Adrian Adonis

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Adrian Adonis
Franke as "Adorable" Adrian Adonis in the 1980s
Birth nameKeith Adonis Franke
Born(1953-09-15)September 15, 1953[1]
Buffalo, New York, U.S.[1]
DiedJuly 4, 1988(1988-07-04) (aged 34)[2]
Lewisporte, Newfoundland, Canada[2]
Cause of deathTraffic collision
Bea Franke Hall
(m. 1972)
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Adrian Adonis[1]
Keith Franks[1]
Billed height5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)[3]
Billed weight298 lb (135 kg)[3]
Billed fromNew York City
Trained byFred Atkins

Keith Adonis Franke (September 15, 1953 – July 4, 1988) was an American professional wrestler better known by his ring name Adrian Adonis. He was best known for his appearances with the American Wrestling Association and World Wrestling Federation throughout the 1980s.

Adonis debuted in 1974 under his real name, until he adopted the Adrian Adonis name in the late 1970s. He later began working for the American Wrestling Association (AWA), forming a tag team with Jesse Ventura called the “East-West Connection”, winning the AWA World Tag Team Championship. They debuted for the World Wrestling Federation in late 1981, but Ventura stopped wrestling regularly due to injuries. After this, Adonis began teaming with Dick Murdoch as the “North-South Connection”, winning the WWF Tag Team Championship.

In 1986, Adonis underwent a gimmick change as an effeminate, flamboyant wrestler who wore pink clothing and garish makeup, adopting the “Adorable” Adrian Adonis name. He would be involved in a feud with Roddy Piper, which culminated in a hair vs. hair match at WrestleMania III. After he was fired in mid-1987, he made a brief return to the AWA and would make appearances in small promotions until his death in a car accident in 1988. His career was a subject of an episode of the fourth season of Viceland's documentary series, the Dark Side of the Ring, that aired in 2023.

Early life


Franke was born on September 15, 1953, in Buffalo, New York. He was the adopted son of Kenneth and Hortense Franke, and had two sisters, Karen and Susan. He went to Kenmore East High School in the class of 1971. A gifted amateur wrestler, he won a section VI title in 1970. However, he dropped out as he grew bored with school. For a short time, Adonis played football in the Canadian Football League before focusing on a wrestling career.

Professional wrestling career


Early career (1974–1979)

Adonis (left) during a 1982 match with Bob Backlund.

Franke trained under Fred Atkins and debuted in 1974, wrestling under the name Keith Franks. In the late 1970s, he adopted the ring name "Adrian Adonis" and the character of a brawling, leather jacket-clad biker.[4] In Pacific Northwest Wrestling, Adonis formed a tag team with Roddy Piper. He later split from Piper and became a fan favorite, teaming with Ron Starr to win the NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship from Piper and Killer Brooks before losing the title to the Kiwi Sheepherders.[4]

American Wrestling Association (1979–1982)


In the late 1970s, Adonis joined the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association. In 1979, he formed a tag team with Jesse Ventura. The team was called The East-West Connection because Adonis was from New York (in the East), while Ventura was billed from California (in the West). The East-West Connection was awarded the AWA World Tag Team Championship on July 20, 1980, when Verne Gagne (one half of the tag champions with Mad Dog Vachon) was unable to defend it because he was vacationing in Europe. They held the belts until June 14, 1981, when they were defeated by Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell.

World Wrestling Federation (1981–1987)


The East-West Connection (1981–1983)

Adonis applying a sleeperhold to Bob Backlund during a 1982 match

Adonis and Ventura debuted in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in October 1981, working both as a team and in singles matches.[5] Adonis was a frequent challenger of WWF Champion Bob Backlund and Intercontinental Champion Pedro Morales throughout the first half of 1982.[6]

The North-South Connection (1983–1985)


