In Memory of Pepper Gomez’ Famous Wife Bonnie
– Dr. Mike Lano
Bonnie Gomez passed Friday, She was a fixture backstage, and will be greatly missed.
Bonnie was a lifelong resident of Alameda, getting Pepper to also live here once they got married for most of his life. They had at least two daughters together who moved Bonnie in the last years of her life to Central California for her lung health although oldest daughter Terri still lives in Alameda and she looked after Bonnie regularly. Bonnie had for many years after losing both her mom and husband Pepper in the same week, lived on her own well into her 80′s, doing all the cooking and cleaning right here in Alameda (an ocean/military town near Oakland with arguably the countries’ oldest, biggest July 4th annual parade).
They lived about a mile from me here, and their house was a shrine to his pro wrestling career. His living room full of terrific private photos of him with his best friends in life: Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Lou Thesz, Peter Maivia, Rocky Johnson and Bobby Heenan, who may have been his best friend overall. Both of course played rivals in the AWA and in particular, Bob Luce fronting in Chicago for promoters of record in Gagne and Dick the Bruiser. Another room had a lot of photos of Pepper in his 50′s great Houston days with promoter Morris Siegel (and heir apparant in Paul Boesch). Pepper’s fave promoter of all time was Siegel who offered at an NWA meeting to put up the NWA Bond for Pep to become champ. It was overruled, but Pepper did have some favor from Thesz.
At the same time of Thesz’ last NJPW stint when he had that last 7th decade record-setting career match with Chono, I believe it was, Lou took over Pepper’s one and only trainee who Lou also had a hand in training. Pepper always said “the greatest wrestler who ever lived was Lou, and he had the most class and professionalism.” Pepper also had praise for Bruno Sammartino, who he said treated him like a brothe
All the times he was on my old Canvas Cavity show including a This Is Your Life, Pepper Gomez special long version; he said he was mixed on his feelings for his NorCal promoter Roy Shire. “Roy used me good and put his belts on me many times like with Rocky (Johnson) but at times I felt like I was being used here by him. I was still going good, but then he’d want me to put over whichever new heel was starting out in town like Roddy Piper at the arenas. If it wasn’t for Bonnie, our kids and our home, I might’ve ended up living full-time in Minneapolis or Chicago to get away from Roy. He could try my patience with all his yelling, but he did pay well much of the time. Heenan and I had so much fun in Chicago doing tv for Bob Luce who was one of wrestling’s greatest characters. I just couldn’t take the winters there anymore. Bobbie and the kids and I needed to be where it was warm most of the time.”
I’ve written about Kenji Shibuya and Massa Saito I believe being amongst the first duo to be tag champs in two territories (SF and L.A.) at the same time, but Pepper corrected me before his death, saying he was sure he and Pedro Morales were the first to do that (SF and L.A. again).
Pepper said anytime WWF (and later WCW) were in town, announcers Morales and Miguel Alonso would come by to visit him “and Bonnie would cook up tamales that Pedro loved. They didn’t want to go out to a restaurant. They wanted to eat Bonnie’s Mexican cooking.” When Pepper desperately needed a kidney transplant, Bonnie worked tirelessly for nearly a year, petitioning anywhere/everywhere to get him the kidney he eventually received (but which I was told his body “turned” on, rejecting it a few times, requiring more drugs to keep it from failing).
At many of Shire’s smaller city “club” shows like in Oakland and Richmond, CA; Bonnie Gomez was backstage with Pepper as she was at Verne Gagne’s earliest AWA shows starting in ’81 or ’82, plus Ripper Anthon Leone’s “outlaw” shows in Northern California where Pepper worked a few with his old pals like Bobo Brazil, Roger Rip/Nature Boy Kirby, Don Muraco and others.
The family is having the service here in Alameda next week and Bonnie’s ashes will be interred with those of Pepper. She was a great lady, super friendly and totally beloved by all of Roy Shire’s talent for example.
– Dr. Mike Lano