If you are going to remember anything about this piece, it should be that name. It’s one of the few things that has been brought up in the days since Jimmy Snuka passed away.
Nancy Argentino was 23 when she died. Her life – like all lives – meant much more than being the possible murder victim of a famous professional wrestler.
I didn’t know a lot about “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka growing up.
My first exposure to him was in animated form. He was one of the cast of characters in “Hulk Hogan’s Rock N’ Wrestling”, the then-WWF’s foray into Saturday morning cartoons (as if Superstars wasn’t enough of a cartoon but I digress).
Snuka was there in all his tiger print glory despite having departed from the company before the first episode of the cartoon even aired. Yet there he was, a member of Hulk Hogan’s crew alongside Andre The Giant, Junkyard Dog, Tito Santana, Captain Lou Albano and Wendi Richter to do battle with the heel team of Roddy Piper, The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Mr. Fuji, Big John Studd and the Fabulous Moolah.
As a gateway drug to WWF programming, there was nothing better, but by the time I got there Snuka was long gone.
I would later find out from a back issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated that he had been the corner man for Hulk Hogan and Mr. T in their victory over Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff – as a means of evening the odds given that they had “Cowboy” Bob Orton in their corner – at the very first WrestleMania.
It would be a long time before I could find a video store with a copy of the first WrestleMania but I eventually got to see it for myself.
I also heard something about Roddy Piper smashing a coconut over Snuka’s head but I wouldn’t get to see that iconic moment in wrestling history until decades later when I finally caught it in all its glory on the WWE Network. Piper is at his heelish best and it really is worth going out of your way to see just to witness a master at work.
Then Snuka disappeared from my radar when he returned as a jobber to the superstars in 1989.
It was in this phase of his career that he came to my hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario to main event a house show against “Macho Man” Randy Savage when I was 7 years old in what I remember to be the most significant event to hit my sleepy little burg in my entire childhood.
It was also the first time in my life that I ever saw professional wrestling live and it fueled an addiction that has lasted well into adulthood.
I will never forget seeing that Superfly splash and Macho Man’s flying elbow drop in the flesh. We talked about it on the playground for weeks and the ridiculous stories of who encountered Randy Savage at what local landmark became the stuff of grade school legend (likely none of them were true expect for mine – I swear I saw Macho Man getting his pump on at the Canada Games Complex the afternoon before the show).
Besides a quick program around the house show circuit with Savage, Snuka also put over up and coming superstars Rick Rude and Mr. Perfect, but the biggest impact he would have during his return to the then-WWF occurred at WrestleMania VII when he put over The Undertaker in what was the first win of the now legendary streak that saw the Taker win all of his 21 WrestleMania matches until Brock Lesnar defeated him (and shocked the world) at WrestleMania 30.
Then Superfly faded away again. He would go and work the independent circuit, which included becoming the first heavyweight champion in the promotion that would become Extreme Championship Wrestling or EC Fucking W for the initiated among you. But I was about 10 years old and the only pro wrestling that I was exposed to that wasn’t produced by Vince McMahon was the odd episode of WCW Pro and whatever I could read in a Bill Apter magazine.
Snuka would surface again in 1996 to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and do a couple of sporadic appearances including at Survivor Series 1996 to job to a team that included Fake Diesel and Fake Razor Ramon in the pre-Attitude Era WWF.
It was another man who wrestled on the card that night – Mick Foley – who would finally drive home the importance of Jimmy Snuka in professional wrestling terms.
Foley at the time was wrestling as Mankind after years of honing his craft in WCW, Japan and, of course, ECW as Cactus Jack. During the Attitude Era which began in 1997, the direction of wrestling was shifting away from more cartoonish characters to ones slightly more based in reality and adult situations that most of the now teenaged and 20 year audience who came age during the Hulk Hogan Rock N Wrestling era could better relate to.
Although I would argue that with Vince Russo writing the situations became less realistic as I could envision Hillbilly Jim as a real person before Beaver Cleavage, but I digress….
Foley’s Mankind character, portrayed as a deranged escaped mental patient who dwelled in the boiler room of whatever arena he happened to be wrestling in that night, was altered to give the man behind the mask more prominence as it would later become clear that Mick Foley was a far more fascinating person that any character that he could portray.
During a series of one-on-one interviews with Jim Ross, Mankind revealed that he was Mick Foley, the former Cactus Jack, who grew up watching professional wrestling and loved it so much that he wanted to be a part of it. He wanted to portray a heartthrob character but didn’t have the looks or genetics to pull that off but one night summer night in 1983 watching wrestling at Madison Square Garden changed all of that.
He watched Jimmy Snuka dive off a 15 foot high steel cage to dive onto hated rival Don Muraco in the blow off to a heated feud that saw Muraco get the pin to retain his Intercontinental Title but Snuka get the last word with one of the most spectacular moments MSG ever saw.
That was the moment that Mick Foley knew what he wanted to do with his life.
It was also the moment that made him realize that the only way to achieve his dream was to take even more spectacular risks than Snuka as he did not enjoy Superfly’s chiseled physique or athletic prowess.