When injuries caused Ventura to stop wrestling regularly,[3] Adonis formed a tag team with the Texan Dick Murdoch, called "The North-South Connection". The team debuted in late 1983. Around this time, Adonis (who had previously been a muscular, stocky, and well-conditioned wrestler) gained a considerable amount of weight. On April 17, 1984, The North-South Connection defeated Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson to win the WWF World Tag Team Championship. They held the title until January 21, 1985, when they were defeated by Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda. The team split shortly after the loss.[4][7][8]

"Adorable" Adrian Adonis (1985–1987)

Adonis (back) and manager Jimmy Hart (front) walking, circa 1987

In late 1985, after being briefly managed by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and adopting the DDT as a finisher, Adonis' gimmick began to change. First, Jimmy Hart became his manager when Hart traded King Kong Bundy to Heenan in exchange for Adonis and The Missing Link. With Hart in his corner, Adonis defeated Corporal Kirchner to advance in The Wrestling Classic pay-per-view tournament in November, then lost to Dynamite Kid in the quarterfinals.[9] After taking Heenan as his manager in July 1985, Adonis started carrying a briefcase. Eventually, the briefcase had the phrase "Relax with Trudi" on it. In September 1985, Hart would become his manager and he would also eventually carry a spray called Fragrance. During an edition of Piper's Pit which aired in January 1986, Adonis gave his signature leather jacket away to host Roddy Piper (who wore it for years afterward). Adonis then adopted the gimmick of the effeminate "Adorable" Adrian Adonis, bleaching his hair blonde and wearing pink ring attire, as well as scarves, leg warmers, dresses, hats, and clownish amounts of eye shadow and rouge.[10] At this time, his weight further ballooned, peaking at over 350 lb (160 kg; 25 st).[11] He also ceased his prior weightlifting regimen, stopped tanning, and removed all of his body hair. The result made him appear pale, soft, rotund and flabby, despite the fact that he retained considerable athleticism and agility in the ring. He defeated Uncle Elmer in quick fashion at WrestleMania 2[12] and feuded extensively with the Junkyard Dog and George "The Animal" Steele, while also unsuccessfully challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship on multiple occasions.[4]

In May 1986, during Piper's five-month hiatus from the WWF, Adonis (with Hart) debuted his own talk segment, The Flower Shop.[13] These segments were the primary backdrop for Paul Orndorff's slow-building heel turn against his friend Hulk Hogan, with Adonis relentlessly needling Orndorff about living in Hogan's shadow. In August, shortly before Piper's return, Adonis obtained the services of Piper's bodyguard, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, who took to wearing a pink cowboy hat. A feud with Piper heated up when Adonis, Orton, and Don Muraco attacked him during a "duel" between the two talk segments, injuring his leg, covering him in lipstick and damaging the Pit set. A week later, Piper destroyed the set of The Flower Shop with a baseball bat. It was never rebuilt. On the October 4 Saturday Night's Main Event VII, Piper struck Adonis with a crutch, resulting in a two-month absence from TV with an alleged separated shoulder. In reality, Adonis was fired but quickly rehired when Piper's house show matches vs. Don Muraco and Bob Orton Jr. didn't draw.[14] After Adonis returned in November to attack Piper on the Pit, the two agreed to a hair vs. hair match at WrestleMania III. Piper won the bout with help from Brutus Beefcake,[15] who cut off the majority of Adonis' hair afterward.[4] Adonis then began a feud with Beefcake but was fired in May 1987 for what the WWF claimed were "dress code violations".[16]

American Wrestling Association (1987–1988)


Franke (now with a shaved head) left the WWF shortly after WrestleMania III and returned to the AWA, where he was managed by Paul E. Dangerously during 1987. He maintained his "Adorable" Adrian Adonis gimmick, feuded with Tommy Rich and lost the final match of the AWA International Television Championship tournament to Greg Gagne in December 1987. While there, he lost one hundred pounds and hoped to return to WWF.

