James "Kamala" Harris Reportedly on Life Support

Kamala in a 2009 legends match
with Sgt. Slaughter (credit:
swiftwj/Wikipedia)
TMZ is reporting that James Harris, who wrestled as both Sugar Bear Harris and Kamala the Ugandan Giant in the Dallas-Fort Worth territory, is currently on life support following emergency surgery in an Oxford, Mississippi hospital.

Harris has suffered from health issues for most of the 2010s and has had both legs amputated below the knees due to diabetes complications. His stepdaughter has posted on social media that Harris is now "showing signs of improvement" despite doctors not expecting him to survive the operation.

Harris' condition was first reported on Twitter by Memphis-area wrestling writer Kevin Conlee, then picked up by SEScoops and Pro Wrestling Sheet. To our knowledge, TMZ is the first mainstream media outlet to report the story.

WCM wishes James Harris a speedy recovery, and all our best to his family and friends.

WWE Network Heading into Home Stretch with Syndicated WCCW Eps



Don't forget that for continued updates on WCCW upload status, you can click either here or here. At this writing, most of 1988's episodes are up, which means we've now reached the Jerry Jarrett era (that's roughly the last two years of WCCW TV, including the USWA Dallas shows).. WWE Network News has also begun including a listing of what's still missing in their posts; so far, there's been no indication of whether or not WWE Network will be posting any of those episodes at a later date.

As always, please keep in mind that from all reports, the master tapes were subjected to serious temperature and humidity extremes over the years (they were stored in a barn in north Texas, to be exact). This can result in deterioration of magnetic tape, including videotape, although an amazing number of eps have survived with relatively little or no damage.

WCM Sends Best Wishes to the Nature Boy


As many readers are probably already aware, Ric Flair is, at this writing, hospitalized in critical condition following surgery for a reported intestinal blockage. Other health issues are said to have resulted including kidney failure, for which Flair is on dialysis.

Ric's daughter, WWE superstar Charlotte Flair, has posted a message to fans on Instagram: "Hi guys, On behalf of my family and I, we want to THANK everyone for the prayers, texts, calls and support. Our Dad is a FIGHTER and your continued thoughts and prayers MEAN THE WORLD to us. We will update everyone when we have more information."

World Class Memories sends all our best to Ric for a speedy and full recovery, and to his entire family.

Wrestling "Not Fake"

WRESTLING "NOT FAKE"
By James Dunlap
From the Dallas Morning News, circa March 1975
(via J. Michael Kenyon's WAWLI Papers)

The sign in front of the vast, corrugated metal structure at Cadiz and Industrial bore the ominous inscription "TEXAS DEATH MATCH," appropriately spelled out in blood-red letters.

Inside, all eyes were riveted on a spotlighted American flag while a tinny recording of the national anthem played. As it ended, a great cheer went up, launching another Tuesday night of wrestling at the Sportatorium.

For most people, wrestling is just something that appears momentarily on the screen as they absently flip through the television channels on a slow Saturday night.

But for the folks of all ages and colors who pay $2 to $4.50 to pack the Sportatorium’s wooden bleachers each week, it’s a basic social institution that rivals going to church.

Wrestling provides its hard-core fans with fast-moving entertainment and a bizarre, colorful collection of stars. And on a different, more complex level, it achieves a violence, somewhere between fantasy and reality, that relieves pent-up anger and frustration in its viewers.

"Everybody gets their kicks somehow," explained truck driver Morris Oliver.

"It’s not fake," said his brother, Tommy. "It’s acting, just like in the movies." Tommy, who is big enough to be a wrestler himself, winked and added, "Besides, I’ve been coming since 1950, and there’s no sense stopping now."

Under the bleachers between matches, the smell of popcorn, cotton candy, tacos and French fries mingles with body odor as people jockey for position at the concession stands. Sweat pours off the besieged men behind the counter as they serve thousands of cold beers.

Like groupies hovering near a rock star, kids jam around the dressing room door to touch their favorite wrestler as he strides by.

Beside that door, 72-year-old Walter McDaniel has been shining shoes every Tuesday night since 1938. "Sometimes it’s full up and sometimes it’s not, but the crowd’s not any different," McDaniel said.

Loyally denying there is anything fake about it, McDaniel explained the Sportatorium’s attraction with "fans like the wrestling matches, and that’s all it is."

In the arena, another clutter of kids, with heads thrust under the ring’s lowest rope, vibrate with excitement as they clutch their programs and hope for their hero’s autograph.

To warm up the crowd for the main event, gladiators like Kim Duk, Big Jos LeDuc, the Great Dane, and Alberto Madril brutally embrace in short matches of concentrated combat that seemingly would leave ordinary mortals maimed for life.

Between events, 28-year-old R.C. Williams said he comes for the excitement. "I just like to sit here and drink beer and holler."

Williams, who works on a loading dock, and his friend, Richard Rogers, come every Tuesday and bet a beer on every match.

"I remember when we used to be kids sitting up in general admission sneaking beers," he recalled. Pointing to a vendor walking up the aisle, Williams said, "See that old buzzard there, he used to sell it to us."

Although Williams and Rogers kept their hollering on a relatively calm level, some of the other people got caught up in the drama from time to time and yelled themselves hoarse. Occasionally, beer-fueled fights break out among the more emotional members of the audience.

"Don’t get no blood until the main event," Williams said, "and then everybody is so drunk they don’t know what it is."

Considering the level of violence in the ring, blood is relatively scarce. But sometimes, a swung fist or chair draws a red liquid of questionable origin. The fans don’t seem to care whether it flows from veins or gelatin capsules.

"Everybody is waiting for blood in this one," confided a young man with long blond hair as Fritz Von Erich and Black Jack Lanza, the opponents in the "TEXAS DEATH MATCH," made their appearance.

In a death match, the program explained, "No falls count, there are no disqualifications, no time limit, almost anything is legal and it continues until one man can’t defend himself."

Judging from the cheers and applause, Fritz, a hulking form in red briefs, was clearly favored by the crowd.

Looking like the evil gunslinger in a thousand "B" westerns, Black Jack, dressed in black hat, vest, boots, briefs and a leather guard on his right hand, was greeted by almost universal booing and hissing.

As if to justify the people’s choice, he grabbed Fritz from behind as he politely scrawled autographs for his admiring, young fans. Nobody asked Black Jack for his autograph.

From the first bell, everybody knew it was going to be a deadly duel with the infamous "claw" hold as the chosen weapon.

Besides the claw, they kicked, punched, gouged, strangled, pulled hair and bounced off the ropes onto each other, and the folks in the bleachers went wild.

Jumping to their feet, with screams that reached a deafening pitch, the audience completely disregarded the mundane issue of whether what they were watching was real or not.

"Go, Fritz, go!" they chanted as Fritz won the first fall and laid Black Jack out on the mat like a dead fish.

Apparently, the trainer who massaged Black Jack’s ravaged brow during the rest period did some good, because Fritz took some heavy punishment and lost the second fall.

The battle between the almost larger than life grapplers went back and forth for a while, and then Gran Marcus, a masked wrestler, came down and talked to Black Jack.

From the shouts, it was evident that the crowd was convinced that Gran Marcus had slipped Black Jack something that he put in his claw hand.

"It’s in his glove," they pleaded. "Check his glove!" But their cry failed to impress the referee, and Fritz went down for the count.

Gloom hung heavy in the air. The hero was on the mat, defeated. The villain, with his sinister, leather-covered fist held aloft, strutted around the ring.

Black Jack withdrew and disappeared into the bowels of the Sportatorium, and Fritz was still down.

Slowly, he rose and limped up the aisle. A cheer echoed in the arena, and the hands of the faithful stretched out and gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder as he passed.

They knew he’d be back. And next Tuesday night, so would they.

No Holds Barred

NO HOLDS BARRED
By Mike Shropshire
From D Magazine, March 1981

You wake up a couple of hours before dawn, feeling drained and strung out from the savage dream which seemed as if it wouldn't end.

The melancholy old building, eerie and half-lit like an abandoned subway station . . . the deformed multitudes, shouting and gesturing in some kind of grotesque agony . . . the bell clanging . . . the disturbing sensation of not being able to find your way out of there . . . that screaming Jap . . .

