Dick Beyer walks around with the aid of a cane now, showing in some measure the strain of more than 8,500 wrestling matches in which he tossed aside opponents such as Dick The Bruiser, Haystack Calhoun, Rubberman Walker, Gorgeous George and Andre The Giant.
But take away the cane and have him slip on that famous mask and it almost takes you back to 1963, when Beyer was at the height of his career wrestling as "The Destroyer." He still has that John Deere ruggedness and appears capable of breaking opponents as easily as tank treads crushing porcelain. He's 5-foot-10, 230 pounds, the same size when he made George feel not so Gorgeous all those years ago.
Beyer, 72, along with the late Ilio DiPaolo, will be inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame today in Schenectady. Beyer and DiPaolo also will receive the New York State Award from the Hall of Fame, one given in recognition of wrestlers who have bought dignity and honors to New York and professional wrestling.
"Most of the inductions are done by your peers," said Beyer, who lives in Akron. "To be inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame and being the first two from New York State is a great honor."
Being inducted into the Hall is the culmination of a career than spans four decades and has taken him to places such as New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Italy, Germany and England.
"I won 8,499 matches," Beyer said, laughing. "I won all but one of them."
It began innocently at the Phi Gamma Delta frat house at Syracuse University in the winter of 1949. Beyer was a sophomore guard on the Orangemen football team at the time when teammate Bill Skye, who was also a wrestler, injured his knee. SU wrestler Howard Tice, Beyer's fraternity father, suggested that Beyer try out. Beyer did, and wrestled for three years in college.
In 1954, after completing work on a master's degree at SU, Beyer was offered the jobs as head football coach and athletics director at Dansville High School for $4,500 annually. That same year Jim Ringo, Beyer's former Syracuse teammate, signed a deal with the Green Bay Packers for the same amount. But promoter Ed Don George was able to lure Beyer into pro wrestling for $250 a week. He was shipped to Columbus, Ohio, then a hotbed for young pro wrestlers.
"He told me to go down to Columbus, Ohio, and they would teach me how to wrestle," Beyer said. "By the time I came back here in the summer of 1955, he got out of promoting so I never got to get the $250 a week."
Beyer hooked on with another promoter who sent him to Chicago. There, Beyer's career began to take flight when he was named Wrestling Life magazine's rookie of the year. He was pulling in $100 a week when another promoter from Bowling Green, Ky., was looking for wrestlers who wanted to work six nights a week.
"I'm your man," Beyer told him, and he wrestled in small towns all over Kentucky and southern Indiana. "I averaged about 25 bucks a night. But this is 1955 and $150 a week was pretty good money back then."
Beyer's career didn't detonate until 1962. During the football season, Beyer was also an assistant coach at SU and in '62 he accompanied John Brown and Ernie Davis to the Hula Bowl in Honolulu, where Beyer also booked a wrestling match.
"Up until that time I was a baby face, or a clean wrestler," Beyer said. "Over there I became what's called a heel, a nasty guy. These are the guys who die at the end of cowboy movies and the baby faces are the guys who wear the white hats."
His WWA title match against champion Freddie Blassie in Hawaii got the attention of Los Angeles promoter Jules Strongbow, who unknowingly transformed Beyer into one of pro wrestling's most famous heels.
"Tomorrow night in San Diego," Strongbow told him, "you're wrestling as The Destroyer and we're going to put a mask on you."
"But I don't have a mask," Beyer said.
"Don't worry about that."
Beyer was handed a wool mask with two holes on it for his eyes and nothing else.
"It looked like the moths had gotten it," he said. "I couldn't see and I couldn't breathe. I told somebody, 'You've seen the last of the Destroyer.' "
But Beyer found out he could make a better mask out of a girdle, so a few days later he went to the lingerie section at a Woolworth's in L.A. and went to work. To this day, Beyer sports the mask at various functions.
"It wasn't long before I attracted a crowd," Beyer said.
The Destroyer was an immediate success and Beyer's income tripled after the first three months. On July 27, 1962, he defeated Blassie for the WWA title and Beyer's celebrity status grew nationally. However, it was nowhere near where it would be once he started wrestling overseas. In 1973, Beyer signed a six-year deal and moved his family to Japan, where he was also known as "White Devil."
He also starred in a Japanese comedy, "Uwasa No Channel," for five years. Beyer was the straight guy and the butt of many jokes.
"I had a great time in Japan," Beyer said. "I wanted to stay for one year and ended up staying for six. Last summer, I went there five different times."
In 1984, Beyer went into semi-retirement, taking a job as an elementary physical education teacher at Akron Central School, where he coached football, wrestling and swimming. During the summers, he returned to Japan to wrestle until 1993, when he officially retired from wrestling at age 63. Now Beyer and his second wife, Wilma, reside on a two-acre property just outside of Akron. He's an assistant coach for a youth swimming team and still a frequent visitor to the Far East, where he takes young wrestlers to tournaments.
He's still a fan of pro wrestling, although now it's hard to tell the baby faces from the heels.
"They're bigger, stronger, faster and do crazier things," Beyer said. "They will not survive, as you can tell. I wrestled 39 years and I never had a problem. I don't like where they're going. They got away from wrestling. . . . People love wrestling, I love wrestling, and they need to get back to that."