Anyone remotely familiar with mid-70's comic books should instantly recognize the ominous, sneering figure on the left as Count Dante'...the Deadliest Man Alive! (Click on the ad for a larger view)
As a relatively new comic book reader in the summer of '75, this bizarre, dangerous-looking character obviously made quite an impression upon my nine year-old imagination. For a naive country-boy like me, the ad's talk of "fighting arts" and "death matches" was simultaneously fascinating and a bit scary.
Were there really people who fought in these so-called death matches? Could the world's most deadly fighting secrets really be mine? Is that really his hair?
Well, one ad for Mego Superheroes or X-Ray Specs later, Count Dante and his deadly world faded from my hummingbird-like attention span...but years later, whenever I came across this classic ad, I'd wonder: "Who was this 'Count Dante' and whatever happened to him?"
Well, my curiosity finally got the best of me and, a few Google searches later, here's what I came up with:
FACT: The Count was born John T. Keehan in 1939. Growing up in a wealthy Chicago family, he eventually became involved in the early Karate programs of the 1950's.
FACT: Keehan became an expert in Judo, Jui-jitsu, Gung Fu, Tai Chi Chuan, Shaolin Boxing, Kempo, Karate, Yawara, Boxing, Wrestling, Aikido and Kibo...awarding himself the title The Crown Prince of Death.
FACT: While he mastered every deadly art known to man and demon, he also found time to serve as the director of a wig and hair-piece company(!), eventually becoming a "world famous hair stylist" and creator of the "natural seductive hairstyle" of many top Chicago models and Playboy Bunnies.
FACT: Keehan co-founded the United States Karate Association (USKA). He later became disillusioned with the formality of conventional karate and developed his own "street effecive" style dubbed the Dan-Te or "Dance of Death" system.
FACT: In the late 60's, Keehan changed his name to Count Juan Raphael Dante, claiming that his parents were secretly royalty from Spain who'd fled to America during the Spanish Civil War (which may or may not have actually happened).
FACT: He retired undefeated from professional competition in 1968 when he became Grandmaster of the Black Dragon Fighting Society in the United States and Canada.
FACT: At various times, Dante and the pupils of his school (or "dojo") became involved in "The Dojo Wars", a chop-socky swirl of attempted arson, booze, dynamite, building invasions, and ultimately the death of one of Dante's students.
FACT: Dante died in his sleep in May of 1975, due to internal hemorrhaging from a bleeding ulcer (kinda anti-climactic, huh?). I was expecting "died after single-handedly defeating five hundred nunchuck-wielding zombies".
NOT A FACT: It's rumored that Dante's 1975 death was actually a clever ruse, allowing him to assume a third identity, this time as mellow painter Bob Ross. Exchanging his throwing stars for a fan brush and Magic White, Dante/Ross appeared on the PBS series The Joy of Painting...until dying for real in 1995.
So, there you have it. The murky world of Count Dante in all its death-dealing, hairdressing, and nature-painting glory. If you want to find out more about this fascinating figure (and who wouldn't?), you might want to check out In Search of Count Dante, a recent documentary film by Floyd Webb.
Ironically, when I saw this ad in the spring/early summer of 1975, Dante had just died. Allegedly.