In the late 1980s, to reach the peak of women's professional wrestling was to be among the cast members on the hit sports show GLOW: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Hitting the airwaves in 1986, the all-female wrestling program consisted of women assigned flamboyantly cartoonish alter egos that couldn't have been further from political correctness, like Matilda the Hun, Babe the Farmer's Daughter, and the tag team Hollywood & Vine.
Considering the stress they put on their bodies, the female wrestling pioneers practically worked for free, making between $300 and $700 a week. There were no dental benefits, just the risk of losing teeth in the ring; no medical insurance for the inevitable broken collarbones and concussions. Their only guarantee at the end of the day was pain and exasperation — and, when the bright lights dimmed and the roar subsided, the glory.
But among the many talented ladies who initially scratched the surface of women in professional wrestling, none of them are remembered quite like the one they dubbed "Mountain Fiji." Legend has it that Emily "Mount Fiji" Dole never lost a match, which makes sense when you consider that she stood 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed in at 350 pounds.
A proud Samoan-American woman, an actress by any fair definition, an accomplished athlete, Dole was by far the most recognizable character on GLOW, with her tree trunk-like arms and shoulders as wide as a volcano's outer rim. Prior to her time as a professional wrestler, Dole was remembered for her ability to toss a shotput more than 50 feet as a teenager at Buena Park High School in California — a feat that's been repeated just twice by other California high school girls since. Later on, Dole qualified for two Olympic track and field trials, where she finished fifth in 1976 and seventh in 1980. Netflix's current fictionalized tribute to the pioneering wrestling league features a Samoan-American wrestler named Carmen "Machu Picchu" Wade, played by Britney Young, a clear tribute to Dole's legacy.
In her final years, Dole dealt with a number of health problems, many of which were born out of her career in wrestling, and had been staying in an assisted living facility. By 2008, her weight had begun to get the best of her as she climbed up to 425 pounds, although she would later cut it back down to 235 pounds.
But like all volcanoes, though it had erupted hundreds of times within the wrestling ring, the fire inside her would inevitably lay dormant. On Jan. 2, 2018, Dole passed away from unknown complications. She was 60 years old.
From "The people who died, 2018."
Next: Thomas Bopp, amateur astronomer and discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp.
Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.