Right away, you decide not to retell this one to Dr. Weinglass, your shrink. The Freudian implications are simply too rich. Next time, lay off the guacamole.

The disturbing aspect of your latest subconscious docu-drama is that it's simply too lifelike. That dictatorial voice droning on about, "One fall, 60-minute time limit for the Heavyweight Brass Knuckles Championship of Texas."

Maybe it had something to do with the tiff you and the little woman had in the kitchen the other night over the so-called lipstick she thought she found on the paper napkin on the floorboard.

You grope around the shelves in the medicine chest for something which might coax your stomach out of the fast lane when you're blind-sided by a divine revelation. A faraway voice, the same one that warns you not to answer the phone because it might be the MasterCard guy, suddenly whispers, "That was no dream, you damn fool. It really happened."

Yeah, yeah. It all comes back now. The wrestling matches. You actually went. God, what an experience.

The phenomenon of professional wrestling, like American politics, maintains a genealogy which eventually traces its way to the circus.

It goes back at least a century, when the key attraction of a one-night-stand tent show touring the sticks was an act where the muscle-bound bad boy would issue a challenge to the rubes.

A "plant" in the audience would materialize and the combat which followed provided tantalizing entertainment for the hillbillies. The entire show was based on P.T. Barnum's hypothesis that the yokels of the world will believe anything if it's packaged just right, a premise which Lyndon B. Johnson exploited to optimum benefit.

The carnival routine, thanks to the miracle of television, has been refined into the spectacle currently available to viewers in the Dallas/Fort Worth market every Saturday night at 10 p.m. on Channel 11.

Is it fixed?

The people who print the big-time metropolitan dailies apparently think so, since their commentary on the wrestling matches is compressed into a one-paragraph agate type summary which appears once a week.

Professional wrestler Fritz Von Erich considers that situation and says, "They call it fake. I've never known of a sportswriter yet who put on a pair of tights and climbed into a ring to find out. I've been in this business a lot of years and I know of no instance where the winner of the match wasn't the best man in the ring."

Von Erich, who is perhaps the finest athlete produced in Dallas - although it's unlikely he'll ever be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame - has every right to make such a statement.

There is no substantive evidence to indicate the outcome of professional wrestling matches is predetermined. If you believe that the wrestling matches are a scam then you must also consider the notion that the Dallas Cowboys' "miracle" comeback against Atlanta was planned in one of the executive suites of the National Football League and intricately rehearsed on a secret practice field.

"The sports pages don't pay any attention to us all, since there are so many other topics to tear down these days," Von Erich said. "I'm just as glad."

Whatever the media may have to say about his profession should be of little consequence to Von Erich, who has become a millionaire through wrestling and owns an impressive estate on Lake Dallas which is not unlike Southfork.

Von Erich bears a startling resemblance to an athlete named Jack Adkisson who played football at SMU and set the discus record there in 1950. They are, in fact, the same person.

"My mother's maiden name is Von Erich and my grandfather's name was Fritz," he explains. "When I got into wrestling, it occurred to me that Fritz Von Erich beat the heck out of Jack Adkisson when you put it on a marquee.

"Back in those days, I couldn't do a damn thing without getting hurt. People think of Fritz Von Erich, the great wrestler. They'd be amazed to find out I lost my first 12 professional matches.

"I finally won against an Australian guy named Jack Pinchoff. He was an old guy, over the hill, but really knew the business. I beat him in Austin. I wrestled him again the next night in Corpus Christi and he broke my shoulder."

Von Erich now pretty much presides over the pro wrestling scene in Dallas, and three of his sons, David, Kevin, and Kerry, are the leading attractions in the incredible productions which happen ever Sunday night at the Sportatorium.

For the uninitiated, an evening at Sportatorium wrestling will prove spectacularly entertaining and, at times, viscerally disconcerting.

"I?ve been coming here about once a week for 26 years," a man at the Sportatorium beer stand explained. "At first, I came to watch the wrestlers. Now I come to watch the fans."

The Sportatorium, situated down on picturesque South Industrial Boulevard, is the result of the genius of the late Ed McLemore. The building, which consists mostly of corregated metal, was custom-designed for wrestling productions and country/western music shows. Total capacity is probably less than 5,000.

When McLemore broke away from the Houston-controlled wrestling circuit in the early Fifties and began importing his own talent (such as 400-pound Farmer Brown), someone torched the Sportatorium. A truce was accomplished and the arena was rebuilt.

The fans arrived early on wrestling night at the Sportatorium and cluster around the parking lot, taking snapshots of their favorites and getting autographs.

Most of the wrestling fans are apparently not from the higher echelons of the social ladder in Big D. In fact, many of them display the Thorazine eyes which can typically be found in the day room at the Rusk State Hospital.

By 7:30, when the first of the preliminary matches begin, the Sportatorium is packed. The early matches consist of candidates for the big money who haven't established their reputations. "A guy starting out in the business can look forward to making maybe 25 grand a year for the first couple of years," Von Erich says.

"But since you have to pay your expenses on the road, you only break even at that level - if that. But if a guy has the determination to stick it out and has fan appeal, he ought to start getting some semifinal matches by his third year and then he might be on his way.

"Harley Race, the world champion, grosses a half-million easily and probably doesn't work but 30 or 35 matches a year."

"To get into the top money in wrestling," said an "insider" in the business, "is kind of like getting into the Mafia. Once you're in, you're in. But it's hell getting in."

A wrestler called The Monk appeared in one of the earlier matches at the Sportatorium. He is clearly not yet "in."

The Monk is actually Steve Miller, who was a heavyweight Golden Gloves champion in the early Seventies in Fort Worth.

His career is remembered there because Miller would often burst into tears while knocking his boxing opponent into New Jerusalem.

Now he enters the wrestling ring with a shaven head, full beard, and clerical robe that appears to have come from the closet of Ming the Merciless. Apparently, The Monk still maintains his affectation of crying in the ring.

"Hey, Grapehead!" shouted one of the ringside fans. "You gonna cry for us tonight?"

"You shut the hell up," The Monk responded.

"Frankly, I wasn't so good as a boxer, but I was notoriously odd," said Miller.

"I was a little weird, very emotional. I'd get everybody excited and got 'em laughing for a long time. I have clippings in my scrapbook with headlines like 'Crybaby Miller Wins Again.' There was this story in the sports pages after I beat Larry Montgomery for the championship where his coach said, 'I saw those tears and knew we were in trouble.'

"After I'd won an important bout in the state tournament, I was shopping in Arlington and a kid came up and asked me for my autograph. That had never happened to me before and I'd never felt so proud. I signed the piece of paper and the kid said, 'Aren't you Red Bastien, the wrestler?' And I said, 'No, I'm Steve Miller, the heavyweight boxing champion of Fort Worth.'

"The kid just walked off, and I saw him wad up the paper with my autograph on it and throw it away. That's when I started thinking about a wrestling career."

Miller decided to shave his head after one of his first appearances in pro wrestling. His opponent jerked out a fistful of Miller's already thinning hair. It didn't grow back.

"I don't win many matches because I'm not that experienced. But I have something about me which will help, and that's my big old ugly face. I have a face that would scare off a mongrel dog. That amounts to charisma and if you have it, you're gonna make a lot of money in this business.

"I hope to be there in a couple of years. I've got a lot to learn, but I'm mean enough. I worked as a bouncer in the toughest bar in Alaska."

Miller lives in a mobile home in West Dallas. "I live in a scuzzy part of town, but I'm into it," Miller says. "Most of the wrestlers' favorite joint is Cafe Dallas. But I never felt at ease around people who think they're sophisticated and put on airs. I just like to go to low-rent dives and pat the Mexicans on the back."

The Monk lost his match to the "Baby Face," which is wrestling parlance for the good guy. The baby face in this case was some old cat of about 50.

The bad guys are known as "Heels," and all the talk is that you've got to be a Heel to make it in Dallas because the Baby Face market is currently monopolized by the three Von Erich boys.

Most of the leading Heels are managed by wrestler Gary Hart, who appears at matches wearing a business suit and fashionable hood, the kind popularly sported by medieval head choppers.

That costume probably generates dirty looks when Hart visits a 7-Eleven store or the bank. Wrestling fans like to bash out the headlights of his car and scratch the paint.

