Hundreds grapple with Gagne at 'The Wrestler' showing in Mpls.

11:12 PM, Jan 29, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - For wrestling fans in Minnesota all it took was one movie and one man to bring back so many memories.

"To be able to relive it all this afternoon with our heroes growing up it's really something special," said John MacGibbon of Prior Lake. "

There are long lines and plenty of picture-taking for those coming to see professional wrestling legend Verne Gagne. The 16-time world heavyweight champion and Minnesota native is making rare public appearances at the Parkway Theater in South Minneapolis this weekend. The theater is honoring the state's rich, wrestling history by re-releasing "The Wrestler," a classic film from 1974 starring Verne Gagne himself.

"AWA Wrestling with the Gagnes, The Crusher and many more were such a big deal when I was growing up," says Rob Chapman, who helped to revive the film. "It's been a party and has been very nostalgic."

The movie chronicles an aging pro-wrestler on the verge of retirement and highlights the struggle between up-and-coming competitors. Verne's son Greg, also a former wrestling champion, says seeing the support of family, friends, and fans means so much to his 85-year old dad dealing with severe Alzheimer's.

"It's good for him to be out and about like this," he says. "He's affected a lot of people in Minnesota and helped to put the state on the map."

Hundreds came out for three viewings of "The Wrestler" Saturday and organizers expect more to come out on Sunday.

"Back in the day there was Tony Olivia, Rod Carew, Lou Nanne, and Verne Gagne," says Champman. "He was as big as anyone as far as status in the community."

From the 1950's and into the 1980's, Gagne was a premiere wrestler known for his drop kick, "sleeper" hold, and his quickness.

Verne Gagne's family say his health is not worsening, but they continue to deal with dementia. He is currently living with family in the Twin Cities.

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