Most Colorful Bowlers of All Time
"Colorful" is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the greatest professional bowlers of all time. The best rollers often displayed an unemotional, intense demeanor amid hushed crowds as they prepared to unfurl their next strike ball.
Perhaps the most famous bowler, Earl Anthony, epitomized this image of the pro bowler, with his professorial image punctuated by a "Square Earl" nickname, distinctive crew cut and horned-rimmed eyeglasses.
But for all the Earl Anthonys, bowling also has produced plenty of showmen (and women). They displayed antics, tempers and attire that transcended their ability to roll 300 games.
These are the most colorful bowling characters in the sport’s rich history.
20. Mark Roth
Years pro: 1970-2009
Career earnings: $1,639,796
Did you know: Roth was the first bowler to complete the 7-10 split on national television, accomplishing the feat in 1980 at the ARC Alameda Open.
Bottom line: Mark Roth helped turn bowling from a finesse sport into a power game with his "cranker" delivery.
This move helped revolutionize the sport and made him a television favorite.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Roth’s colorful style has cemented his place in bowling history.
19. Leanne Barrette-Hulsenberg
Years pro: 1987-2004
Career earnings: Over $1 million
Did you know: Barrette-Hulsenberg was the fourth women’s bowler ever to top $1 million in career earnings.
Bottom line: A lot of talent with a little personality goes a long way.
Leanne Barrette-Hulsenberg earned the nickname "Boomer" for her powerful strike ball.
During her 17-year career, she made over 100 television appearances and helped put women’s bowling on the map.
18. Ernie Schlegel
Years pro: 1968-2004
Career earnings: $1,139,864.49
Did you know: He is one of five bowlers to win PBA titles in five different decades.
Bottom line: Ernie Schlegel had a firecracker game and the showmanship to match.
In the mid-1970s, Schlegel became known as "The Bicentennial Kid" for the red, white and blue outfits and sunglasses he wore on telecasts.
He's also remembered for a fiery performance during his legendary victory over Randy Pedersen at the 1995 Touring Players Championship.
17. Don Johnson
Years pro: 1964-99
Career earnings: $550,000 (estimate)
Did you know: After his bowling career, Johnson became an acclaimed bowling instructor, teaching bowlers from over 20 countries and producing popular book and video tutorials.
Bottom line: Want to be remembered? Do something unexpected.
Johnson is remembered for one of the most memorable — and colorful — moments in televised bowling history.
During an animated performance at the finals of the 1970 Firestone Tournament of Champions, he fell one pin shy of a perfect game, dropping face down to the floor for several seconds before rising to a thunderous ovation (with his wife in tears in the audience).
16. Kelly Kulick
Years pro: 2001 to present
Titles: 6 (5 PWBA, 1 PBA)
Career earnings: $252,586 (PBA)
Did you know: Kulick became the first woman to win a PBA Tour title when she captured the 2010 PBA Tournament of Champions.
Bottom line: If bowling ever returns to its heyday of popularity, thank Kelly Kulick.
Long one of the most colorful personalities on and off the lanes, Kulick has been featured as a supporting character in a Spider-Man comic and appeared nude in ESPN the Magazine’s annual "Bodies We Want" edition in 2011.
She also has endorsed several clothing lines and provides color commentary of the PWBA Tour for CBS Sports Network.
15. Jason Belmonte
Years pro: 2008-present
Career earnings: $1,548,086.59
Did you know: Belmonte was named PBA Bowler of the Year in 2017 for the fourth time in five seasons.
Bottom line: Jason Belmonte is the greatest bowler of his generation.
The charismatic Aussie star also has transformed the sport with his colorful two-handed delivery, which he learned as a toddler because he wasn't big enough to roll the ball with one hand.
As The Washington Post explained, "It’s as revolutionary as if Picasso painted with the brush between his teeth."
