Birth Name: Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino
Born: October 6, 1935 Pizzoferrato, Kingdom of Italy
Died: April 18, 2018 (aged 82) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
U.S.Spouse: Carol Sammartino (m. 1959)
Children: 3; including David Sammartino
Professional Wrestling Career
Ring name(s): Bruno Sammartino
Billed height: 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Billed weight: 265 lb (120 kg)
Billed from: Abruzzo, Italy; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Trained by: Ace Freeman, Rex Peery
Born in Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo, Italy on October 6, 1935, Sammartino was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters. Four older siblings died during his time in Italy. During his childhood, Sammartino's family hid from German soldiers in a mountain called Valla Rocca, during the latter stages of World War II. During this time, Sammartino's mother, Emilia, would sneak into their German-occupied town for food and supplies. In 1950, he moved to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his father had already lived for several years.
When Sammartino first came to the United States, he spoke no English and was sickly from his experiences of surviving during the war years. This made him an easy target for bullies in school. Sammartino wanted to build himself up physically and became devoted to weight training. Sammartino's devotion to weightlifting nearly resulted in a berth on the 1956 U.S. Olympic team. He was edged out by Paul Anderson – who outweighed Sammartino by 70 pounds. In the early years of Sammartino's career, he was measured at 5'10" and weighed around 280 pounds.
Sammartino set a world record in the bench press with a lift of 565 pounds in 1959. Sammartino completed this lift while not wearing any elbow or wrist wraps. When he brought the bar down, he did not bounce it off his chest, but set it there for two seconds before attempting the press. Sammartino also competed in bodybuilding and won "Mr. Allegheny" in the late 1950s.
His high school, Schenley High School, did not have a wrestling program, but he worked out with the University of Pittsburgh wrestling team under storied coach Rex Peery.Sammartino became known for performing strongman stunts in the Pittsburgh area, and sportscaster Bob Prince put him on his television show. It was there that he was spotted by local wrestling promoter Rudy Miller, who recruited Sammartino for professional wrestling. Miller knew that Sammartino could easily be marketed as an ethnic strongman, and that he would appeal to Italian immigrants who supported wrestling.
Sammartino was married to his wife Carol from 1959 until his death in 2018 and they have three sons together, David, and fraternal twins, Danny and Darryl. They are also grandparents of four grandchildren. He and his wife have lived in Ross Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh from 1965 on. In 1998, he said he had been estranged from David since retiring from wrestling against David's wishes for a tag team.
Sammartino died on April 18, 2018 at the age of 82 after a period of declining health.
Studio Wrestling (1959–1974)
Sammartino made his professional debut in Pittsburgh on December 17, 1959, pinning Dmitri Grabowski in 19 seconds. On December 23, he defeated Miguel Torres for the local Spectator Sports promotion in Pittsburgh. He soon became extremely popular, appearing frequently on the local TV wrestling program, Studio Wrestling.
In 1966, Sammartino bought the Pittsburgh-based Spectator Sports promotion which promoted in the Tri-State area of Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. The promotion was a stopping point for national stars such as Gorilla Monsoon, The Crusher, Bill Watts, George Steele, and Bobo Brazil, as well as featuring local talent like Johnny De Fazio, Tony "The Battman" Marino, and an early Sammartino protege John L. Sullivan (who later gained fame as Johnny Valiant). The Pittsburgh promotion was truly independent, ran its own storylines and had its own tag team champions – despite the use of Northeast's based promotion World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF, currently WWE) talent. Before the Civic Arena was built, Spectator Sports held their big Pittsburgh shows at Forbes Field – the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.