Minnesota Fats Tells St. Peter to "Rack 'em Up"

Minnesota Fats played competitively into the 1980s. His admirers say he did more for the sport than anyone because he was an entertainer and a skilled athlete.

The following was written by Jim Patterson for the Associated Press. This commentary appeared on January 19, 1996.

Minnesota FatsNASHVILLE, Tenn.- Minnesota Fats, the pool shark who blustered his way out of smoky barrooms to become the most famous player ever to pick up a cue stick, died Thursday. Fats died of congestive heart failure.

His (second) wife, Theresa Bell Wanderone, said simply, He was the worlds greatest. Now he's finally in heaven shooting it out again with (Willie) Mosconi.

Mosconi, Minnesota Fats legendary rival, died in 1993 at age 80.

Theresa Wanderone said she had his epitaph ready: Beat everybody living on Earth. Now, St. Peter, rack 'em up.

Various accounts have listed Fats as anywhere from 82 to 95 years old, but as he boasted in a 1988 interview, No one on this Earth knows how old I am.

Born Rudolf Wanderone Jr., he was known as New York Fats early in his career.

movie poster of the HustlerJackie Gleason's character in the 1961 Paul Newman movie The Hustler, based on Wanderone, was called Minnesota Fats. So Wanderone started calling himself Minnesota Fats, and his fame and fortune began to rise.

Although he borrowed the name of Gleason's character, Wanderone said in the 1988 interview that "the original movie didn't mean nothin' to me."

I'm known clean around the Earth, he said. It meant something to Gleason and them people. Gleason used to rack balls for me when he was a kid in Brooklyn and in Long Island.

He didn't think much of Newman's pool skills.

Paul Newman is not a very good pool player. But he can make it look good. Now Gleason can play. Gleason can hustle. He could play pool for a living and make a living because he's plenty smart.

So was Fats, said pool wizard Fast Eddie Parker.

Fats probably did more for the sport of pool than any other human being alive, Parker said.

Fats could shoot pool with either hand and was known for wearing $100 bills in the handkerchief pocket of his suits.

He was, shall we say, the Don Rickle's of pool, Parker said. He made a lot of money with pool because of his skills, but he was really an entertainer. He could talk you out of a game rather than shoot you out of a game.

Fats career was interwoven with that of the legendary Mosconi. Mosconi was the technical adviser on the set of The Hustler, and the duo paired off in a series of matches on ABCs Wide World of Sports in the 1970s.

Mosconi regularly beat Fats, but Fats usually won the battle of wit and charisma. He became a household name in a sport that needed one badly, said Conrad Burkman, publisher of National Billiard News.

You could go into a restaurant the night after Mosconi and Fats had a match on television. Mosconi would have beat his brains in and all everyone would say is, Wow, I saw Minnesota Fats on TV last night, Burkman said.

Wanderone also was nicknamed Fatty, triple smart, dean of the green, the sultan of stroke and the bank shot bandit.

He lived on and off in Nashville for much of his life.

In the 1980s, he still played competitively and some of his matches were seen on ESPN. Until the early 1990s, he played pool occasionally at The Hermitage, a plush Nashville hotel where he was often seen feeding the birds outside.

Wanderone was a fixture at country music nightclubs where the band introduced him in the crowd every night. The announcement often left him besieged by admirers.

The women all want to dance. I dance all night every night, he said in the 1988 interview.

He is survived by his wife and two stepchildren.

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