Hart gives the impression of being a Heel's Heel. "Most of the people who dislike Gary really don't know him," said a wrestling insider. "You have to get to know him before you can really dislike him."

The second match featured a performance by a miniature muscle god with the happy stage name, "Chief Billy White Cloud," a promising Baby Face. White Cloud actually comes from Monterrey, but the American Indian traditionally maintains a high appreciation index at the wrestling matches.

In fact, the most popular wrestler ever, perhaps, was Wahoo McDaniel, who, in real life, reputedly once won a substantial wager by chugalugging a quart of motor oil and running 40 miles without stopping.

"Well, I can believe the part about the motor oil," said one of Wahoo's contemporaries. The University of Oklahoma kept this man on its classroom rolls for four years in return for his exploits on the field of honor.

Militants for the American Indian cause might be a little put off by Billy White Cloud's spectacular feathered costume and his tendency to do rain dances and whoop "wa-wa-wa-wa-wa" just before he kicks his opponent in the neck.

White Cloud might counter that wrestling matches aren't supposed to serve as a forum for politico-ethnic reform and point out that he can earn more money in a week with his Chief White Cloud parody than he could make in a lifetime sitting around Arizona roadsides selling Kachina dolls.

Jose Lothario, who's been around forever, came into the ring next and made short work of Raul Castro, a masked wrestler.

Certain wrestlers are encouraged to wear masks simply because they have ordinary facial characteristics. Wrestlers find that they're more professionally marketable if they look like movie stars or, preferably, are incredibly ugly.

Lothario has a sagging midsection, but moved around the ring like the Russian dancer Baryshnikov while working over Castro. At the conclusion of the match, Lothario attempted to rip off Castro's mask, but the vanquished performer escaped and slinked back to the dressing room while the fans, many of whom could qualify for the World Museum of Chromosomal Disorders, hooted and jeered.

The referee, who bears a striking resemblance to Grandpa on The Munsters, raised Lothario's arm in victory.

"Lothario's gotta be in his mid-40s, probably," says Fritz Von Erich. "He's typical of a lot of guys. He's so skillful at what he does, he might be around another 10 years. That's what I like about wrestling. Get to be this age in most other sports and, man, it's over with."

Next came the main event, a three-person tag-team match. Two of the Von Erich boys, David and Kerry, along with Bruiser Brody, marched down the aisles of the Sportatorium with an air of patrician elan. Now the audience was wailing.

The Von Erich boys, in their mid- and early 20s, have the physical structure of Grecian deities.

"They're gifted athletes," Fritz says, oozing with pride. "They all made all-state in football at Lake Dallas High, and Kerry, the youngest one, set an age group world record at the University of Houston in the discus."

The adoring crowd pressed around the ringside to have the photographs of the Von Erichs, available in the lobby for $2.25, personally autographed.

David, the oldest, has experienced his share of adversity. He lost his child in a crib-death tragedy and is now divorced.

"David's got a pretty good head on his shoulders. The other two, well, they have some growing up to do still and sort of enjoy a good party, if you know what I mean," said the wrestling "insider."

But they're all cashing in, and there are two more, supposedly, about to enter the profession.

After several minutes, the villains materialized behind a police escort which would have done credit to the late Shah.

The cops come in handy. Gino Hernandez, formerly "under the care of Gary Hart" and therefore, a Heel, infuriated the Sportatorium crowd recently by ripping up some Von Erich photos belonging to kids seeking autographs. The ability to spur the crowd into a frenzy of hate is known in the trade as "giving heat," and Gino is good at it.

So good that, when he was later pitched over the top rope and into the crowd, someone approached him with a five-inch knife. (Fans who get out of hand in this fashion find they'll be dealt with harshly.)

The villains on this occasion were Tim Brooks, who's been known to work on his opponents with a dog chain; Gary Hart, wearing what looked like a Spiderman costume with "CHICAGO" stitched on the side of his tights; and a sensational Oriental import named Kabuki.

Kabuki's face was painted white and he carried a sword.

This trio would clearly be out of place at the Mother's Day buffet at Brook Hollow.

Brooks, who appears to have lived much of his life in a foxhole, although he's actually from Waxahachie, spit at the crowd and cast an occasional French salute.

Kabuki, the assassin, approached David Von Erich and waved the sword underneath his chin. Von Erich looked like he didn't know quite what to think. A week earlier, Kabuki had strangled an opponent with a coat hanger in Fort Worth.

Hart coaxed the sword away from Kabuki.

"Get that SOB out of there!" shrieked a middle-aged black woman seated at ringside. "He's crazy!"

When the match began, Kabuki became a malevolent bundle of homicidal fury, seemingly jacked up on that same drug they used to feed Kamikaze pilots that transformed them into live-for-today no-accounts.

The Von Erich boys and the Bruiser put up a fierce effort and at one point, Tim Brooks staggered back into the corner with his face coated in blood.

"Make no mistake," said our wrestling informant. "The blood is real. Sometime during the match, while Kabuki was in the ring, Hart slipped Brooks a razor blade and then he just knicked his forehead and started bleeding like hell."

This procedure is known as "juicing" or a "blade job."

Harley Race, the current world champion, is renowned as the best "juicer" in the business, reputedly able to spread a few tiny drops over his face and arms so that it appears he just stumbled out of a train wreck.

On this occasion, the night belonged to Kabuki, who raised his right hand in clawlike fashion, then made the howling sound of a dive bomber heading into Pearl Harbor as he clutched one of the Von Erich boys around the abdominal region.

The audience was horrified. It was not a pleasant exhibition for Von Erich fans, along with anyone else who cherished truth, justice and the American Way.

"I don't know how Hart got that guy into the United States," says Fritz Von Erich. "The SOB is dangerous.

"He's a legend back in the Far East. I've had guys tell me they remembered him from when they served in Vietnam.

"I'd never seen a picture of him when he didn't have that horrible face painted white. He must have some scars he's trying to hide. But Kabuki's really in demand now and he'll draw a lot of money. It doesn't make a damn about his reputation, though. Somebody's going to beat him, and soon. I'd still like to know how Hart slipped him past the immigration authorities."

Some say it was not that difficult. They say, in fact, that Hart imported Kabuki from Kansas City, where he happened to be known as Takachika and was working the prelims, without benefit of the painted face.

The mystery of Kabuki's origin simply enhances his value and he clearly has the potential to become one of the arch-villains in the lengthy process of fiends who've performed in the Sportatorium..

He may even join company with the likes of Duke Keomuka, Bull Curry and The Spoiler.

"I remember Bull, all right," says TV announcer Bill Mercer, who's been doing wrestling in Dallas off and on since 1953.

"He kicked me in the face one time. That's the only time I ever really had any bad trouble with a wrestler. It didn't hurt much and left a little scrape over my eye.

"But he was a real Neanderthal."

The Spoiler, who was occasionally mistaken for the personification of Satan and was acrobatic enough to be able to tightrope walk his way around the ring on the top rope, once got on TV and explained how much he "hated the Sportatorium fans' guts."

When asked how he felt about the fans who watched on TV, he said, "I hate them even worse because I don't get any of their money."

Another classic was the late Moon Dog Mayne, who delighted in disgusting wrestling crowds everywhere by entering the ring and eating raw eggs, dog food, and, on one occasion, a dead fish.

"Gene Kiniski is a tough guy who really stands out in my mind," says Von Erich.

"Lou Thesz was probably the most skillful I ever wrestled, but Kiniski probably had to be the toughest. He'd knock your damn head off.

"He never did that to me, but he's capable of it."

The Von Erich boys put up a brave effort to beat Kabuki and his two low-rent companions, Hart and Brooks.

David Von Erich delivered tough forearm chops to Kabuki's thoraxial region with a massive "splat" and the audience roared.

A couple seated on the third row was hard to figure. The woman, kind of twentyish, seemed moderately hip. Her male companion, about 40, appeared to have gone around the bend intellectually some years earlier. He watched the matches intently through expressionless eyes glazed over from some long-ago trauma.

Finally, he was overcome by the sheer spectacle of it all and jumped from the chair to scream, "Tear his eyes out!"

"Oh, Sonny," gasped the fellow's lady friend, who grabbed his sleeve and yanked him back down in his chair. Sonny wasn't heard from for the rest of the evening.

