Tom Carter thinks a visit to the Saltville Wave Pool on June 20 by “The Nature Boy” Buddy Landel might have been preordained.
It was a very special day for Carter, manager of the pool, and his lifeguards as they were each spiritually touched by the former professional wrestler two days before he died at his home in Chilhowie.
“He’d been there before (to the pool), always bringing his grandson with him,” said Carter this week as he remembered Landel. “I knew he was a wrestler but I didn’t recognize him. It was the black hair. I had seen him wrestle many times. My sister was really into that. But he was blonde then.”
Carter said the first thing Landel did when he came to the pool that day was circle around and ask when it opened. “I told the staff there’s a famous wrestler visiting us, but I just can’t remember his name,” he said. So he introduced himself and they got to talking.
Carter told Landel about a fundraiser being planned for a little girl in Chilhowie with cystic fibrosis and showed him her picture. He immediately volunteered to help, to come talk and sign autographs. They also talked about organizing a funny softball tournament with teams from each town to raise money for a charity. Carter would like to continue that project in memory of Landel.
While talking, Carter told Landel about his double-lung transplant. “He told me I was looking good and said show me your scar if you’re not embarrassed. So I showed him and he put his hands on it and prayed. He said you were put here for a purpose. You’re a good guy. We’d known each other about 15 minutes. I’d never had anyone do that.”
Carter said Landel then started talking to the lifeguards, asking them what they wanted to do in life, telling them about his life and giving them advice on being strong individuals and taking care of their money. “He placed his hand on each one’s head and said a prayer,” said Carter. “I mean, it was an experience. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“He touched everyone in some way that day,” Carter said. “It was a good gift, it really was.”
Carter said even though Landel was famous, he talked to everyone just like a regular person and joked and laughed. He had Carter try on his national championship ring and Carter said he could get two of his fingers through the ring. Carter said he’d never seen Landel that open and friendly before at the pool. “I think it came straight from his heart,” he said. “That’s the way I will remember him.”
“I cherish that little bit of time I did get to spend with him,” Carter said of Landel. “He offered to help this little girl just from seeing a picture. It gave me a new outlook on life. I’m eternally grateful for all those who’ve helped me.”
Carter was devastated when he learned of Landel’s death.
According to the WWE for which Landel wrestled, Landel was involved in a serious car accident (outside the area) the weekend he visited the Saltville pool and went to the hospital but left against medical advice sometime on Sunday, June 21. He went home and went to sleep with a bad headache. Chilhowie Police Chief Steve Price said Landel was found dead early Monday, June 22, by his wife, Donna.
“The Nature Boy” Buddy Landel was born William Ansor in Knoxville, Tenn., in August 1961. He was 53 when he died.
According to the World Wrestling Entertainment, “Landel made his in-ring debut in 1979, performing in regional promotions before signing in 1985 with the NWA's Jim Crockett Promotions. With flowing blonde locks, glittering robes and WWE Hall of Famer J.J. Dillon in his corner, Landel set his sights on then-NWA World Champion ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair. Though he left Crockett Promotions by the end of the year, Landel left his mark, defeating Terry Taylor at Starrcade 1985 to capture the NWA National Championship. Landel continued to compete in various promotions in Tennessee and Alabama, then returned to the NWA in 1990 to face off with Flair in a ‘Battle of the Nature Boys,’ before moving on to compete in Smoky Mountain Wrestling. He also made brief appearances in WWE in 1995 and 1996.”