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POMFRET, Vt. (CAP) - Former professional wrestler Francis Fratello, perhaps most well known for his 1964 match with Bruno Sammartino, died this weekend at his home in Pomfret, Vt., surrounded by family and friends. Fratboy Frankie, as he was known in the ring, was 76.
"I want to thank everyone for their support all these years," said Danielle Fratello following the announcement of her father's death. "My father loved wrestling and loved his fans, but most of all - he loved life. And he lived a full one. Thank you."
Authorities have launched an investigation into Fratello's death, challenging the ruling by the Chief Medical examiner's office that the retired wrestler died of natural causes. Doctors say there is nothing to support the police inquiry.
"We performed three separate autopsies on Mr. Fratello," said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Steven Shapiro. "In no instance did we find anything to indicate that his death was suspicious in any way. It remains our ruling that Mr. Fratello simply died of old age."
However, lead investigator Det. Mark Bollin said in his experience, professional wrestlers "don't just die of old age." He pointed to the shortened lives of wrestlers Chris Benoit and Owen Hart, and the questions that continued to swirl until long after their deaths.
"Listen, somewhere in here this death can be tied to steroids, or alcohol, or doing something else stupid," said Bollin. "Old age, my ass. I will not quit until I find out what really happened."
Fratello made his mark in professional wrestling when he became the first to use a closed folding chair against an opponent during his 1964 loss to Bruno Sammartino for the World Wide Wrestling Federation Championship. He would wrestle for another 12 years before settling down to open a used car dealership just outside his hometown of Pomfret.
Fratello is survived by his daughter, Danielle, his son, Richard, and three grandchildren.
- CAP News Staff