Reginald Lisowski (July 11, 1926 - October 22, 2005) was an American professional wrestler who's better known by his ring name, The Crusher (sometimes Crusher Lisowski to distinguish him from other Crushers, such as Crusher Blackwell). In his obituary, The Washington Post described him as "a professional wrestler whose blue-collar bona fides made him beloved among working class fans for 40 years". He was most successful in the American Midwest, often teaming with Dick the Bruiser.
Lisowski was born on July 11, 1926 and raised in the Milwaukee suburb of South Milwaukee. Early on he was more interested in football, playing fullback for the South Milwaukee High School football team, but took up wrestling while stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army. Having developed a liking for the sport, he continued training with Ivan Racy and Buck Tassie at Milwaukee's Eagles Club when he returned, eventually wrestling Marcel Buchet in his first recorded match late in 1949.
His early career included wrestling three to four nights per week at a Chicago armory, typically earning $5 a night. To support himself and to stay in shape, Lisowski worked various blue collar jobs by day, from meat packing to bricklaying.Fred Kohler was the first promoter to put him on TV, and by 1954 he had developed a barrel-chested physique that would stick with him for most of his career. Decades before Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Sandman, Lisowski perfected the gimmick of the beer drinking tough guy. To further his career he bleached his dark hair blonde and started to get over as a strongman heel, famous for his bolo punch as well as a devastating full nelson. This eventually led to him winning the Chicago-area NWA World Tag Team Championship with partner Art Nielson.
Lisowski continued to have tag team success throughout the remainder of the 1950s, often paired with his wrestling "brother" Stan Lisowski. By 1959, he was being billed as "Crusher" Lisowski, which legend came from a promoter's off-hand comment that he "just crushes everybody." Until early 1965, Crusher was a heel (hated bad guy) in the AWA. After meeting the team of Larry Hennig & Harley Race for the first time, the fans adopted Crusher and his wrestling "cousin" Dick the Bruiser as full-fledged heroes in AWA territory. His bluster was legendary, as he would threaten to maul opponents in the ring and afterward "have a party, take all the dollies down Wisconsin Avenue and go dancing." Besides his impressive physique, The Crusher's gimmick was to absorb a tremendous amount of punishment and still be able to make a comeback for the win.
Over the next 15 to 20 years Crusher and Bruiser were tag partners off and on, and a natural combination due to their common background and brawling wrestling style. If Dick the Bruiser and Crusher felt they hadn't bloodied their opponents enough during a match, they would trade punches with each other afterwards. They won the AWA World Tag Team Championship 5 times, the WWA Tag Team Titles (the WWA was Dick "Bruiser" Afflis's promotion) 6 times, and the NWA International Tag Titles among others.
Introduced at the beginning of wrestling matches as "The Wrestler That Made Milwaukee Famous", Crusher was successful as a solo wrestler, winning the AWA World Heavyweight Championship three times, the first time unifying it with the Omaha version of the World Heavyweight Championship on July 9, 1963, in a match where he defeated Verne Gagne. He was skillful at cutting promos, as he would brag about his "100 megaton biceps" and offer to pummel "da bum" he was facing in the ring with ease, and he often delighted in calling opponents "turkeynecks." His most quotable and famous phrase though was: "How 'bout 'dat?" When asked how he trained for a match, he'd claim he ran along the waterfront in Milwaukee carrying a large full beer barrel over either shoulder for strength (and longtime AWA announcer Rodger Kent often noted that by the end of the Crusher's training run, the beer was gone), and that he'd dance polka all night with Polish barmaids to increase his stamina. Although much of Crusher's popularity came from the idea that he was a big beer drinker, in actuality, he never drank beer, and according to Baron Von Raschke, he actually preferred wine.
The Crusher's wrestling career almost ended in 1981, when the 450-pound Jerry Blackwell botched a top rope move and landed on Lisowski's right arm, causing nerve damage from his shoulder all the way to his wrist. Doctors told him he'd never wrestle again, but Crusher did strength training for two years while he was unofficially "retired," returning to the ring in 1983.
He also had a successful run in the WWF in the early 1960s where he was a nemesis of Johnny Valentine and a very young Bruno Sammartino, primarily in the Pittsburgh promotion. He drew very large crowds to Forbes Field with battles against each man.
In the mid-1980s, seeing that the American Wrestling Association (AWA) promotion with which he had the most success over the years was crumbling, particularly when Hulk Hogan and many of the other top talent jumped ship to Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Crusher went to work for McMahon on a part-time basis, appearing at WWF house shows all over the Midwest. Lisowski claimed that he made more money working part-time for McMahon than he did working for the frugal Gagne on a full-time basis.
In 1986, Lisowski occasionally teamed with The Machines as Crusher Machine.
The Crusher's last match was at a WWF house show in Omaha on February 15, 1988. He replaced Billy Jack Haynes to team with Ken Patera and face Demolition, who were disqualified when Mr. Fuji tripped Crusher with a cane about three minutes in.
The Crusher's last television appearance was at WWF's 1998 pay-per-view Over the Edge: In Your House where was shown sitting alongside Mad Dog Vachon in the front row. Jerry Lawler made fun of the two men's age, and tried to steal Vachon's artificial leg, but Vachon hit him over the head with it, and Crusher punched him. As Lawler bailed, the two former enemies shook hands.
In 1964, the Minneapolis-based garage rock band The Novas wrote a song dedicated to him called "The Crusher", with lead singer Bob Nolan imitating the raunchy voice of Crusher Lisowski (and his trademark yell at the beginning of the record). The tune, which included the lyrics "Do the hammer lock, you turkeynecks!" was popular in the upper Midwest and made it to #88 on the national Billboard chart. It was later covered by The Cramps on their album Psychedelic Jungle. The song has received a resurgence of popularity in recent years, as David Letterman has often played it on his late-night talk show. The Ramones released a song entitled "The Crusher" paying tribute to Lisowski on their last studio recorded album, Adios Amigos.
On June 8, 2019, a bronze statue of The Crusher was unveiled in South Milwaukee at 1101 Milwaukee Avenue. South Milwaukee Mayor Erik Brooks declared the day "Reggie 'Da Crusher' Lisowski Day" in his memory.
A few weeks later on August 24, 2019, surveillance video captured two men striking the statue with a concrete block, damaging the nose, cheek and chest. Da Crusher's family noticed the damage Aug. 29 and reported it to police. James Dudgeon, 18, of South Milwaukee was charged with criminal damage to property. Additionally, 21-year-old Douglas Macklin of Pembine, Wisconsin, was charged Sept. 19 in connection with the vandalism. According to a criminal complaint, Dudgeon identified Macklin as his accomplice. Police also found a photo of Macklin on his Facebook page wearing the same shirt he is seen wearing in the video.
In 1974, he and Dick the Bruiser starred in the movie The Wrestler, where they beat up a posse of mobsters on the big screen.
In his later years, multiple surgeries on his hips and knee crippled him, as well as a non-cancerous tumor removed from his brain stem in March 2005, which left Lisowski partially paralyzed.
Lisowski's wife Faye died in March 2003 after the couple were married for 55 years. Lisowski died of a brain tumor on October 22, 2005, at age 79. He, his wife, Faye, and infant son Gary are interred at the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery near Milwaukee. He was survived by four children, nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Gagne reacted to his death by saying to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, "We had some dandy matches. The Crusher never was a great technically skilled wrestler, but he was tougher than nails and a brawler. He could bench press nearly 600 pounds. And he loved to have fun. After a match, he couldn't get a beer in his hands fast enough."