Superstar Billy Graham

Superstar Billy Graham

By Mike Mooneyham

Jan. 13, 2002

Hunter Hearst Helmsley, coming off a torn quadriceps, major surgery and several months of extensive rehab, may be an early candidate for comeback wrestler of the year. But he has a long way to go to top former mat great Superstar Billy Graham.

Graham, who has spent the past 15 years battling the painful results of steroid abuse and the past year fighting the effects of hepatitis C, has experienced more near falls than a Ric Flair-Ricky Steamboat broadway, but has continued to amaze family, friends and doctors with his resiliency and recuperative powers.

Graham (Wayne Coleman), 58, who now suffers from cirrhosis brought on by hepatitis C, recently survived his latest near-fatal situation when five veins burst, causing considerable blood loss. Graham underwent several transfusions at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, and made nothing short of a remarkable recovery. But he’s far from out of the woods. Without the aid of a new liver, prospects for survival are bleak.

“He was very close to death, but praise God, He once again spared my husband,” said wife Valerie Coleman.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Graham’s veins burst because his liver wasn’t functioning properly, and pressure began building until they exploded, she explained. “When one goes, the first can bleed out completely in 60 seconds. A few of the doctors and nurses called it a miracle. Not only did he live, he came through basically unscathed. He wasn’t in a coma, which was a miracle in itself, and he didn’t have kidney failure or system failure.”

Complicating matters was that all the blood in Graham’s veins had seeped into his tissues. He lost so much blood that he was in danger of losing his fingers and toes.

“He only had six units of his blood left,” she said. “They finally had to put a PICC line in him because there was nothing in his veins. The hard part was balancing things and getting things to stay in the veins.” Graham, a former WWWF world champion who was once billed as one of the world’s strongest men with an unofficial bench press of more than six hundred pounds, was hospitalized for nearly two weeks last month due to gastric bleeding and edema. At that time he was informed he was in need of a liver transplant. The situation worsened when Graham suffered his latest setback. Since then he has battled pneumonia that he contracted after leaving the hospital.

“They wanted him out before he caught pneumonia or something else in the hospital,” said Valerie. “The pneumonia that he does have is aspiration pneumonia because he threw up a lot of blood into his lung. He basically lost his voice for several days. The coughing has been wearing him out and causing rib aches and headaches.”

The major task at hand is seeking a matching living donor for a liver transplant. Graham was scheduled to be placed on a waiting list late last week.

“He’s got the most perfect blood pressure of anyone on the planet,” said Valerie. “But they want it lower because they want to decrease the pressure in the abdomen and throat. The good thing is that he can take O positive or O negative, and also an A if it has a subtype 2. That broadens the scope of things.”

Donors, she said, normally give 60 percent of their liver to the recipient. Within 30 days the donor’s liver will regenerate and grow back to its normal size. But, she adds, the livers have to be roughly the same size. “His daughter and son-in-law, every member in my family has volunteered, but none were the right size,” she said. “The donor will have to be 225 pounds or more to be a match.” A fund is being started to raise money to cover the expenses of the future donor while he is recovering from the procedure.

Although their spirits remain undaunted, they both realize that time is of the essence. Graham needs a liver to survive. “Now we can start having people tested,” says Valerie. “But we have to get him a liver soon. The quality of life is not good. This is a very progressive disease.”

Financial donations can be sent to Superstar Billy Graham at 15402 N. 28th St., #105, Phoenix, Ariz. 85032. Get well wishes can be sent to [email protected]. For more information on living donor transplantation, go to


– Gary Michael Cappetta, author of “Bodyslams! Memoirs of a Wrestling Pitchman,” will share his insights and experiences in a wrestling discussion forum at 3 p.m. Saturday at the West Ashley Barnes & Noble on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. I’ll be there as well joining the longtime pro wrestling ring announcer for a question-and-answer question.

Cappetta’s 21 years in the business as an announcer for both the WWF and WCW translate into some great road stories in “Bodyslams,” a refreshingly honest and candid commentary on the business.

My favorite passage in the book concerns a conversation Cappetta had with a young, school-aged Shane McMahon, whom Cappetta asked what lessons he had learned from his father in becoming successful in the wrestling business. “Without skipping a beat,” wrote Cappetta, “(Shane) confidently answered, ‘Don’t let your workers know how important they are so you can get the most out of them for the least amount of money.'” Spoken like a promoter’s son.

Cappetta will sign copies of his book and will offer a free color 8×10 photo (a choice of an autographed pic of Cappetta and Ric Flair or one of Cappetta with Bruno Sammartino and Andre The Giant) to those who purchase the book.

– The WWF comes into town with a nationally televised Smackdown on Jan. 22 – two nights after the Royal Rumble pay-per-view.

