Former Pro Wrestler 'Ivan the Terrible' DiesARNOLD STAPLETON , Associated Press
Feb. 22, 1989 9:55 PM ET
DALLAS (AP) _ Services were held Wednesday for John Robert Shaw, the professional wrestler known as Ivan the Terrible, who grappled with circus bears and boisterous crowds during the 1950s and 1960s.
Shaw died Sunday at age 65 after a long illness.
He got his start wrestling and boxing in carnivals while he was a Dallas police officer.
After quitting his policeman's job, Shaw began wrestling full time as one of the Kowalski Brothers and starred on early TV wresting shows as Ivan Bulba, the Mad Russian from Minsk.
His wife, Margie, said Shaw was far from the frightful thug he portrayed in the ring. She said he had an off-stage personality more teddy bear than grizzly.
''He was just the opposite once he got outside of the ring,'' she said in a telephone interview from her home Wednesday. ''He enjoyed jokes, playing pranks on his friends.''
Shaw retired from the ring to become a rancher in the 1960s, but poor health forced him out of agriculture and he began training young wrestlers. He was ill for the past six years after suffering a stroke that damaged his heart, said a daughter, Betty Seaman of Dallas.
''I used to watch him on TV before we met,'' Mrs. Shaw said. ''I liked watching him because he was so rough and tough. He had a long beard and hair all over.''
What caught her eye when they met, however, was the small scars that seemed to cover his 6-foot-2, 265-pound frame.
''So I asked him what happened, and he told me they were from people in the stands scratching him with their soda bottle caps as he went by because he had been so mean inside the ring,'' she said.
''Ivan - that's what we called him - really knew how to work up the crowd. They'd get furious,'' she said.
Mrs. Shaw said her husband loved playing practical jokes.
''One of his fellow wrestlers drank too much one night,'' she said, ''and Ivan filled the man's room with dozens of pigeons and closed the door.''
Shaw was known also for his generosity - he donated some proceeds from his matches to Indian tribes. Sioux tribal members from South Dakota dubbed him Standing Bear, and he was taken into the Moses Grey Buffalo Clan.
''He looked like a bear and wrestled bears, so they called him 'Bear,''' his daughter said.