"Duke of Dorchester" Now Living the Quiet Life in Falmouth
By: Christopher Kazarian
The exterior of a modest-sized raised ranch on Sandy Lane overlooking Jenkins Pond provides no clue to passersby that the toughest, meanest man in all of Falmouth lives here.
Well, not really. But its owner, Peter J. Doherty, once went toe-to-toe under the moniker “The Duke of Dorchester” with some of professional wrestling’s biggest names, from Andre the Giant to the Junkyard Dog to former Olympian Ken Patera, and lived to tell about it.
These days he lives a much quieter existence from the grueling schedule he once carried as a wrestler during the days when the World Wrestling Federation was growing in popularity across the country.
Perhaps the most “vicious” member of his home, which includes his wife, Joan M. Doherty, and his daughter Linda is a friendly 6-year-old yellow Lab, Molly, that stands guard when visitors approach.
Inside there are no signs that the affable Mr. Doherty had an angry streak, unleashed within the squared circle, where he would not think twice about poking enemy combatants in the eye or hitting an opponent with a steel chair when the referee was not looking.
On the fireplace of a combined kitchen and dining room sits a small plaque that Mr. Doherty earned this past spring after being inducted into the New England Wrestling Hall of Fame. And during an interview last week it took him several minutes to find one of the few other artifacts he has of his wrestling days—a framed picture given to him by a fan of the Duke, when he was grappling with King Kong Bundy at the old Boston Garden.
On a flat screen television, a DVD, given to him by one of his most ardent fans, Peter Riendeau of Attleboro, played several wrestling matches, one of which included a young Mr. Doherty against the “Eighth Wonder of the World”: Andre the Giant in the late ’70s. As he watched former colleagues, from Captain Lou Albano to Larry Zybszko, grace the screen, he fondly reminisced about his time when he entertained audiences, large and small, with his over-the-top personality that endeared him to fans, while making him an easy target to root against.
The Duke’s Early Days
A native of Dorchester, Mr. Doherty attended Hyde Park High School, graduating in 1961 before entering the US Army, where he served for three years. It was at this time that he earned his toothless grin. It was the result of an accident he had while driving a military vehicle, one that caused his face to hit the steering wheel. That incident later benefited his career, as he boasted he lost his teeth in the wrestling ring.
After his stint in the army, Mr. Doherty began working at General Dynamics in Quincy, balancing that job with professional wrestling, a sport he took up in the early ’70s. By then he had already met and married the woman who would later support him through his 20-year career as a “heel,” what in wrestling terms is known as a villain.
He had met Ms. Doherty in 1966 at the Howard Johnson’s in Dorchester. “We met at the bar,” he said, pausing before his infectious laugh set in. “Actually, it was the soda bar.”
The couple raised two daughters in Falmouth, with Linda graduating from Falmouth High School and the oldest, Lisa Sheehan of Plymouth, graduating from Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School in Bourne.
As to what led him to wrestling, Mr. Doherty said it was a lifelong dream he had as a child, although his slight build as a teenager never led him to believe his fantasy would ever become reality. When he left the Army, he said he started to get into weightlifting and built up his frame to roughly 230 pounds of solid muscle.
A Dream Becomes Reality
By then he had sent pictures to Vince McMahon Sr., a wrestling promoter who owned the World Wrestling Federation, then a regional organization that operated throughout the Northeast.
By 1971 Mr. Doherty was donning trunks and being body-slammed into the mat in high school gymnasiums across New England and larger venues, like the Boston Garden, the Providence Civic Center, and Madison Square Garden.
He split those formative years working two jobs, continuing with General Dynamics because they offered health insurance and he wanted to ensure he had a pension when he eventually retired.
While admittedly a late bloomer—he was in his late 20s when he first picked up the sport—Mr. Doherty was eventually able to focus solely on wrestling, making it a profitable career although he saw little success inside the ring.
I hardly won any matches. Usually if I did, it was because I did something controversial like holding the rope while the referee wasn’t looking.
- The Duke of Dorchester
At one time WWF announcers claimed he had lost 300 matches in a row before he defeated Leaping Lanny Poffo at the Boston Garden in 1987, stunning his opponent and the crowd after earning the three count. Minutes later he was in the broadcasting booth jokingly announcing his retirement, which actually would not come for another three years.
“I hardly won any matches,” he laughed. “Usually if I did, it was because I did something controversial like holding the rope while the referee wasn’t looking.”
While winning was not his forte, as witnessed by several clips that can be found on YouTube, Mr. Doherty nearly always put on a good show, with his theatrics that made every one of his opponent’s tosses, slams, or punches look as if it might put him in the hospital.
