A True Gentleman: Joe Perri Was A Tireless Advocate For Wrestling In Pittsburgh
May 29, 2020
By Trapper Tom, Editor, KSWA Digest
The messages came fast and furious in the early evening of May 28, 2020. One of Pittsburgh professional wrestling’s most endearing fixtures was gone and word was spreading.
“Gentleman” Joe Perri had passed away after a long battle with cancer, six days after his 61st birthday.
Joe Perri was born in Penn Hills and graduated from high school there in 1976. Shawn Fitzgerald, one of Perri’s oldest friends and most tenured travel partners—known for more than 30 years as Shawn Patrick—called Joe one of the “greatest advocates for professional wrestling in Pittsburgh.”
Perri began his passion in wrestling during the early 1980’s, a student of Geeto Mongol. Away from the squared circle, Perri worked a series of jobs. Patrick called him a “Jack of All Trades” who joyfully worked as a security guard, pizza maker and bus driver. Patrick noted that Perri would specifically work jobs that allowed him weekends off to work Independent wrestling shows. “Joe met me when he was working security,” Patrick remembered.
Whether it be a trainer, manager, or referee, Perri did whatever he could to be around the professional wrestling business. In almost daily posts, ring announcer and Western PA wrestling historian Hank Hudson highlights Joe Perri in a number of roles in a number of promotions spanning decades.
Perri was always looking for new talent to enter the wrestling business. He was known for striking up conversations with men and women who carried themselves in an athletic way. As a result, he helped dozens of men and women into roles as referees and wrestlers. In a Facebook post, announcer Luke Hixon, who worked for years extensively as ring announcer “Adam Montgomery,” says it was Perri who hired him on the spot for a gig. Others, like Bobby “Williams” Piskor attributes Perri for opening doors for him years ago.
Joe trained many wrestlers and but he most proud of bringing his son, Mike, into the world of wrestling as referee Jimmy James. James has had a long career in the KSWA, but he has also worked in various other promotions in Western Pennsylvania.
Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) Owner Bobby O wrote on Facebook: “The KSWA Wrestling family is deeply saddened at the passing of one of our own, Gentleman Joe Perri. Joe had a long & successful wrestling career wearing many hats, specifically with many roles in his longtime KSWA tenure which led to his well-deserved induction into our Hall of Fame. Although Joe was my colleague & sometime foe in the KSWA, more importantly he was my friend away from the ring. We will miss Joe. I will miss him.”
In 2017, Perri was inducted into the KSWA Hall of Fame, along with Studio Wrestling’s “Fighting Cop From Carnegie” Frank Holtz and others. It was an honor eagerly awaited. Perri served as a manager in “The Gentleman’s Club” and “The International Thugs” before settling in as the KSWA’s longest-running “Kommissioner.”
Perri was inseparable from his girlfriend of 24 years, Cindy Klein. The two met as a result of a “blind date” at the Palace Inn in Monroeville. After an initial chat, they decided to see a movie at a nearby theater. Perri sheepishly asked Klein if he could “hold her hand” during the movie. Klein was moved by the “gentlemanly” gesture. The two remained an item from that day forward.
Perri battled cancer over the past few years. He would make periodic events whenever he felt strong enough. Klein says that Perri “nearly died” during an episode last July, but Joe pulled through and make his last appearance in the KSWA at the Children’s Miracle Hospital fundraiser in October. Fittingly, an enthusiastic KSWA Kommissioner Perri made a team of bad guys face a team of good guys in the ruckus main event. Perri hadn’t missed a beat.
Always interested in others, Perri was legendary for asking everyone about their family, their children and spouses. He also hugged people. A lot.
Unfortunately, doctors found that the cancer “spread like wildfire” in recent weeks. Joe was told that the disease spread from his liver and throughout his body. He passed away comfortably two days later, chatting with Klein until the very end.
“Joe was a wonderful father, grandfather and life-mate,” said Klein. “Love held us together.”
Joe Perri is survived by Klein, his son, Mike, as well as his daughter Julia (Jim) Straka, and his granddaughters Jillian and Justi. Funeral services are private