Jim Barnett, indeed one of the most successful and controversial wrestling promoters in the history of the mat game, died on September 18, 2004 at the age of 80. He had been suffering from the effects of cancer as well as pneumonia.
Barnett did not fit the mold of the classic wrestling promoter in any way – he was openly homosexual, and stuck to his own vision of how things should be done, even if that mean going against conventions (and it often did). Through his tireless efforts over a career that touched over six decades, Barnett became one of the true innovators of the wrestling business.
“He was the father of television studio wrestling,” said CAC vice president Nick Bockwinkel. “After he started working for Fred Kohler in Chicago, he got the television people to understand how much they could profit from airing their shows. He never tried to promote professional wrestling as being something that it wasn’t, even in the days of tight kayfabe. Everything was handled from a professional, intellectual point of view.” Their show, which aired on the Dumont Network, was an enormous hit and set forth the format that other promotions would follow for decades.
Barnett emerged as one of the most powerful promoters in the NWA, known for always being professional and a very good payoff man. Bockwinkel said, “I first worked with him in 1956, then again in 1959. I always got along with him very, very well. People can say anything they want about him, but I thought he was a first-class individual. He knew this business better than just about anybody… and a lot of today’s promoters could learn a lot if they would just step back and look at what people like Barnett did in the past.”
In later years, Barnett served as an adviser to the World Wrestling Federation (many credit him with masterminding the first three Wrestlemania shows, which helped the organization establish their identity), Jim Crockett Promotions and World Championship Wrestling (he was the man Ted Turner trusted the most in the business). His ideas never ceased to have freshness and validity.
We at the CAC send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of this amazing individual.