Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • I am from Pittsburgh. 2

  • (upbeat music) 3

  • The home to such icons as Andy Warhol, 4

  • Dan Marino, and Mr. Rogers. 5

  • It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood ♪ 6

  • ♪ A beautiful day for a neighbor ♪ 7

  • Would you be mine? ♪ 8

  • Could you be mine? ♪ 9

  • But the biggest star to come out of 10

  • the Steel City is Bruno Sammartino. 11

  • Now, don't believe me? 12

  • Well, I'll have my friend Arnold here explain. 13

  • I realize that this is the star of all stars. 14

  • He was the best, he was the most popular, he was huge. 15

  • Bruno Sammartino was 16

  • a superstar professional wrestler. 17

  • (rock music) 18

  • And I mean superstar. 19

  • You can hear this capacity crowd 20

  • chanting Bruno, Bruno, Bruno! 21

  • He sold out Madison Square Garden 22

  • a whopping 188 times. 23

  • That's more than Billy Joel, U2, the Rolling Stones, 24

  • and Janet Jackson combined. 25

  • In 1959 he was the strongest man in the world. 26

  • And held the WWE championship belt 27

  • for 2,803 days, meanwhile Hulk Hogan 28

  • held his WCW championship belt for a minor 359. 29

  • But all of that almost didn't happen. 30

  • How unlikely is his success story? 31

  • It's impossible. 32

  • How does a 13 year old malnourished sickly child 33

  • that doesn't know the language 34

  • come to this country, and is bullied. 35

  • Now the wrestler's extraordinary life story 36

  • is being told in the acclaimed 37

  • documentary "Bruno Sammartino". 38

  • The Worldwide Wrestling Federation 39

  • champion, Bruno Sammartino. 40

  • (man yelling) 41

  • Born in 1935, Bruno grew up in Italy. 42

  • He came of age during the height of World War II, 43

  • in the small mountain town of Pizzoferrato. 44

  • So my dad's early life when he was a kid was, 45

  • it wasn't the best, you know. 46

  • They were very poor. 47

  • Then he got sick for most of his younger years. 48

  • And then the war happened and the Germans came in. 49

  • And they had to flee the town, 50

  • and they had to go on top of the mountain for 14 months. 51

  • And they lived outside. 52

  • And he was a very sickly, sickly kid. 53

  • I mean they were basically starving, starving to death. 54

  • He had rheumatic fever. 55

  • So rheumatic fever, and as I find out as the years went on, 56

  • it eventually is gonna affect your heart as you get older. 57

  • Nazis came to their village, took over, 58

  • and had one point captured them. 59

  • Lined them up to be executed. 60

  • His mother took his brother Paul, sister Mary, 61

  • and him under her arms and said, don't worry, 62

  • we'll never be hungry again, we'll never be cold again, 63

  • we'll be in Paradise with Jesus. 64

  • And just then they were saved at the last minute 65

  • by their own villagers who had followed the Germans 66

  • and killed them right there on the spot. 67

  • I only survived because of my mom's love and care. 68

  • She did everything to keep me alive. 69

  • After the war Bruno's family immigrated 70

  • to America and settled in Pittsburgh. 71

  • Steel town, 72

  • heart of America's industrial might. 73

  • They came to America in 1950. 74

  • My dad was poor his whole life until he came here. 75

  • He made it on his own. 76

  • Literally. 77

  • Yet this sickly kid wasn't met 78

  • with kindness when he arrived. 79

  • My dad was bullied. 80

  • He didn't know the language. 81

  • He moved to Oakland, in Pittsburgh. 82

  • And because he couldn't speak well and this and that 83

  • he got bullied, and he was very very skinny. 84

  • I mean he was 15 years old weighing 87 pounds, literally. 85

  • You always hear about that 87 pound weight claim, 86

  • well that was for real. 87

  • So yeah, he got beat up a lot. 88

  • And so that's when he started lifting weights 89

  • and making himself bigger. 90

  • And, like he said, all the bullies disappeared, 91

  • after a while. (laughs) 92

  • So my dad set a bench press record of 565 pounds. 93

  • And that's with no chemicals, no shirts. 94

  • None of that stuff. 95

  • And back then you had 565 pounds, 96

  • you brought it to your chest, 97

  • and you counted 1,001, 1,002, and then you lifted it. 98

  • Bruno caught the attention 99

  • of the Pittsburgh Steelers. 100

  • But the world of wresting also came calling. 101

  • Back then he had basically a choice. 102

  • You can do wresting. 103

  • (audience yelling) 104

  • Or play with the Steelers. 105

  • Well back then with the Steelers 106

  • a lineman was making $9,000 a year. 107

  • And wrestling back then was 35,000. 108

  • And it's all relative. 109

  • So 35,000 back then to start was pretty good. 110

  • So there you have it. 111

  • Wresting didn't just become something 112

  • to put food on his family's table, 113

  • it also made Bruno a global phenomenon. 114

  • He was the biggest ticket on the planet, at one point. 115

  • He wrestled on every continent on earth. 116

  • He was a megastar in Japan. 117

  • Wrestled in Australia, Canada, Europe, 118

  • Mexico, South America, extraordinary. 119

  • And people would come out to see him, 120

  • and selling out Madison Square Garden, 121

  • arguably the biggest house in the world, 122

  • 188 times as the headliner. 123

  • People like Frank Sinatra wanted to hang with him. 124

  • When he came into the ring people were standing 125

  • and screaming, and screaming, and screaming. 126

  • And then the fight began, 127

  • and I mean he started throwing this guy around. 128

  • He lifted people up that were 400 pounds, overhead. 129

  • So this is how powerful he was. 130

  • Bruno was one of the globe's 131

  • hottest tickets during his heyday. 132

  • But those close to him say, he always remained humble. 133

  • Someone who was homeless would recognize Bruno. 134

  • And stop in the moment, and go, Bruno! 135

  • And he would treat that person the same 136

  • as he would treat the president of a company. 137

  • I saw that many times. 138

  • And the fans, all the fans in between. 139

  • He would stay, sign autographs, and never blow them off. 140

  • 'Cause he said, these are the people that made me who I am. 141

  • In the late 1980s Bruno retired 142

  • from the sport to which he gave so much. 143

  • But his years in the ring had taken a toll. 144

  • He figures that he was body slammed over 8,000 times. 145

  • 8,000 times in his career. 146

  • With that, and the beatings you take in the ring, 147

  • and people can say what they want, you take beatings. 148

  • And the rheumatic fever, it's amazing 149

  • that he even lived that long. 150

  • But he took such good care of himself. 151

  • He worked out all the time. 152

  • It was so strict and so, I mean, 153

  • he would never miss a workout. 154

  • He'd run miles, and miles, and miles. 155

  • I mean he was 265 pounds running 12 miles a day. 156

  • The WWE Hall of Fame came calling in 2013. 157

  • And his friend Arnold did the honors. 158

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger flew off a movie set 159

  • all the way from California just to do his induction speech. 160

  • In April 2018 Bruno passed away at 82. 161

  • But his legacy lives on. 162

  • He says, as an immigrant he always 163

  • felt like working harder. 164

  • And he was so appreciative of what kind of a career he had 165

  • as an immigrant coming over here to America. 166

  • I appreciate it so much as an Austrian to come over here. 167

  • I did not go through all the stuff that he went through, 168

  • and the hardship, and everything like that. 169

  • It is, I think, one of the greatest 170

  • immigration stories that anyone can think of 171

  • when you talk about Bruno Sammartino. 172

  • He would say, the strength of this country 173

  • is in its diversity, and I would agree. 174

  • Because the people that are here wanna be here, 175

  • fought to be here in many cases. 176

  • And he was also quick to point out, 177

  • I'm not the only one who dealt with this, 178