By Mike Mooneyham

June 14, 2007

Dead or alive?

That’s the burning question on the minds of thousands of World Wrestling Entertainment fans in the wake of one of the company’s most explosive angles in recent history. And that covers a lot of ground in the Bizarro World of Vince McMahon.

McMahon, the longtime owner and chairman of WWE, presumably was “killed” at the conclusion of this week’s live Monday Night Raw broadcast when his limousine burst into flames outside the sold-out Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

McMahon’s apparent demise, however, was just another twist in the testosterone-fueled soap opera’s storyline.

WWE taped the stunt Saturday and Sunday nights on the arena property under controlled conditions with the Wilkes-Barre township’s permission. WWE representatives purchased a permit from the township after providing proof of insurance and certification to use pyrotechnics. Deerfield, N.Y.-based Zenith Pyrotechnology performed the controlled explosion before firefighters extinguished the blaze.

Vince McMahon, Jr.

Vince McMahon, Jr.

The WWE Web site, which has seen unprecedented traffic, has been working overtime in juicing up its latest angle.

“Federal authorities investigating the presumed death of Mr. McMahon visited the Chairman’s office at WWE corporate headquarters earlier this morning, and were seen loading what appeared to be hundreds of boxes into vans,” it announced Wednesday, adding that FBI agents dusted McMahon’s office for fingerprints.

Authorities, they say, have yet to recover McMahon’s body or remains. WWE declared Tuesday a day of mourning for the organization, and flags at company headquarters in Stamford, Conn., were flown at half-staff.

“Some WWE employees wore black clothing to express their sadness,” according to the site. “Others have left flowers by the Chairman’s office door. And if you listen closely, faint sobbing can be overheard occasionally amongst the din of the phones, fax machines and printers.”

Ed Kaufman, WWE’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, read a statement on behalf of the McMahon family late Wednesday regarding the “presumed death.” Kaufman, who asked the media to respect the privacy of the family, said “the company and the show must go on.”

The supposed death has created quite a stir locally and nationally. Fans from across the country have been contacting local media, including The Post and Courier, to find out if McMahon was actually blown up in the fiery limo-bombing that was shown live on USA Network.

Many concerned fans and curious media members called the Wilkes-Barre police to inquire about the explosion. According to a report in the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice, a local officer even took a call from Warner Bros. asking if a body had been sent to the coroner’s office yet.

“The end result is everybody thought it was real, and we got inundated with calls about the homicide that doesn’t exist,” Lt. Will Clark of the Wilkes-Barre Township police said. “It comes down to the old adage you don’t always believe what you see on TV.”

Luzerne County (Pa.) Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Lisman said no one had advised the coroner’s office of McMahon’s death.

The only evidence of an explosion at the arena was a small, black scorch mark in the parking lot behind the facility, hidden from public view. The angle was kept top-secret and was a surprise to most of the WWE crew when it unfolded.

The company reportedly will follow up with weeks of a “Who Tried to Kill Mr. McMahon?” storyline similar to the “Who Shot JR?” cliff-hanger made famous nearly three decades ago on the “Dallas” television series.

The fact that the angle was shown 24 hours after the finale of “The Sopranos” was not lost on most WWE fans.

“That’s the kind of ending they should have come up with on ‘The Sopranos,'” said a fan of both shows. “He (McMahon) gave people the ending they wanted – just a day later.”

No “suspects” are being ruled out, according to a WWE release, and it’s expected that the list of potential culprits will be lengthy. A “Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night” was held the evening of the bombing, and a number of guests on Monday’s show made dubious remarks concerning McMahon. Among them were real estate magnate Donald Trump, rapper Snoop Dogg, sportscaster Bob Costas and wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

“Even in ‘death,’ Vince overshadows everyone and everything in WWE,” joked one caller.

CNN and Fox News reportedly are still checking out sources.