Name: The Sheik
Year Inducted: 2011
You didn’t have to see The Sheik in person to be scared to death of him. Just stroll to the magazine rack at local newsstand in the 1960s and 1970s, and chances are you’d find his piercing eyes locked in a satanic trance, the embodiment of pure evil. Next to his face, headline writers added terror to his countenance: “Wrestler With a Flame Thrower in His Fingertips!” “The Sheik: Mysterious as the Night.” The Sheik was the perfect cover image to capture a sport.
“I loved the guy. He gave you a lot of great shots, with the facial expressions,” said long-time Wrestling World editor Lou Sahadi. “He was a ‘good’ bad guy, if there is such a thing. The fans loved to boo him. He really drew the emotions out of the fans. He was a great performer.”
During a career that lasted almost 50 years, it’s safe to say Edward Farhat, The Sheik, drew as much heat from fans around the world as any wrestler who’s lived, whether it came from jabbing opponents with a broken pencil, hurling fire at them, or rolling his eyes and tongue as he tortured some poor soul.
“This guy started hardcore wrestling. He would stick you with a screwdriver. He threw fire,” Bobby Heenan said. “Plus, he never spoke. He never did an interview. He never spoke a word of English. He terrified people. He didn’t take bumps. He didn’t have to take bumps. If he had taken bumps, he would have been just another guy.” Even into the 1990s, when he was in his 60s, The Sheik could still lunge at a crowd and cause fans to scatter like cockroaches.
Farhat’s parents emigrated from Syria to Michigan, where he was born in 1926. (The family was Lebanese but Lebanon did not become a separate country until 1943.) He joined the U.S. Army in 1944, and started training after the war with promoter Bert Ruby’s Detroit office. With Farhat’s vaguely foreign looks, Ruby started him out as The Sheik of Araby. Televised wrestling from Chicago popularized his act, which consisted of attendant Princess Salima — his wife Joyce — snakes, incense, and an endless delay in folding his elaborate turban.
Through the 1950s and early 1960s, The Sheik was a top draw just about everywhere he went. His matches emphasized violence and wild-eyed antics.
In 1964, The Sheik acquired the Detroit promotion from Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle, put himself on top, and started a reign of fear along the Great Lakes. He took the U.S. title in Detroit and held it most of the time until his promotion shut its doors in 1980. Working with Toronto promoter Frank Tunney, The Sheik ran off a 127-match unbeaten string in Maple Leaf Gardens from 1964 to 1974. He guarded against fan attacks as he walked to the ring by keeping a razor blade in his fingers.
The Sheik continued wrestling through the 1980s — he was always a massive draw in Japan — and worked his final match in the U.S. in 1994. His health had deteriorated as he climbed into the ring for a ceremony in Japan one last time in 1998. He died in January 2002.
— Steven Johnson and Greg Oliver