Count Billy Varga
World Wrestling Champion Count Billy Varga passed away Jan. 11, 2013 in Burbank. He was 94.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on Jan. 10, 1919, he lived in Los Angeles for more than 70 years. His father, Count Joseph Varga was a prize Hungarian fighter who inspired his son to enter the ring. Both men went by the denomination of Count, bestowed upon them as members of Hungarian nobility.
In Count Billy Varga’s robust wrestling career, spanning from the 1930s to the 1970s, he fought in more than 500 matches, defeating over half of his opponents. A few of his most famous titles were: National Wrestling Association World Lightweight Champion, National Wrestling Association Hawaii Heavyweight Champion, and World Wrestling Association American Heavyweight Champion.
His popularity and athletic success led to work as an actor, a job in which he often played a pro wrestler, boxing announcer, or referee. He appeared in many films including Raging Bull, Miss Sadie Thompson with Rita Hayworth, and Oklahoma Crude starring George C. Scott and Faye Dunaway. On TV he made appearances on shows including Matlock, The Munsters, and The Jack Benny Program. In addition, he and his son Billy Varga the 2nd appeared in 1971’s National Geographic’s The Mojave Desert.
Count Billy Varga served in the Navy as Boatswain’s Mate First Class UNSR during World War II. When he returned to California after the war, he lived in Burbank with his family.
In all of his endeavors, Billy was known for his spirit for life. Even former wrestling opponents called them his friend, though it was known that inside the ring he was a formidable competitor. Extremely loyal, he developed lifelong friendships with other wrestlers, staying in touch with them as members of the Cauliflower Alley Club. His friends and family also knew him as a huge practical joker, whom could be, most often then not, passionate and boisterous.
He was married to his beloved wife Rosabelle for more than 50 years; she preceded him in death in 1992. They had three sons, Billy Varga the 2nd, Courtland and Royce, all of whom preceded him in death. He is survived by five grandchildren, who will miss him deeply, Billy Varga the 3rd, Lisa Varga-Hamrick, Eain Varga, Tania Varga, and Joseph Varga.
A memorial service celebrating Billy’s life will take place on Saturday, Jan. 19, with a viewing at 11 a.m. and the funeral at 1 p.m. at Holy Cross Cemetery located at 5835 W. Slauson Ave. in Culver City. For information call (310) 836-5500 or go to holycrossmortuary.com to view his obituary.