14. Donna Adamek
Years pro: 1976-95
Career earnings: N/A
Did you know: Adamek was honored nationally as the Bowler of the Year for four straight years, starting in 1979.
Bottom line: Don't judge a bowler by their size. Sometimes, big stars come in small packages.
Nicknamed "Mighty Mite" because of her diminutive 5-foot-2 frame and energy on the lanes, Donna Adamek was among the most accomplished and popular female bowlers of her era.
She even was featured in People magazine in 1980 as one of the up-and-coming women bowlers "boosting the sport’s glamor quotient."
13. Brian Voss
Years pro: 1982-present
Career earnings: $2,560,738
Did you know: Voss first picked up bowling while serving in the Army in the early 1980s, winning the All-Army championship multiple times.
Bottom line: Brian Voss had poster-boy good looks and boyish flair.
Those qualities, along with his immense talent, made him one of the most popular players on the PBA Tour during the 1980s.
12. Walter Ray Williams Jr.
Years pro: 1980-present
Career earnings: $4,888,939.40
Did you know: Williams is the PBA’s all-time leader in tour victories and prize money.
Bottom line: Talent plus charisma equals a long career on the lanes. Arguably the greatest professional bowler ever, Walter Williams Jr. built his legacy with a distinctive flair.
Nicknamed "Deadeye" for his precision on both the lanes and in horseshoes, Williams has his own fan club, the "Dead-Eye Diehards."
Known for his all-around athleticism, he also is a six-time world horseshoe pitching champion and a 3-handicap golfer.
11. LaVerne Carter
Years pro: 1951-74
Titles: 2 (PWBA)
Career earnings: N/A
Did you know: She was married to legendary men’s bowler Don Carter, with whom she helped found the Professional Bowling Association.
Bottom line: LaVerne Carter was known as "The Blonde Bombshell" during her bowling career for her combination of beauty and showmanship on the lanes.
She also hosted the "Bowl with LaVerne" instructional program that was hosted by over 200 bowling centers across the nation.
10. Dick Weber
Years pro: 1958-2004
Career earnings: $933,243
Did you know: In 2002, Weber became the first bowler to win a PBA event in six different decades.
Bottom line: Legends become legends for a reason.
The legendary Weber is widely recognized as one of the sport’s first television stars and great ambassadors.
Among his more memorable promotional efforts for bowling was "Operation AstroBowl" in 1964 when he bowled at the highest altitude ever, on an American Airlines flight from New York to Washington, D.C.
9. Nelson Burton Jr.
Years pro: 1964-86
Career earnings: $765,112.84
Did you know: Burton Jr. launched his broadcasting career at age 33 when he was still a top bowler on the PBA Tour.
Bottom line: A Hall of Fame bowler, Nelson "Bo" Burton Jr. became better known for his work behind the microphone calling Pro Bowlers Tour broadcasts on ABC with the legendary Chris Schenkel.
Burton spent nearly a quarter-century as a color analyst on the broadcasts, becoming perhaps the best-known bowling personality of his era.
8. Guppy Troup
Years pro: 1976-2014
Career earnings: N/A
Did you know: Guppy is the father of current PBA bowler Kyle Troup, who is also known for his colorful style.
Bottom line: Known as the PBA Tour’s "gaudiest dresser" during his prime in the 1970s and ’80s, John Douglas Troup, or "Guppy," entertained audiences as much with his flashy pants and gold jewelry as his strike ball.
"People tuned in to see what kind of pants I'd be wearing," he once said. "They didn't care how I bowled."
In 1988, legendary sportswriter Frank DeFord called Troup "about the only pro bowler these days with a flamboyant public persona."
7. Don Carter
Years pro: 1951-72
Career earnings: N/A
Did you know: Carter’s $1 million endorsement deal in 1964 with ball manufacturer Ebonite was the largest ever received by an athlete at the time.
Bottom line: Considered the sport’s first superstar, Don Carter reigned as one of the most popular athletes of his era during bowling’s golden age in the 1950s.
