Commentary by Mike Mooneyham
Published May 19, 1996
All too often in professional wrestling, the thin line between reality and fantasy becomes much too blurred. Sometimes that fantasy world provides an escape valve from the stress and pressures that go along with the artificially glamorized lives of pro wrestlers.
Professional wrestling can be a brutally unsympathetic business that swallows its young and spits out its old. Unlike in most mainstream sports, history and tradition are often swept into a corner as if they were some dark, dirty secrets. The present is all that matters – this weekend’s buyrate, this week’s ratings. What happened last week and what might happen next week have no real bearing.
Having been involved in wrestling for 35 years, I’ve seen what the business can do for many young athletes, but I’ve also observed what it can do to many young athletes. Too much booze, too many drugs, too many lonely nights on the road. Divorce rates are high, family lives are virtually non-existent and the need to relieve the constant pain can be insatiable.
Some mainstream media and uninformed sources would have you believe that pro wrestling is a choreographed ballet in which all the participants follow a script, know how to fall and never get hurt.
The fact is that most pro wrestlers work in pain on a nightly basis. There are more serious injuries today than at any time in the history of the sport. The injuries, many of which the promotions never reveal in fear that such announcements would damage that wrestler’s drawing power, in many cases are serious enough that pain- killers have become a way of life for some of today’s stars. There are top-tier performers who are working despite strong warnings from doctors that they are flirting with disaster. They cope anyway they can.
Brian Pillman and Louie Spicolli were pro wrestlers, but much more importantly, were human beings – with lives and families outside of the ring – who needed help. The warning signs were there; in fact, they were everywhere, and many of their friends in the business were well aware that they were walking time bombs ready to explode.
Louie Spicolli, real name Louis Mucciolo, died at the age of 26 this past February after mixing too many drugs with too much alcohol. He went to sleep in the wee hours of a Sunday morning and never woke up. He had serious problems for years, had gone from organization to organization, and had hit the high point of his career when his young life came to a screeching halt.
Brian Pillman, who had weathered a number of personal tragedies during his 35 years, couldn’t overcome the greatest tragedy of all. He, too, died alone in a motel room, officially the victim of a heart attack, but unofficially the victim of a life style inherent to the business.
Pillman was a celebrated athlete whose lifelong struggle to overcome personal and professional handicaps had been well documented. He left behind a wife with whom he had been separated for several weeks before his death, a wife who unsuccessfully tried to reach him the night before he died to tell him she was carrying a baby who was born months after his passing, and five other children.
There have been many others, young and old, who have succumbed to the pressures of the industry. Their deaths leave behind more questions than answers, but one thing is for sure, and that is that it’s a serious problem that can’t be ignored
Who will the next statistic be? Will the industry learn from its mistakes? Will wrestling promotions simply hold their collective breath, hoping against hope, that they won’t open up the pages of a newspaper to read yet another obituary of one of their own?
Scott Hall has been in drug rehab twice during the past year and opted not to go for a third stint. He failed a drug test be fore leaving the WWF. He has shown up inebriated and in condition to perform at a number of WCW shows. The company even planned to incorporate his real-life woes into an angle that would explain his bizarre behavior.
There are those who claim that Hall is merely trying to get out of his contract and return to the WWF, and by bringing embarrassment and unwanted notoriety to WCW, he’ll be given a release from a contract with several more years left on it. But it remains a fact that many of his problems – a nasty divorce, a fight for his children and substance abuse – are real.
Someone, somewhere, somehow needs to take stock of this situation. Forget, for now, his wrestling storylines as the super-macho Razor Ramon, as one of “The Clique,” as one of The Outsiders with buddy Kevin Nash or as a member of NWO Hollywood.
Scott Hall is a man whose personal problems have overshadowed his ring character to the point that’s he now making head lines on the news pages.
From a report in the July 31 edition of a Baton Rouge paper:
“A professional wrestler in Baton Rouge for a performance was arrested Thursday morning after he allegedly groped a woman outside a hotel, city police say.
Scott Oliver Hall, 39, of Florida, was issued a misdemeanor summons for simple battery and disturbing the peace by public intoxication after the 9:30 a.m. incident, Capt. Don Kelly said.
A 56-year-old woman told police that she was waiting for her co-worker in her car outside of the Raddison Hotel on Constitution Avenue when she saw Scott Hall standing near her car door, Kelly said. She recognized him and rolled down her window to speak to him. Hall allegedly reached into her car, grabbed her breasts and pulled her hand up near his crotch. He was arrested at his hotel.”
WCW officials are, of course, tight-lipped about the situation. It’s an embarrassment, for sure, but that’s not what’s really important. What is important is that there is a man who is crying out for help in a business that historically has been less than conducive to such pleas.
WCW on several occasions has sent Hall to get assistance for his problems, continuing to pay him his million dollar-a-year salary while he sat out. That money, though, won’t mean much if his problems go unresolved.
OTHER NOTES: I’m certainly not here to judge, but there are more than a few fans who are not sold on Dustin Runnels’ new character.
One reader relayed the following note regarding The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust:
“The night before the Fully Loaded pay- per-view, one of my friends and co-worker went to a strip club called City Lights. At the club was Jason Sensation, Puke (Darren Drozdov) and Dustin Runnels. Dustin had gotten a table dance from one of the strippers. I think it was funny that the following day he comes out before the bikini contest and makes remarks about people finding the beauty within.”
More revealing were comments made last week in an interview with WWF owner Vince McMahon:
“His (Runnels’) new character is one we’re watching closely. (So far) he hasn’t done or said anything that would anger anyone. He is getting specific, but that character and our plans for that character are going to change. This is a transitory thing that’s he in right now.
“The character, given its current limitations, is based on a real-life Jake `The Snake’ Roberts situation. Jake aspired to be a born-again Christian in the morning, but by the time the evening was over, my God! The boys lost all respect for Jake be cause he would profess to be one thing and be something else. We’re not going to get that far with Dustin. My roots are from the Bible Belt, and I’m not going to go so far in any way as to put the company and/or the performer in a situation where we’ve got a revolt on our hands. That’s not necessary.
“But unlike our competitor, being in show business as we are, I don’t think there’s any subject matter we should shy away from. From homosexuality – which is a hot topic these days especially with church groups – to religion itself, to government, to taxes, to whatever happens to be topical at the time. I think there’s a way we can handle things in an entertaining, non-offensive way.”