Dick Weber, 75; Bowling Star Won 32 Titles Over 6 Decades
Dick Weber, who made a name for himself while helping to make bowling a hit on national television, died Sunday night at his home in Florissant, Mo. He was 75.
Weber, who had returned from Saturday’s opening of the annual American Bowling Congress national tournament in Baton Rouge, La., began having breathing problems Sunday night, said his wife, Juanita. Paramedics were called but were unable to revive him.
The cause of death was not immediately known.
Known as “bowling’s goodwill ambassador,” then later as “the old smoothie,” Weber was a founding member of the Professional Bowlers Assn. and one of its first stars when ABC televised PBA tournament finals on Saturdays in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“He was a lot bigger than the tour,” said Steve James, retired executive director of the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame in St. Louis. “He was probably the best-known bowler worldwide.”
Weber, a slight right-hander whose clean, unhurried, rolling delivery allowed him to continue competitive bowling into his 70s, won 26 PBA tournaments and six senior titles in an unprecedented six consecutive decades, most recently a PBA senior regional title in 2002.
“Mine is a straight, nothing-fancy, down-and-in delivery with a small hook at the end,” he told The Times in 1991. “It has gotten me through the most drastic changes in lane conditions and equipment over the years. Had I turned to cranking the ball, I’d not have lasted.”
Weber was bowler of the year in 1961, ’63 and ’65 and PBA player of the year in ’65. Before there was a U.S. Open, Weber won its predecessor, the Bowling Proprietors’ Assn. of America All-Star tournament four times, and was elected to both the PBA and ABC halls of fame. He bowled 14 perfect games in competition.
“Weber? An ageless wonder,” fellow superstar Don Carter once said.
Added Earl Anthony, another bowling legend: “Accomplishment and longevity judge greatness. Weber has so much of both.”
Born two days before Christmas in 1929, Weber grew up in Indianapolis as “a bowling alley bum,” Weber told The Times in 1999, quoting his father. “And it wasn’t a compliment.”
He was setting pins when he was 8.
“I loved [that],” he told Bowling Digest last year. “I got 3 cents a game at first. When you got better, you’d get 5 cents a line. I was also a foul-line judge and porter, which paid 50 cents a night. That was big money then.”
From setting pins to knocking them down was nothing more than a smooth glide.
“We had a pinboy league,” he told the Detroit News. “We paid 10 cents a week to bowl. And then I got tied up with [an alley] proprietor ... and he sent me around the state to play in tournaments and paid my expenses.”
He tried other things -- a semester at Butler University, a stint with the U.S. Postal Service -- but always, there was bowling.
“I don’t know why I loved the sport,” he said, “but I did.”
Weber got his big break in 1954, when he beat Detroit star Eddie Lubanski three times en route to winning the All-Star tournament.
The next year, he was invited to St. Louis to join a Budweiser-sponsored team that included some of the best bowlers in the country -- Carter, Ray Bluth, Pat Patterson and Tom Hennessey.
In 1958, he bowled a 775 anchor series -- 258-258-259 -- on that team as it set a five-man record for three games, knocking down 3,858 pins.
His arrival in St. Louis, though, impressed no one.
“I was driving a ’48 Plymouth with the windows taped up to hold them in place,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“They took a photo of our team and put me in the back row because I was wearing a chocolate-and-pink pinstriped suit. Augie Busch Jr. was the owner. He took one look at me and told Jim McGwire, the public relations guy, ‘Take him out and get him a real suit.’ ”
Besides his competitive bowling, Weber bowled exhibitions, in this country and around the world, for AMF, a bowling equipment company.
“In Japan, Dad’s a bowling god,” son Pete Weber, also a PBA Hall of Famer, said in 1999. “It’s unreal. We did an exhibition there. Maybe 1,500 people came.... On dad’s level [of the building], there were 1,400 people. On mine, the other 100. Why? He went to Japan in the mid-1950s with his Budweiser team and made such an impression.”
In promoting his sport, Weber bowled on beaches, once in midair in the belly of a cargo plane, and as a sometime guest of late-night TV star David Letterman, knocking down lava lamps, champagne glasses, beer bottle pyramids and, once, a mannequin of Letterman holding a wedding cake.
Pete Weber, the reigning U.S. Open champion, was scheduled to defend his title this week at North Brunswick, N.J., but withdrew to return to St. Louis to be with his family.
Besides his wife and Pete, Weber is survived by two other sons, Rich and John; and a daughter, Paula.
Weber’s body will be cremated. There will be no memorial service.
Times wire services contributed to this report.