Although much of that was overacting, Mr. Doherty said his body eventually grew tired of the wear and tear that came with wrestling, leading him to retire when he was in his late 40s, just before larger payouts came for bigger, faster, and stronger gladiators like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.
None of that makes Mr. Doherty, now 67, resentful of the current crop of wrestlers. Today, he simply looks back fondly on his experiences during the fledgling years of the WWF.
Dangers of Wrestling
And some of that was dangerous, particularly when he performed in his hometown in front of fans “who threw everything at you: bottles, rocks, and sticks. The worst place for a heel to wrestle was the old Boston Garden,” he said recalling watching one match there when Stan The Man Stasiak was hit in the thigh by a dart thrown by someone from the upper level.
During the week, Mr. Doherty would hit high schools throughout New England, making roughly $50 an appearance, while it was the larger venues like the Boston Garden that provided the bigger paydays, earning as much as $600 a night.
By the time he retired, that figure inflated to $3,000 for a bigger match while high school gymnasiums were largely a thing of the past for those of his stature.
One of his first significant matches, he said, was when he participated in an 18-man battle royal in New Jersey with the likes of Gorilla Monsoon and Stan Misiak.
“I was just starting out and they beat the hell out of me,” he said, standing up to demonstrate how they would “chop me with an open hand in my chest and back. I had nothing but handprints all over my body for days. When I got back into the dressing room they were all laughing because I was red as a beet.”
The Duke of Dorchester is Born
He earned his nickname by showing up late to a match in Albany, New York, where he was greeted by Chief Jay Strongbow who said, “Well, well, well, if it isn’t the friggin’ Duke of Dorchester. It’s about time you got here.”
For a short time in 1977, Mr. Doherty was managed by Captain Lou Albano and was often the feature attraction in the main event, wrestling opponents in a mask, as The Golden Terror from the Amazon.
“I didn’t speak because if I spoke, I’d blow it with my Boston accent,” he laughed.
While admittedly fake, wrestling was admittedly high risk, with injuries common, Mr. Doherty said. He recalled one move in which he landed awkwardly on his back after jumping off the top rope during a match at Madison Square Garden.
“The next morning I couldn’t get out of bed, so I called the front desk to get another wrestler to help me out of my room,” he said. “One of them fortunately had some pain killers, which I took. I never bothered going to the doctors because I had no insurance. You just tried working it out by exercising.”
These days, he said, the pain can be felt in his knees, hips, and back, noting that “it’s more than old age because I try to stay in good shape. I can feel all the bumps I took over the years.”
Although the appearance was that opponents hated each other, he said most were friendly outside and even inside the ring, careful to not hurt the other because they all realized they were making a living out of entertaining audiences. And he took part in what became the golden age of professional wrestling during the 1980s, when cable television transformed it into a billion-dollar industry and events such as “Wrestlemania” became aired on pay-per-view.
During that time, the Duke of Dorchester had feuds with several WWF stars including King Kong Bundy, Special Delivery Jones, the Junkyard Dog and Leaping Lanny Poffo.
He also had a short stint as a wrestling announcer for NESN and a small role as Klondike Kramer in “No Holds Barred,” the 1989 film featuring Hulk Hogan that was ultimately a failure at the box office. But for Mr. Doherty that did not matter, noting that the salary and perks on that movie were unlike anything he ever saw during his career as a wrestler. “I realized I was in the wrong business,” he laughed. “I told Vince McMahon Jr. he should start making more movies.”
Calling it a Career
Today Mr. Doherty said the only communication he receives from the WWE is a form letter from the company that offers to pay for any alcohol or drug-related treatment. “I called them up and asked if they could send me to a treatment center in Hawaii,” he laughed.
And he joked they still owe him $50,000—money he supposedly won for his part in a story line for notching a victory in an 18-man battle royal in the Boston Garden. “I never got it,” he laughed. “When I asked where it was, they said they would mail it to me.”
The antics these days are much more subdued and instead of spending time with the likes of Classy Freddy Blassie or Brutus the Barber Beefcake, he spends time with friends like Joseph P. Vassallo of Sandy Lane and Ralph J. Parette, Michael R. Denton, and Justin A. Peirce, all of Lake Shore Drive.
He bought his home on Sandy Lane in 1983, moving here after taking several vacations to Cape Cod with his wife. For roughly five years he split time between Dorchester and here until finally settling in Falmouth because of its tranquility.
In the process, he has found a place he now calls home, thanks to a career that was much different than most residents can claim they have had.
“I think the biggest thing you miss is the camaraderie with the guys and the next thing you miss is the celebrity...After three or four years you realize, ‘I’m not a part of the game,’ and you move on,” he said. “I have no regrets about going into wrestling. It was a great trip.”
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