wrestling / TV Reports

411’s The Dark Side of The Ring Report: ‘Jimmy Snuka and The Death of Nancy Argentino’

April 15, 2020 | Posted by Robert Leighty Jr.
Dark Side of the Ring Jimmy Snuka

411’s The Dark Side of the Ring Report: Jimmy Snuka and The Death of Nancy Argentino

-We are up to episode 4 of Season 2 and this is a heavy one. There’s not much to say to preview this one, so it’s probably best to just get to it.

-As a reminder Chris Jericho is the narrator for this season.

-A quick overview of what made Jimmy Snuka special and how he sold out arenas in the early 80s. Fans aren’t aware of the violent death of his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino. She passed away from a brain injury and Snuka was never charged. Over 30 years later new details came out and this show is to tell not only Snuka’s story, but Nancy’s as well.

-Show opening!

-The WWF is starting to explode in the early 80s and one of their top stars is “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka. He was as close to a real life Tarzan as you could get. The first talking head is The Tonga Kid (Sam Fatu) and he talks about being a kid getting in trouble in San Francisco. He didn’t want to be a pro-wrestler, but his parents sent him to Afa and Sika to get him on the right path. That set him up to be a pro-wrestler and Snuka was there to protect him.

-Don Muraco is next and that only seems fitting. He states that Snuka could have been Hulk Hogan if he had kept his head on straight. He tells us that Snuka grew up homeless at times and it meant the world to him to have people embrace him in the world of pro-wrestling.

-Snuka joins the WWF in the early 80s and becomes the most popular star in the WWE during Backlund’s World Title reign. Irvin Muchnick, nephew of legendary promoter, Sam Muchnick, is up next and he is a wrestling author and journalist. He goes over that Snuka was originally a heel, but they soon realized he was a great babyface and the turn was made.

-Muraco and Fatu discuss the life of a pro-wrestler and how it could be boring on the road. Fatu brings up that Snuka had a girlfriend with him and he can’t remember her name. The producer asks if it was Nancy and Fatu answers yes.

-We meet Lorraine Salome, who is the older sister of Nancy Argentino. She tells us that Nancy was a hard worker and smart girl. She always wanted to look her best and lived a sheltered life. She was friends with Ellen, who was engaged to Johnny Rodz. Ellen would take Nancy to the shows and while backstage she met Snuka. That started their relationship and her family was okay with it, but felt Jimmy was a little weird. She quickly fell in love with him and took care of him on the road after Buddy Rodgers no longer wanted the job.

-Buddy was Snuka’s driver and manager, but told Vince he didn’t want the gig anymore because of all the cocaine Snuka was doing. The job then went to Nancy, who planned all the trips and made sure he got to the shows on time.

-Another sister, Louise Argentino, talks about the cracks the family started seeing with Snuka. She tells a story of Jimmy putting his hand up to her throat and threatening to choke her. Nancy came upstairs and Louise told her that she needed to get rid of Jimmy. Nancy defends him by saying he was just high and was working too hard. Jimmy tried to make a peace offering by handing her cocaine, which she refused. Good Lord!

-Commercials!

-Despite concerns from her family, Nancy was on the road full time with Snuka. Fatu says that Jimmy was possessive and none of the guys had any kind of relationship with her. Muraco knew of her, but he was Snuka’s arch enemy so they didn’t really mix outside of the ring. Muraco was also friends with Snuka’s wife. The news broke to Nancy’s family that Jimmy was still married. Nancy told them that Jimmy and his wife weren’t living together anymore.

-Another journalist, Kevin Amerman, is next and he works for a paper in Allentown, PA. He relates the story of Snuka apparently beating Nancy in a hotel. The police show up and they claim Snuka was dragging her by her hair. The police and even the police dogs get into with Snuka, who somehow is fending them off. Snuka was arrested on charges of assault and harassment, but avoids jail time because Nancy told the police it was all a misunderstanding.

-Next is Adam Clark, a journalist, who wrote the 30 year story about Snuka and Argentino. He reads the police report where Nancy told police that Snuka didn’t hit her that day or any previous day. Snuka plead down to a smaller charge and paid $1500 to a Ronald McDonald House charity.