Eventually, Kabuki dragged one of the Von Erichs into a corner and, along with his partners, triple-teamed their victim until the match ended.

The crowd, stunned, filed out. But the big majority obviously intended to return the following week to see justice, in some form, take its course.

The wrestlers, who are professionals after all, had done their job. There was nothing fake about the entertainment values at Sportatorium, and another evening of family fun had, all too soon, come to an end.


The Cost of Villainy

SKANDOR AKBAR: THE COST OF VILLAINY
By Dave Tarrant
 From the Dallas Morning News, September 3, 2000 

He wore a bulletproof vest because of threats on his life. He was ambushed by mobs throwing sticks and rocks. His tires were slashed, his windshield shattered, and he was in more car chases than Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. 

And that's just what happened outside the ring. Skandor Akbar, as the wrestling magazines of the 1970s and 1980s often proclaimed, was "The Man You Loved to Hate." 

And the more you hated him, the more he loved it. 

"Wrestling is good and evil," he was fond of saying, "and I'm the evil part." 

Long before today's cartoonish villains, he was one of wrestling's arch bad guys. During the gas shortages of the 1970s, he was a self-proclaimed oil-wealthy sheik, who taunted fans weary of long lines at service stations. Amid the Gulf War, he swaggered around ringside in a khaki uniform like a certain Iraqi dictator. 

Being such a great bad guy forced him to erect a shield over his private life. He did so not only to protect himself and his family, but also to maintain his mystique with fans. And that practice became habitual over the years.

He's still slow to open up and let people know the other guy - not the wrestler, but the man outside of the ring. The man who has lived in the same suburban Dallas neighborhood for 31 years but knows almost nobody on his block. The man whose wife once told him that he'd been engulfed by his wrestling persona. 

"I kept my private life apart," he says, matter-of-factly. "I was like two people." 

Wrestling, Skandor says, comes down to this: There are dragons and dragon slayers. 

Skandor was a dragon, the archetypal villain, who must be vanquished by the dragon slayer so order can be restored to the world. Later in his career, as a manager, it was his job to find dragons to feed the dragon slayers. 

"That's how I explain my world to people: dragons and dragon slayers." 

Wrestling is different now from when he started nearly 40 years ago. It's not about good vs. evil anymore. 

"See, today it's hard to determine who's bad and who's good. And so you have what I call purgatory fans - they're in between. They cheer for everybody." 

In his day, bad guys didn't have fans. 

"I never had any. Not that I know of. I'd rather it be that way. And it was risky in those days. People bashing your car windows, cutting your tires. That'll never happen today. It's changed now." 

It wasn't only wrestling fans who hated him. Members of the Arab community, including some of his relatives, didn't much care for his caricature either, he says. 

He paid them scant attention. He generated heat -- the concentrated wrath of fans -- that is the red meat of wrestling. 

With hyperventilating exuberance, Skandor's manager once boasted to Ring, a wrestling magazine, that "Skandor Akbar is a man from the same mold as I am! He'll bite, stomp, kick, chew or even spit at his mother if it will help him come up with a victory." 

Now 65, he still looks like he could throw someone into the second row. At 5-foot-9, he has the compact, powerful build of an NFL fullback. He pumps iron every morning in his garage, and he's "pretty close," he says, to the 56-inch chest, 19 1/2-inch biceps and 27-inch thighs that he used to hurl hapless opponents around the ring. 

He keeps his thick black mane the same color it was back then, too, as well as his goatee. 

He's been married three times but lives alone now. He books wrestling events with an outfit out of East Texas called Superstars of Wrestling. He works the small towns where wrestling's big name acts will never appear except on television. He runs a wrestling school at Doug's Gym in Dallas and manages youngsters with big dreams as well as grizzled old-timers like Greg Valentine and The One Man Gang. 

He still plays the character he invented 35 years ago, strutting outside the ring taunting fans, never mixing with them, always maintaining what he calls his "mystique." 

"That's what I learned a long time ago. You don't mingle with the fans," he says. 

"So many of the young wrestlers in this business will get out and mingle with people after the show and put their arms around them. And those people will go home and say, 'Aw, he's a good ol' boy.' 

"But they've never said that about Akbar. I guarantee it. You can ask around Dallas. They never knew anything about me." 

His real name is Jimmy Saied Wehba. He was born Sept. 29, 1934, in Wichita Falls, Texas. He grew up in nearby Vernon, although at various times throughout his career, he would say he moved here from Lebanon, Syria or Saudi Arabia. 

His father, Saied Wehba, did emmigrate from Lebanon and settled near relatives in the Texas Panhandle, where he worked as a grocer. His mother, Mary Eidd, also of Arab ancestry, was born in Texas. Jimmy was the youngest of three kids, and his two older sisters doted on him. 

At 12, he started lifting weights, spurred by his cousin Doug Eidd, now the proprietor of Doug's Gym. Mr. Eidd was in the Army and en route to Korea when he stopped by his cousin's house and gave him a few weightlifting lessons. Eventually Jimmy could bench-press 500 pounds. 

Two of his uncles were also professional wrestlers. One called himself the "Sheik." Young Jimmy went to some matches and found his calling. 

This was the late 1950s and early 1960s, the golden era of wrestling. He started out with one of the great legends of that era, Lou Thesz, who knew Jimmy's uncles. 

In those days, the country was divided into wrestling territories. The way for a young man to get experience was to go from one territory to the next. This was before Jimmy wrestled under the name of Skandor Akbar. But he was often cast as a villain, or "heel," in wrestling parlance, he says. 

"You were typecast a lot in those days. Naturally I was a heel because I was this big, dark-complected guy. Sometimes I wrestled as a clean guy. But the villain was my thing. I tried to be a good guy, but people just didn't like it," he says, chuckling. 

In 1966, Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch of the Von Erich wrestling clan in Dallas, suggested he change his name to something that sounded more Arabic. "Then I became Skandor Akbar, which means Alexander the Great." 

He was now the "hated Akbar," whose adversary was often Danny Hodge, an Olympic silver medalist and popular "good guy" in the Oklahoma circuit. Later, he "went to war" against the Von Erichs, when the clan was the main draw in Dallas. 

The only time he recalls being a fan favorite came during a brief period in 1967. "I went in and saved Danny Hodge from a beating with the Assassins. They had him upside down on the turnbuckle, double-kicking him, the whole works. I don't know what came over me, but I saved Danny. I became the fan favorite for a few months." 

The business was a grind, six days a week, a different city everyday. Almost every town had its crowd favorite or "baby face." Skandor often car pooled with the other heels on the circuit, driving one of the dozen Pontiac Bonnevilles he's owned. 

"During these trips you could go over different moves you could do. That's how you sharpened up." 

To achieve longevity he had to create a personality. That meant engaging in the loud-mouthed, in-your-face finger-pointing, face-contorting, gorilla theater that is an essential part of wrestling show interviews. 

"I watched the best, and then I would get by myself and get in front of a mirror and scrunch up my face," he says. 

"There are guys who've been in this business for years and years who have never learned to do the interviews. I could make a two-minute interview and never stumble. But I worked on it. It didn't come naturally." 

Another key to success was learning crowd psychology, which Skandor defines as "total control over the people." 

"Some guys have it, and some guys don't. You have to be alert and pay attention. You can bring the crowd up and bring them down and then bring them up again." 

You never, ever give in to the crowd, he says. 

"Maybe you have somebody in a hold and you hear people starting to chant, 'boring, boring,' like they do sometimes. I tell my man in the ring, 'You just clamp down harder on that hold. Don't let the crowd get to you. You dictate to them. Don't let them dictate to you.' " 

Skandor never let audiences become bored. 

"I was always doing something dastardly. They didn't know when I was going to do it." 

He would hurl fire at his opponents, choke them on the ropes and dispatch them with his signature "Camel Clutch," in which he'd grab an opponent's chin from behind and pull his head backward. 

He knew all the tricks of the trade. 

"I could take a guy right now and bust him open. There's a way you do it. You come right down on a sloping angle and bust that eyebrow. But if you don't know how to do it, the poor guy's head'll swell up." 

"I did everything. I hid foreign objects, bolts and things like that. Usually I hit in the neck. Sometimes I'd hit in the head." 

