CARMEL - While most people remember him as Captain Lou Albano, the outsized character who helped propel professional wrestling from sideshow to mainstream entertainment, those closest knew him as a man of devout faith.
There were times, however, when both sides of the man were on display.
It was at a Mass several years ago at St. James the Apostle Catholic Church in his hometown of Carmel that Albano, the faithful worshipper, gave parishioners a bit of Captain Lou the bombastic showman.
As the Rev. Anthony Sorgie sprinkled holy water on the throng in the church, he came close to Albano.
"All right, Father Sorgie," Albano bellowed to the delight of the 700 people packed into the church, "don't be cheap with the holy water."
"So, I gave him a bath," Sorgie said yesterday as he eulogized Albano, who died Wednesday at the age of 76 surrounded by his family at his home.
The church was filled once again yesterday as hundreds gathered to honor the man born in Mount Vernon who went on to be a wrestler, manager, author, actor, and pop icon. Among those who were in attendance were former wrestling champions Bob Backlund and Jimmy "Super Fly" Snuka, as well as legendary boxing trainer Lou Duva.
As he arrived at the church, Backlund said that Albano's kindness is what he remembered most - not a characteristic most closely associated with professional wrestlers.
"When I first came to the World Wrestling Federation in 1977, I was a very young boy and really didn't know anybody here in the Northeast," he said. "Captain Lou Albano made me feel very comfortable even though I was a complete outsider in the profession."
That kindness was a hallmark of Albano, even when he was a boy, said his brother, George Albano. When Lou Albano was a student at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, he often gave his lunch to kids at a nearby home for wayward boys.
Even when he became a professional wrestler after a stint in the Army, Albano maintained that kind heart, his brother said. He once gave his night's pay to another wrestler who was struggling financially with infant twins back in Philadelphia.
"There really was a kinder, gentler side to my brother," George Albano said.
The wrestling manager who gained fame with his beard, a face pierced with rubber bands, and a voice that seemed to come straight from a bullhorn, was never without a set of rosary beads in his pocket.
The actor who played the gangster Frank the Fixer in Brian DePalma's film "Wise Guys" used to remind his younger brother George to always drive slowly because you never know when kids might dart out into the street.
The character who became an MTV star by playing Cyndi Lauper's oppressive father in her video for "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," was a doting and loving father to his four real-life children and 14 grandchildren.
"He was truly legendary ," George Albano said, "not only in his career but in his character."
Not that Louis Albano wasn't every bit as tough as his character Captain Lou was, his son Carl said.
"Andre the Giant would think twice before starting a fight with my father," Carl Albano said.
But his dad stunned him one day when, his hands showing the obvious signs of several bones busted inside the ring, sat down and played the piano beautifully.
"I said, 'You play the piano?' " Carl Albano said. " 'Where have I been?' "
A line of cars snaked down Route 6 from the church to Rose Hills Memorial Park in Putnam Valley where Albano was laid to rest inside the cemetery mausoleum. A bugler played taps outside the mausoleum as a military honor guard presented an American flag to Albano's family.