Don West Death – Cancer
1963-2022 (Age 59)
Don West was a larger-than-life personality who made a living from always dialing things to eleven. Whether he was a pitchman for the Shop at Home Network, a sports executive, a sports radio host, or a color commentator for TNA/IMPACT Wrestling, Don West left his mark wherever he went. Don West’s death came at the relatively young age of 59, but he left behind many memories for his friends and fans.
Memorabilia Pitch Man Extraordinaire
Born on June 20, 1963, in Chicago, Illinois, Donald West majored in sports broadcasting at Purdue University. His goal was to work as a sports broadcaster or as a radio show host. Little did he know where his life would take him.
Don West applied for work as a pitchman for the Shop at Home Network when he learned of an opening. He interviewed but was told his raspy voice wouldn’t work for TV. However, West proved his skill when he began selling knives on TV and he did so successfully.
After proving his mettle, West was approached about selling sports collectibles. It proved a wise move. In a 2006 interview with SLAM! Sports, he recalled:
“I took it over in March of 1993. We took it from almost $3 million dollars a year to close to $150 million a year within the next eight years.”
Don West’s unique ability to sell merchandise during the graveyard shift didn’t go unnoticed. Saturday Night Live parodied him on three separate occasions.
His ability to sell also caught the attention of WCW writer Vince Russo, who felt that if West could sell collectibles, he could sell wrestling. Russo would tell SLAM! Wrestling:
“Don was far and away the best salesman I’d every seen,”If he could sell José Cardenal baseball cards at three o’clock in the morning, then he could definitely sell wrestling!”
West was invited to work for WCW but declined, a fortuitous move as the company was purchased by the WWF not long after.
Entering the Wrestling World
West left the world of selling merchandise in 2001. It was a highly successful run but he it was time to move on. In 2006, he discussed one of the reasons for leaving:
“I had been screaming for eight hours a night, four nights a week. I also did all of the buying. Basically, I was living on one or two hours of sleep a day for almost ten years. Physically, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had done very well and was ready for a new venture.”
He went to work hosting a sports radio show from Nashville, Tennessee, which happened to near where a new wrestling promotion —Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling was being developed
A New Type of Wrestling Calls for a New Type of Announcer
Jeff and Jerry Jarrett wanted to try a new business model—weekly two-hour pay-per-views. The Jarretts invited West to be its color commentator, reportedly at the advice of Vince Russo. Russo knew that West was just what TNA-Wrestling was looking for to distinguish itself from the competition.
Former WCW announcer Mike Tenay would serve as TNA’s play-by-play man and he met West shortly before their debut. The two hit it off, becoming fast friends. Tenay helped West adjust to the wrestling world, a world he immediately fell in love with.
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Dave Meltzer once wrote of West’s reaction to the wrestling world:
West loved the crazy culture of pro wrestling, noting that after being in wrestling for some time and when he and wife Terri had dinner together with a neighbor couple, he said, “I can’t deal with normal people. I can’t relate to them.”
While Don West quickly adjusted to the wrestling world’s culture, his entry into color commentary was not without its challenges.
Putting the Color in Color Commentary
The Jarretts hired West due to his undeniable exuberance. As they saw things, Don West would provide a fan’s take on wrestling. As such, Jeff and Jerry Jarrett told West to dress casual. Over time, he developed a wardrobe almost as wild as Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry.
Of course, West’s wardrobe was secondary to his performance as an announcer. While West had a bit of a learning curve (as well as pushback from some wrestlers who saw him as an outsider), he eventually won over fans and wrestlers alike.
Mike Tenay would describe his colleague’s commentary to SLAM! Wrestling in 2006:
“Don is totally different from any colour commentator in wrestling history. I’ve noticed that his style takes a few shows to get used to. When we would switch networks (first to Fox Sports Net and now to Spike TV), new viewers would initially be negative to Don’s style. But, if you listen to him for a few weeks, his genuine enthusiasm and interest in the product wins you over.”
The grappling game has seen many color commentators including Bobby Heenan, Pat Patterson, Bruno Sammartino, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, and Lord Alfred Hayes. Each brought their own style to the announce booth with varying degrees of success.
Interestingly, Don West was the only from among these color commentators who had no experience in the ring. Nevertheless, he succeeded in his own way.
Don West moved from color commentary in 2009, transferring to TNA’s merchandise and sales department.
Life After Wrestling
His relationship with TNA lasted until 2012 when he left the company to become the director of sales and marketing for the Wenatchee Wild hockey club. However, Don returned to the company in 2017 (now known as IMPACT Wrestling) to work in its merchandise department.
The Death of Don West
In 2021, Don West announced that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma of the brain. He underwent treatment for the disease.
West’s long-time friend and former broadcast partner Mike Tenay tweeted on December 30, 2022:
Just heard from wife Terri that our brother @DonWestDeals will be spending New Years in heaven. Terri said D-Dub finally had to tap out from his match with lymphoma. We bonded as soon as we met, both as broadcast partners and friends. Years of great moments both on and off camera
— Mike Tenay (@RealMikeTenay) December 30, 2022
Don West was 59. He is survived by his wife Terri.
What are your favorite memories of Don West? Let us know in the comments below.