“Leaves are falling all around. It’s time I was on my way.
Thanks to you, I’m much obliged for such a pleasant stay.
But now it’s time for me to go. The autumn moon lights my way.
For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it’s headed my way.
Sometimes I grow so tired, but I know I’ve got one thing I got to do….
My wife and I left Tampa late Tuesday night Oct. 30 and drove to a cabin in Pigeon Forge TN to wait for our new home in Knoxville to be ready. She was in one car with two dogs listening to her country music and I was rockin’ out in mine.
I put Zeppelin in and called some friends along the way. I called Brad Armstrong to let him know we were finally leaving Tampa after waiting all day for movers to arrive. I told him we planned on driving straight through. He told me to be safe and he’d talk to me tomorrow. I talked to Brad literally every day or every other day if we were both too busy to get to the phone.
“Ramble On” was fitting for the trip. September through November are the autumn months and the “autumn moon lights my way” to Tennessee. I was moving on and I had a pleasant stay in Tampa but it was time I was on my way to a new adventure.
I didn’t smell the rain or the pain that was headed my way…
But man did it ever. Why…Why take Brad. Why God?
My wife, dogs and I arrived at 7:30 AM to our cabin in the mountains on Halloween. We were exhausted and crashed. Around 10:30 Brad called to make sure we made it and asked what time we got there. In Brad’s “incredulous” tone he said “You’re telling me you drove ALL night and got in at 7:30? What a trip! I’m going trick or treatin’ tonight so call me later.” I told him I would and hung up.
We got up later, showered and grabbed something to eat. By the time we got rolling that day it was about 5:30 PM. Brad’s taking Jillie out trick or treating… I’ll call him tomorrow.
We got some sleep that night. My wife went to our daughter’s apartment to do some work. We had no Internet access. I guess going to a “getaway in the mountains” Internet isn’t a priority. So I take the dogs for a walk and call Brad. No answer.
About five minutes later, Lori called me back on Brad’s phone and told me she had tried to wake Brad up and couldn’t so she called 911 and was following the ambulance now. I was stunned. I knew she had to take care of things but Lori promised to call me back as soon as she knew something.
I immediately called my wife who did her best to calm me down. Now all I can do is wait. A little over an hour later Lori called me back and said “He passed away.”
I lost it. I broke down. I was in shock. Lori was in shock and needed to take care of things and I told her I would call her or she can call me when she knows more. We would talk later that day…. I called my wife with the news. She had things to do and offered to come back but there was nothing she could do. There was nothing anyone could do.
Apparently Brad died in his sleep from a heart attack. I just wrestled him in Pell City, AL in a tag match Oct. 27. It was supposed to be a tag match with Brad reuniting with Tim Horner as the “Lightening Express” against Micah Taylor and me. Tim recently lost his father and along with some health issues he was having was unable to make the show. ‘Mad Dog’ Dan Sawyer filled in as Brad’s partner. I saw the same Brad I’d seen for years. We discussed nothing about the match. We went out and just did it.
After the match we both weren’t sure we “did enough” and joked about “not being able to do what we used to.” After all was said and done, we hugged, told him to be careful and we both said “I love you.” He was headed back to Kennesaw that night and I was going back to Tampa that Sunday and get ready for my move.
Brad was a special guy. I met him during my first run in Atlanta around 1982. We traveled many roads together. We wrestled as partners on a few occasions but Brad has to be my favorite opponent to wrestle against. He was so smooth and natural in the ring. As a ‘good guy’ or ‘babyface’ he was perfect for any ‘bad guy’ or ‘heel’ to work with. If you couldn’t have a good match with Brad you didn’t belong in the ring. Brad always worked for the match and always made his opponent look so much better than he might have been. I know. Brad carried me and I had some of the greatest matches in my career with him.
I really don’t know what to say. I lost my best friend in the world. Brad could do it all in wrestling but he was so much more than that. He was an incredible father and husband.
He lived to take his daughter Jillian to school, go on class field trips, help her study and be there for her. Brad’s family meant more to him than having a full time job with WWE, traveling and never being home. He very well could have and would have been a huge asset and help in training some of the younger talent on the road. But he didn’t want to stray too far from home. He wanted to be there for Jillie and one day walk her down the aisle…
He loved his wife Lori. If we were having a bad day or just going through what everybody goes through, we could call each other and let it out and by the end of the conversation we would be laughing and one or both of us would remind each other how lucky we really are to have the wives and kids we do. Lori has done a great job holding up. But she’s in her “mom zone” as my wife explained. She hasn’t had time to really stop yet. Arrangements need to be made. She needs to be strong for everybody else. She needs to be strong for Jillie. Brad and I really do have amazing wives. I don’t know how she’s done it.
Brad’s wrestling career is pretty well documented. He was known as under rated, smooth as silk and one of the very best to ever step into a ring. It spoke volumes when he defeated Ernie Ladd for the North American Championship in Bill Watt’s Louisiana territory. That place was known as a big man territory for years and for Bill Watts and Ernie Ladd to pick Brad to become the new champion demonstrated the respect, admiration and confidence they had in him to carry the company’s top title.
World champions wanted to wrestle Brad when they would come to Pensacola or Atlanta because they knew they were going to have a tremendous match and he would be on spot for anything. Brad and I talked about when he wrestled Harley Race at 19 years old in Atlanta and Ric Flair when he came through Alabama.
In Pell City we were talking about how much the business has changed. Everybody was going over their matches and we shared war stories. He told me about the time Lou Thesz called him to go on a tour of Australia and he thought somebody was ribbing him. He eventually realized it was Lou Thesz and he said he couldn’t believe he called and actually wanted him on his tour! I could believe it. I then had to tell him about ordering Lou’s book “Hooker” and he sent me a primitive wire bound copy autographed that said “To Tom, I am proud of your progress. Your friend, Lou Thesz 2-20-97.” Because we were moving I had some items that are special to me in a certain place so as soon as I got home I took a picture of it on my phone and sent it to him. We both laughed that 95% of the guys starting out today wouldn’t even know who Lou Thesz was, nor would they care!
I have so many stories about Brad that I could write and talk about all day. But the one thing I can’t stress enough is how much he loved his family. He was a loyal and trusting friend. He was a great man. I wish there was something I could say that hasn’t already been said. I’ve never heard anyone say a negative word about Brad. He was an incredible, humble man who never met a stranger. He was kind and friendly to everyone he came in contact with. He was happiest when he was with his daughter Jillie. He adored her and she loved her dad.
There is a huge void in many people’s lives. I am still in shock and riding an emotional roller coaster. This couldn’t happen…This shouldn’t have happened…but it did.
I feel like Brad and I were brothers from different mothers. I feel as though I’ve been a part of his family and life as he’s been such a huge part of mine. I’ve wrestled every Armstrong except his mom Gail. It was always a pleasure and a ‘night off” any time you stepped in the ring with Brad, Scott, Steve, Brian or Bullet Bob.
My heart is hurting and there is a hole in my soul right now. There is no one like Brad. And there never will be again. I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that I won’t be able to just pick up the phone and say “I have nothing to say and all day to say it” or just call and hear his voice, tell a joke and laugh to start the day. Any time of day Brad would know how to change the mood from sad to glad. He was one of the most entertaining people backstage anyone has ever known. And if you were his friend, he was there when you needed him.
I wish there was something I could have done. I can wish all day but that won’t change anything.
So let me close by saying goodbye to my best friend Brad. I love you and always will. I will still talk to Brad, just not by phone. I believe he is looking down on all of us and here with me in my heart and spirit. Rest In Peace my brother and friend.