Born: February 25,1926
Died: September 6, 2007
William Darnell was born February 25, 1926 in Camden. As a teenager, he dabbled in bodybuilding and played a variety of sports. In the summer of 1942, at age 16, Billy was working as a lifeguard at Wildwood when a wrestling promoter noticed him roughhousing with his co-workers. With many young grapplers in the military, new talent was hard to come by. The money was good, so Billy became a pro wrestler.
Early in 1944, Billy wrestled fellow Camdenite Herman Rohde in Philadelphia and Washington DC. Rohde would later gain fame as Nature Boy Buddy Rogers. There was something about the way they interacted in the ring that created a spark in the audience. Billy went into the service later that year, but when he came out Texas promoter Jack Pfefer convinced him to wrestle as Billy Rogers, Buddy’s “brother”, in a tag team.
Soon Pfefer had both wrestlers booked on the California circuit, at a time when the sport was gaining popularity on television. Buddy played to the cameras with his flamboyance, while Billy—wrestling as himself again—wore a caveman “leopard-skin” costume. Billy always played a good guy throughout his career.
In no time, Billy was crowned light heavyweight champion, while Rogers was heavyweight champ. In 1948, Billy defeated his friend for the heavyweight belt. Their matches were major events. Billy and Buddy met more than 200 times in the 1940s and 1950s. Their choreography was magnificent, although there were occasional slip-ups. Rogers pile-drove Billy into a neck brace once, while Billy knocked out a couple of Nature Boy’s teeth.
Billy was also known for his tag-team work with Bill Melby. The pair won the first recognized national tag-team championship in 1953. Near the end of his wrestling career, Billy defeated Ali Pasha in a televised match, during which his opponent suffered a fatal heart attack.
In the late 1950s, Billy wrestled less and promoted more. He had a good mind for business and had used the GI Bill to get a pilot’s license, so he could fly from event to event. As someone with an intimate understanding of upper-body injuries, he opened a chiropractic school in California in 1957. After retiring in 1962, Billy established a chiropractic office in New Jersey in his home in Maple Shade, which he ran for more than 40 years.
He was an athlete ahead of his time. Billy passed away in New Jersey at the age of 81.