In Memoriam: Pat Patterson

A close friend of the family has broken the news that Pierre Clermont, better known to the wrestling world as Pat Patterson, died this morning in a Miami hospital.  He was 79.

Clermont was born in 1941 the Ville-Marie section of Montreal, Quebec.  At age 17 he debuted in the Montreal territory, regularly working their Palais des Sports venue.  Patterson made the bold decision to immigrate to the US in 1962, despite growing up only speaking French.  His first US gig was in Boston, and while working there, he met Louie Dondero, his life partner until the latter’s death 40 years later.

It was in Portland that Patterson’s sexuality first became wrestling’s open secret.  Don Owen turned him into Pretty Boy Patterson, an exaggerated effeminate French stereotype complete with beret and cigarette holder.  The twist on Gorgeous George made him valuable, though, and he was constantly being loaned out to the Southwestern territories as part of talent exchanges.  Eventually, he rose to the top, as on October 2, 1964, Patterson beat Pepper Martin for the NWA Pacific Northwest title.

It wasn’t until January of 1965 that Patterson would adopt his signature bleach blond look.  He did so at the request of California promoter Roy Shire, who paired him with the legendary Ray Stevens as his incarnation of the Blond Bombers.  Patterson and Stevens were NWA World Tag Champions on two occasions, and according to some (such as Bret Hart) were the Team of the Decade for the 1960s.  Around this time, Patterson made his first international tour and was so well-received he earned matches against Antonio Inoki.

Patterson, whether singles or tag, was one of the most hated men in the northern California wrestling scene.  His rivalries with Rocky Johnson, Lars Anderson, and Peter Maivia brought sold out crowds to Shire’s home base, the legendary Cow Palace.  In fact, it was during one notoriously rowdy brawl with Maivia that Afa and Sika Anoa’i were inspired to take up wrestling, beginning the famous Samoan Dynasty.

After a stop in the AWA in the late 70s — during which he and Stevens won the tag titles in a Blond Bombers reunion — the WWF came calling.  Patterson debuted as the latest recruit of Ernie Roth, aka the Grand Wizard, and soon became WWF North American champion by beating Ted DiBiase.  He even earned a title match, although then-champion Bob Backlund turned him aside.

In September 1979, Patterson was chosen to be the first ever holder of a new secondary title — the WWF Intercontinental Championship.  To set this up, he “won” a “tournament” in “Brazil” to become champion (air quotes not meant as disrespect — the tournament never happened, and the fact is was fake was a longstanding joke in later years).  During his reign, he became a babyface after vetoing the sale of his contract to Lou Albano.  His six-month reign was ended by Ken Patera.

Patterson would soon enter a feud with the overbearing Sergeant Slaughter.  The hatred between the two led to indecisive finishes, forcing things to be settled in what they called a “Boot Camp” match, Slaughter’s no-rules specialty.  In fact, there was no referee or real way of deciding the winner.  Eventually, Roth — in an ironic twist — would throw in the towel to declare Patterson the unofficial winner.  To this day, the match is considered a prototype for the WWF/E street fights that would follow.

Patterson’s retirement from full-time wrestling came in 1984, by which time he was already transitioning to a backstage role and announcing gig.  However, Patterson was still active, especially in Montreal where he would be a huge heel (which being a neutral in the US).  His final official match came in Quebec in August 1987, when he was knocked out by Brutus Beefcake, then given one of the famous haircuts.

In between, Patterson was a huge part of the Golden Years of the WWF.  He was the special guest referee for the main event of the very first WrestleMania, but his biggest contribution was as a road agent.  Not only did he help plan out main event matches, but he took a concept of a staggered-entry battle royal and perfected it — many of the best Royal Rumbles in history have his fingerprints on them.

In the time of the Attitude Era, Patterson was re-invented and reinvigorated once again, this time as a flunky for Mister McMahon in his war against Stone Cold Steve Austin.  He and fellow legend Gerald Brisco were derisively called “Stooges” by just about everyone in the WWF, as they often tried to do Vince’s dirty work (and failed).  Around this time, Patterson’s sexuality went from open secret to running gag on WWF TV — though he was never explicitly outed, JR’s commentary allowed fans to read between the lines (most famously, the claim he did “rear end work” at the Brisco Body Shop).  His proclivities were exploited as part of the comedy surrounding the Hardcore Title and led to a match at King of the Ring 2000.

After the Attitude Era subsided, Patterson became synonymous with “legend” and the Intercontinental Title.  When the title was resurrected from hiatus in May 2003, it was Patterson who presented it to the new champion, Christian.  During Breaking Point in 2009, he got in a war of words with Dolph Ziggler, then in the IC title scene.  And his memory of wrestling and kindly tone meant he was a regular not just on flashback shows but on WWE’s Legends House, where in 2014 he finally acknowledged his homosexuality on WWE television.

Patterson’s major accomplishments include his AWA Tag Title reign and two NWA Tag Title reigns with Ray Stevens, the NWA Americas championship in Los Angeles, the NWA Pacific Northwest championship on three occasions, a total of 22 tag title reigns across the territories, and of course the inaugural WWF Intercontinental championship.  In 1996, Patterson was inducted in both the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame and the WWF Hall of Fame for his service.  In a humorous sidenote, he is one of the few to hold both the Hardcore title and its successor, the 24/7 title.  In addition, he is one of only a handful of people to have been part of both a Best Match of the Year and a Worst Match of the Year in the Observer.

While Patterson’s sexuality was wrestling’s biggest open secret and running joke — and nearly cost him his career in 1992 when Murray Hodgson accused him of sexual harassment, charges that were never proven — it is also noteworthy that he was one of the first openly gay performers.  He came out to the wrestling community in the 1970s, and even before then was willing to play up the camp stereotypes as part of his character.  But it’s noteworthy that, at his peak in both San Francisco and New York, he was not a “gay wrestler”; he was merely a wrestler who was gay, and in that regard can be seen as a trailblazer.

Rest in peace, Pat Patterson, one of the game-changers in wrestling history.