So Foley went all over the world and took the most insane bumps imaginable while fighting Terry Funk and Abdullah The Butcher in insane hardcore death matches, falling head first onto concrete in a against Sting, cementing Big Van Vader as a monster forever by bumping like a pinball for him and getting his ear ripped off in a match with him and doing all kind of crazy things that endeared him across the globe.
Of course the biggest tribute Foley paid to Snuka lies in the moment that is forever burned in our minds as wrestling fans
Jimmy Snuka dove off a steel cage, Mick Foley allowed The Undertaker to throw him off Hell In A Cell for a spectacular 20 foot drop through an announcers table and then climbed back up the cage only to be chokeslammed through it in what was the defining sequence of Foley’s career, the Attitude Era and hardcore wrestling in general.
Foley crediting Snuka gave him new life with fans and saw him called upon whenever a “legend” was needed for an angle such as when he jobbed to Jeff Jarrett on an episode of WCW Nitro or appeared alongside Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair and former bitter rival Roddy Piper to take on Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XXV after the young superstar insulted the ring legends.
Snuka’s daughter Tamina is currently wrestling with WWE.
That Foley took the big bumps and highspots of Jimmy Snuka and turned them into a gorier, unsafe and body destroying type of wrestling was fitting in the most twisted of ways. In ways that Mick Foley was likely unaware.
You see, Jimmy Snuka was likely a murderer.
The worst part is that the WWE, the company that continued to bring him back and trot him out as a legend not only knew about, but were likely complicit in the crime.
On May 10, 1983 Jimmy Snuka placed a 911 call from a hotel he had been staying at in Allentown, PA after a TV taping and then bolted. Paramedics found the woman that the married Snuka referred to as his “East Coast girlfriend” laying in bed covered by a sheet suffering from severe head trauma that she would ultimately succumb to upon arrival at the Sacred Heart Medical Centre.
Nancy Argentino was 23 years old.
The hospital listed the cause of death as “undetermined craniocerebral injuries”. A coroner would later conclude that her injuries were consistent with a moving head striking a stationary object. Autopsy results showed that Argentino suffered 39 contusions on her head, chin, ear, arms, hand, back, buttocks, legs and feet.
Injuries consistent with domestic assault. The coroner concluded that her death was a homicide. A victim of domestic assault.
A likely outcome given that Snuka had been charged with assaulting Argentino and a responding officer just four months before.
Wrestling legend (and the very first WWE champion) Buddy Rogers openly recounted stories while reeling in disgust about how Snuka “beat the shit out of women”.
A homicide investigation was ordered. In several interviews with detectives, Snuka gave confliction reports about what happened that night.
Argentino fell. She was drunk and hit her head in a washroom. She slipped in the hotel room. She slipped on concrete. She slipped on moss. She fell jumping a stream. He pushed her to defend himself. She fell while they were fooling around. They were play wrestling. They were arguing. She was unconscious when he left. She was awake when he left. He tried to wake her up.
Everything in his story failed to add up.
Enter Vince McMahon.
McMahon accompanied Snuka to his second police interview and in wrestling parlance worked the police officers.
Wrestling characters are often mostly tropes. In 1983 even more so. Snuka, due to his heritage, was currently as the noble savage. A standby racist trope for any pro wrestler from a Pacific Island nation.
Vince McMahon was able to use the trope in real life. Convincing officers that Snuka had been confused earlier due to a poor understanding of English, McMahon did most of the talking and concocted a singular version of version of events: Argentino and Snuka were driving, Nancy needed to use the washroom, she fell, hit her head, complained of being woozy and then went to sleep, never to wake up again.
Jimmy Snuka walked away a free man and faced no charges in the death of Nancy Argentino.
In 1985, the Argentino family won a $500,000 settlement in a wrongful death suit against Snuka. He never paid a cent of it.
That would be the last of it for nearly thirty years.
In 2012, Jimmy Snuka released an autobiography in which he contradicted his previous story about Argentino’s death yet again. He repeated the new account in a series of radio interviews. He also implicated Vince McMahon in engaging in bribery to get Snuka out of hot water.
The Argentino family contacted the DA’s office and the cold case was finally reopened.
On September 1, 2015, some 32 years after the death of Nancy Argentino, the now 71 year old “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka was charged with involuntary manslaughter and third degree murder in what was to be the oldest cold case file in Lehigh County history.
Unfortunately, time had caught up with Snuka. He had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and was suffering from dementia as the result of countless head injuries sustained during his wrestling career.
Snuka would plead not guilty and a hearing was held to determine his ability to stand trial. On June 1, 2016, he was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. When he was re-evaluated on January 3 of his year, all charges against him were dismissed due to his inability to stand trial.
Jimmy Snuka died 12 days later.
Since then, I have received an e-mail from the WWE Network offering me the chance to view a retrospective on his career, the WWE released a touching video tribute to Snuka and a whole host of wrestling personalities have weighed in with their condolences including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Hulk Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Stephanie McMahon and a host of others.
The name Nancy Argentino was not mentioned in any of these tributes.