His opponents often reciprocated in kind. "They'd hit me with something too. But in those days we didn't mind that. We didn't mind blood coming down our faces. We made money." 

He wrestled all over the world and especially in Asia and Australia. He was in Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Japan. "It was just beautiful." 

In 1974 he won the National Wrestling Alliance's North American Heavyweight Title Belt. About 1977, he retired from full-time wrestling and began managing other heels. He added "General" to his name and took on colorful heels such as Kimala, the Ugandan Giant. By the end of the 1980s, after nearly 30 years in wrestling, Skandor's persona was set in concrete. In a 1987 story in All Pro Wrestling, Skandor was described as "one of the most hated and feared [wrestlers] in the sport." 

He was quoted as saying: "I'm never worried about anything. My family is rich, and I am rich. And I can buy anything I want, so why should I be something I don't want to be, like one of those sissy good guys." 

Jimmy Wehba of Vernon had successfully created a monster. And as with Dr. Frankenstein, he had to live with it. 

He is showing a visitor around his Garland home, a two-story house, with red-brick siding, bought in 1969. 

He lives alone and his only companions are a cat and a dog, both rescued strays. 

He doesn't use the kitchen or dining room. He eats all his meals in restaurants and seldom goes upstairs. There are assorted family photos on an upright piano in one room, but no wrestling memorabilia is displayed. He keeps stacks of old wrestling magazines with stories about himself in the closet. 

He walks stiffly now and with a slight limp from old wrestling injuries. 

"I've got a bad right knee, a degenerative area on my left side," he says, settling into his favorite stuffed chair in the living room, where he likes to watch "the tube" during the day. 

He was injured in Jackson, Miss., during a tag-team match that got out of hand. "They got a great big board, and they were whacking me and a guy named Rocket Monroe. Sometimes I still feel it across my arm here. It chipped my elbow." 

Another night, after he turned against his tag-team partner Danny Hodge, he got ambushed by some fans. 

"These people sent me a note to come by this club. Out of curiosity, I went there. I walked in and these people started whacking me with cue sticks. They were just punks. I knew how to take care of myself. They got in a car and drove away. I didn't realize my head was bleeding profusely. See they hit me across here," he says pointing to a scar at his forehead. 

"I got a lot of scars." 

He got hit in the head with a rock while walking down the aisle in Boston Garden. In Russellville, Ark., fans threw rocks and sticks at him and a friend as they ran to his car. Other times, he found his car windows smashed or his tires slashed. 

And there was that time he had to wear a bulletproof vest. It was in 1985 in the Superdome in New Orleans. The week before in Jackson, Miss., Skandor was managing Kimala and had interfered with the match by throwing a fireball at Kimala's opponent, a guy named Hacksaw Jim Duggan. 

This well-publicized act prompted 30,000 fans to turn out for a rematch in the Superdome. When Skandor arrived in the locker room, he was met by New Orleans Police Department officers informing him that there had been 14 calls to the Superdome threatening his life. 

"Either you wear this bulletproof vest tonight or you don't go on," he quotes an officer telling him. 

He wore the vest underneath his robe and nothing happened. 

But he always watched his back. 

"I had to be careful where I ate," he says, adding that he did the same thing as a manager. "I never let anybody see Kimala. We'd pick up our food and eat in the hotel." 

People tried to follow him home as he drove away from the Sportatorium in Dallas. "I'd have to lose them. I didn't want anybody to bother my house and my family. That's why I kept my personal life so quiet." 

He has one son, Darryl, from his first marriage. He got his first divorce when Darryl was still an infant. 

Darryl Wehba, 37, lives in Duncan, Okla., where he grew up. He is married and has an infant son of his own. Darryl recalls watching his father on television and occasionally live. 

"When I was real young growing up, he wasn't around much. But I simply adored him. I was his biggest fan. He never missed a Christmas or a birthday. Sometimes he couldn't be there right on my birthday, but he'd come a little later." 

When Darryl dreamed of wrestling, however, his father discouraged him. "He didn't want to see me get into it. He knows you can't hold down a family." 

A construction worker, Darryl says he doesn't begrudge his father's absence. "He played his part so well. He was the ultimate bad guy. As far as everybody else knew, he was from the Middle East. He knew how to get people riled up. That's what they thrive on. That's what kept them people coming back." 

Skandor was married to his second wife, Doris, for 18 years before she died suddenly of kidney failure. He married his third wife, Peggy, in 1989, and "by mutual agreement," they were divorced last year, he says. 

Peggy once told him that she thought he had trouble separating his public and private lives, he says. "I think she felt like this thing had engulfed me," he says. 

"To an extent, yeah, I guess it did," he says. "I've really tried to amend things like that. When I was in my heyday, I'd always have that scowling look on my face." 

Like an actor associated with one part, or an old spouse who can't imagine life without the partner, he accepts his life. 

"Probably me being in professional wrestling for so many years, my personal life was sacrificed. [Wrestling] was such a different kind of thing. It just kind of ruined my personal life so much." 

Over time, he says, "Akbar took over the Jimmy part. 

"When people call me Jim or Jimmy it's a surprise to me. They call me 'Ak' or 'Akbar' or 'General.' " 

Probably the person he is closest to is his 10-year-old stepgranddaughter, Kaylie, who lives in Garland. She calls him "Doe," a variation on the Arabic word for grandfather. 

Kaylie was born two months prematurely. "She was so small I could hold her in the palm of my hand," Skandor says. "I guess we bonded right then." 

He likes to take Kaylie out once or twice a week for dinner. When he was sick recently with a cold, she made him colorful get-well cards, which are still taped to his refrigerator. 

"He loves me and he protects me," she says of her grandfather one evening at Ryan's, their favorite restaurant in Garland. Later, at his house, she kids him while looking through some old wrestling magazines he has brought out of the closet. 

The magazines seem to stir the old embers. 

"I'd do it all over," he says. "I'd relish it like a good meal. I'd gobble it all down. If they opened the Sportatorium today, I could walk down that aisle, and I would still have a lot of heat. 

"I still love the business. One thing I'm so proud of, it's like an epitaph for me. I was always true. I was always straight down the line." 

Kaylie holds up a magazine. "What were you doing here?" she demands. "Biting his head?" 

He gives her a sheepish smile and puts on his glasses to take a closer look. "Hmmm. That looks like Terry Taylor," he says to himself. 

"Did you win?" Kaylie asks. 

He nods his head.

"I'll be watching"

Dallas-area media coverage of the devastating news of Mike Von Erich's suicide.



VON ERICH'S DISAPPEARANCE SPURS SEARCH
Wrestler's abandoned car found at Lewisville Lake
By Nita Thurman
From the Dallas Morning News, April 16, 1987

DENTON -- Denton County Sheriff's Department investigators mounted a water, air and ground search for Mike Von Erich Wednesday evening, after the missing wrestler's abandoned car was found near Pilot Knoll Point on Lewisville Lake.

Von Erich, 23, was reported missing Monday by Ralph O. Pulley, a Dallas attorney who represents the Von Erich family. He was last seen Saturday after being released on bond from the Denton County Jail, where he had been held overnight after being arrested in Argyle on charges of driving while intoxicated, use of a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of under 2 ounces of marijuana.

The wrestler's 1986 gray Mercury Marquis was found on a dirt side road near the park's entrance, about a quarter mile from the lake shore, Sheriff's Department Capt. Al Lewis said.

A note was found in the car that read in part, "I am in a better place", Lewis said.

However, he said, that was the only part that was visible and authorities did not want to pick up the note to read the rest of it until Thursday morning when a technical crew could be brought in to make sure that no other potential evidence was disturbed.

He said two trained tracking dogs were brought in for several hours Wednesday night to assist in the search, after darkness halted a dragging operation on the lake and an aerial search by a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter.

"With the onset of darkness, we are severely limited," Lewis said. "The dogs are our biggest hope."

A jacket and a pair of wrestling boots found in the car were used to give the tracking dogs Von Erich's scent, he said. Nothing was found before the search was suspended at 10 p.m.

Two of the three trained dogs will be brought back in at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, said Lewis, who also plans to put searchers up on horseback to penetrate dense brush around the lake shore.

Lewis said a resident who lives near the park called the Sheriff's Department at about 5:15 p.m. to report that the gray Mercury had been parked on the dirt road for several days.

