Monday, September 08, 2003


Well, Warren Zevon is finally dead, the Werewolf of London cut down by the silver bullet of cancer at age 56. I'm sure many an elegy will be sung for the singer/songwriter -- tune into tonight's Letterman, and you're bound to hear quite a bit on the subject from his close friend Dave -- but let me just say that the man faced his doom with guts, dignity, humor, and determination to leave us with one more great album. It was, quite simply, a quietly heroic death.

What you might not hear about, however, is the passing of another hero, The Great Antonio, who fell victim to a heart attack while sitting on a bench in a supermarket in Rosemont. As my friend Mike (who undertook a quest to seek him out a couple of years ago) tells me, The Great Antonio was, in his day, an international celebrity and a legendary strongman known for such feats of might as pulling multiple buses full of passengers. But by recent times, he had been reduced to little more than a derelict, stooped double by age and hardship, roaming the streets of Montreal spinning tales of his former glory, selling autographed photos of himself, and playing golf with his long, braided beard.

Courtesy of Babelfish, I present you with the following imperfect translation (probably not imperfect enough to circumvent the copyright laws that I'm clearly flouting) of Anne Richer's tribute to The Great Antonio, originally published in La Presse on June 10, 1996:

With the ridge of its glory, it drew four buses stuffed from passengers, makes move African elephants, raised in its arms Johnny Carson in front of million televiewers, and drawn the attention of the American wide-area networks of information: it played in the war of fire, killed some bears, does the one of largest daily newspapers of Japan. Antonio Barichievich, alias the Large Antonio, has nearly 72 years now. It still impress. Born with a force herculéenne which comes to him from a planet remote, it ensures, it does not have an adversary: one declared fixed price before even it to fight "Louis Cyr? Coquerelle beside me ", thunders it.

His/her father is a logger. The destiny of the small (!) Antonio is already, at six years, the peak and the shovel, work hard, stone bags on its back. In brutality and the insulation of its childhood, the voices of Caruso and Frank Sinatra reach him by miracle. It wants to sing too. An old woman, a little witch, reveal sound to him extraterrestrial origin and teaches a little the music to him. Its physical force exceptional carries out it, of the field and the forest, with the loadings of ships and until in the English army, in particular, where during three years, it carries out the hard ones work and learns English. It arrives at Canada at 19 years.

One often sees it surveying Plaza St-Hubert, the street Beaubien, the downtown area, of a step slow, heavy, the crowned head of an inextricable tangle of hair of an impressive length: "washed with a special ancestral liquid" Of feet in shoes of size 28 supporting 500 pounds of man, are enough with he to open the way. Vêtu with the daily newspaper of a full jacket, a fuller Jean still, solidified and faded in a chronic dirtiness. It has the pockets faggots of papers, postcards with its effigy which it offers to those which recognize it and want well, a moment to hear its history for some under. Its account is truffé obsessions, inconsistencies, of showing off, but also of truths.

Where did it see this yéti stray? In a part of an ordinary building of the street Beaubien, which it pays 300$ per month. Its office? Dunkin Donuts of opposite where it holds audience and takes root on stone a solid bench like a king on sound throne.

That about says it all, but I'll let Mike give the final lament for The Great Antonio here:

"He was a forgotten legend of Canada's athletic history, truly a heartbreaking example of what happens to celebrities in the long run. God rest his mighty soul."


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