Jim Ross, probably the greatest wrestling announcer of all time, seemed to speak for the entire industry when he said:
“It’s the wrong form, in my view, to continue to wear out a topic of a trial that never happened and a court case that’s been dismissed. I don’t know what happened and all this other stuff regarding Jimmy and the lady that was murdered. But golly, there’s a time and place to discuss those issues. And one would think that we’d have enough intelligence to let the family – he had a lot of kids, man. They have friends and they have cousins and I think to just let the family grieve before we go back on this Oliver Stone quest of proving Jimmy Snuka posthumously was a murderer. It’s ridiculous. It’s embarrassing.”
Bullshit. That is such bullshit.
I understand wrestling protects its own but domestic violence has been a massive problem in professional wrestling. We saw it take a deadly and horrifically tragic turn in the Chris Benoit situation. Countless pro wrestling stars have been charged with or convicted of domestic violence including Dustin Rhodes (Goldust), Scott Hall, Ric Flair, Jerry Lawler and even “Stone Cold” Steve Austin have all been accused or convicted of domestic violence charges just to name a few.
Snuka had a well established history of domestic violence. Is it that hard to believe that he finally crossed the line with a woman he had been charged with brutally assaulting just four months before her death?
Jim Ross should know better. The WWE as a whole should too. Trying to have your cake and eat it too is pathetic at the best of times, putting out video tributes to Snuka set to touching music while trying to distance yourself from him by removing him from your Hall of Fame and website is an immortal and disgraceful sort of tightrope walking.
One that will lead to a harsh fall eventually.
Our society is all too willing to turn a blind eye to this issue. How many times has a woman reported being assaulted only to have people turn around and question her story? Maybe they were just having an argument. Maybe he was just trying to calm her down. Maybe she just pushed him too hard. Maybe she deserved it.
When it’s a beloved or famous man, look out. When reports surfaced that actress Amber Heard had been assaulted by her superstar actor boyfriend Johnny Depp, the public rushed not to Heard but to Depp. Calling her a liar, manipulative, opportunistic and a gold digger. Everything except for what she likely was: a victim of assault.
Depp is going on to star in another installment of the blockbuster Disney “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. Most people won’t think about Amber Heard when they buy their ticket to it.
Professional wrestling fans reacted in an identical manner when similar allegations surfaced about “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, one of the biggest stars the business has ever seen.
The NFL might be the most egregious entertainment venue in terms of domestic violence. In 2014, then Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punched his wife in the face in the elevator of a Las Vegas casino. Video surfaced of the aftermath which saw Rice dragging his wife’s limp body by her hair across the casino floor. He was suspended for a paltry 4 games.
To give you some context that’s the same amount of time Tom Brady got for possibly, maybe, not too sure if he actually deflated a football.
It wasn’t until video surfaced of the actual punch that public outrage caused the league to suspend Rice indefinitely.
You would think that the league would have learned from this incident but when former Giants kicker Josh Brown was arrested and charged with assaulting his wife two dozen times, he received a one game suspension. One game.
These attitudes around domestic assault that surround sports figures, movie stars and other celebrities reflect society as a whole. Violent misogyny is the order of the day. Just ask the new US President how much he loves to grab women by the pussy. The fact that he was elected after such a comment tells you everything we need to know about attitudes toward women in the western world.
With social norms like this, it’s no wonder that Jimmy Snuka was able to escape justice for his horrible abuse and probable murder of Nancy Argentino.
In the United States, 1 in every 3 women has been or will be the victim of violence from an intimate partner. Every nine seconds a woman is assaulted by her partner – accounting for 15% of all violence crime. 94% of the victims of murder-suicides involving an intimate partner or relative are women.
That 1 in 3 likely includes WWE performers and employees. In a time where WWE, and professional wrestling in general, have just now started to give female wrestlers their due and push them as legitimate competitors, the type of attitude displayed about domestic violence by the company in the wake of Jimmy Snuka’s death is incredibly troubling and disheartening
Independent wrestling star Mia Yim currently performing in TNA as Jade has been very open and honest about her experience as the victim of domestic violence.
In Canada – where I live – a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days.
Over 70% of domestic assaults are not reported to the police.
Domestic violence remains an epidemic in North America. As much as it was in 1983 when it claimed the life of Nancy Argentino.
You can do something.
Take some time and donate to a local shelter for women who have been the victims of domestic assault. You can even make the donation in the name of Nancy Argentino.
For more information on such services you visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ncadv.org) in the United States or in Canada you can visit the Canadian Women’s Foundation (canadianwomen.org)
Above all look out for each other. Every woman is somebody’s daughter. Somebody’s sister. Somebody’s friend. Nancy Argentino was too. Check in with each other. Make sure the women in your life are okay. If you suspect something is wrong, don’t let it go. Let the people in your life know you’ve got their back.
Remember 1 in 3 women will deal with domestic assault in their lifetime. You probably know someone who has gone through it or is going through it right now. Do everything in your power to help even if all that is in your power is to get that person in touch with someone who can help.
Do it so that we can create a world where one day stories like Nancy Argentino’s are unthinkable instead of all too common.
If you need immediate help. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the United States at 1-800-799-7233 or 911 in an emergency situation.
In Canada, call 911 for immediate assistance or 211 for information and help to get out of an abusive situation.