"As soon as we ran the license number, we knew what we had," Lewis said. "He apparently drove up, parked, locked the doors and left."

Attorney Jerry Loftin of Fort Worth, who has represented Mike Von Erich in previous court cases, said Wednesday that he and the wrestler's family are "worried to death" about Von Erich's safety.

"It's just not like him not to be heard from," Loftin said. "He always communicates with his family. We are scared to death that something has happened to him."

Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch of the popular wrestling family that includes Mike's brothers Kerry and Kevin, spoke as scheduled Wednesday night at an evangelistic crusade in Denton.

Although he did not mention his missing son, an announcer at the crusade asked for prayers for the Von Erich family during its latest crisis.

Mike Von Erich was critically ill in September 1986 [sic] with toxic shock syndrome, a rare bacterial infection that apparently entered his body through a surgical incision. He had undergone surgery in August 1986 [sic] to repair a damaged shoulder.

He is one of five sons of Fritz Von Erich and his wife, Doris. One son, Jack, was accidentally electrocuted in 1959 at the age of 6. And David Von Erich, 25, died in February 1984 of acute enteritis in a Tokyo hotel room while on a wrestling tour.

Kerry Von Erich was seriously injured last summer when his motorcycle crashed into the rear of an Argyle police squad car. Several pins and rods were placed in his fractured ankle.

In the latest incident in Argyle, a patrolman stopped Mike Von Erich's car on U.S. Highway 377 because it was weaving, said a spokesman for the Argyle Police Department. Von Erich was not speeding and was "very cooperative" with the arresting officer, the spokesman said.

The results of a blood alcohol test and analysis of the pills found in the car have not been returned from the Department of Public Safety lab, he said.

Loftin said that Von Erich, whose real name is Michael Brett [sic] Adkisson, called him Saturday afternoon, shortly after he was released from the county jail at 3:20 p.m. and had reached his home in Roanoke.

"He was concerned (about his arrest). He said he was appreciative of everything I've done," Loftin said. "He was very nice and courteous -- he's always courteous -- but he did not seem unduly upset. It was a normal reaction."



BODY OF VON ERICH IS FOUND
Suicide suspected in wrestler's death
By Nita Thurman
From the Dallas Morning News, April 17, 1987

DENTON -- The body of wrestler Mike Von Erich was found Thursday morning, lying in a navy blue sleeping bag in a densely wooded area near a Lewisville Lake park.

Officers said the cause of death had not been determined but that all evidence indicated suicide.

Von Erich's body probably had been at the remote site since Sunday, one day after he was released from the Denton County Jail and the day before he was reported missing, said Justice of the Peace Hubert H. Cunningham.

"He was lying there very peaceful, like you would go out for an overnight, to get away from it all," Cunningham said.

A small red canvas bag on the ground at Von Erich's right side contained his driver's license, billfold, $48 in cash, an asthma inhaler and other personal possessions, Cunningham said.

The Dallas County medical examiner's office found no wounds. Results of chemical tests will not be available until Tuesday.

Von Erich, 23, son of famed wrestler Fritz Von Erich, was reported missing after the family was unable to find him. He apparently disappeared Saturday shortly after he was released from the Denton County Jail, where he had been held overnight on charges of driving while intoxicated, possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of less that 2 ounces of marijuana. His attorney, Jerry Loftin, said the pills found in his car were a prescription medicine.

Fritz Von Erich could not be reached for comment, but in a statement issued Thursday afternoon the family said Mike Von Erich had been in pain and poor health continually since a bout with toxic shock syndrome in 1985.

"Mike loved his fans, family and, above all, his Lord. He was in constant pain, but wanted so much for everyone to be proud of him," the statement said. "Please let our tragic loss be a positive message to kids and families everywhere this Easter. Sunday, everyone join hands and be grateful that your family is together. Love one another."

Von Erich was hospitalized in critical condition in September 1985 with toxic shock syndrome, a rare bacterial infection that apparently entered his body when he had surgery to repair a damaged shoulder. He was not able to resume his wrestling career until 1986, and in February the 6-foot-2 wrestler said he was still trying to get back to his full fighting weight.

Von Erich, whose real name was Michael Brett [sic] Adkisson, left a note tucked in the armrest of his car, which was found Wednesday evening. Cunningham said the note read: "Mom -- you have always been wonderful. I am in a better place. Dave (2). I will be watching."

Von Erich's brother David died in 1984 of acute enteritis, an intestinal inflammation, in Tokyo while on a wrestling tour.

Cunningham said a note was also found in Von Erich's apartment in Roanoke, with directions on "who he wanted to leave things to," but the judge said he did not know the exact contents of the note.

On Wednesday evening, sheriff's deputies began a search after Von Erich's gray 1986 Mercury Marquis was found parked and locked in a small, paved parking area near Pilot Knoll Park.

The search was resumed early Thursday morning by officers on horseback, Texas Department of Public Safety officers and Grand Prairie and Bedford officers with dogs.

Von Erich's mother, Doris Adkisson, arrived at the search area at 9:00 a.m. to wait.

Within 20 minutes, she was notified that Grand Prairie officer David Cavins and his trained German shepherd, Shay, had found her son's body. Mrs. Adkisson left to tell her family. She later returned with her other sons, Kerry, Kevin and Chris, to stand watch until the body was recovered shortly before noon.

Deputies kept the family at a distance from the news media, but Kevin Von Erich remonstrated with photographers to give his mother privacy.

"We're going to be fine," he said. "Our family has had some tough times. It's my mother we're worried about now. She's soft. She's a lady, and it's hard for her."

He told reporters that "the story goes deeper than you realize now." He did not elaborate but walked away.

Cavins said he was following a cattle trail east of the parking area when his dog "made a strong indication toward the west." He found the body in "very rough, very thick trees and underbrush" about 15 feet off the trail and about 600 yards from where Von Erich's car had been abandoned.

During his wrestling career, Mike Von Erich was a member of the world six-man tag team champions, the American heavyweight champion and the Mid-East champion [sic].

Readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated voted him Rookie of the Year in 1984 and Most Inspirational Athlete in 1985.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church of Dallas, Ervay and San Jacinto streets. The Rev. W.A. Criswell and the Rev. Gary Holder will officiate.

Burial will be at Grove Hill Cemetery in East Dallas. The body may be viewed from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Dalton & Son Funeral Home in Lewisville, 1550 N. Stemmons Freeway.

Staff writer Curtis Rist contributed to this report.




GRIEVING FANS, CO-WORKERS PAY TRIBUTE TO WRESTLER
By Curtis Rist
From the Dallas Morning News, April 17, 1987

As news of Mike Von Erich's death spread Thursday, some of the usually raucous pro wrestling fans turned tender.

At the Sportatorium, the Dallas arena where the Von Erich family has wrestled over the years, fans were tearful as they bought what tickets were left for Friday's match involving his brother, Kevin Von Erich.

By early afternoon, delivery vans had dropped off the first of what are expected to be hundreds of flower arrangements in memory of the young athlete.

Inside the white-shingled building, the World Class Championship Wrestling staff worked feverishly to answer five telephones that rang without stop. As many as 400 calls an hour were taken from grieving fans.

"We've had calls from Japan, from the Middle East and from all over the country," said Ralph Pulley Jr., who is a referee for some of the wrestling matches.

"But that doesn't bother us at all," he said during a brief break from telephone duty. "Wrestling fans are like family."

One "family" member is Jill Sanford, a Dallas clerical worker who drove straight to the Sportatorium to buy four $10.50 ringside tickets for Friday's match when she heard about Von Erich's death.

"I don't know if Kevin will wrestle, but I just have to be there, as a tribute to Mike," said Ms. Sanford, as tears rolled from her eyes. "I'll be there all right, but I just can't talk about this."

Staff workers at the Sportatorium were visibly shaken Thursday by the death.

"I've worked with the family for 33 years and we're all just devastated by this," said one woman who answered the phone but would not give her name. "We just don't have any time to have any feelings right now."

A woman behind the Plexiglas ticket window at the front of the building began to reminisce about Von Erich, but stopped when her sobs interrupted her.

"I'm sorry, I just can't talk anymore," she said, as she put a piece of wood up to block the window.

Friends said the adulation of fans may have created too much pressure for Von Erich, particularly after his quick rise on the pro wrestling scene and his slow recovery from toxic shock syndrome in 1986.

