Bruno Sammartino is 76 today, so no better time to talk about the Living Legend.
It was a year ago when his Italian hometown of Pizzoferrato celebrated the Diamond anniversary of his birth, and the Abruzzo Region worked with the town to create an award to honor his legacy as a native Italian who made his mark on the world, and never forgot his homeland.
That award: The Bruno Sammartino Award.
Bruno is back in Pizzoferrato to give the Award to the second recipient, and I look forward to hearing about that trip soon.
Accompanying Bruno will be his wife of fifty-some years, Carol, plus a film crew for a secret project. As I understand, they are headed to Valla Rocca to get some 360 degree footage of the big mountain where Bruno’s family survived World War II.
I know Bruno’s not heading back up that rock – that high mountain in the heart of Italy – not just because he’s still recovering from open heart surgery, but also because of the emotional toll of that visit last year. It’s impossible to imagine reliving the horrors and uncertainty of survival during war: the threat of starvation, the fear of not seeing his dear mother return from forays back to their home and provisions, and that time when a machine gun crew lined up citizens and nearly did away with them all.
This return wasn’t exactly planned for this year, as Bruno was going to wait until the movie was underway to make what he believed would be his last visit to Italy.
Travel is not something a man who criss-crossed the globe for three decades wants to do much of: I’m rather certain that Bruno would rather spend his time at home, leading what he loves as a normal life, enjoying the company of his wife, his sons and his grandchildren at every opportunity.
But Pizzoferrato made an offer to bring Bruno and Carol back, and he accepted.
(That’s a twist of a phrase I could have gone with, but I’m not going there.)
Aside from another project that I’m not allowed to discuss, there remains the uncertainty of the Movie. I have exchanged a few emails with Scott Rosenfelt, and as I understand, the veteran Hollywood writer Paul Guay is now working on the script. Guay has his own connections with the WWE, which of course is ironic, but his understanding of professional wrestling should lead to more of that in the film.
I think there is a storyline about that other Living Legend claimant that may be touched upon.
Unfortunately, there remains uncertainty with the Movie.
Raising large figures of money is never easy, and with the economic turmoil going on, a lot of that is understandable. What is frustrating is that promises were made, agreements were in the making and investors were lined up on many occasions. But, as Bruno has told me many times, nothing happens until the checks are signed.
It seems like no one has signed enough checks, even though the interest certainly appeared to be there.
At the beginning of this year, when Bruno’s health was starting to take a turn for the worse, he had “retired” from his convention appearances. But he found himself doing something he would rather avoid in Winter: traveling.
Bruno is consistent throughout his life in this: he will always do his best, do his part, and go the extra mile to avoid having anyone come back at him and question his efforts to help.
It is ironic, I said to him a few months ago, that after he retired from appearances, he ended up traveling more than when he was doing those appearances.
“And I’m paying for it”, he said!
Meeting bigwigs, potential investors and admiring fans who could bankroll a movie on his life was something Bruno did to help get this project started. But what became of all that activity? Talk of a Movie has gone on almost as long as I’ve been talking to him regularly, and that has been a surprising number of years.
That frustration is felt by others.
This is a project that would put a compelling life story on the big screen, and in an era where professional wrestling is readily associated with vulgarity, mindlessness and all the wrong motives, this is an inspirational story.
In any way it would be portrayed, the details on how Bruno Sammartino rose to the top, maintained integrity, persevered over obstacles and most importantly – how he lived the American Dream from such a devastating childhood – are compelling. And above all, it involves the story of Bruno’s beloved mother, Emilia, the woman who gave her son two lives, and still smiles upon him these days.
Let’s just hope some of those promises made by people who can make things happen, end up making things happen….
Three months after a significant surgery, Bruno is walking more than two and a half hours a day, lifting weights – light for him, not so light for others half his age, pushing himself in a way that is too much like his back and hip and other surgeries, but all the while, very much aware that what he went through was very much different from other health issues.
Rheumatic Fever was the cause of his ills, albeit some sixty years later.
Thankfully, Bruno survived that scare, and there are a few projects still in the works that may very well detail his amazing life, no matter what the medium.
But, for today, a hearty Happy Birthday to the Champ!
Or, as I’m sure he’s hearing in those mountains of Abruzzo, Buon Compleanno!!