Mike Awesome and John O’Banion
By Alun Thomas
Mike Awesome and John O’Banion were worlds apart. Awesome was an internationally known professional wrestler who enjoyed massive success in Japan and the US in the nineties and early part of this decade. O’Banion was a former solo male AOR star in the early 80's, delivering a pair of classic albums highly regarded in the melodic rock field, a fact I can verify after years of listening. The only thing they have in common now is that both are dead. Awesome was found hanging at his residence on February the 17th, while O’Banion died on February 14th from massive head trauma. Awesome was 41. O’Banion was 59. The world at large would barely know of both men’s passing. But I know. And everyone else should. They contributed too much to be a footnote or forgotten. That's why I'm here. To do them justice.
A few weeks ago I was driving home from work numb and defeated when my mind happened to center on a classic moment in wrestling history. In it Kevin Nash while confronting Mike Awesome in WCW back in 2000 said 'hey, Eddie Money!' This was in reference to Awesome's much touted mullet, which was indeed one of the finest ever sported over the decades. It complimented Alfonso's (real surname) overwhelming image. Standing 6'6 at a lean 275 pounds, Awesome was one of the most agile big men in wrestling history. He could move like a cruiserweight, and this skill saw him amass success in Japan known as The Gladiator. It wasn't until the late nineties that he made his mark in the US, becoming ECW world champion, carving out a niche as an unstoppable monster.
But it all went downhill for Awesome. He jumped to WCW while still ECW champion, a move which angered many. His brutish image was destroyed when WCW turned him into 'The Seventies Guy' and his appeal was lost, becoming a cartoon character, with all traces of the viciousness of the past gone. Worse still followed when WCW folded and Awesome was left to rot by the WWF, prefering not to use him. By 2002 his career was all but done, relegated to prelim bum. In 2005 Awesome made a brief, celebrated comeback at ECW's 'One Night Stand' in a great match with old nemesis Masato Tanaka. But nothing resulted. At the time of his death Awesome was working in real estate.
What intrigues me is why Awesome committed suicide. He had a wife and two children. Was the strain of his lost wrestling career the mental stain that haunted him? We've all thought about suicide, maybe not considered practicing it, but that Awesome did, by hanging, indicates a troubled man, with problems we will never know. His death stands out more to me than the other recent death of Bam Bam Bigelow, because Awesome took his life. And the press his death has made has been almost non existent. It seems unfair for a man who provided many with memories that will last as long as people will let them. Awesome had one of the best looks I've ever seen. He should have headlined Wrestlemania. Now it all seems like a waste. Another great wrestler gone.
John O'Banion meanwhile was 59 and had lived a life as an actor, comedian and singer. Details on his death are sketchy. but while on tour in New Orleans O' Banion suffered some type of fall from which he never recovered. O’Banion's 1982 album 'Danger' is why I hold him in high regard, one of the best West Coast AOR albums of the 80's, with Banion's exceptional vocals and undercover lover charm typifying the male solo star ideal of that era. I've listened to the album too many times to count, and Banion is one of the artists who made AOR one of the greatest forms of music known to mankind. They don't make singers or musicians like him anymore.
And that's the saddest part. In an time where everything in music is bloated and powerless, 'O’Banion stood as a figure from a time when people seemed to appreciate the finer art of melody, sung by a man who looked dashing and cool, someone who lived the part. When I think of him I think of huge keyboards, inescapable hooks and possibly the most use of the word 'love' on song titles on one album in music history. It barely matters he wrote none of the songs he sang. And now he's gone. But the music isn't. And for that John O'Banion will never be far from my ears or mind.