At 210 pounds, Von Erich was smaller than most of the other hulks he challenged in the ring. Some wrestling observers said he relied on his athletic prowess and strategy to win matches. After his professional debut on Thanksgiving Day 1983, he wrestled for nearly a year without defeat, often competing as many as five or six nights a week.

"He wasn't someone who just beat the stuffings out of you and threw you over the ropes," said Stan Hovatter Jr., editor of All Pro Wrestling magazine based in Dallas and a former Von Erich family spokesman. "His approach to the sport was almost scientific."

But Von Erich suffered from chronic shoulder pain, and his 1986 illness may have disrupted his momentum in the sport.

Von Erich slipped in his performances, Hovatter said, but fans demanded he fulfill his potential.

"He was under a lot of pressure to rise to that level and he just wasn't able to make it," Hovatter said. "Pro wrestlers, like all professional athletes, are people first and athletes second. I don't think anyone really understood that about Mike Von Erich."

At the Terrell High School football stadium, where a World Class Wrestling match was held Thursday evening, one somber announcement acknowledged the tragedy.

At 8 p.m., when the event was scheduled to begin, Terrell school board member Bill Griffin picked up the microphone and announced: "Due to the unfortunate circumstances in the Von Erich family, there are a couple of changes in tonight's matches."

Lance Von Erich, billed as a Von Erich cousin and the top draw on the Terrell wrestling card, was not there.

At the Terrell event, fellow wrestlers, faithful fans and longtime referee Bronko Lubich all had good things to say about Mike and the Von Erich family.

"I've refereed a bunch of their matches," Lubich said. "I knew him (Mike) before he was a wrestler, when he was a young kid. Of course he was born into a wrestlling family, and they were good teachers."

"It's an unnerving kind of deal," said Steve Doll, a 24-year-old Denton wrestler. "Mike and I are about the same age so it really hits home. What's sad is that he was such a competitor and he fought the illness (toxic shock syndrome) -- and then to see this happen is such a shock."

Longtime wrestling fan and Von Erich follower Thomas Evans, a homebuilder from Terrell, said that "at least a moment of silence" should have been observed before the matches began Thursday evening.

"I think it would only be appropriate, in all due respect," he said. "That family has done a lot for wrestling. Regardless of what that kid was charged with, he's been a beautiful person and the whole family has been through agony."

Staff writer James Ragland contributed to this report.




WRESTLER'S FAMILY FACED OTHER TRAGEDIES
By David Jackson
From the Dallas Morning News, April 17, 1987

It was in the 1950s that Jack Adkisson created the legend of Fritz Von Erich, a latter-day Nazi who proudly wore an Iron Cross and goose-stepped into wrestling rings across America.

It was in the 1960s that Fritz Von Erich became a good guy and set the stage for the legend of the Von Erich family, a father and four sons who climbed to the top of the wrestling world, but suffered one personal tragedy after another.

The latest tragedy occurred Thursday, when authorities found the body of Mike Von Erich in a wooded area near Lake Lewisville. Though an autopsy is pending, officials said all evidence points to suicide.

The death of Mike Von Erich leaves only one Von Erich as an active wrestler.

The family's first tragedy was in 1959, when 6-year-old Jack Jr. was accidentally electrocuted. Three years ago, David Von Erich, whom many experts rated as the best wrestler of the bunch, died of an intestinal inflammation while touring Japan. Last year, Kerry Von Erich nearly lost a foot in a motorcycle accident and has not yet returned to the ring.

Now Mike.

"For a giant of a man in so many ways to have that much tragedy in one lifetime is just unbelievable," said Gordon Solie, a veteran wrestling broadcaster based in Florida. "How much hell can one man take?"

Friends said the family's strong religious faith has seen them through previous crises and will carry them through again.

"They have great religious faith," said Bill Mercer, who has broadcast the family's wrestling exploits for years. "They are the most together group of people you'll ever find."

"Their convictions and their relationship with the Lord are a real source of strength," said family attorney Ralph Pulley.

Solie and other observers said the Von Erichs are a main reason that the popularity of professional wrestling has increased dramatically in recent years.

Although the fame of the old Fritz Von Erich was built on foreign evil, the fame of Fritz Von Erich and his sons was based on good old Americanism.

"They were the All-American boys. They were the heroes. They were the boys next door," Mercer said. "I think they were the most exciting thing to happen to wrestling in the last 10 years."

Mercer said he met Fritz Von Erich when he was an evil Nazi in the late 1950s, before the conversion that Mercer said was in deference to Von Erich's family.

"He had his family here, and the boys were growing and he felt like he needed to give them a better image," Mercer said.

By the early 1980s, sons David, Kerry and Kevin formed the centerpiece of an organization called World Class Championship Wrestling. The trio had legions of fans that included a striking number of teen-age girls.

"They had kind of a teen-idol appeal to the young girls," said Craig Peters, associate editor of the New York-based magazine Pro Wrestling Illustrated. "To the rest of the fans, they were really good athletes."

Mike joined the team on Thanksgiving night 1983 and was named Rookie of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

"I think he felt like he had a lot to live up to," said friend Wanda Lee Nichols. "His family meant so much to him."

Friends said Mike's problems began two years ago when he nearly died of toxic shock syndrome, an infection he suffered after undergoing a shoulder operation. Friends said Mike was not the same when he returned to the ring 11 months later. Earlier this year, he was acquitted of charges that he assaulted a doctor. Saturday, he was arrested and charged with drunken driving and drug possession.

"How badly did that illness affect him?" Mercer said. "We don't know and we never will."



"IT STILL IS A SHOCK TO ME"
Sportatorium crowd remembers wrestler
By Michael Sawicki
From the Dallas Times Herald, April 18, 1987

There's plenty of emotion during professional wrestling matches at Dallas' Sportatorium, but seldom is it of the type displayed for a few minutes there Friday night.

The arena went silent as the bell was tolled 10 times in tribute to Mike Von Erich, a member of the celebrated wrestling family who died in a secluded Denton County park of a tranquilizer overdose.


Hundreds of fans gave a standing ovation to Von Erich's brother Kevin, who was escorted by bodyguards down an aisle and into the ring.  A few fans wept.

From the center of the mat, Kevin Von Erich took a microphone from a television announcer and told the fans he would not wrestle Friday night as scheduled.

"I have other commitments," he said. "You know me. You know my family. We hang together. In a time like this I have to be with them."

Kevin Von Erich said he and his family appreciated the fans' support and their prayers.

"Keep on doing what you're doing because it has been tough," he said.

Then he left, and the first of 10 scheduled matches started.

Sportatorium ushers said Friday's crowd of about 300 was a bit larger than usual. Tom Pulley, director of marketing for World Class Wrestling, said people wondering whether the matches would be held had been calling the arena all day.

At the souvenir stand, Mike Von Erich T-shirts were selling for $5.  Black and white photos cost $2, color photos $4.

"We decided to go ahead and sell Mike's stuff," Pulley said. "We don't want to appear to be taking advantage of people, but we don't want to deny the fans."

Before the matches, fans discussed the 23-year-old wrestler's death. The manner of death has not been determined, but officials believe Mike Von Erich committed suicide.

"I've been a fan of the Von Erichs for 10 years. They've been my idols," said Debi Perkins of Dallas. "It still is a shock to me that this has happened. Mike means so much to the young kids."

Jami Fell, 14, of Krum, said, "I'm not coming here for a while because it will hurt too much. MIke meant so much to me."

Joyce Wiley, 25, of Dallas, stood at the wrestlers' entrance among a crowd waiting to see Kevin Von Erich.

"There will be an empty spot in the Sportatorium, I'm sure," Wiley said. "It'll be a strange feeling with Mike gone. I think I'll get goose bumps."




VON ERICH'S FRIENDS BLAME FAME, ILLNESS
Broadcaster says wrestler changed after hospital stay
By David Jackson and Sam Blair
From the Dallas Morning News, April 18, 1987

Mike Von Erich was born of a legendary father and reached adulthood behind three famous brothers, but friends said it was the combination of a near fatal illness and the pressure of celebrity that got to him.

