The Flying Redhead was known for his high-flying head-scissors move.
Rolland "Red" Bastien, one of Minnesota's best-known professional wrestlers, was a good guy in and outside the ring, according to those who knew him.
Bastien, who grew up in Minneapolis, died Saturday at a care facility in St. Paul after battling Alzheimer's for several years, friends said. He was 81.
He swam competitively at Roosevelt High School in south Minneapolis, but dropped out to pursue professional wrestling. His first trainer was Henry Kollan, a top middleweight who wrestled with him in the sawdust of a Le Sueur, Minn., sawmill owned by Bastien's dad, Oliver.
As a teenager, Bastien gained experience the hard way, wrestling local toughs at Midwest carnivals and bars, said "Gentleman Jim" Morgan, his brother-in-law and fellow wrestler.
Because of his good looks, Bastien was known as a "baby face" and cast as a "good guy" against ferocious foes in his matches, said George Schire, of Oakdale, a longtime friend who writes about pro wrestling.
"If you knew Red Bastien, he was a character. He was always playing jokes," Schire said. "He was very talented, respected and loved by his fellow wrestlers and his fans. ... Outside the ring, he was a friend to everyone.''
Bastien was known for his aerial moves, especially the drop kick and the flying head scissors.
"Red was one of the first high fliers in the 1950s," Schire said. "He'd do a flying head scissors -- he goes up in the air, grabs his opponent around the neck with his legs, and flips him to the mat. They practiced to make it look real. It was amazing to see him do it."
Bastien won about a dozen tag team championships with almost as many partners in various pro-wrestling circuits during nearly 30 years of wrestling around the country from 1949 to 1978. He was smaller than many big-name wrestlers, which relegated him to less fame than such stars as Vern Gagne.
Among Bastien's better-known tag-team partners were his half-brother Lou Klein and Billy "Red" Lyons, like Bastien a redhead. He and Lyons were dubbed The Flying Redheads.
"He was technically very gifted, and a crowd favorite. People in the Twin Cities loved him," said Mick Karch, who used to work for the former American Wrestling Alliance, which awarded Bastien some of his tag-team titles.
"Everybody liked him. I never heard a bad word about him, and that is rare in the wrestling business," Karch said.
After retiring at age 47, Bastien became a trainer and a promoter in 1979, and developed future wrestlers such as Steve "Sting" Borden and Jim "Ultimate Warrior" Hellwig, Schire said.
In his 70s, Bastien was president of a retired wrestlers group called the Cauliflower Alley Club until 2007, when Alzheimer's started robbing him of his memory, said Schire, who wrote about Bastien and others in "Minnesota's Golden Age of Wrestling," published in 2010 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.
In 2007, Cauliflower Alley (named after the swollen "cauliflower ear" seen on many wrestlers) began presenting the annual Red Bastien Friendship Award to a "super fan" who contributed much to the sport. Also in 2007, Bastien was inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, a national honor, at the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, Schire said.
Bastien served in the Navy during the Korean War.
Bastien is survived by six children; a sister, Olive Morgan, of Paynesville, Minn., and his companion of 25 years, Carol McCutchin of Dallas.
Visitation will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a 5 p.m. funeral at the Washburn-McReavy Nokomis Park Chapel, 1838 E. Minnehaha Pkwy., Minneapolis.
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283