TROUT LAKE — Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Luscious Lars Anderson was a champion professional wrestler whose career included wrestling in the National Wrestling Alliance territories as well as the American Wrestling Association.
He held many titles during his illustrious career and was a well-known wrestler during his time in the ring. He was known for his boisterous and witty interviews that are prevalent in the world of pro wrestling. It was a far cry from his upbringing in Trout Lake Township in rural Grand Rapids where he was then known as Larry Heiniemi.
Heiniemi graduated from the agricultural school in Grand Rapids in 1957, where he played football and wrestled. He then played football at Itasca Junior College and he graduated from St. Cloud State University (SCSU) – where he played football and wrestled – in 1965.
“I was All-Conference and received honorable mention as an All-American in football,” said Heiniemi, 80, in describing his time at SCSU as an athlete. “I was one of four guys that played 60 minutes – we played the full game – and I played offensive tackle and defensive end. It was a bit of a grind.”
Heiniemi started his pro wrestling career in 1965, when he was part of a tag team which also featured Gene Anderson and Alan Rogowski – who was known as Ole Anderson – and the three were labeled as brothers although there was no blood relation between them.
“I went right from the college campus into the wrestling business and I never really had a job,” Heiniemi said. “I started training and started wrestling professionally.”
Heiniemi said he watched pro wrestling as a kid but he had no aspirations of entering the world of pro wrestling. His college degree was in social work and he was entertaining job offers when a friend of his told him he should try pro wrestling. He then attended a pro wrestling promotion which was conducted in St. Cloud, and he said he had to put weight on quick in order to impress the promoters.
“I played football at about 235 pounds and then I would cut down to 191 for the conference championships in wrestling in college,” Heiniemi explained. “So I put on two or three sweaters to bulk myself up and went to talk to them, and they said they might have interest.”
Heiniemi wrestled in the national AAU tournament in San Francisco where he placed third, and then he had a meeting about possibly starting a pro wrestling career.
“They set up a ring in the countryside at one of (Vern Gagne’s) farms and that’s how it all started,” Heiniemi said. “Certain people control it internally and physically and it’s obviously sports entertainment, but you find that the toughest and best athletes always end up on top one way or the other.”
During his training in learning the wrestling business, Heiniemi said the human body isn’t conditioned to absorb body slams and the like. He said training lasted an entire summer with sessions conducted two to three hours a day.
“First you learn how to take a body slam and learn how to fall, and after you can hardly move. Then they jump on you and grind on you,” he laughed. “I survived it, but at night I would be in the bath tub and I would turn the hot water on and try to get the body to come back to life.
“It is the most grueling training that I have ever gone through.”
With a Finnish name such as Heiniemi, it was suggested that he adopt another name. He said his grandfather had changed his name to Anderson at one point when he first arrived in America, so it was a natural transition to the wrestling name of Lars Anderson. Plus, one of his partners was Gene Anderson, and wrestler Alan Rogowski changed his name to Ole Anderson, and you then had the Anderson Brothers.
“The Anderson Brothers controlled southern tag-team wrestling for about 15 years,” said Heiniemi. “Gene and Ole later on went on to become the Bookers for Ted Turner’s program on WTBS initially.”
Heiniemi remembers that his first match was outdoors in St. Paul at Midway Stadium.
“I forgot who I wrestled, but I was nervous,” Heiniemi explained. “I lived through it and I got through the 10 minutes. I was actually a good guy when I first started, but as I tell the story, I was a very good bad guy. In college I can remember wrestling at Superior State and people were booing and throwing things at you. This was amateur wrestling so it was sort of a natural persona with me. I don’t know what it was but I sort of brought out the animal nature of the fan.”
After six months of being good guys, Heiniemi and Gene Anderson talked to Gagne about moving to another location, and they were booked in the state of Tennessee. He said that gig included lousy pay and long, grueling travel. Upon the wrestlers’ request, Gagne then booked the pair in North Carolina and from there the duo flourished.
