By Nick Wagner
His childhood passion turned into a career that led him to become on of the most well-known billiards players of all time.
“Machine Gun” Lou Butera, a native of Pittston and a 1986 inductee of the Billiards Congress of American Hall of Fame, passed away on Thursday, June 25 in Los Angeles after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 78.
Lou was born in 1937 in Pittston. That same year, his father, Sam, opened a pool room on South Main Street. The hall was open until the late 1940s. That’s where Lou learned his craft.
Butera spent many years playing pool throughout Pittston with his good friend Steve LaTorre. The two would hop back and forth from Pittston pool rooms learning the trade. Steve and his father, Joseph, ran LaTorre’s Pool Room in Pittston in the early 1940s. LaTorre’s Pool Room was in operation from 1941 through 1992.
“He was one of my best friends,” said Steve, who is four years younger than Lou. “We spent a lot of time in the pool room growing up.”
Steve remembers Lou for his soda boxes. Because the two weren’t quite tall enough to reach the height of the pool table, they would use soda boxes to stand on.
“I remember skipping school and going to Exeter and playing on the soda boxes,” Steve said. “He got good and I didn’t.”
Steve also recalled never beating Lou.
When Lou was 14 years old, he saw BCA Hall of Famer Edwin Rudolph in an exhibition match. From that point on, Lou devoted his life to billiards.
Throughout his career, Lou won many tournaments. He was runner-up to Irving Crane in the 1972 World Championship in Los Angeles. In 1973, he defeated Crane in the finals of the same event to win his first World Championship.
Steve remembers being in the crowd when Lou won his world championship.
Lou earned his famous nickname that same year when, in an exhibition with Allen Hopkins, he ran 150 straight balls in just 21 minutes, the moniker “Machine Gun” for his fast-paced style.
Lou won the All Japan Open in 1974 and the U.S. Classic Pocket Billiard Championships and has won the Pennsylvania State Championship twice.
Not only was Lou a renowned billiards player, he also appeared in several films as an actor. In “The Baltimore Bullet,” Lou appeared as himself. He also played a pool player in “Police Academy 6: City Under Siege.” In the 1984 film “Racing to the Moon,” he played a pool player and was the pool technical advisor.
Lou was preceded in death by his wife, Caroline, in 2012. The couple had seven children.
Lou was recently honored by the City of Pittston by being selected as a character on an Inspiration Mural, which will be placed on the side of the Newrose Building in downtown Pittston. The mural is set to be revealed in September.
“Lou was a gentleman and he was easy going,” Steve said. “He was confident. He was just a good all-around guy. He didn’t drink or do drugs. He loved the game and his stroke was fabulous.”
Reach Nick Wagner may be reached at 570-602-0178 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick