Shirley Crabtree, better known as the fan favourite wrestler Big Daddy was possible the most popular wrestler in British history. An unknown quantity accross the pond, he is revered on the level of Hulk Hogan by those who used to watch him weekly on ITV’s World of Sport on a Saturday Afternoon across the United Kingdom.
The brother of promoter Max Crabtree, he was pushed hard by Joint Promotions in the United Kingdom, who were shown regularly on Saturday afternoons. When he finally turned face after years as a heel, Big Daddy became the biggest star in the UK and beloved by everyone, including reportedly Margarete Thatcher and The Queen.
Big Daddy’s bouts with Giant Haystacks drew over 20 million viewers and made both men two of the most watched wrestlers of all time. Daddy was not a great technical wrestler, but his larger than life style and natural charisma drew the fans to him made him a big star, getting his own comic book series and planned TV show.
However, he died not long after retiring from wrestling, but how did Big Daddy die?
How Did Big Daddy Die?
Big Daddy died after battling against a stroke he suffered two months before his death. His official cause of death was ruled as a stroke and he passed away in 1997, aged 67. This was four years after he officially retired from the ring to spend more time with his family, in his hometown of Halifax in England.
His death was 10 years after he accidentally killed another wrestler in the ring. During a match in 1987 against King Kong Kirk and King Kendo alongside his nephew Steve Valentine, Big Daddy performed his patented Splashdown, Kirk didn’t sell the move at all. Instead, he turned an “unhealthy colour” according to reports, and was immediately rushed to hospital.
King Kong Kirk was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. Big Daddy was devastated that he had caused the death of a man inside the ring, given that wrestling as a sport was meant to be a collaboration between two wrestlers to keep each other safe. Superstars like Bret Hart took pride in never injuring anyone inside a ring, which made the death even more harrowing.
It was later determined by doctors that the death was not Shirley Crabtree’s fault. The inquest into Kirk’s death found that he had a serious heart condition and cleared Crabtree of any responsibility. However, he still blamed himself for the death until the day he died, a decade later.
When asked about the death during the match, Shirley “Big Daddy” Crabtree said;
I had wrestle him I mean it was as strong as three men.
He was 25 stone. He was known as the Pittman’s Hercules and as long as I’ll live I’ll never forget seeing him laid down there on the canvas instead of on his feet, raging and and, you know, and flying about and that will stay with meBig Daddy on the death of King Kong Kirk
The death was reported as national news, which you can watch below.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.