It must have been about 5 years ago or so. I was on my customary Saturday afternoon clothes, music, and cap shopping trek. When I ran into Pat Patterson outside a swanky well-situated downtown condo. It was mid-afternoon, but he looked he just rolled out of bed. Pale complexion, puffy eyes, freshly washed hair. My dilemma, do I just let him walk by and carry on his business? Or do I engage him in conversation?
I definitely chose the latter route. And thanked him for providing me with so much laughter and entertainment over the years. Later on in this piece, I will discuss Patterson’s integral role in a promotion known as International Wrestling. He was a top-notch heel and hosted a weekly brunch segment called the Québecois equivalent of Piper’s Pit.
He thanked me and said, “Yeah, I was a real mean son of a bi**h back then.”
Pat Patterson, né, Pierre Clermont grew up in blue-collar Montreal. The Ville Marie borough to be precise. It was where heads of families would toil in factories, tanneries, etc. The thought of living in a downtown condominium one day must have seemed as plausible as living on Mars as he grew up in one of the poorest parts of town.
Patterson first performed at home at the tender young age of 17. Shortly thereafter, he would have to bolt his hometown because his father was unable to come to terms with his son’s sexual preference. One of his first ports of call was Boston, MA. Here he met up with his spouse of 40 years, Louie Dondero. It is interesting to note that Patterson did not speak any English at all upon arriving in Boston.
Pat Patterson | His Time-Honored Québecois Legacy
Boston led to Oregon, thanks to a connection made by Maurice Vachon. Patterson then went on to fame at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. There, he was teamed with West Virginia native Ray Stevens where they formed a tag team, The Golden Blondes. The tandem enjoyed immediate and enduring success and was crowned tag team champions as early as 1965. Yes, everything was beautiful. They would recapture the NWA championship again in 1967.
The pair would enjoy another successful run in the 1970s under the auspices of Verne Gagne’s Minneapolis-based A.W.A. Patterson then signed with WWWF as it was known then becoming the company’s inaugural Intercontinental champion. He retired from wrestling at the age of 43, yet his best days were ahead of him.
Over time, Patterson became an integral cog in the WWF and became Vince MacMahon’s go-to guy. He broke into this role slowly as a very dry and scripted color commentator. He and McMahon played the irony card. Patterson wonderfully expressed seemingly genuine shock and outrage when heel turns, and heinous acts were perpetrated. One prime example of this was the build-up of the Ray Stevens – Jimmy Snuka program.
The storyline began with Snuka appearing to be grievously injured. Afterward, Stevens decked him out with a series of piledrivers on the unforgiving cement floor. One of the most iconic color commentary calls ever was Patterson’s “Oh no Vince, not another piledriver.”
Patterson’s Responsibilities Grew Over The Years
He exhibited an exceptional forté for devising concepts and choreographing matches and their outcomes. Patterson was the man behind the Shawn Michaels – Bret Hart sixty-minute Iron Man match at WrestleMania 12.
The early 1980s saw Patterson finally return to his home Province, close to a quarter-century of being away. He joined the International Wrestling Federation, which was run by Dino Bravo and Gino Brito. After an initial run as a face, he quickly became the territory’s top heel. His gimmick was being sarcastic and antagonistic. Mocking the blue-collar Québecois culture and way of speaking. He ripped the masses to play cards on their galleries and drink a poor quality bargain-priced soda known as Kik Cola. For those of you who may not know, Québec French is often compared to, say Brooklynese, rough sounding and somewhat elementary.
Back in the 1960s and earlier, Sunday mornings were dominated by church attendance. The new post-Quiet Revolution ritual was watching Sunday morning wrestling broadcasts. In the early 1980s, the broadcasts were centered around Patterson’s heel schtick. His interview segments where he deliberately mistranslated and, of course, get under his arch-rivals’ skin Rougeau clan. He would satirize popular French Canadian dancehall songs to make Jacques and Raymond come off like crybabies. Jacques and Raymond were rising stars, and Patterson put them over big time. Setting the table for their success in Stamford. Pat would also hurl crude Archie Bunker like ethnic slurs at Gino Brito and Dino Bravo. Roughly translated, he referred to them as dumb meatballs. The standards of some thirty-five years ago were nothing like those we see today.
