Besides what is mentioned in the article below, Johnny Thunder had several different careers including DJ and exotic dancer. He was an interesting person by all accounts.
Whether in the wrestling ring or walking down the street in Newport, Johnny Thunder drew attention.
Friends described Thunder as one of the more colorful characters in Newport, which is saying something in a town with a history of producing colorful characters.
His friend Steve Chuke will miss seeing him walking down the street in his “strange clothes” and high heeled boots that made him look taller.
“He’d always say, ‘I’m going to Cleveland to get a can of worms,'” Chuke said. “He just made it up, and he’d laugh at it. That’s my buddy Johnny.”
Thunder died on Friday at the age of 80 after a three year battle with prostate cancer. The former professional wrestler fought hard.
“The doctors said anyone else would have been gone within three months,” said his wife, Bonnie Thunder. “He fought. He didn’t want to go so he could stay with me.”
A pall fell over the aisles of the Newport Kroger this past weekend where Thunder worked as a greeter for the past five years up until his illness forced him to quit a few weeks ago, said Lauren Stewart, the associate relations manager at Kroger in Newport.
“He would sing to me all the time, normally Elvis,” she said. “I liked it. He was very funny. He definitely put people in a better mood.”
Born John Stewart (no relation to Lauren Stewart) and raised in Hazard, Ky., Stewart legally changed his name to Johnny Thunder after joining the wrestling circuit with World Wide Sports in the 1960s.
As “Chief Johnny Thunder,” he rubbed elbows with a young Andre the Giant and the original Sheik while traveling in the 1960s and 1970s, Bonnie Thunder said. He chose the gimmick as an homage to a great grandmother who was a member of the Blackfoot tribe.
Thunder claimed to have seen Andre flip over a car when someone angered him.
He still watched wrestling, but didn’t like how later generations of wrestlers used chairs and tables to hit each other, Bonnie Thunder said.
“We’d sit and watch “Monday Night Raw,” and he’d say, ‘Hey, they’re not supposed to do that. We didn’t use chairs,'” she said. “He didn’t like the tables, ladders and chairs in wrestling.”
A knee injury ended his wrestling career, but not his enthusiasm for life. Also blessed with the voice of an angel, Thunder gained a reputation singing Elvis and other hits at friends’ parties and community events. He was also a preacher and recorded some religious music.
Chuke, who is also a well-known Elvis impersonator, remembers singing with Thunder many times in Chuke’s pawn shop on Monmouth.
“He did pretty good on Elvis,” Chuke said. “He really did. He was one of Newport’s finest characters. You can say that.”
Johnny and Bonnie Thunder were married for 31 years.
He’s survived by two children, David Brown and Jamie Furguson, and 10 grandchildren.
Visitation for Thunder will be held on Thursday, Jan. 22 from 1-3 p.m. at Fares. J. Radel Funeral Home in Newport. A memorial service will follow.