Kendo Nagasaki and the Man Behind The Mask by Peter Thornley

January 20, 2020

I would say this book was worth the wait, but frankly nobody ever expected to see it in the first place.

Nagasaki/Thornley had arguably protected his character more than any other wrestler in the English-speaking world with the possible exception of The Undertaker. He’s finally broken that silence and gone beyond the character, reasoning it was best to tell his story properly in a book designed as a fundraiser for a charity in the memory of British soldier Lee Rigby.

At just short of 500 pages, it’s a comprehensive autobiography covering both his career and personal life. It’s not merely offering Thornley’s thoughts on known career events, but covers subjects that were previously somewhere between uncertain and mystery such as his childhood, his time at the Snake Pit, and his few appearances under a different name and without the mask. (There’s still a few mysteries however: the precise details of how he lost his finger and the process of acquiring a tattoo on his skull are both glossed over.)

The book also includes extracts from an unpublished autobiography on manager George Gillette (including colourful accounts of the celebrities on the London gay scene of the 60s and 70s) and some first-hand passages from Nagasaki’s assistant Roz MacDonald.

One aspect of the book that’s easy to overlook is the balance. Plenty of non-wrestling topics such as Thornley’s music management career, his outside business interests, his sexuality, and his spiritual education and teachings are covered, giving a well-rounded account of his life, but none take up an excessive space. In particular, he talks about meditation and faith healing without it feeling ‘preachy’.

Either way, there’s plenty here for wrestling fans, with most of the major moments of Nagasaki’s career covered. The book is written with Thornley telling the story in the first person while referring to Kendo Nagasaki (in the ring) in the third person. This may feel a little jarring, but the book does convey how keeping this mental separation was clearly important to Thornley.

Given the protection of the Nagasaki character over the years, it’s understandable many may have been sceptical or wary about this book before publication, but the finished product is a strong recommendation for anyone with an interest in this period of British wrestling.

(Disclaimer: The publishers provided a review copy.)

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