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 Posted: Sun Sep 7th, 2008 07:06 pm
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srossi

 

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From the OC Register:

Emily Dole is rubbing her nurse's head for good luck.

In better days, she might have hoisted the guy up over her head and spun him around a few times, like she did to Bob Eubanks on the TV game show "Card Sharks," or even good-naturedly body-slammed him, like she did to comedian Pauly Shore.

These days Emily needs a wheelchair just to navigate her nursing home in Orange.

And yet, propped up in bed, cheerfully giving her nurse a noogy, the 50-year-old says she can't help but think that another lucky streak is for sure headed her way.

And why the heck not?

Every time she's hit the skids, Emily has regrouped and risen up like Mt. Fiji, the alter-ego persona that made her famous in the '80s on TV's "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling."

Not even the bipolar diagnosis or the cops who descended on her with billy clubs as she played her ukulele at a family bridal shower could take the oomph out of the one-time junior national shot put champ.

So why should a little old bed sore and a couple of bum knees?

•••

Sitting in bed, her signature huge hair pulled back in barrettes, her hands a bit shaky from her medication, she tells her tale.

Emily was born the oldest of seven, an outgoing safety monitor who enjoyed the nickname Jolly Green Giant during her grade school years in Buena Park.

At Apollo Junior High in Anaheim she joined the track and field team, throwing the softball. On the bus to a meet one day, Emily's coach told her they were short a shot putter. So, right there in the aisle, she learned how to hurl the 6-pound steel ball.

Emily took first place.

A big girl, descended from Samoan royalty, she was a shot put natural. By her senior year at Cypress High she was the youngest member of the U.S. Track and Field Team, traveling to Prague, Paris, Bulgaria and performing in front of huge crowds. In 1976, two weeks after graduating from high school, she finished fifth in the U.S. Olympic trials. Only the top three made the team.

The next year, Emily won a scholarship to Cal State Long Beach. At meet against UCLA, Robert Towne, director of "Chinatown," spotted Emily and offered her a role in "Personal Best," a Mariel Hemingway vehicle about a collegiate track and field team. Emily plays Maureen, scoring a touchdown in a girl's football game while the Doobie Brothers sing "What a Fool Believes."

But how quickly our fortunes can turn.

•••

Emily couldn't parlay the part into any other acting roles, and in 1980 she again just missed making the Olympic team. Then, worse news: She was diagnosed bi-polar, a mental disorder in which a person swings from mania to depression.

She took random jobs. But, in 1985, the pendulum swung the other way. She answered a casting call and won the part of Mountain Fiji, a superhero character with big hair and huge biceps on a deliciously campy new TV show, "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling."

Now 350 pounds (and 5-foot-11), Emily was the second largest of the ladies. With her trademark dimples, the producers made her the heavy-weight good girl. Wearing a sarong, she feuded with bad girls like Matilda the Hun (slogan: I love raw meat; I'm gonna eat Mt. Fiji!) and Beastie the Road Warrior, knocking them down with her trade-mark Mt. Fiji Belly Bump or helicopter spinning them into the crowd.

She only got $300 a week plus a room at the Riviera Hotel and Casino where the show was filmed and buffet tickets -- but she was famous.

Regis and Kathie Lee feted her. So did Phil Donahue. Bob Eubanks bowed at her feet after she chased him around "Card Sharks," picked him up and spun him around a few times.

But in 1989, bad luck once again came knocking.

Emily was at her sister's bridal shower in Cerritos, playing the ukulele when she heard a helicopter. Soon, dozens of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies were beating guests with billy clubs. The cops claimed they were called in on a report of party-goers fighting, and that they'd been met with rocks and bottles. But a neighbor's video of the attack showed that the cops' story was fiction. The episode made CNN.

In '93, GLOW went off the air, but Emily was back on the big screen, this time body-slamming comedian Pauly Shore in the movie "Son-in-Law" (and knocking out one of her teeth). It would be her last role.

•••

A few years later, LA County paid nearly $24 million to 36 guests at the '89 bridal shower attack. Emily got $1.5 million.

She knocked around after that, living with her dad (her mom had died) in a house he bought in Cypress with the lawsuit money. With no job needed, she read books and indulged in one of her favorite pastimes: eating.

For breakfast, she would head to McDonald's for two 20-piece chicken nuggets, a double hamburger, two super-size fries and two large shakes. For lunch: Two foot-long Subway sandwiches. And for dinner: A large pizza with everything on it, two boxes of wings and a 2-liter Pepsi.

"I was just hungry," she says. "It's in my genes."

By 2006, she was 425 pounds and diabetic. Between the weight and the years of squats for shot put training, her knees gave out. A hospital stay left her with a bed sore because she was too heavy to turn. She went into a nursing home for wound care. While in there last fall, her dad died, their Cypress house sold.

And with that, Emily's tale has ended.

Or has it?

•••

"This is just the beginning," she says cheerfully.

A year of nursing home diets has dropped her weight back down to 235. And once the bedsore is gone, which it almost is, she can undergo knee surgery.

Then, she figures, she's back. She plans to shop around her memoirs. "Inside the Jock Strap," is the working title. ("It's a metaphor," she explains.) She imagines a Mt. Fiji doll. And she still has half the lawsuit money.

In the meantime, she spends her days crocheting armbands out of pastel-colored yarn. She gives them to other patients and nurses. Or she wheels over to fellow residents, regaling them with tales of her wrestling days and sometimes rapping Mt. Fiji's song.

It could just as well be Emily's song.

Fiji. Fiji.

I love to hear.

Thank you fans.

You're all so dear.

I'm always happy.

I don't sing the blues.

With you on my side.

I'll never lose.

Hoy!


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