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Montreal (CP) - The Great Antonio, a well-known strongman who once impressed Montrealers by pulling city busses as a professional wrestler, has died.

Antonio Barichievich, 77, died Sunday night after suffering a heart attack in a grocery store.

Sid Stevens, director of Sun Youth, a community-aid group, recalled one feat performed by the giant, who stood 6'4" and weighed about 500 pounds.
"I remember he pulled a bus on Saint-Laurent Boulevard -- the 55 -- and it was full of passengers," Stevens told Montreal radio station CJAD.  The bus driver was pleading with him not to because he was kind of late on his schedule.  But he didn't care.  He just grabbed the bus with a rope and pulled it. And when the police officers came, they just stood there and watched him and didn't try to interfere. Imagine getting this type of individual into a police car."

In recent years, Bariechievich could sometimes be seen sitting in Montreal subway stations trying to sell pencils.
Tuesday, September 09, 2003 Alan Hustak -
The Gazette

He boasted he had the strength of 10 horses. He could eat 25 chickens or 10 steaks at one sitting, wrestle 18 men at the same time, juggle six people on his shoulders and single-handedly pull buses, trains and jet planes full of passengers.

Anton Barichievich, otherwise known as the Great Antonio, was a Montreal oddball whose feats of brute strength earned him an international reputation.

But the Great Antonio has pulled his last bus. He died of a heart attack while grocery shopping Sunday morning, one month shy of his 78th birthday.

"There are so many legends about strongmen that it is hard to figure out which is true," Johnathan Goldstein wrote two years ago in a Saturday Night magazine profile of Antonio.

He kept every scrap of paper that had been written about him over the years, news clippings from all over the world, in garbage bags.

Among the stuff, Goldstein found "a picture of Antonio from the 1950s pulling a bus, a Tokyo newspaper photo of a crowd of people pulling him down the street by his hair, a letter from the office of Bill Clinton ... old photos of Antonio with Brian Mulroney, Pierre Trudeau, Don King, Liza Minnelli, Lee Majors, Sophia Loren and Johnny Carson. After awhile, Antonio starts seeming like some kind of strongman Zelig."

Anton Barichievich said he was born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, on Oct. 10, 1925, one of five sons in a Siberian immigrant family. Later in his life, he claimed to be of Italian origin.

According to stories he told, he was 6 years old when he first went to work with a pick and shovel. By the time he was 12, he could pull trees out of the ground with a cable around his neck and run an endurance race for 24 hours without stopping.

He never talked about what he did or where he was in Europe during the Second World War. But whatever happened then seems to have psychologically affected him for the rest of his life.

In 1945, he immigrated to Canada, where he initially made his living as a wrestler giving exhibitions of strength.

He tipped the scales at 465 pounds and stood about 6 foot 4 inches. His suits were size 90, and his shoes size 28.

Barichievich first made it into the Guinness Book of Records in 1952 when he pulled a 433-tonne train in Montreal along the tracks for 19.8 metres. He also pulled four city buses loaded with passengers along Ste. Catherine St., which landed him in the 1960 Guinness Book of Records.

During the 1970s, he travelled the world, putting on shows of strength and wrestling in world capitals. He appeared on numerous television variety shows, including Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson and NBC's Real People. That show's host, Skip Stephenson, once said of Barichievich: "On a scale of one to 10 of the bizarre, he's a 10."

The Great Antonio also made appearances in several movies.

In the 1970s, he was making enough money to buy a new custom-made Lincoln Continental every two years.

Antonio's landlady once told Gazette columnist Josh Freed that Antonio was "a nice boy. But so big. Every time he sits on toilet, bang - toilet breaks. My son fixes and fixes, but always the same. Boom. Toilet breaks again."

Antonio owned what he said was the world's largest rocking chair - 4 metres high and 2 metres wide.

He almost became the North American heavyweight wrestling champion in 1971, but the title bout in Calgary ended in a riot. "The people of Calgary had never seen such a vicious competitor and didn't like the idea of an ugly guy with long hair beating the local favourite and becoming their champion," recalled Alberta wrestling coach Percival A. Friend.

In 1985, Barichievich approached boxing promoter Don King and asked him for a million dollars to do a fight film.

He also wanted to go on tour on a double bill with falsetto singer Tiny Tim. And lift the cross atop Mount Royal. He even offered to pull a Boeing 747 filled with passengers across the tarmac if Boeing gave him a jet "at no charge."

He once said he trained by running head-on into trees from a distance of 60 metres. "Me an expert on physical strength. To understand is to do it, but no one can do it. Six billion people in the world. No energy. No strength. Nobody understand, you understand."

He was an illiterate, and he signed his autograph in big bold block letters.

To everyone's surprise, he sang with a soft, beautiful voice.

When his strength began to wane, Antonio braided his dreadlocks into a club held together with masking tape and used his matted locks to play "hair golf."

He is thought to have been married at least twice, once in Europe and once in Canada to a woman named Jannine, but he leaves no known descendants.

In later years, Barichievich hung out in doughnut shops in Rosemont and frequented the Berri-UQM mtro station, where he peddled brochures outlining his life story. By then, he was a somewhat lonely, pathetic figure whom people avoided not because they were afraid of him but because he never bathed.

By this spring, when a Gazette reporter last spoke to him, he was convinced he was descended from extraterrestrials. "I went to donate blood, and they refused because my blood was too strong. I have extraterrestrial blood!"

No one dared argue with him.