Swede Hanson Death – Sepsis
1933-2002 (Age 68)
Big man Swede Hanson was well-known for his tag team with Rip Hawk, but he also enjoyed a singles career, including a main event program with WWWF champion Bob Backlund.
The Big Swede winded down his career in the WWF, retiring in 1986.
While younger fans may be unfamiliar with Hanson’s work, his team with Hawk is considered one of the greatest tag teams from the territory era.
New Jersey Knuckles
Robert Hanson was born in 1933 but had little time to enjoy his childhood. In a 1997 interview, the New Jersey native recalled working since he was nine years old.
Over time, he became a boxer, competing in New Jersey’s Golden Gloves with a 61-3 win-loss record. But it would be professional wrestling that won him over.
The 6’4” 300-pound Hanson trained under George Trajos, the same man who had trained legendary wrestler Lou Thesz. After three months training, Hanson made his debut in 1957, wrestling for promoter Vince McMahon Sr.
Hanson worked with another rookie, the future “Living Legend,” Bruno Sammartino. While Sammartino would enjoy superstardom in the Northeast, Hanson’s fortune would be found in the South.
A Legendary Tag Team is Born
In 1961, Hanson began working for Jim Crockett Sr., the beginning of a 20-year run in Jim Crockett Promotions. After working as a singles wrestler, Hanson was paired with Rip Hawk, forming the tag team known as the Blond Bombers.
At the time, JCP focused on tag team wrestling and the Blond Bombers had no issue standing out amongst the pack. This included tag teams such as George Becker and Johnny Weaver; Sandy and George Scott; Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard; the Anderson Brothers (Gene and Ole); and Greg Valentine and Ric Flair.
Hawk and Hanson enjoyed a friendship outside the ring, no doubt helping with their chemistry in the ring.
Hanson’s longevity in JCP was unusual as promotions typically used wrestlers for a finite period before sending them elsewhere to stay fresh. Hanson’s talents kept him in constant demand with Crockett, a sign of his talent and drawing ability.
More than a Blond Bomber
Swede Hanson’s team with Rip Hawk brought him fame, a good amount of hatred from fans, but also their respect.
Hanson had a notable run as a babyface in JCP, feuding with the Super Destroyer. Hanson formed successful partnerships with other wrestlers, and enjoyed a main event run in the WWWF. In 1979, the Big Swede worked a rough-and-tumble series with WWWF champion Bob Backlund, taking the champion to the limit, but ultimately failing to win the gold.
As the Big Swede got older, he gave back to the business by using his status to help get younger stars over. Swede began to win less and lose more, but fans knew a victory over Hanson was no walk in the park:
Fans knew anyone who prevailed against Hanson had earned their victory, helping to elevate the winner in the process.
Swede Hanson’s Retirement and Health Problems
The Big Swede retired from wrestling in 1986, but continued working; both as a fitness trainer, in construction, and as a nightclub manager.
Hanson finally retired, spending time enjoying his five acres of land, the outdoors, and the company of his fiancée, Patsy Hughes.
Health problems troubled Hanson in his later years including diabetes, high blood pressure, and Alzheimer’s disease. The Big Swede was hospitalized in early 2002 at a facility in Columbia, South Carolina.
On February 19, 2002, Swede Hanson passed away at age 68. Most reports note that sepsis (blood poisoning) is what ultimately took his life.
In 2007, Swede Hanson and Rip Hawk were honored with a spot in the “Hall of Heroes”, with the ceremony taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina at the NWA Legend’s Fanfest. Manager Gary Hart oversaw the induction, and Swede was represented by his son and daughter for the event.
Swede Hanson was survived by his three sons, a daughter, and fiancée, Patsy Hughes.