Tickets are on sale at the Coliseum box office, all Ticketmaster outlets (including all Cat’s Music and Publix Grocery stores), charge by phone at (843) 554-6060, or

– Bobby Heenan, one of pro wrestling’s great managers and announcers, has been diagnosed with throat cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

– A 10-bell salute for those members of the wrestling community who left us in 2001. They include: Mike Davis (46), Helen Hart (77), Chris Adams (49), Hoss Strickland (64), John Paul Henning (73), Kurt Von Brauner (82), Rhonda Singh (40), Alex Perez (71), Terry Gordy (40), Ace Freeman (87), Tex McKenzie (72), Clyde Steeves (74), Johnny Valentine (72), Lou “Shoulders” Newman (87), Haru Sasaki (70), Ossie Timmins (81), “Red Shoes” Dugan (89), Benny McGuire (54), Rito Romero (75) and Nell Stewart (73).

– Monday night’s Raw drew a strong 4.9 for the heavily hyped return of Triple H. The overrun featuring “The Game” notched a 5.7. Highlight of the show, however, was Ric Flair’s Raw introduction of “Mid-Atlantic juice” in the opening segment. Somewhere up there you just know Gordon Solie was shouting the words “crimson mask.”

– The WWF’s Jan. 5 edition of Excess, which featured Ric Flair as special guest, scored a 1.0 rating, one of the show’s best numbers since it debuted several months ago.

– Curt Hennig and Goldust’s (Dustin Runnels) announced appearances at the Royal Runble presumably will be one-shot deals only.

– Evan Ginzburg has produced another winner with this year’s Wrestling Then & Now annual. The numbered collectible, personally autographed by The Honky Tonk Man, features exclusive interviews, clips and articles on his career, plus a tribute on women in wrestling (including interviews with Stephanie McMahon, Trish Stratus, Rena Mero, Debra and Malia Hosaka, and features on The Fabulous Moolah, Sue Greene, legendary lady valets,) a Terry Gordy tribute, 10 years of rare result listings from Detroit’s Cobo Hall, and an interview with Ron “Golden Gladiator” Hill. This 72-page professionally printed magazine features rare photos, clips, merchandise listings and more.

The annual is $12 U.S./$15 overseas. Make all checks and money orders payable to Evan Ginzburg at P.O. Box 640471, Oakland Gardens Station, Flushing, N.Y. 11364.

– Owen Hart’s widow, Martha, confirmed last week that she has signed over movie rights to the story of her and her late husband’s life to Artisan Entertainment in California. She said all proceeds from the movie deal will go to the Owen Hart Foundation.

“I would never exploit my pain, my life and my stories for personal financial gain,” she told the Calgary Sun. “I want to focus on the good work that’s come out of Owen’s death. I can’t get yesterday back, but I’m hoping I can make a better future.”

– Diana Hart’s controversial book “Under The Mat” is being pulled from store shelves as part of a settlement reached between Martha Hart and Fenn Publishing. The settlement also includes an undisclosed “donation” that will be made to the Owen Hart Foundation.

A Calgary Sun story reported that Diana, the ex-wife of “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and the youngest child of Stu and Helen Hart, was “shocked and angered to learn of the settlement.”

In the tell-all book, Diana made several controversial remarks about members of Calgary’s most dysfunctional family but was particularly brutal when it came to Martha Hart and Martha’s family. Diana’s book, “Under The Mat: Inside Wrestling’s Greatest Family,” hit store shelves in November amidst allegations of libel and slander from various family members and friends.

“It’s pornographic, it’s absolute trash,” Diana’s older brother Bret Hart said in November.

Martha Hart was in the process of launching a libel suit when the settlement was completed.

– The Dallas Morning News reported last week that William B. Parnell, the man accused of killing former professional wrestler Chris Adams on Oct. 7, 2001, will not be indicted in Adams’ murder.

Parnell was charged with murder after he shot Adams last year. Parnell said that the two had been “roughhousing” the night of Adams’ death and that it went too far. Parnell said that he feared for his life and reached for a gun on his nightstand and shot Adams at that point. The two men were drinking at the time.

The grand jury that heard the case apparently chose not to indict Parnell because they felt it was a case of self-defense. At the time of his death, Adams was awaiting trial on a manslaughter charge in the 2000 drug death of his girlfriend.

– Jake “The Snake” Roberts walked out on a recent independent booking in England after surveying a crowd of less than 50 fans. Too bad there’s not a sanctioning body in the business that could prevent this type of conduct. Roberts, long removed from his WWF glory days or even the time when he was considered a sharp wrestling mind, remains one of the sadder cases in the profession.

– Jerry “The King” Lawler made a very relevant remark on a recent radio appearance when he stated that wrestling ability has little to do with ratings and marketability in today’s business. The more charismatic and entertaining wrestlers are getting the push, and that may be a reason why the WWF has stalled on producing a viable cruiserweight division.