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Saluting the ‘Captain’

In 1989, following hot on the heels of the success of “Super Mario Bros.” and “Super Mario Bros. 2,” the decision to produce a kids’ show based on the video game franchise was approved, and “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!” went on the air. As for the actor who would play the part of the show’s star character, Mario, that part would go to none other than “Captain” Lou Albano. Well known for his bizarre behavior both in and outside of the wrestling ring, who better to play the live action version of a video game/cartoon character than a man who was practically a cartoon character himself? As a fan of wrestling, video games and all things ’80s, I couldn’t have thought of a more perfect fit.

Costarring Danny Wells as Mario’s brother, Luigi, the show centered on the many misadventures the two plumbers would have as a result of the steady stream of celebrity guest stars appearing on the show. From famous actors such as Ernie Hudson, Eve Plumb, Danica McKeller and many others, to sports stars like Magic Johnson and professional wrestlers “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Sgt. Slaughter, the live-action segments were full of slapstick comedy. Sandwiched between the two live-action segments came the animated segment of the show, which would have nothing to do with the story in the live-action segment but featured the voices of Albano and Wells as the Mario Bros. who would accompany their friends Toad and Princess Toadstool on their adventures in Mushroom Land. The animated segment would focus on pop-culture references and parodies of movies and TV shows to make up for the show’s plot. The show’s antagonists would appear in the form of various baddies from both “Super Mario Bros.” and “Super Mario Bros. 2” with the evil King Koopa leading them. Finally, after once again saving Mushroom Land from King Koopa, the show would close out with a last, live action segment and the half-hour episode would end with Albano singing “Do the Mario!” as the credits rolled, swinging his arms from side to side, taking a step and then another one. There wasn’t all that much to doing “The Mario,” but, somehow, Albano made it look like the funnest dance a person could do.

“The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!” aired daily from Monday to Thursday and featured “The Legend of Zelda” each Friday, based on the video game of the same name. With a total of 52 episodes, there was only one season, from September to December in 1989, but the show would go through multiple transformations in the following years with the Albano/Wells live-action segments removed and replaced with completely different live-action segments featuring a new cast of characters that had little to nothing to do with the Mario Bros. at all. It was never quite as good; in fact, it was terrible. While the cartoon was still pretty good for what it was, for me, half the fun was watching “Captain” Lou.

“Captain” Lou Albano died on Oct. 14 at the age of 76. His long wrestling career earned him a place in the WWF Hall of Fame in 1996, but his many contributions to film, television and music earned him a place in our hearts. The ’80s were a decade of wild, eccentric, larger-than-life personalities, and few personalities were wilder or more eccentric than “Captain” Lou. The Italian-born professional wrestler rubbed elbows with some of the best-known celebrities of the era, including his good friend Cyndi Lauper, and always put on a hell of a show. With his trademark rubber band facial piercings and flamboyant clothing, the wrestling star turned pop icon won’t soon be forgotten.

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