-Snuka went back to life on the road and that included shooting TV shows in Allentown, PA. If you watched enough early WWF TV, you would know what the place looked like. It was during this time the Muraco/Snuka feud started taking off. On May 10, 1983 Snuka and Nancy arrived in Allentown to tape some shows. He filmed a few sessions, went back to the hotel, and then back to TV. At 9 PM he goes back to his room and in the middle of the night people in the hotel are awakened by police cars and an ambulance arriving.

-Commercials!

-On May 10, 1983 emergency personnel respond to the hotel. Shirley Reeve was one of the paramedics on the scene and she is her as a talking head. Man, they found everyone for this piece. She says she was called to respond to an unconscious female at the hotel. Snuka was standing with the police while Nancy was in bed covered in a sheet. Her pupils were dilated and that told her brain issues. Snuka told them they were wrestling the night before and she hit her head. She was kind of groggy so he let her rest while he went to his show. Then he saw she was breathing weird and called the ambulance.

-At the hospital Snuka was telling everyone a bit more and said they had an argument and he pushed her, where she fell and hit her head. Nancy’s family is called and her mother is informed that Nancy has passed away. Snuka got on the phone and blubbered that it was an accident in that she fell and hit her head.

-The next morning the police interview Snuka, and his story has changed. He tells the police that on the way to Allentown they pulled over and she got out of the car to get to a bathroom. There were trucks driving by and Snuka told her to hurry and she slipped and hit her head. The news of the death has now made it’s way to WWE head, Vince McMahon.

-Muraco talked to Vince Jr and he told the police that Snuka would co-operate fully. Snuka was released without being charged. Nancy’s family discuss the funeral and how Buddy Rodgers was leading Snuka all around. Snuka was crying on the casket and had to be pulled off by Nancy’s father. A sister tells us that the only think Snuka could say to Nancy’s mom was that Nancy looked terrible. “Of course she looked terrible, she was dead,” one of the sisters tells us. Man! An undertaker told the family she looked so bad because they hard a hard time due to a massive bruise around her neck and abrasions over her body.

-Commercials!

-Nancy was 22 at the time of her death, but it didn’t do anything to slow Snuka’s career. He was in the middle of the money making feud with Muraco that was touring the country. Muraco admits that selfishly he was wondering if something was going to happen to his golden goose. Their feud leads to the famous cage match at MSG. They show the legendary moment where Snuka dove off the cage.

-Carole Snuka, Jimmy’s widow, is next and she mentions that people would make comments about what he did. Muchnick says that some fans knew and would taunt Snuka with it. Carole says Snuka told her that he knew what happened and what he did and that his God knew what happened.

-Frederick Conjour is up and he is the former Chief of Police for Whitehall Township. He tells us that stories floating around are obviously not enough to charge someone with murder. He believes the person who investigated did the best he could. They sent two detectives to Nancy’s family home in New York and they told her that it was ruled an accident. One of the sisters says that Snuka’s promoter kept calling and asked if $25,000 would help. The mother knew what was happening and hung up after asking if her daughter’s life was worth $25,000.

-The family took Snuka to court in a wrongful death lawsuit. They argued he let her go to sleep in her condition and left her alone for 8 hours. They won a $500,000 settlement, but Snuka never paid and never showed up for any of the court dates. His widow feels Snuka was given bad advice and should have been there to take care of what he needed. The family of Nancy decided to move on out of disgust.

-Snuka’s drug habit was getting worse and the WWE had no use for him and cut ties. Snuka did what all washed up legends do and bounced around between smaller promotions.

-Adam Clark worked for a paper who had a wrestling fan as his boss. He thought this would be a good story as it was the 30 year anniversary of her death. They couldn’t get much information from the police as it was still technically an open case. They went to the wrongful death suit and found unsealed documents including a never before released autopsy report.

-The autopsy stated the head trauma was not consistent with a single fall and instead was consistent with a moving head striking an object. The doctor who performed the autopsy closed by writing that the case should be investigated as a homicide based on what he was finding. Damn!