A difficult recovery from toxic shock syndrome may well have led to what officials suspect was Mike's suicide, said the friends. The body of the 23-year-old wrestler, a victim of a drug overdose, was discovered Thursday near Lewisville Lake.

"I think there were two people," said veteran wrestling broadcaster Bill Mercer. "I think there was the Mike Von Erich before the illness and the Mike Von Erich after the illness."

Von Erich's physical problems began with a shoulder injury suffered in the ring and intensified after an operation in August 1985, when he contracted toxic shock syndrome. His temperature climbed to 107 degrees and he lost nearly 60 pounds. Doctors feared he would die.

Remarkably, he survived. But then his emotional problems began.

He had scrapes with the law and problems with alcohol and drugs. His marriage crumbled. He had constant pain and was plagued by lapses of memory. And last Saturday, he felt the disgrace of being booked into the Denton County Jail, charged with driving while intoxicated and possession of drugs. When he was released, he was a hero who apparently felt he had failed his family, friends and fans.

"Everyone saw Mike as another great champion in the Von Erich mold," said Stan Hovatter Jr., a writer for All Pro Wrestling and a longtime associate of the family. "But after his shoulder injury and the toxic shock syndrome, he lost all his momentum."

Mercer and others described the first Mike Von Erich as a warm and kind-hearted man who was good to his fans, especially small children. They described the second one as also a good person, but one who would have trouble dealing with frustrations in and out of the ring.

"He seemed to react a little more emotionally to things than he did before," said family attorney Ralph Pulley. "His self-control wasn't what it was before."

Darlene Fidler, who lived next door to Von Erich and profiled him for the Grapevine Sun, said Mike was reluctant to discuss whether the illness affected him emotionally -- but brother Kerry told her it did.

"Kerry said he was never the same," Mrs. Fidler said. "He said he was very irritable, that he would lose his temper more often."

Friends said those frustrations may have manifested themselves in Von Erich's brushes with the law, although the incident in which he was charged with assaulting a doctor took place before he became ill. (He was later acquitted.) Since his illness, Von Erich had also paid a $900 settlement on charges that he kicked in a car door. Then came the charges on Saturday.

Attorney Jerry Loftin, who defended Von Erich on the assault charge and spoke to him three times after the Saturday arrest, said the physical demands of the illness were undoubtedly frustrating for a man whose body was his career.

"The only thing I am aware of is that the toxic shock syndrome was devastating physically," Loftin said. "The consequences of it affected him emotionally."

The changes were not so much in his personality as in his manner, friends said. For example, Mercer said that during interviews Mike would slur words and have trouble staying on the same subject.

"You could see there was something wrong," Mercer said.

In his earlier years, everything seemed right for Mike. He was an all-around athlete and honor student at Lake Dallas High School, where he won letters in football and basketball and was all-district in track.

"He was always a happy guy and never got down," classmate Steve Payne said. "But after the surgery, he apparently got down and never could get back up."

Like his brothers, Mike was introduced to wrestling at an early age in the backyard gym their father built for them. When he reached high school age, he launched an outstanding amateur career under the coaching of Richard Kemp. His father said Mike was the best amateur in the family and he was eager to bring his skills to the professional game.

"He loved his wrestling," Mrs. Fidler said. "He said it was his life. He loved his family, too. He was very proud to be a part of that family."

Mrs. Fidler's husband, Bob, noted that Mike's career carried a heavy physical price.

"He was always hurt coming back from those matches," Fidler said. "A lot of people didn't realize that."

Mike's early career was a marked success. Pro Wrestling Illustrated named him Rookie of the Year in 1984, and he became American heavyweight champion the next year -- before the illness. Later in 1985, the magazine's readers voted him "Most Inspirational Athlete" of the year.

Mike Von Erich's death is a crippling blow to what was evolving into a Von Erich wrestling dynasty. The patriarch was Fritz Von Erich, who, as Jack Adkisson, sought a career in professional football but turned to wrestling because of injuries. Fritz Von Erich -- who billed himself for years as a latter-day Nazi whose favorite hold was the dreaded Iron Claw -- terrorized the wrestling world for nearly a decade until becoming a good guy in the mid-1960s.

That conversion helped set the stage for the appearance, a decade and a half later, of the fighting Von Erich sons, Kevin, David and Kerry. Mike joined them on Thanksgiving night in 1983.

Three months later, David Von Erich -- considered by many the best wrestler in the family -- died of an intestinal infection contracted while touring Japan. Last year, Kerry nearly lost a foot in a motorcycle accident. Kevin is the only Von Erich son left wrestling.

"You got a sense about these young guys," said Gordon Solie, a wrestling broadcaster based in Florida. "Who wouldn't want to have something like that? Tall, handsome, rugged, all-American type athletes. Then you begin to realize how frail all that is."




VON ERICH'S CAREER STANDS AS SYMBOL
By Sam Blair
From the Dallas Morning News, April 18, 1987

Mike Von Erich's heartbreaking death illustrates the thin line that separates an American dream and an American tragedy.

Thousands of fans cheered him in the ring. He was the youngest of four sons of Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch of the professional wrestling boom, who made it big in the sport. Like brothers Kevin, David and Kerry, Mike had great public appeal. He was strong, handsome and rugged, but right.

Now, like David before him, he has died suddenly and shockingly.

Few lives, or deaths, inspire the great public display of emotion that has attended Mike Von Erich's. He was a product of the phenomenon of professional wrestling. He also was its victim.

The Von Erichs are the classic example of how professional wrestling has captured an amazingly large audience.

The Von Erichs long have filled a need for millions of people. There are the ones who come to the arenas, like the mourning faithful who came to the Sportatorium Friday night, and those who have watched their syndicated television shows across the United States, in the Middle East and Japan.

"It's a release for people," said Dr. Robert Weinberg, a sports psychologist at North Texas State University. "Most of us are trapped in mundane or ordinary lives. You get up at 6:30 each morning, get your kids off to school and you go to a job. You wear certain clothes and act a certain way. But when you get off, you go to watch wrestling and freak out. You feel like it's a great escape.

"The Von Erichs epitomize the All-America mentality -- the identity of what's good against what's evil. This is a fantasy world, but it can be very satisfying to a lot of people.

"It's like the Rocky movies. When you first heard the story line, you said, 'Who's going to pay to see this?' Well, there's something in American society which finds this very appealing. It's good over evil."

The intense demands of the public and the sport leave a star unable to cope with bad times, he said.

"When you're on a pedestal and everyone looks up to you as an idol, an Adonis, and you suffer a public humiliation, it can hit you very hard," Weinberg said. "It's depressing. It's extra weight on someone who already feels the pressure of being a hero."

Mike Von Erich may have felt that weight was crushing him.

"He sent out all kinds of messages for help," said Dr. Sandra Steinbach, a psychologist at Baylor University Medical Center.

"It's deadly being a hero," she said. "Our heroes die because we won't let them seek help like everyday people do. Look at Marilyn Monroe. Look at Elvis Presley. They had terrible problems but never received the help they needed. Betty Ford did step out of it and got help (for alcoholism). Now look at all the wonderful things she has done with her life."

For all their adulation and apparent devotion, most fans seemingly want to deal with their heroes strictly on favorable terms.

"Athletics and music are ways for people to express emotion they have difficulty expressing in everyday life," said Dr. Geoffrey Toffell, a sociologist at San Jose State University. "Millions of people are swept up in hero worship, and they enjoy it at their convenience. Actually, it's much nicer than knowing them. This way, you only take the part you want."

The fans get the thrills. The heroes keep the problems.

Of the four wrestling brothers, only Kevin is left to carry on. Kerry has not fully recovered from a critical ankle injury suffered in a motorcycle accident last June and his professional future is clouded. But there always will be the memory of the Von Erichs' rare impact on a society hungry for heroes.

"It got to the point that David and Kevin, then Kerry and Mike, physically couldn't get to the ring for girls -- teenagers and older -- grabbing and kissing them," said Bill Mercer, the veteran broadcaster and ring announcer.

"They camped outside the Sportatorium so they could get inside as early as possible and get a seat on the aisle where the wrestlers entered the arena. They brought flowers, paintings, embroidered clothes, poems, songs. I saw girls weeping because they touched one of the Von Erichs. It became almost like a religious experience."

That has to be exhilarating, but it also leaves a hero keenly aware of how much is expected of him.