“We weren’t on top but we had good drawing power,” Heiniemi said. “I could do good interviews and Gene couldn’t talk well but he had the mechanics of the business and he could teach me. We were in North Carolina for about six months and then we went to Atlanta and they put us on top.”
The Andersons earned the Southern tag-team championship in 1967, and Heiniemi said the rest is history. They returned to Charlotte, N.C., where they worked as champions. He said from that point on they never worked on anything but the main event on a card.
Heiniemi later decided to break from the tag-team label and started a career as an independent wrestler, moving back to Minneapolis. He said some people considered it a mistake but he said he needed to get away from tag-team wrestling.
“I wanted to do this myself and moved back to Minneapolis and was predominantly single, and then Larry (The Axe) Hennig and I became tag-team partners around 1969, and we were champions for about a year,” Heiniemi said.
Asked what is needed to be a good interview in pro wrestling, Heiniemi said, “It’s like being able to get people mad. In terms of southern wrestling, it was easy to get them mad. You have to have an arrogant attitude.”
Heiniemi also said he had to watch himself out of the ring. He said he has had guns pulled on him a couple of times on the street because of his role as a wrestler. He said as an example that Ole Anderson came out of the ring in Asheville, N.C., and was slashed with a knife and required 101 stitches.
“I have had situations where I ran out of the stadium while chairs were flying into the ring; I had to get security to get out,” Heiniemi said. “One time years ago I was working as a tag-team partner with Ernie Ladd against Giant Baba, a 7-foot-1-inch Japanese guy. We wrestled a guy from Korea, and before the match I told the ref to tell the guy to stay away from my knee because it was all banged up.
“So the first thing he does is go after my knee so as I am putting the boots to him, punching and kicking him, and the next day the referee comes to me and said the Korean wrestler wanted me to wrestle in Korea for three days for a decent amount of money. We decided we would do it and we were in this match at a stadium in Seoul, and everybody is bleeding and the Korean audience goes nuts.
“Bottles are flying, chairs are flying and we needed police security to get into the locker room and then to get out of the building.”
Heiniemi’s signature move was the suplex, which is an offensive move used in both professional and amateur wrestling. It is a throw that involves lifting the opponent and bridging or rolling to slam the opponent on their back.
“It is sports entertainment but it is still very physical,” Heiniemi said. “You have to be in good shape and be willing to take a certain amount of punishment.”
Heiniemi retired from wrestling at one point in 1975, but then returned a couple years later and started his own promotion in Georgia where he had promotions in the southern U.S. as well as foreign countries. He then returned as a wrestler in Ted Turner’s programming before he took a job promoting in Hawaii.
Then in 1986, he was physically attacked from behind by an owner of the promotion and needed to be hospitalized for his injuries. He then left wrestling for good and was involved in auto sales for the next 16 years in Honolulu.
Now 80, Heiniemi said despite the toll taken for being a pro wrestler, his body has held up surprisingly well throughout the years.
“I can move well but I am working every day,” he smiled. “I wouldn’t change anything at all. It was lucrative for me as I made $35,000 the first year in the wrestling industry in 1965, and it was very lucrative later in my career.”
Heiniemi and son Jon now run their own company – Shield N Seal – a small California-based family business that deals mainly in the hydroponic industry. He also has plans to expand business in Minnesota under a company called Heiniemi Hemp.
Following are the wrestling titles he held:
American Wrestling Association
*AWA Midwest Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Larry Hennig
*AWA Midwest Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
American Wrestling Federation
*AWF Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
Championship Wrestling from Florida
NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
*NWA Florida Southern Tag Team Championship (2 times) - with Gene Anderson
Georgia Championship Wrestling
*NWA Georgia Tag Team Championship (2 times) - with Ole Anderson
*NWA World Tag Team Championship (Georgia Version) (1 time) - with Gene Anderson
NWA Polynesian Wrestling
*NWA Polynesian Pacific Heavyweight Championship (5 times)
*NWA Polynesian Pacific Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Seiji Sakaguchi
NWA San Francisco
*NWA World Tag Team Championship (San Francisco Version) (1 time) - with Paul DeMarco
World Championship Wrestling
*IWA World Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Dick Murdoch