-Commercials!

-This autopsy report raised questions about what happened on that night. Conjour says this is the first time he saw the report and he says it was investigated as best as it could be investigated. They did all they could.

-At the time of this new story, Snuka was coming out with a book. The book was published in Dec 2012 and was the first time he talked about the incident. He also wrote about a meeting he had with McMahon and police. There was no detailed transcript from that meeting and the case went cold when the meeting was finished. It seems that was the only meeting that wasn’t transcribed.

-Carole says that Jimmy trusted Vince fully and since he didn’t read or write he would just sign what Vince put in front of him. She wants to know what happened in that meeting and Jimmy told her that Vince told her it was done and over. Conjour says that nothing was transcribed because he figured nothing important was said.

-Nancy’s family talk about the book and apparently Snuka wrote that Nancy ruined his life, denied ever hurting her, and basically said she was a once in a while girlfriend. His story about what happened was apparently always slightly different. We see radio interview where he tells a slightly different version.

-Fatu says he was in the car with them on the way to Allentown. He is asked what he remembers from the ride. He says they had a good time and when they arrived they went to separate rooms. Fatu isn’t sure what he told the police and the producer relates the story of her falling while going to a bathroom on the way to Allentown. Fatu doesn’t know that story.

-Conjour says that if he was pinned down he didn’t know there was a third person in the car. There was never any contradiction to Jimmy’s story. Carole says she did talk to Fatu and that wrestlers aren’t lying, but they just don’t remember the whole thing.

-Commercials!

-After the autopsy report is uncovered the public pressure gets to the DA and they reopen the case. The DA in 2013 brought the case to a grand jury and they feel Snuka needs to face charges. Snuka is arrested in Sept 2015 at the age of 72. He announced a month earlier he had stomach cancer. The reporter had no clue that his story would lead to something like this.

-Carole says that Snuka didn’t understand anything because of his health. She knows he would have been devastated if he knew why he was there. The judge rules that Snuka is mentally unfit to stand trial. Nancy’s family was happy to see that Snuka got some kind of punishment even if it was just people talking about what he did again.

-Fatu says it hurt him because he knows the type of person Jimmy is and he can’t believe he would hurt anyone. The one shame is that there was no true final resolution. Snuka never got a chance to fully clear his name and the family never got a chance to get a prosecution. That is why people still debate what happened. Ten days after the ruling, Snuka lost his battle with cancer on January 15, 2015. Fatu is emotional as he says the world lost a good man. He loved Jimmy and it angers him what people say about him.

-Snuka’s legacy will always be a complicated one because of what happened outside the ring. He was a wrestler far ahead of his time, but his legacy will never escape what happened in Allentown. Nancy’s two sisters want to share her story because they never got closure. They feel Nancy is still screaming out of justice. Carole feels bad for Nancy’s family as they lost their sister and daughter and know they don’t have closure. She thinks something should have been done 32 years ago.

-We see a final picture of Nancy at 19 as her sisters talk about her and how she was full of life. We close with “it’s a great picture of her.”

-Another heavy episode after getting a bit of a lighter one last week with Brawl for All. I give credit to them for finding as many voices as possible for this episode and I assume they reached out to the WWE, but obviously they aren’t speaking about this one. This didn’t paint Vince or the former Chief of Police in the best light obviously. I found this one interesting because I didn’t know much about this story other than rumors that Snuka killed his girlfriend. I am not one to pass judgment on someone but something does seem weird with how all this was handled. Snuka seemingly changing his story each time did him no favors either. This is one of those cases that will always have people picking sides and I will leave that up to each person to decide. In the end they did a solid job of telling Nancy’s story and making sure we don’t forget the life that was lost. I feel for her family that never got closure and maybe getting her story out there in this fashion will help them. Overall this was well done and presented as much information as they could. As mentioned it’s a rather heavy episode to sit through and if you let your mind connect dots it can make you feel dirty about what may have happened with backroom deals. I like to think something like that didn’t happen, but the fact it is plausible is pretty sad. Thanks as always for reading!