Who was Jimmy Snuka?

The late Fijian-American professional wrestler James Reiher Snuka was born as James Wiley Smith in Suva, Fiji, on 18 May 1943, meaning that Taurus was his zodiac sign. He’s probably remembered best as ‘Superfly’, which was his ring name while he wrestled in World Wrestling Federation (WWF), which eventually became World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE); Jimmy was the first Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) World Heavyweight Champion, and was in 1996 inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame.

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Education and early life

Jimmy spent the first a couple of years of his life in Fiji, where he was raised by his mother Louisa Smith and her husband Bernard Reiher; his biological father Charles Thomas was married to another woman when Louisa became pregnant, and she was at that time engaged to Bernard Reiher.

Jimmy and his family moved to the Marshall Islands before he turned six, and then eventually to Hawaii. He was physically highly active while attending a local high school in Hawaii, as he played various sports with his peers, including football and basketball, and was also into wrestling; he was 16 when he began going to the gym, and eventually became a bodybuilder.

Jimmy matriculated in 1961, and spent the ‘60s focused on being a bodybuilder, rather than to pursue a college degree; he was crowned Mr. North Shore, Mr. Waikiki and Mr. Hawaii.

Professional wrestling

Jimmy was dissatisfied with the financial aspect of his bodybuilding career, and after having met a number of wrestlers while working out at Dean Ho’s gym, he ventured into wrestling.

He debuted in Hawaii in 1970, when he wrestled under the ring name Jimmy Kealoha against Maxwell’ Bunny’ Butler; he soon moved to the mainland and wrestled in National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Pacific Northwest, holding the heavyweight champions belt six times. Jimmy won his first belt on 16 November 1973 by defeating Bull Ramos, while he and Dutch Savage then won the NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship six times. In 1974 and 1975, he feuded with rookie Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura.

In 1977, he won the NWA Texas heavyweight championship, as well as several tag team titles; he and Paul Orndorff formed a tag team upon Jimmy’s move to Mid-Atlantic, and they defeated Jerry Brisco and Jack Brisco in a non-title boat. On 1 September 1979, the two defeated Greg Valentine and Baron von Raschke to become the new title holders, and on 1 September 1979, Jimmy defeated Ricky Steamboat and thus became the US heavyweight champion. Upon moving to Georgia, Jimmy teamed up with Terry Gordy to win the NWA National Tag Team Championship.

He signed with WWF in January 1982 as a villain, and gained recognition after he lost to WWF Champion Bob Backlund in a steel cage match on 28 June 1982, which the magazine “Pro Wrestling Illustrated” declared ‘Match of the Year’. He feuded with Don Muraco in the following year, and became one of the most popular wrestlers when he lost to Don in a steel cage match on 17 October 1983; what made him popular was his ‘Superfly splash’ move from the 15ft (4.6m) tall cage. Many future professional wrestlers saw the move, including Bubba Ray Dudley, Tommy Dreamer and the Sandman, and later stated that it was this move that made them want to become wrestlers. “Victory Magazine” named Jimmy Wrestler of the Year 1983.

He began feuding with ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper in June 1984, but in the same year had to enter a rehab facility, as he had become addicted to drugs.

From 1985 through 1988, Jimmy was signed to New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and to American Wrestling Association (AWA) in 1986 and 1987; he also made appearances in Continental Wrestling Association and Pacific Northwest Wrestling.

He returned to WWF on 27 May 1989, defeating Boris Zhukov at Saturday Night’s Main Event XXI. He lost nearly all of his matches in the following two years, including to the Undertaker at WrestleMania VII on 24 March 1991.

Jimmy quit WWF in 1992, and signed with ECW; he defeated Salvatore Bellomo in April of the same year, and thus became the ECW Heavyweight Champion. Jimmy held the title for only a day, as he then lost it to Johnny Hotbody, but then won it from Johnny on 14 July, and held it for two months.

From 1995 through 2015, prior to his retirement, Jimmy wrestled in the independent circuit, in promotions such as X Wrestling Federation, Total NonStop Action Wrestling and Fight Club 2; his final match was his and Frankie Flow’s win against Jason Knight and Andrew Anderson on 15 May 2015.

Love life and marriages

Jimmy was married thrice. His first wife was Patrice Aguirre, mother of the late professional wrestler Charles Eugene Wolfe Jr; the dates of Jimmy and Patrice’s wedding and divorce haven’t been disclosed, but apparently in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s.

His second wife was non-celebrity American Sharon Lli, with whom he had two daughters, including professional wrestler Sarona Moana Marie Reiher Snuka-Polamalu, born on 10 January 1978. Jimmy and Sharon were married from 1964 through 1999.

Jimmy married his third wife Carole on 4 September 2004, and was the stepfather of her children Dennis, Richard and Bridget; they were together until his death.

Murder allegations and trial

Jimmy called an ambulance to his room at George Washington Motor Lodge on 10 May 1983, and the medical workers found his girlfriend Nancy Argentino severely injured; she was rushed to Allentown’s Sacred Heart Medical Center, and died from craniocerebral injuries. The coroner’s report revealed that Nancy suffered traumatic brain injuries, which she could have only received by hitting her head against a stationary object; the autopsy revealed that she had over 20 bruises and cuts, and it was believed by many that Jimmy had beaten her to death.

He was the only suspect, but no charges were pressed against him. The girl’s parents won $500,000 from Jimmy in the US District Court in 1985, and the case of Nancy’s death was reopened on 28 June 2013, and passed on to a grand jury on 28 January 2014.

Jimmy was arrested on 1 September 2015, and charged with involuntary manslaughter and third-degree murder; he pleaded not guilty, and the judge found him mentally unfit to stand trial on 3 January 2017, thus dismissing the charges.

Death and wealth

Jimmy was diagnosed with stomach cancer in August 2015, and underwent surgery to remove part of his stomach, lymph nodes and all apparent cancer, while he was then diagnosed with dementia.

Jimmy wasn’t able to beat cancer, and died on 15 January 2017, aged 73; his net worth, at the time of his passing was estimated at over $200,000.

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