Obituary: Wrestler Jack E. Danielson was a gentle giant

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2012 - 6:20 PM

Black Jack Daniels

Inside the wrestling ring, "Black Jack Daniels" was the guy everyone loved to hate, including older women so riled by the sight of him that they poked him with their hat pins as he passed by.

But outside the ring, Jack E. Danielson was the guy people came to because he would "do anything for anybody anytime," said his youngest son, Geno Danielson of Andover. "He was such not a bad guy in real life. ... He was just this big, gentle giant."

Danielson, of Forest Lake, died July 25. He was 83.

Growing up in northeast Minneapolis, the burly Danielson first displayed his athleticism as an adagio dancer -- gymnastic-like dancing that features flips, spins and one-armed lifts high over head, Geno Danielson said. "His mother entered him and his sister, Cleo, in competitions all over the state," he said.

But after returning from his stint in the Navy during the Korean War, Danielson muscled his way into the world of wrestling. He was back in northeast Minneapolis, working as a bouncer at the Flame bar, a hangout for many of the pro wrestlers at the time, his son said. "At 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, he was thick, strong and burly," his son said. And when some of the wrestlers "got out of hand," Danielson tossed them out.

Eventually he traded his job as a bouncer for spot in the American Wrestling Association, taking on a bad-guy persona as "Black Jack Daniels" or "Jack the Ripper."

"He was mean and nasty," said Geno Danielson. "He would do whatever he had to do to get the crowd to hate him. He would tell me stories that when he walked down to the ring, people would throw stuff at him, swear at him and old ladies would stick him with hat pins because they believed that's who he was. I don't think he minded that, because he knew who he [really] was."

"Black Jack Daniels" had devoted fans who rushed him for autographs, said his oldest son, Jack Danielson of Forest Lake. "I was pretty young at the time ... so I really didn't know what was going on, so I would ask him, 'Why are these women chasing you down the street for your autograph? Does this happen to everybody?' It was just cool. I could watch him on TV."

"Black Jack Daniels" chalked up more than 200 matches in about 20 years of wrestling before he retired in 1972. He wrestled his way from Mexico to Canada and all across the country, his son said. On Saturday night or Sunday morning, wrestling fans turned on their black-and-white televisions to root and jeer for those in the ring, Jack Danielson said.

"In the old days, he was one of the very few who wrestled a live bear in the ring. Nobody does that anymore," he said. "These bears were trained to wrestle, but not everybody would get in the ring with them."

But "Black Jack Daniels" did it to please the crowds and for the "fun and excitement," Jack said. "He was a very brave man. Nothing scared him."

When it was time to hang up the wrestling tights, Danielson had had enough. "He broke a leg in the ring, had several injuries and dislocated a shoulder," Jack Danielson said. "He retired and went to work for a nursery farm."

He found more time to ride his horses and his motorcycle. And at weddings, he could still show off a few dance moves.

"He actually was a quiet, private man," Jack Danielson said. "But he liked to meet up with people. Everyone seemed to know him in town. He was just an all-around nice guy ... who would give you his last dollar."

He is also survived by seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788

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