It’s hard to believe that we’re coming up on five years since we lost “The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino. I still remember where I was when I heard the news. Training at my place of work for a position that I’m largely still in today, albeit much more seasoned. I was shocked and I wasn’t alone. Despite being 82, Bruno’s death shook Pittsburgh and all of the wrestling world. He was more than just a wrestler. He was an icon to a generation of wrestling fans, a good man and the rare type of individual who could be looked upon as a role model.
I’ve discussed Bruno’s level of fame and legend here in my hometown of The Steel City many times. He is synonymous with the other sports legends here in the Greater Pittsburgh area. If you didn’t grow up watching him you still have memories of your elders conveying their own stories. Even individuals who wouldn’t identify themselves as wrestling fans probably at least have fleeting memories of watching “Studio Wrestling” with a parent or grandparent. It was a Pittsburgh cultural institution. It didn’t hurt that the big man himself, “The Italian Superman,” lived right here in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.
Being the eternal “good guy” and hero to legions of fans across ethnicities, Bruno believed in living up to that image. I had the privilege of meeting The Living Legend many times. He was extremely accessible and didn’t like to disappoint anyone. Though I entered the scene long after his retirement, every indication is that nothing changed from his active days in the ring. From first hand accounts to candid photos throughout the years, he never seemed to refuse an autograph request. I think that there may be more photographs of Bruno Sammartino signing autographs than any other wrestler. Again, he wanted to live up to his image and he did not want to disappoint. He knew that he would not have his success, fame and fortune without the fans. He experienced disappointment when other celebrities would act, in his words, “like a big shot.” One blue eyed-singer infamously got under Bruno’s skin this way. He didn’t want his fans to feel the same.
Since Bruno did sign so many autographs over the years, there are examples throughout his career. Being a big Bruno collector and having the fortune of living where he made one of his biggest impacts, I am lucky enough to own Bruno Sammartino autographs spanning the decades. Unlike some stars who change their signature over the years or even depending on what they’re signing, Bruno was constant. It rarely if ever changed. It’s clear and full, something that many of today’s wrestling names could learn from. Initials weren’t even thought of. Bruno gave you his full name each and every time.
I will say that there are some size and direction “variations” of which to note. Like most signers, occasionally a trading card or other smaller item will yield a smaller signature. There’s no way around it. Bruno’s biggest signing quirk, however, is that he sometimes signed sideways or even almost upside down. I used to observe him signing and it really boiled down to him trying to get his signature on the item in the best way possible. Again, always thinking of the fans. If you’re looking to add a Bruno signature to your collection don’t be off-put if it’s sideways. In fact, I’d look upon that as a good thing.
And we all know that Bruno had a ton of things to sign. He rarely noted much about any particular item as things like that seemed to humble him, but he did note one thing to me. In 2007 he told me that the photo featured with this paragraph, a classic black and white shot, was his all-time favorite. There are countless other photos, magazines, figures, programs and trading cards out there, too. A quick search shows that you can still obtain an authentic (match it any of the autographs shown here) photo signed by The Champ for roughly $25.00. A bargain that won’t last forever.
Bruno hit all the major marks for fans and collectors alike. A good guy who liked to take care of fans and who had plenty of merchandise to celebrate his long, successful career. He had a pretty unique signature, to boot. He may be physically gone, but talk to any Pittsburgher and you’ll know that he’s still “The Living Legend” all these years later.
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