi" on it and a spray called Fragrance. During an edition of Piper's Pit, Adonis gave his signature leather jacket away to host Roddy Piper (who wore it for years afterward). Adonis then adopted the gimmick of the effeminate "Adorable" Adrian Adonis, bleaching his hair blonde and wearing pink ring attire, as well as scarves, leg warmers, dresses, hats, and clownish amounts of eye shadow and rouge. At this time, his weight further ballooned, peaking at over 350 lb (160 kg; 25 st). He also ceased his prior weightlifting regimen, stopped tanning, and removed all of his body hair. The result made him appear pale, soft, rotund and flabby, despite the fact that he retained considerable athleticism and agility in the ring. He defeated Uncle Elmer in quick fashion at WrestleMania 2 and feuded extensively with the Junkyard Dog and George "The Animal" Steele, while also unsuccessfully challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship on multiple occasions.
In May 1986, during Piper's five-month hiatus from the WWF, Adonis (with Hart) debuted his own talk segment, The Flower Shop. These segments were the primary backdrop for Paul Orndorff's slow-building heel turn against his friend Hulk Hogan, with Adonis relentlessly needling Orndorff about living in Hogan's shadow. In August, shortly before Piper's return, Adonis obtained the services of Piper's bodyguard, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, who took to wearing a pink cowboy hat. A feud with Piper heated up when Adonis, Orton, and Don Muraco attacked him during a "duel" between the two talk segments, injuring his leg, covering him in lipstick and damaging the Pit set. A week later, Piper destroyed the set of The Flower Shop with a baseball bat. It was never rebuilt. On the October 4 Saturday Night's Main Event VII, Piper struck Adonis with a crutch, resulting in a two-month absence from TV with an alleged separated shoulder. After Adonis returned in November to attack Piper on the Pit, the two agreed to a hair vs. hair match at WrestleMania III. Piper won the bout with help from Brutus Beefcake, who cut off the majority of Adonis' hair afterward. Piper was initially supposed to cut off the hair himself, but had such a hard time because the hair was too wet, and when he got Beefcake to help out, that was the start of Beefcake's gimmick as "The Barber". Adonis then began a feud with Beefcake but was fired in May 1987 for what the WWF claimed were "dress code violations".
Franke (now with a shaved head) left the WWF shortly after WrestleMania III and returned to the AWA, where he was managed by Paul E. Dangerously during 1987. He maintained his "Adorable" Adrian Adonis gimmick, feuded with Tommy Rich and lost the final match of the AWA International Television Championship tournament to Greg Gagne in December 1987.
With his ankle fully recovered, Franke wrestled a tour for New Japan throughout May and June 1988. During that tour, he teamed up with the likes of Dick Murdoch, Owen Hart, and D.J. Peterson. On June 23, he and Murdoch unsuccessfully challenged Riki Choshu and Masa Saito for the IWGP Tag Team Championship. On June 26, Franke wrestled what would be his last match of his life, teaming up with Murdoch against Kengo Kimura and Yoshiaki Fujiwara, which ended in a draw.
On July 4, 1988, in Lewisporte, Newfoundland, Franke was in a minivan with fellow wrestlers William "Mike Kelly" Arko, Victor "Pat Kelly" Arko, and Dave McKigney. Franke, McKigney, and Victor Arko were killed when the driver, William Arko, allegedly swerved to avoid hitting a moose and, blinded by the setting sun, their van fell from a bridge into a creek below. Franke suffered severe head injuries and died a few hours later. William Arko was the sole survivor and sustained severe leg injuries.
At the time of his death, he left behind a wife Bea and two daughters in Bakersfield, California. He was buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Bakersfield.
The year before was not as lucky for three men. Mike Kelly was driving Adrian Adonis, Dave "The Wildman" McKigney, and his twin brother Pat Kelly in Lewisporte, Newfoundland, when Kelly lost control of the van, trying to avoid a moose. The van went off of a bridge into a creek. Mike Kelly was the lone survivor.
On July 4, 1988, Keith "Adrian Adonis" Franke died when his rented minivan hit a moose while on a wrestling tour in Newfoundland, Canada. Moose/vehicle accidents are rather common in Newfoundland in the summer months, however very few are fatal (maybe 5-6 deaths per year). Adonis' accident happened just before sunset, with the low-lying sun blinding the driver. In the crash were wrestlers Pat Kelly and Dave McKigney. The driver who was also a wrestler Mike Kelly was not killed but had a severely injured leg.