Count Billy Varga, who parlayed his many years as a professional wrestler into an acting career, died Jan. 11 in Burbank, one day after he turned 94, his family reported.
His father, Count Joseph Varga, was a Hungarian fighter who inspired his son to enter the ring. Both went by the denomination of count, bestowed upon them as members of Hungarian nobility.
Born in Cleveland, Varga wrestled in more than 500 matches from the 1930s to the ’70s and was known for his speed inside the ropes. He went to Hollywood High School and lived in the Los Angeles area for more than 70 years.
Varga often played a wrestler, boxing announcer or referee onscreen, with roles in such films as Bodyhold (1949); Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) with Rita Hayworth; Abbott & Costello Meet the Keystone Kops (1955); Stanley Kramer‘s Oklahoma Crude (1973), starring George C. Scott and Faye Dunaway; and Martin Scorsese‘s Raging Bull (1980).
Varga also appeared on such TV shows as The Jack Benny Program, Burke’s Law, The Munsters (as Strangler Murphy, he memorably wrestled Fred Gwynne‘s Herman, who was out to make some extra money for son Eddie’s education), Matlock and The Fall Guy. He and his late son, Billy Varga Jr., appeared in National Geographic’s The Mohave Desert (1971).
Varga, who served in the Navy during World War II, stayed in touch with his fellow wrestlers as a member of the Cauliflower Alley Club.
Survivors include grandchildren Billy the III, Lisa, Eain, Tania and Joseph. A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.