Grappling with Tragedy is a series of articles that deal with unfortunate, tragic incidents that have occurred throughout the history of professional wrestling. It is unlike the ‘Wrestling with Sin’ series that deals more with the seedier side of wrestling like arrests, murders and suicides. Grappling looks more at particular tragic incidents that have in some instances altered pro wrestling in some way.
Thomas Sullivan started his pro wrestling career as a part of a ring crew who set up rings before shows. He eventually moved up to refereeing matches and ultimately began his formal training with Kangaroo Al Costello in 1967. Sullivan was a babyface on the mid card level throughout the territories early in his career. He met Jimmy Valiant while wrestling in Canada and Valiant took the young Sullivan under his wing.
Sullivan changed his name to Johnny Valiant…a kayfabe brother to Jimmy. The tag team would win titles in San Francisco, Florida, Georgia and Indiana. The Valiant brothers would also capture the WWWF tag team championships. Another “brother” named Jerry Valiant was added to the team, and he and Johnny won the WWWF tag team titles (The second reign for Johnny).
After his in ring career ended in 1981, Valiant began a managerial career. ‘Luscious’ Johnny V briefly managed a young Hulk Hogan in the AWA and also guided the careers of Demolition, the Dream Team (Brutus Beefcake, Greg Valentine) and the Destruction Crew. The latter two teams would win the WWF and AWA world tag team titles respectively. When Johnny V wasn’t managing, he was also supplying color commentary on WWF broadcasts. Johnny V was inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame in 1996.
Valiant slowly moved away from pro wrestling and started a career as an actor. He appeared on such shows as Law & Order and the Sopranos. Valiant was doing stand up comedy as well. On April 4, 2018…Valiant was walking when he was accidentally struck by a pick up truck in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Johnny Valiant was pronounced dead at the hospital. He was 71 years old at the time of his death.