An Article by Mike Mooneyham
(Published July 2, 2000)
Nearly thirty years ago Ric Flair asked his dad for “permission” to become a pro wrestler. The answer to that question would forever change the wrestling business.
Many parents might have panicked. Some would have laughed it off. But Dick Fliehr handled his son’s dilemma with the same measure of grace, compassion and common sense that punctuated his life.
“Go ahead, do it. Just make sure you’re the best,” he advised his son. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Dr. Richard Reid Fliehr passed away at 10:15 Sunday morning, June 25, at the age of 81. He leaves behind wife Kathleen, son Ric, four grandchildren
Meegan, David, Ashley and Reid – and daughter-in-law Beth. The legacy he left – through his son – to the wrestling world is not likely to be equaled.
Ironically, during his illustrious 28-year pro career, Ric Flair’s parents had seen him perform in person only a couple of times – when he beat Harley Race for the world title at the 1983 Starrcade in Greensboro, and 10 years later when he defeated Vader in a retirement match in Charlotte. But he never doubted his folks were his biggest supporters. He was, after all, their No. 1 fan.
“My mom’s never liked watching,” explains Flair. “She was was always afraid I was going to get hurt.”
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]But, he adds, “they always wanted me to just be happy.”
No individual was ever more suited for a name than Ric Flair. So it seemed only a logical extension of his character when Richard Morgan Fliehr, the only child of Dick and Kay Fliehr, evolved through the magic of wrestling into “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. And it certainly wasn’t a secret where that “flair” originated.
Drama has always been a part of Ric Flair’s existence because it was a way of life for his parents. His mom wrote newspaper and magazine articles and co-authored a book about The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis where she worked as a marketing executive. His dad not only was a respected obstetrician/gynecologist in Minneapolis, he was also a local theatre director who loved the arts. So it was only natural when son Ric took it one step further and became the ultimate showman with his own unique “flair” for the dramatic and supercharged personality. He was the real “60-minute man,” a 24-hour-a-day entertainer who never failed to deliver.
But there would have never been a “Ric Flair” without Dick Fliehr.
“He was someone I always looked up to,” says Flair. “My dad was just a non-confrontational, easy to get along with, very self-confident but very unassuming person. He was successful in everything he did. My dad could have built houses. He was great with crafts; he liked to build things, he had his own tool shop. He even wired our house in Minnesota. He was one of these guys who could do anything.”
The local obituary last week revealed a number of impressive facts about Dr. Fliehr. He was born on Oct. 1, 1918, in Virginia, Minn. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree of Medical Doctor. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1941-45. After being honorably discharged, he returned to Minnesota to practice obstetrics and gynecology. He also obtained a masters degree in theatre and arts at the University of Minnesota. He was affiliated with the Theatre in the Round Players for many years. He directed and performed in many plays while still practicing medicine. He also served as president of the Theatre in the Round Players and was active, as well as president, of the American Community Theatre Association.
What the obit didn’t tell about was the close relationship Dick Fliehr had with a son who is widely regarded as the greatest professional wrestler of our time, and the unbreakable bond that results from a 59-year marriage that even death cannot break.
Ric Flair embodies many traits, but perhaps his two most admirable are charm and class, qualities he inherited from his father. His unparalleled professional career has epitomized a mental and physical toughness that comes with surviving several thousand professional wrestling matches, along with returning to the ring several months after an airplane crash 25 years ago that doctors predicted would end his career.
Those amazing feats, however, pale in comparison to the grit and determination displayed by his dad, says Flair.
“He was 10 times tougher than I ever thought of being.”
His dad broke his neck in a car wreck in 1979. The accident caused nerve damage that resulted in him having tremors in his right hand, effectively ending his career as a surgeon and limiting his practice to obstetrics.
Flair persuaded his parents to move from Minneapolis to Charlotte five years ago so he could be closer to them. Initially they lived in an apartment but later moved to a retirement home because of failing health. His mother has suffered four strokes in the past two years. His dad’s health began a downhill slide after suffering an aortic aneurysm that was detected in a random physical nearly 10 years. Other problems followed, including kidney dysfunction that required weekly dialysis and an ischemic colon that caused the major discomfort of the past six months.
Dick Fliehr’s only child was by his side when he died Sunday morning.
“It’s just so hard to believe that I was just with him Saturday night, and today he’s gone,” Flair said following his father’s memorial service. “But I know his pain is over and he’s in a better place.”
For now, Ric Flair has many wonderful memories of his dad, ones that he hopes will live on with his own children.
“I hope I can be half the man my father was,” he told a local newspaper last week. “He was successful in everything he tried, and very unassuming. He was just the greatest, most honest guy I ever met.”