Iran's Takhti: Legendary figure with controversial death

Tehran, Apri 23, IRNA - Iran’s legendary wrestler of the 50s and 60s, Gholam Reza Takhti, is the talk of the town again as a recently-screened film about his figure has sparked controversy about the sportsman's death.

The popular Iranian wrestler passed away on January 7, 1968 in Hotel Atlantic in downtown Tehran. The two main newspapers of the time Keyhan and Etela'at broke the news on their front pages in their evening editions. “Gholamreza Takhti killed himself”, wrote Keyhan. Etelaat’s headline read: Takhti suicided before noon today.

His death is one of the enigmas of the recent Iranian history, sparking hot debate on its anniversary or following any journalistic piece, film or theatrical performance. “Takhti” by Bahram Tavakkoli who depicts the sportsman’s life and death is what has revived the old topic.

But, what’s certain is that there is no proven evidence that confirms or refutes one or another rumor or theory about the popular wrestler’s demise. Even at the time when the previous Pahlavi regime was ruling the country, causes of his sudden death were not identified and there was no interest by government officials to tell the truth.

There are numerous books, plays and articles that have tried to dissect causes of the Olympic Gold-Medalist death.

The public opinion is divided about what happened to the wrestler. Many believe he took his own life. Those who support such a theory refer to Takhti’s will where he has told his family what to do with his small properties in case he died. There were three letters on his hotel bed when he died. His will was one of those.

Economic pressures, family feuds as well as efforts by the Shah’s secret police SAVAK to persecute the popular wrestler are other factors that lead many to believe that he took his life.

However, those who refute the previous theory assert that Takhti had very firm religious convictions that barred him from committing suicide that is prohibited in Islam.

Takhti’s professor Habibullah Bolur and writer Jalal Al Ahmad are among the known figures that reject Takhti’s suicide allegations.

Witness account

“Takhti came to the reception at 8 p.m to ask for a pen and a paper. Then, he went back to his room without eating dinner and it seemed like he went to sleep,” Hotel Atlantic’s employee Zari Amiri, the first person to find Takhti dead in his room, was cited as saying by then newspaper Ayandegan.

“The following day, when I took the breakfast to his room, as he has asked, I saw him in a strange position… his face was swollen and I saw a streak of dried blood that had oozed out of his lips and poured on the pillow,” she added, saying that several ambulances and police officers showed up at the hotel at half past eight, taking his body out of the room.

Takhti’s political beliefs

Winner of a silver medal at the world freestyle championships in Helsinki in 1951 was one of the supporter of a movement that sought to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. He was more of a liberal rather than a person with political convictions. That put him at loggerheads with the Pahlavi regime.

Takhti held grudge against Reza Shah, the first ruler of the Pahlavi regime, after he confiscated the wrestler’s ancestral properties when they needed them most. His activism in the nationalization movement also made him a thorn in the eye of Mohammad Reza Shah, the second and last ruler of the Pahlavi regime.

He was nicknamed Jahan Pahlavan (World Champion) as he engaged a lot in charity work and cared for his fellow compatriots. During the 1962 Buin Zahra earthquake, he flew to help the most affected people, turning him into a very popular sportsman.

He was killed!

Many reject suicide allegations due to his strong religious beliefs. “Is it possible to be the world champion and then commit suicide?”, asked rhetorically Jalal Al Ahmad, refusing the idea that he took his life.

“Takhti had turned into such a popular figure oathed by the regime. I see in his death hands of the statecraft more clearly than any other factors, however, I’m not certain about the circumstances,” said Hashem Sabbaghian, Interior Minister in the interim government led by Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan in 1979.

He committed suicide!

Those who believe that the Iranian athlete took his own life are divided about about what led him to such a point of no return. Some claim family disputes with his spouse Shahla Tavakkoli. Others attribute it to economic hardships and pressures by the SAVAK forces.

For example, late Iranian artists Jamshid Mashayekhi implicitly said Takhti killed himself because of his wife. “At the begining, the World Champion married a woman that was not a match for him and always made fun of him in various occasions. So, if he lived with her, he wouldn’t be Takhti, if he divorced her, either. Only if he killed himself, he’d remain Takhti”.

Takhti’s only son Babak has also confirmed his father took his life, heavily criticizing those who started rumours about the fact that he was killed.

An Iranian journalist also believes the wretsler committed suicide due to the incesant pressures by the SAVAK forces.

Houshang Shahabi, a Boston University professor confirms that Takhti killed himself due to family problems as well as depression that was worsened by death of then Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, who nationalized the Iranian petroleum.

The last letter

“I wish I had died when I had an accident in Turkey… It’s 23:13. I left home to come to this hotel. I was keen on eliminating myself by 12 midnight. Now it’s 12 midnight. I haven’t made a firm decision yet,” wrote Takhti in his second letter.

“I’m thinking about Babak, I´m thinking about my life that will be eliminated after my death. … I can’t write more, my hands are rigid and shaking,” ….

The End

Translated by Ali Dashti

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