Don Leo Heaton still dreams of wrestling, literally.
“Once in a while I have dreams that the match is ready to go on and they are calling me to the ring and I don’t have my shoes tied up or some silly damn thing,” Heaton said with a laugh.
Heaton is seated on a chair in his Langley home. A wall in the nearby hallway shows him in his younger days, a strapping young man in wrestling trunks and boots. His waist is adorned with a championship belt, one of the many titles he won during his illustrious career.
That was a long time ago. The pictures date back four, five and even six decades.
Heaton, who is 84 years old, retired from the professional wrestling ranks 35 years ago, in 1980.
And on Friday (July 24), he is set to be honoured by All Star Wrestling at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.
He is one of four all-time greats being recognized by the league.
Also being honoured are Ed ‘Moondog’ Moretti, Bob Steele and the late Roy McClarty.
Heaton followed his father into professional wrestling.
He grew up in Utah and remembers being as young as four or five years old and accompanying his father — who wrestled under the moniker Brother Jonathan — to professional bouts across North America.
After high school, Heaton enlisted in the U.S. Navy, while also wresting semi-professionally. In 1950 — at age 19 — he became a full-time wrestler.
“The whole thing was exciting for me; it was something I had thought about ever since I was a young boy,” he said.
Heaton wrestled mainly under the name Don Leo Jonathan, but also sometimes as the Mormon Giant. He even participated in a tag-team match alongside his father.
He loved performing for an audience, whether he was playing the ‘good’ guy or the ‘heel’.
And that depended on where he was wrestling.
“In Vancouver, I could do no harm (but) in Quebec City, I didn’t speak enough French,” he said with a chuckle.
Back in his heyday, Heaton stood six-foot-six and weighed 320 pounds.
He wrestled for 30 years, participating in more than 3,000 matches and securing numerous championships along the way, in several different wrestling associations.
He still remembers a match in Montreal in 1952 where he wrestled for his first world championship title.
“I was so excited, I didn’t even know it was going on,” Heaton recalled. ‘It never sank in until I was sitting on my step the next morning and one of the guys walks by and says, ‘Hi, champ.'”
Heaton also wrestled a bear a few times back in the 1960s, including one showdown in Chilliwack where he actually managed to defeat the bear by pin fall.
Heaton said the power of his furry opponent was “phenomenal.”
Another highlight was fighting Andre the Giant back in the 1970s.
Heaton was able to body slam his opponent — the 550-pounder would go on to be known as the Eighth Wonder of the World in later years, when he rose to fame in the World Wresting Federation (now WWE). Until that point, no one had been able to execute a body slam on Andre the Giant.
“I had no doubts I could do it,” Heaton said.
“I had slammed Haystacks Calhoun before that, and he was 602 pounds.”
Slamming the Giant was quite the feat, but it also injured Heaton’s back, to the point that he had to retire in 1980.
“That’s how I got hurt, saddling him up for a slam,” Heaton said.
To this day, Heaton’s back is still bothersome.
“I have always said, if you want to dance, you have to pay the fiddler. For 30 years of glory, I got 30 years of misery,” he said with a laugh.
There are no regrets, however.
His wrestling career took him across the world — all over North America, Mexico, Europe, South Africa, Australia and Japan.
In 2006, Heaton was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.
Some of Heaton’s big wrestling career moments are highlighted in the 2009 book, Wrestling in the Canadian West, by Vance Nevada.
Nevada will also be hosting Friday’s induction ceremony.
“Don Leo Jonathan was considered by many to be the original giant of professional wrestling,” Nevada said.
“In his era … he was one of the biggest acts there was.”
Nevada, a wrestler and promoter himself, said he has been a student of Heaton’s career.
Heaton also appeared in a handful of movies, including Paradise Alley with Sylvester Stallone in 1978.
After retirement from wrestling, Heaton ran his own diving company.
He has lived in Langley with his wife, Rose, since the late 1990s.
The couple — who will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary in December — have three children: daughter Rodonna and sons Don Michael and Jeff, as well as three grandchildren.
Don Leo Heaton won numerous championship titles over his illustrious wrestling career from 1949 to 1980.