Charles Chester Conley passed away Friday at the age of 75.
His obituary talked about his employment as a bus driver for the city of Ashland and that he was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
But that’s far from the whole story of Charles Conley, who was half of the popular 1960s Hall of Fame tag-team professional wrestlers known as the “Scufflin’ Hillbillies.” They wore bibbed overalls and carried a moonshine jug into the wrestling ring as part of their schtick. They were part of a card that sold out Madison Square Garden on three consecutive nights in 1962 while working for the WWWF.
Conley and partner Rip Collins, who died in 1993, entertained thousands as the “Scufflin’ Hillbillies.” They performed the dreaded “’possum stomp” on opponents as fans cheered and cheered.
“They got a guy down and they’d do the ’possum stomp,’’’ said Bob Smedley, who also has some pro wrestlin’ experience in his past with the name Bobby Blaze. “They played up to the whole crowd from what I understand. Television was getting into its heydey with shows like the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ and Westerns like the ‘The Virginian’ and ‘The Rifleman.’ They came out in the bibbed overalls with the moonshine jug that had the triple Xs on it. It was a good gimmick for the time.”
The “Scufflin’ Hillbillies” were stereotypical of the Appalachian area for the time. “Everybody thought that’s what everyone in Kentucky looks like,” Smedley said.
Conley spent his last years in nursing homes in Coal Grove and Flatwoods, according to Smedley, who came to know him through wrestling.
“He came to matches and always called me ‘The Kid,’’’ Smedley remembered. “I always called him ‘Old-Timer.’ A lot of people would get mad about that, but he liked the camaraderie we had.”
Smedley said Conley always loved to talk about his days as one of “Scufflin’ Hillbillies.” That and his service in the Marines meant so much to him. He had a plaque and letter in his room at the nursing home reflecting how he won the 1958 USMC wrestling championship in Fort Bragg, N.C. That’s what started him on the sometimes zany world of professional wrestling a few years later.
The plaque, letter and a photograph of the “Scufflin’ Hillbillies” followed him from rest home to rest home. That’s how much it all meant to him.
He was inducted into the Tri-State Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2008 along with his partner. Blaze was also inducted that year.
“When I first met Chuck, I was passing papers (for The Independent),” Smedley said. “He lived up on Winchester between 27th and 28th and had some stuff about wrestling. He started calling me ‘Kid’ then.”
Smedley and Conley struck up then what would be a longtime friendship. Smedley said he visited his friend around the holidays every year and they’d sit and talk and laugh. The subject was always wrestling.
Martha McCoy was a double-cousin of Conley and she said her father, Wayne Castle, “was a big fan of his. My dad was gong to go right into the ring on them one time. He was a hot-head. But he was going to go right in there and get them.”
McCoy, 80, said her double-cousin always loved the entertaiment part of professional wrestling.
“I followed him, but never said him wrestle in person,” she said. “I had a big family to take care of. But I kept up with him the best I could. He had so much fun with it.”
The “Scufflin’ Hillbillies” were so popular a second tag-team was started with Cousin Slim (Marvin Cheatham) and Cousin Willie (Billy Garrett). The second team was often accompanied by a manager in Cousin Alfred, who also wrestled sometimes. They often mixed and matched the Hillbillies up with Slim teaming with Rip and Chuck teaming with Willie and vice versa. It was a car accident in 1978 that ended Conley’s wrestling career, although he and Rip ran wrestling schools into the mid-1980s, Smedley said.
During the time the “Hillbillies” were in New York, they stayed a block from Madison Square Garden in a room for $25 a week. They could get a steak, potato, salad and coffee for $2.50. Their payoff for the show would be $250. Of course, in 1962, that was a lot of money.
“They didn’t get rich, but they did OK,” Smedley said.
The “Hillbillies” had enough of a name they could travel small distances for televised shows where they might make $15, Smedley said.
Besides being remembered as one of the “Scufflin’ Hillbillies,” Smedley said his friend was ordained as a minister about three years ago.
“I know that’s something he’d want people to know,” Smedley said.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.