Harry Fujiwara, a WWE manager and professional wrestler best known by his stage name of Mr. Fuji, has died. Fujiwara died at his home in Knoxville, Tennessee on Sunday morning. He was 82.
Fujiwara got his start in pro wrestling in 1965; although his character was billed as hailing from Osaka, Fujiwara was actually a Japanese-American born in Hawaii, where he debuted under the name Mr. Fujiwara in the National Wrestling Alliance. In 1966, Fujiwara won his first tag-team championship with partner King Curtis Iaukea. By that point, the wrestler had shortened his moniker to Mr. Fuji.
In 1972, Fujiwara made his first appearance in Vince McMahon Sr.’s World Wide Wrestling Federation. Fujiwara came on as a heel, claiming the World Tag Team Championship with his partner Professor Toru Tanaka and manager The Grand Wizard. Fujiwara defended that title against legends like Bruno Sammartino before leaving the WWWF for Georgia Championship Wrestling in 1974.
Fujiwara returned to the WWWF in 1977, before returning to the NWA territories where he got his start. The wrestler made his second return to McMahon’s company—now known as the World Wrestling Federation—in 1981.
Fujiwara experienced his greatest success in the WWF, first as he and Mr. Satio—under the management styling’s of Captain Lou Albano—claimed the Tag Team Championship in 1981. During his run wrestling in the WWF, he feuded with Rick Martel and tag team The Wild Samoans. Fujiwara retired from wrestling in 1985, but remained with the WWF as a manager of his fellow heels.
In 1985, Fujiwara adopted his signature look of a black tuxedo, bowler, and cane, creating a character that resembled between Oddjob and Charlie Chan. Known as “the devious one,” Fujiwara would frequently cheat when the referee wasn’t looking by throwing salt in his opponent’s eyes, blinding them and making them easy to pin down.
While a manager, Fujiwara took the reins on the some of the WWF’s best bad guys, including George “The Animal Steel,” Don Muraco, and the tag team Demolition. Demolition eventually turned face and abandoned Mr. Fuji, who in turn took over management duties on Ax and Smash’s rivals, The Powers Of Pain. Fujiwara also led the mammoth Yokozuna—a sumo character—to his two world heavyweight titles. In a recent tribute to Fujiwara, announcer Mean Gene Okerlund described Fujiwara’s management style as “one of a kind.”
While known as a sinister character in and around the ring, Fujiwara revealed his dry sense of humor on Tuesday Night Titans, a WWF-produced parody of late-night talk shows. Fujiwara was a regular guest on the show, and appeared in TV parodies such as Fuji General and Fuji Vice. “Mr.Fuji was the first man to ever rib me, and taught me the beginnings of the Art of Ribbing,” wrestling manager and 2011 WWE Hall of Fame inductee Tamra “Sunny” Sytch writes in a Facebook tribute to Fujiwara quoted by Inquisitr.
By 1996, Fujiwara had turned face, and retired from the business shortly thereafter. Fujiwara went on to run a dojo out of Knoxville, Tennessee until 2001, and was a part-time movie usher in his spare time. He was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame on March 31, 2007 by former wrestler and fellow Hawaiian Don Muraco.
“Fuji spent more than 30 years entertaining fans worldwide as both an in-ring competitor and one of WWE’s greatest managers,” the WWE says in a statement. “With Muraco, Fuji treated WWE fans to the classic Fuji Vice, Fuji General, Fuji Bandito and Fuji Chan series. These series were ahead of their time because spoofing successful television shows as they tried to break into Hollywood was the epitome of sports-entertainment. His career will be remembered by different generations for different reasons, but Mr. Fuji, whether as a Superstar or manager, is one of the most entertaining performers in the history of WWE.”