Friday, February 18, 2011

Flashback Friday: Gone Too Soon

Winning the NWA World title May 6, 1984 (Courtesy: WWE)
February 18, 1993:  Through the years, we've seen a lot of wrestlers pass away too soon.  But on this date back in 1993, one of my heroes died.

I've talked before about Kerry Von Erich in previous posts.  As a kid he was without a doubt my favorite wrestler.  When he beat Ric Flair for the NWA World title in 1984, I marked out big time.  I was only 11 years old and remember being so proud that he won the belt, not just for his late brother David, but for all of us fans who supported him. (Remember,  I was a kid)

The first wrestling magazine I ever bought was the October 1984 issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.  Kerry was featured on the cover with the NWA title and a story about his 3 weeks on top of the world.  I was sad that his reign as champ was so short, but even after he lost the title back to Flair (who kicked off his third reign as heavyweight champion), he was still my hero. Kerry went on to do big things in his native Texas.

You all know the story of his famous family and the company his father, Fritz, ran.  I would tune in each week to watch World Class Championship Wrestling.  It aired on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. in St. Louis, right before WWF Wrestling Superstars, which followed at 11 a.m.  The Von Erichs were the epitome of the perfect wrestling family, or so it appeared on TV.  Little did I know as I watched each week that the brothers had their demons.  Even as an adult though, I can accept their shortcomings and still remember them for the work they did in the wrestling business.  I got to see Kerry wrestle live in person.  It was 1985 in St. Louis. Kerry beat Flair by disqualification as the two met in a world title rematch.

In 1986 he was in a motorcycle accident that forced doctors to remove his foot.  Of course, we the fans didn't know about that until it was revealed after his death.  I've read that Kerry was lucky to survive that accident.  Opinion time: I think the pressures of being a wrestler, the tragedies his family had already faced (the deaths of two sons at that point: Jack and David),  and his return to the ring too soon after the accident all lead to his dependency on drugs.  I'm not making excuses, I'm just calling it like I see it.

Kerry went on to be successful even though he was never truly 100% after the accident.  He won the USWA title and battled Jerry "the King" Lawler in several memorable matches to unify Kerry's belt and Lawler's AWA world title.  The King won that epic match, in which Kerry bleed like a stuck pig.

"Texas Tornado" wins the IC title (Courtesy: WWE)
I marked out like crazy once again when I read in a copy of PWI that Kerry was headed to the WWF.  Only now, he'd be billed as the Texas Tornado.  I think the announcers referred to him as Kerry Von Erich a few times, but really pushed the new moniker.  It seemed appropriate enough, but with his pedigree, why change anything?  Of course Ricky Steamboat was simply "the Dragon" and Davey Boy Smith was only known as "the British Bulldog" at this time.

It seemed as if Kerry arrived in New York at the right time.  Brutus Beefcake, who was the number one contender to Mr. Perfect's Intercontinental title had been hurt in a para sailing accident.  Injured so badly, he had to drop out of his title match against Perfect at SummerSlam.  Kerry stepped in and won the title in just over 5 minutes.  Again, big time mark out moment for me, even though by this point, I was 17 years old.  Some things never change.  But my excitement turned to disappoint when Kerry lost the title back to Perfect just a couple of months later.  At least his run was longer than his time as world champ.

After that loss, Kerry wrestled on the mid card, facing Perfect in rematches.  He also battled the likes of Ted DiBiase and Dino Bravo.  Eventually, he started putting over guys climbing the ranks like the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.  I had read at one time Vince McMahon considered Kerry for the spot that eventually went to Bret Hart.  But Vince lost faith in Kerry due to his drug problems.  In 1992, he left the WWF and wrestled again briefly in Texas.

He was facing prison time for drug charges, and on February 18, 1993 put a bullet through his heart.  I was in college then, and this was still before the Internet.  I remember someone who lived on my floor in the dorms told me he had read in the newspaper Kerry committed suicide.  This had to be a day or two after his death.  I went to the library to get a copy of the paper and confirm this information.  I was devastated.  Another Von Erich gone, Kerry was the fifth son to die prematurely.  My hero was gone.

2009 Hall of Fame Ceremony
In 2009, Kerry and the rest of his family get inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.  It was a long overdue honor and I'm glad I was able to witness it in person.  It would have been better to see and hear Kerry accept the honor, but his big brother Kevin spoke fondly of his famous family that night.

So today, I remember the late, great "Modern Day Warrior" Kerry Von Erich, 18 years after his untimely death.  RIP Kerry.  Heaven needed a champion.

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