International Wrestling would run a Monday night show. And the gala’s main selling point was to come out to boo Pat Patterson. He was a master at riling up the crowd. He referred to himself as “The Quebec Dream,” wearing a Flashdance-like cropped sweatshirt that was way too small. This would underscore his pale and paunchy physique and give rise to a quote,
“Clothes don’t make the man, his body does.”
He went out of his way to badger the crowd to muster up a tremendous reaction. I recall going to a show on a blistering hot Monday during the Summer of 1981. The Paul Sauvé arena, which was about the size of a typical CHL rink, was not air-conditioned. When Patterson came to the ring, he implored the crowd to acquaint themselves with the novel concepts of soap and bathing.
In 1985, Patterson joined the WWF French-language broadcast team. Reprising his brunch host and chief antagonist. In a memorable build-up show to Wrestlemania II, Patterson mocked the Haiti Kid for not even knowing how to say “banana” in proper French. Any mocking opportunity that presented itself Patterson jumped on like a breaking ball that doesn’t break. Tape measure heat would ensue.
Patterson’s creativity greatly contributed to WWE programming throughout the Attitude Era and beyond. Yes, he did come up with the Royal Rumble concept. Even though Vince McMahon originally nixed it. When Dick Ebersol endorsed the idea, the Chairman would change his mind. And hence one of the most anticipated shows of the year was launched, and it remains a staple to this very day.
Patterson blazed trails as well by not hiding his sexual identity from colleagues and bookers. He was open about his orientation at a time when most swept it under the rug. When he came out on a 2016 broadcast of Legend’s House and issued an autobiography at the same juncture, it was claimed that he was the first to reveal his preference.
That point remains debatable as many will tell you that Chris Colt was very open about his identity close to fifty years ago. He took his persona from the name of a character in an adult film. In the last analysis, no matter who was first, both men showed exemplary self-confidence and courage by not running from what was not a universally accepted choice at the time.
Throughout his life, Patterson maximized his blessing of having a positive attitude and seeking enjoyment in all he did. Especially in a physically and psychologically demanding trade. He opened the door for many younger talents with encouragement and suggestions very similar to those of Dusty Rhodes.
Time eventually caught up with the vigorous pioneer. He was initially hit with cancer of the bladder, which slowed him down for the first time in his life. His health declined exponentially over the last few years, curtailing his schedule considerably.
Raymond Rougeau was interviewed in the December 3rd edition of Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper. The publication in question has a small and almost elitist readership. This shows to what extent Patterson left his mark on the wrestling and pop culture front. I have taken the liberty of translating his comments into English. Rougeau commented as follows, quoting the defunct legend.
“You know Raymond, getting old is not that much fun. The hardest part is that I don’t pleasure out of life anymore. It’s sad because of all my physical limitations. Instead of living this way, I’d prefer to pass.”
When Patterson left this world, at his bedside was Sylvan Grenier. One of the dozens of talents he molded and mentored.
While the bible tells us that there is a season for everything, including a time to die, the romanticist in me, though, would like to believe that there is heaven awaiting us as the 11th bell tolls. If that is the case, one can easily imagine Patterson singing karaoke in a Hawaiian shirt. Chilling with his life partner, and choreographing a sixty-minute falls count anywhere clash between Curt Hennig and Owen Hart.
Wrestling historian and author Pat Laprade, also in the Devoir article of December the third concluded thusly about Patterson –
“Seriously, he was probably the most important Quebecker in the history of the WWE and in professional wrestling as a whole.”
It is difficult to argue with this point, but perhaps Patterson’s greatest legacy or lesson was always having fun while carrying out your tasks and responsibilities. We can look forward to all we want to for tomorrow, for better days. They may be sought after but are by no means guaranteed.