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William Dee Calhoun (August 3, 1934 - December 7, 1989) was a professional wrestler, who used the professional name "Haystack" or "Haystacks" Calhoun. The gargantuan wrestler was one of the foremost drawing cards during the industry’s “Golden Age” of the 1950s and 1960s while sporting his trademark white T-shirt, blue overalls, and horseshoe necklace. He is recognized as being among the chief pioneers for the sport’s super-heavyweight attractions.
Born on August 3, 1934, William Dee Calhoun grew up on a farm in McKinney, Texas; a rural suburb located in Collin County, about 30 miles north of Dallas. William was an unusually large child with an extraordinary appetite (it was said that he regularly ate a dozen eggs for breakfast); and by age 14, he already weighed 499 lbs. His weight would continue to climb; and by the time he was in his early 20s, Calhoun tipped the scales at over 600 lbs, prompting his personal physician to suggest that he did not have long to live unless he reformed his diet. Nevertheless, Calhoun ignored the doctor’s instructions; and due to his enormous size, he owned an astonishing degree of physical strength in that he was usually able to perform the manual labor of several men while working on his family’s farm. In fact, legend says that Calhoun was eventually discovered by a group of traveling wrestling promoters while physically moving his cows by literally picking them up off the ground and carrying them across the field. Regardless, Calhoun first broke into the sport in 1955; and he began competing for local promoter (and the inaugural National Wrestling Alliance World Champion) Orville Brown, who recognized that a behemoth of his size could become a major box office attraction for a sport that was in great need of added popularity.
Initially performing under the name “Country Boy ”, he soon established himself as a feature attraction due to his mammoth size while performing in various regional territories, including Houston, Kansas City, and even in Canada. However, he first burst upon the national scene while appearing on Art Linkletter’s House Party, a televised variety show where Calhoun’s brute strength was showcased as he tossed bales of hay into a high loft. As a result, he was consequently given the nickname “Haystacks”; and recognizing the showbiz potential of such a gimmick, Calhoun looked to exaggerate on his hillbilly persona by adopting the stage birthplace of Morgan’s Corner, Arkansas while sporting a bushy beard, white tee-shirt, blue overalls, and a genuine horseshoe around his neck. Despite his imposing presence, Haystacks Calhoun nevertheless possessed a mild-mannered reputation as a charming country boy; and he thus became a favorite of the fans, as word quickly spread of this 640 lbs colossus. Moreover, while promoters rarely considered Calhoun to be championship-material, he seldom ever lost a match; and he was often booked in special attraction bouts, competing in handicap matches and battle royals, much the same way that André the Giant would be booked a couple decades later.
However, while Haystacks Calhoun’s gargantuan size contributed to his wrestling celebrity, he was determined not to be stereotyped as a carnival attraction; and he was revolutionary in that he was the sport’s first super-heavyweight who actually possessed a genuine repertoire of grappling maneuvers. In addition, he eventually became renowned for delivering his “Big Splash” finisher, in which he launched himself off the top rope and onto his helpless opponent. In fact, never was Calhoun’s “athleticism” more evident than when he was matched up against fellow wrestling giant Happy Humphrey (real name: William Cobb) in a series of highly anticipated altercations during the early 1960s. At over 800 lbs, Happy Humphrey actually outweighed Calhoun by over 150 lbs, yet Humphrey was barely able to move himself around the ring. Conversely, Haystacks was an accomplished wrestler, and he consequently took the majority of the decisions, many by countout (as Humphrey often could not get himself back into the ring by the count of 20).
Throughout the 1960s, Haystacks Calhoun continued to serve among the sport’s most sought-after box office attractions, as his presence usually ensured sell-outs and record gate receipts for industry promoters. Being the only man to lift Haystacks off his feet contributed to the career and legend of Bruno Sammartino. Although mainly active in the eastern half of the United States, he also wrestled in Australia on tour with other American wrestlers in bouts promoted by U.S. promoter Sam Menacker. He also wrestled for NWA All Star Wrestling in Vancouver, where he twice won the NWA Canadian Tag Team title with Don Leo Jonathan. He formed a tag team with the over 600 lbs Mountain Man Mike on the west coast. At a combined weight of over 1200 lbs, they are the second heaviest tag team in professional wrestling history (first is billy and benny they weighed 720 lbs a piece). After engaging in a memorable feud against legendary rulebreaker Dick the Bruiser, Calhoun then generally traveled from territory to territory, never staying in one region for too long so as to maintain his status as a celebrated babyface enforcer. As a result, Haystacks subsequently established himself as one of the most well-known celebrities in North America, with his mainstream popularity often even eclipsing that of the World Heavyweight Champion. Moreover, Calhoun soon emerged as perhaps the sport’s premier break-out television superstar, as he was a familiar sight on Thursday night televised wrestling shows across the country.
Despite never really challenging for the World Title, Haystacks Calhoun nonetheless excelled in the tag team division; and in 1966 he won both the Tri-States U.S. Tag Team Titles and the NWA Canadian Tag Team Titles while teaming with Jack Brisco and Don Leo Jonathan, respectively. Moreover, he then helped attract fans to a fledgling Northeast promotion known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation, where he was a consistent attraction at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden. On May 30, 1973, Calhoun even paired with Tony Garea to defeat the feared Japanese duo of Mr. Fuji & Prof. Toru Tanaka for the WWWF Tag Team Titles; however, his massive weight and ailing health eventually forced him into retirement, and he was ultimately confined to a double-wide trailer after losing his left leg to diabetes in 1986.
One of the sport’s premier all-time box office attractions, he laid the groundwork for future ring goliaths like The One Man Gang and King Kong Bundy, as well as serving as the muse for various “country-bumpkin” brawlers like Hillbilly Jim, Uncle Elmer, and the Godwinns.
Calhoun is also known for collapsing the lung of an opponent while training early in his career.
Championships and accomplishments
- NWA All-Star Wrestling
- NWA Tri-State
- World Wide Wrestling Federation