Born: March 10, 1962, in North Carolina.
Died: Dec. 28, 2007, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Known as: One of North Carolina’s most talented heavyweight wrestlers who would go on to star in several Hollywood films.
One of the best wrestlers the state has ever produced, Tab Thacker earned All-American status three years running at North Carolina State University (’82-’84) and was Atlantic Coast Conference champion for four years (’81-’84). He is ranked second in state wrestling history for the heavyweight class. Nearly 6’7” and 450 pounds, competitive with a center-of-attention personality, Thacker filled a room, figuratively and literally. His impressive physical size drew the attention of Hollywood, landing him roles in several feature films.
Raised in Winston-Salem, he attended West Forsyth High School where he was on the football, basketball, track and field, and wrestling teams. He won the Junior National Greco-Roman championship his senior year. NC State recruited him for their wrestling program, where he had a perfect senior year (31-0) and a career record of 92-11-1. He had dreams of Olympic gold, something his coaches and teammates have said was entirely reasonable, noting that his size often took focus from a nearly unequalled skillset. Both collegiate and Olympic governing bodies, however, changed the weight class, placing an upper-weight limit on competitors. The new restrictions, well-below his weight,
kept him from the 1984 U.S. wrestling team, even though he pinned the eventual gold medalist, Bruce Baumgartner, in 11 seconds.
“People said he won because he was bigger than everyone else,” said Bob Guzzo, the wrestling coach who recruited Thacker to the Wolfpack, in a 2007 interview.
Thacker hadn’t won every match his first two years at State, though.
“People don’t realize how hard Tab worked to improve his technique,” Guzzo said, highlighting Thacker’s strength, lightness of foot, and athletic abilities.
Clint Eastwood, after seeing a picture of Thacker in Time magazine, cast him as a bouncer in “City Heat,” the first of five films that included two “Police Academy” movies. But his passion was always sports and the impact it can have on young people. After leaving films, he lived in Raleigh where he supported youth sports, establishing and funding an AAU basketball team for the youth there. More recently, his childhood friend and West Forsyth High wrestling coach Maurice Atwood ran the Tab Thacker Invitational wrestling tournament, continuing Thacker’s dedication to both kids and sports.
“He was a great kid,” Guzzo said. “He was very polite to everyone, very team-oriented, and well-liked and respected by his teammates.”