New Japan Pro Wrestling (1988)


With his ankle fully recovered, Franke wrestled a tour for New Japan throughout May and June 1988. During that tour, he would not use his North American "Adorable" gimmick and teamed up with Owen Hart and D.J. Peterson. On June 23, he and Murdoch unsuccessfully challenged Riki Choshu and Masa Saito for the IWGP Tag Team Championship. On June 26, teaming up with Murdoch against Kengo Kimura and Yoshiaki Fujiwara, which ended in a draw.



With hopes of rejoining WWF and having lost weight, he worked for Dave McKigney in Newfoundland and wrestled against Hartford Love. On July 4, 1988, in Lewisporte, Newfoundland, Franke was in a minivan with fellow wrestlers, and twins William "Mike Kelly" Arko, Victor "Pat Kelly" Arko, and Dave McKigney. Franke, McKigney, and Victor Arko were killed when Victor Arko, allegedly blinded by the setting sun, swerved to avoid hitting a moose causing the van to fall from a bridge into a creek below. Franke suffered severe head injuries and died a few hours later. William Arko was the sole survivor and sustained severe leg injuries.[17][18][19]

He was survived by his wife and two daughters.[20] He is buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Bakersfield, California.

Championships and accomplishments


See also



  1. ^ a b c d e "Adrian Adonis profile". Online World of Wrestling. Archived from the original on December 2, 2009. Retrieved December 12, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Schramm, C. (July 4, 2001). "Triumph and tragedy on July 4th". Canadian Online Explorer. Archived from the original on July 24, 2012. Retrieved May 30, 2007. The year before was not as lucky for three men. Mike Kelly was driving Adrian Adonis, Dave "The Wildman" McKigney, and his twin brother Pat Kelly in Lewisporte, Newfoundland, when Kelly lost control of the van while trying to avoid a moose. The van went off a bridge into a creek. Mike Kelly was the lone survivor.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  3. ^ a b c Shields, Brian; Kevin Sullivan (March 2009). WWE Encyclopedia. Dorling Kindersley. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-7566-4190-0.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Adrian Adonis". Retrieved May 31, 2007.
  5. ^ Horton, Aaron D. (March 2, 2018). Identity in Professional Wrestling: Essays on Nationality, Race and Gender. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-6728-7.
  6. ^ Milner, J. "Jesse Ventura". Canadian Online Explorer. Archived from the original on January 1, 2013. Retrieved May 30, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  7. ^ a b "History of the World Tag Team Championship". Archived from the original on May 15, 2007. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  8. ^ a b Duncan, R.; Will, G. (2007). "WWWF/WWF/WWE Tag Team Title History". Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  9. ^ "Misc. WWF PPVs 1980s". Retrieved August 2, 2021.
  10. ^ Baer, Randy; Reynolds, R. D. (December 16, 2010). Wrestlecrap: The Very Worst of Professional Wrestling. ECW Press. ISBN 978-1-55490-544-7.
  11. ^ Reynolds, R. D. (November 16, 2010). The Wrestlecrap Book of Lists!. ECW Press. ISBN 978-1-55490-287-3.
  12. ^ "Full WrestleMania 2 results". WWE. Retrieved August 2, 2021.
  13. ^ Toombs, Ariel Teal; Toombs, Colt Baird (March 3, 2020). Rowdy: The Roddy Piper Story. Random House of Canada. ISBN 978-0-345-81621-4.
  14. ^ Nedeff, Adam. "WWF Wrestling Challenge (12.13.1986) Review".
  15. ^ "Full WrestleMania III results". WWE. Retrieved August 2, 2021.
  16. ^ The Wrestling Observer Newsletter: 5/11/87
  17. ^ "Deaths – FAQ". Archived from the original on May 13, 2007. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  18. ^ "Dave 'Wildman' McKigney". Canadian Online Explorer. Archived from the original on January 15, 2013. Retrieved May 30, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  19. ^ "Kelly Twins, Pat & Mike". Canadian Online Explorer. Archived from the original on February 19, 2016. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  20. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The death of Adrian Adonis". YouTube.
  21. ^ Rodgers, Mike (2004). "Regional Territories: PNW #16 Page #2".