NEW YORK - Joe Scarpa, who became one of the best-known professional wrestlers of the 1970s and ’80s after he took on the persona of Chief Jay Strongbow, an American Indian whose war dance foretold the downfall of many opponents, died Tuesday.
A family member confirmed his death, but declined to say where he died or to provide a cause. His age was variously listed as 79 or 83.
Mr. Scarpa, who lived in Griffin, Ga., was at least 6 feet tall and weighed about 250 pounds. At his peak, he performed before roaring crowds at Madison Square Garden and other arenas in contests televised throughout the Northeast.
He joined the National Wrestling Alliance in 1947 as Joltin’ Joe Scarpa and wrestled in the South in the 1950s, sometimes billed as Joe Scarpa, also known as the Rebel. He began winning tag team and individual titles in the 1960s.
Mr. Scarpa put on his feathered headdress in 1970 and joined Vincent McMahon’s World Wide Wrestling Federation as Chief Jay Strongbow, becoming one of many wrestlers who performed as ethnic caricatures in the 1970s and ’80s; the Iron Sheik and Mr. Fuji were among the others.
Mr. Scarpa, an Italian-American, bought into the role. In addition to his sleeper hold - a choke hold that appeared to render an opponent unconscious - he used signature moves like the tomahawk chop and the Indian death lock.
Joseph Luke Scarpa was born in Philadelphia. He leaves his wife, Mary; a son, Mark, who wrestled as Mark Young; and a grandson.
After Mr. Scarpa retired from wrestling in 1985, he spent some years as a road agent, helping backstage and mentoring young wrestlers, among them Christopher Chavis, a member of the American Indian Lumbee Tribe, who wrestled as Tatanka.