He appeared on shows like "Jackpot Bowling," "Make That Spare" and "Championship Bowling." And later in life, he was featured in Miller Lite beer commercials.
On the lanes, he was known for his unorthodox right-handed backswing.
6. Andy Varipapa
Years pro: Late 1920s-62
Titles: 2 (BPAA All-Star competition)
Career earnings: N/A
Did you know: Varipapa bowled 70 sanctioned 300 games during his long career.
Bottom line: Andy Varipapa was born to bowl.
Known for his trick-shot artistry, Varipapa developed a reputation as the "the greatest one-man bowling show on Earth" during his heyday, and played a pivotal role in spreading the sport’s popularity across the nation.
He made 17 films on bowling during his life. Among his "tricks" was converting the 7-10 split by simultaneously rolling one ball from each hand, which was featured in a 1949 Pennzoil ad for its "double action" motor oil.
5. Buzz Fazio
Years pro: Early 1940s to late 1960s
Titles: 8 (6 ABC, 2 PBA)
Career earnings: N/A
Did you know: Fazio was the first person to roll an 800 series on live television.
Bottom line: One of the sport’s pioneers, Buzz Fazio became a crowd favorite for his audience-pleasing theatrics on the lanes, earning a reputation as the "the little Italian guy who jumps around all the time."
A member of the famed Stroh’s Beer bowling team, the 5-foot-6 Fazio also was a regular on bowling-themed television shows such as "Bowling for Dollars."
4. Kyle Troup
Years Pro: 2008-present
Career earnings: $252,586
Did you know?: Manages a Wendy’s restaurant when he’s not bowling on the PBA Tour.
Bottom line: Kyle Troup has some unique style on the lanes, and he learned from a master, his dad, Guppy Troup.
With psychedelic outfits that draw comparisons with the Partridge Family bus, throwback Afro hairstyles and a two-handed delivery, Kyle is the epitome of colorful on today’s PBA Tour.
His nickname is "Afro Fish."
3. Pete Weber
Years Pro: 1979-present
Career earnings: $4,019,932.11
Did you know: In 2003, Weber became the first bowler to win the PBA’s "Triple Crow" twice.
Bottom line: What's wrong with a fiery, brash personality? Pete Weber has developed a John McEnroe-like "bad boy" reputation over the years.
While that caused him to run afoul of the PBA’s buttoned-up style early in his career, he found that it fell into favor with the tour’s new ownership in the 2000s.
"The new PBA has told me to be animated, and I was already animated to begin with," he said. "The new PBA likes me, likes my antics. They think that's what's going to sell the PBA."
2. Carmen Salvino
Years pro: 1953-present
Career earnings: $674,359.67
Did you know: Salvino is the oldest bowler ever to bowl in a PBA Tour event.
Bottom line: Carmen Salvino is still rolling strong at the age of 85.
Recognized as the "PBA’s Original Showman," Salvino’s antics on the lanes have spanned more than half a century.
He became nationally known appearing on television shows such as "Bowling Stars" during his prime, and in 2019, he bowled and offered up commentary during the PBA Tournament of Champions.
1. Marshall Holman
Years pro: 1974-2008
Career earnings: $1,707,789.83
Did you know: Holman’s first Tournament of Champions title came at age 21 in 1976, making him the youngest bowler ever to win the major.
Bottom line: Marshall Holman was the sport’s most flamboyant star during the glory years of the Pro Bowlers Tour, when tournaments were a fixture on Saturday afternoon ABC telecasts.
As the perfect counterpoint to the studious Earl Anthony during this era, Holman was a perfect fit for the television age of the sport, with histrionics that included yelling at pins and glowering at spectators (he was repeatedly fined for offending fans in the 1970s). As People magazine put it in a 1979 profile, Holman “has gleefully cast himself as enfant terrible in a sport whose athletes are more often known for their business-as-usual approach.”
Related: Best Bowlers of All Time