Rasputin the Mad Monk was warm gentle giant
AWAY from wrestling, Johnny Howard was the most affable of men, a gentle giant who was warm and generous with his time. once in the ring, however, he was transformed into Rasputin the Mad Monk, a pantomime villain whose long hair, beard and fearsome strength made him a star across Europe, Africa and the Far East.
Howard, who has died in Loughbrickland, Co Down, made his name on the hugely successful World of Sport Wrestling during the 1970s and 80s.
As well as being watched by millions of viewers each
Saturday afternoon against the likes of big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, he competed professionally for many years in venues up and down britain and continental Europe.
The showmanship belied a hard life on the road, made more comfortable by his skills as a car dealer which would see him travel in style in a luxury caravan pulled by a Mercedes.
Johnny Howard had been born of farming stock in Athy, Co Kildare, and spent much of his childhood in England before returning to live in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan in the early 1960s.
He was originally billed as Sean Doyle and wrestled as a welterweight before a dramatic change of image when the character Rasputin was vacated by a retiring wrestler.
When ITV's wrestling coverage ended after more than 30 years in 1988, Howard continued to top bills in bouts across Europe,
britain and Ireland until his retirement in the early 1990s. Fellow wrestler Frank 'Chic' Cullen described his long-time friend, who showed him the ropes as at 16-year-old, as a "rough diamond" with a big heart. "He would scare the life out of people with his appearance but he was a very likeable man and very approachable," he said. "He was a very good wrestler and the showmanship came very easily to him. The combination made him very much in demand."
Johnny Howard died peacefully on August 19 aged 70. He is survived by a son and two daughters.