Rolland “Red” Bastien, the “Flying Redhead,” was one of the top professional wrestlers in the Golden Age of the sport (back when it was called a sport). The younger generation may not be familiar with his name, but he was a legitimate legend, and could tie anybody into knots in his heyday. After all, Red started out on the old carnival circuit, where you had to be tough or you would never survive.
When I started to watch professional wrestling in the late 1970s, Red was working the San Francisco territory. He was in his late 40s and his career was coming to a close. Red’s knees were shot after decades of abuse. He could not move as well as he could in earlier years — it was quite obvious — so he made up for it by being extra stiff in the ring. Playboy Buddy Rose once told me that Red worked that way so the other wrestlers still gave him the respect he deserved. But, by that point, his reputation was enough to carry him through anything, and he was definitely respected everywhere he went.
I was lucky enough to call him my friend. We spent many a time together getting snockered on red wine (his potable of choice) at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City, CA. One night he arrived just after his artificial hip snapped. Though he must have been in considerable pain, he refused to let it sideline him from his activities. He only wanted to go to one hospital — in Minnesota! — and went on as if nothing was amiss. We spent several hours together that night talking and drinking like nothing was wrong. I cannot tell you how impressed I was by his fortitude and spirit.
It’s like the old quote of Ray “The Crippler” Stevens (which Red constantly referred to) goes: “In life, you can either choose to have a good time or a bad time. I choose to have a good time!”
Red was as sweet and charming and interesting as you could ever imagine. A dear man, beloved by all. And that’s no malarkey: EVERYBODY loved Red Bastien. What more could any person ask for in this world?