PORT RICHEY — Andre the Giant was her godfather and once, on her birthday, he took her to Paris. That was a good memory, one she told often.
Gertrude "Luna" Vachon grew up in a famous professional wrestling family — her adopted father was Paul "the Butcher" Vachon, her uncle was Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon — brothers with their shaved heads, black beards and unitards growling their way through the circuit.
"She was the only one of my children who wanted to be a wrestler," her father said Saturday, a day after Vachon, 48, was found dead in her Port Richey home.
The Medical Examiner's Office is investigating the cause of death. Authorities don't suspect foul play.
"I told her, 'For a woman to be a wrestler, you've got to be a lunatic,' " the Butcher said.
"That's where she got the name Luna."
Vachon embraced the drama in the ring, wrestling from the 1980s until chronic neck and back pain forced her to retire in 2007. Vachon — who was open about her lifelong battle with manic depression — felt at home when she performed, whether it was in front of a few hundred or several thousand, friends said.
In the 1990s, professional wrestling favored slender, gorgeous female wrestlers. Vachon was the one who beat them up.
"Put it this way, if wrestling was truly real, if the outcomes were not predetermined — there is not a woman on the roster who could beat Luna Vachon," said David Herro, a wrestling promoter and friend of Vachon's.
"She would hit harder than most of the men in the ring."
In her prime, the 5-foot-5 wrestler was all muscle and swagger — black leather and handcuffs and piercings, announcing such things, in her low, gravelly voice, as "I am your worst nightmare."
Her Mohawks might rank as among the most frightening — veins stenciled on the shaved sides of her scalp, ice blond hair shrieking along the top of her head and whipping down her back, like a cockatiel gone bad.
Wrestling is a story of good vs. evil, and Vachon played the villain, intoxicated by how she could control the audience's emotions, to make them chant her name or boo her out of the arena, said Herro, who said Vachon had been in the process of writing a book about her life.
"She was the storyteller of the match," he said. "And she was so good at it."
But off stage, Vachon was sweet and motherly, a person who hugged much and fussed over her friends. She loved the smell of the earth after a good rain, the ocean, dogs, reading her Bible. Friends say she adored her two sons, one of whom is a chef — Van Hurd, who competed on Hell's Kitchen last year.
"She had the kindest heart you ever met," said her ex-husband, David Heath, who wrestled as a vampire named Gangrel. He said her house caught fire a few months ago and she lost all of her wrestling memorabilia. Every day was a battle for her, to fight the darkness, in dealing with her mental illnesses, he said.
"She was a tremendous survivor," Heath said.
After she retired from wrestling, Vachon worked as a tow truck driver. Heath said she was doing repo tows, hooking it and booking it. Wrestling was all she had ever known, and adjusting to life without it was difficult.
"It would be hard for anybody to go from that to nothing," Heath said.
But when Heath spoke with her last week, he said she seemed happy.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.