REAL NAME: James Janos
BORN: July 15th, 1951 in Minneapolis, MN
6', 2", 245 pounds
ALIASES/ NICKNAMES: The Body, the Mind
Fans watching Jesse "the Body" Ventura, either as a wrestler in the '70s and '80s or as an announcer in the 80s and 90s, probably wouldn't have believed that the flamboyant wrestler, known for his wild costumes and "telling it like it is" would go on to become the Governor of Minnesota and one of the best-known and most respected politicians in the United States. But that's exactly where the story of Jesse Ventura eventually led.
Ventura was born James Janos in Minnesota on July 15, 1951. After growing up in Minneapolis and graduating from Roosevelt High School, Janos enlisted in the Navy and became one of the ultra-elite Navy SEALs, serving in Vietnam as part of an underwater demolition team. After returning to the United States, Janos attended North Hennepin Community College and spent a short time acting as a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones. Having always been interested in bodybuilding, Janos caught a pro wrestling show and was inspired by "Superstar" Billy Graham to become a pro wrestler.
Trained by Eddie Sharkey, Janos worked out at Loprinzi's Gym in Portland, Oregon and, in October 1975, debuted in Don Owen's Pacific Northwest promotion. Janos became Jesse Ventura, named after a city in California. The name fit his surfer gimmick.
After defeating Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka on January 17th, 1976 netted him the Pacific Northwest Championship, Ventura would go on to hold the PNW Championship twice, and five PNW Tag Team titles, two with Bull Ramos, two with Buddy Rose and a fifth, in March 1978 with Jerry Oates. (Ventura would also travel to Hawaii in July, 1977 to team with Steve Strong for a run as NWA Hawaiian Tag Team Champions.)
After working for Owen in the Pacific Northwest, Ventura headed to Verne Gagne's AWA promotion. It was here that he began teaming with the late Adrian Adonis, as the East-West Connection. On July 20, 1980 Adonis and Ventura were awarded the AWA Tag Team titles when the High Flyers (Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne) were unable to defend the titles. The East-West Connection held the AWA Tag titles for nearly a year before Brunzell and Gagne regained the titles in June 1981.
From the AWA, it was on to the WWE. Ventura would continue to team with Adonis but soon Ventura was moved into a singles program, managed by "Classie" Freddie Blassie, and Adonis went on to team with Dick Murdoch. A flamboyant wrestler as well known for his promos as his in-ring skills, Ventura was given several title shots against Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan.
Ventura was supposed to work a lengthy program against Hogan when, just prior to a WWE World title match at Madison Square Gardens in 1984, he was rushed to hospital with a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that Ventura would contribute to being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Ventura was placed on blood thinners, meaning that if he bled in the ring, it could be dangerous to his health. Ventura would return to the ring, in tag team and six man matches, most notably teaming with Roddy Piper and Cowboy Bob Orton against Hillbilly Jim, Uncle Elmer and Cousin Luke on the December 1985 edition of Saturday Night's Main Event. However soon he was forced to retire from the ring.
By the end of 1985, Ventura had replaced fired commentator Angelo Mosca, Sr. behind the mic in the WWE broadcast booth, alongside Gorilla Monsoon and/or Vince McMahon. Ventura's debut as a commentator was a somewhat historical moment in professional wrestling. He was the first commentator to bring a heel point of view to the broadcast, which led to some biting exchanges between he and his fellow commentators, McMahon on WWE Superstars and Saturday Night's Main Event and Monsoon during those early pay-per-views.
But Ventura's work in calling the action wasn't his only contribution to the WWE during the late '80s. Ventura also hosted his own controversial interview segment dubbed "the Body Shop". In 1988, he served as the special referee during the Mega Powers/Mega Bucks match at SummerSlam '88, and could not be swayed by his hatred of Hulk Hogan, Ted Dibiase's money or intimidation by Andre the Giant.
Meanwhile, Ventura was developing a career outside the ring, and on the big screen. In 1986, Ventura briefly left the WWE to appear in Arnold Schwarzenagger's sci-fi flick Predator. He would follow it up with appearances in Schwarzenagger's The Running Man, Thunderground, Abraxas-Guardian of the Universe and the TV pilot Tag Team (with Roddy Piper) to name just a few of his roles between 1986 and 1990.
In the summer of 1990, Ventura left the WWE, later suing Vince McMahon and WWE for $1 million in revenues from various videotapes. Upset at events around his home in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, Ventura decided to get political and began a four-year term as mayor of Brooklyn Park. Within a year of his departure from WWE, Ventura showed up in WCW, settling in again behind the microphone and even hosting an arm wrestling contest.
Ventura would leave wrestling behind in 1994 but would still remain in the public eye. In addition to commentating for Tampa Bay Bucs games, he hosted a talk show in his native Minnesota, where he volunteered as a high school football conditioning coach, that turned from sports to politics. Since his departure from WWE, Ventura made several more movies, including appearances in Demolition Man, Major League II, Batman and Robin and even The X-Files.
But it was his decision to run as the Reform Party candidate for the Governor of Minnesota's office in the fall of 1998 that transformed Jesse "the Body" Ventura from a wrestling personality into a household name. Although his opponents and the press laughed, it was Ventura who had the last laugh when he won 37% of the vote and defeated Republican candidate and St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman and Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party.
Ventura's ascention to the Minnesota Governor's mansion made him into as much of a celebrity as a politician can be, with a Jesse Ventura action figure, autobiography, an unauthorized TV movie and even a stage play.
A controversial figure after taking office on January 4, 1999, Ventura still returned to his wrestling roots, serving as special guest referee for SummerSlam 1999 during the WWE title match pitting Steve Austin, Triple H and Mankind against one another, with Mankind winning the title.
Ventura also returned to the commentator's booth but for the short-lived XFL, and also put in appearances on Smackdown for its 5th anniversary. Winner of the 2003 Frank Gotch Award at the International Wrestling Institute and Museum in Newton Ohio, Ventura appeared at Wrestlemania XX and the WWE Hall of Fame ceremonies the night before where he was inducted into the Hall himself. During the festivities for the Hall of Fame, Ventura insinuated that he would make a run at the White House in 2008.
SLAM! Wrestling: Jesse Ventura Photo Gallery
February 15, 2015: Retro review: Garrison Keillor's Ventura spoof still a hoot
April 11, 2011: Ventura seeks truth in new book
Celebrating the acting oeuvre of Jesse The Body
Review of The Jesse Ventura Story (1999)
July 13, 2001: Ventura keeps Winnipeg smiling
July 13, 2001: 'I don't want it': Ventura has no plans to run for U.S. presidency
July 13, 2001: 'We're the same':Minnesota governor plays up common ties before Winnipeg visit
July 12, 2001: Ventura tackles trade, politics at Toronto IT show
July 14, 1999: Ventura ready for SummerSlam
June 21, 1999: Ventura bio reviewed: Ain't got time to read!
February 4, 1999: Ventura video lacks substance
November 6, 1998: Hitman happy for Ventura win
--- compiled by John M. Milner with files from SLAM Wrestling
JESSE VENTURA STORIES