IN THE HIGH-PROFILE WORLD OF professional wrestling, the waters have been anything but calm. Massive wrestler egos, unrealistic fan expectations, and outright deception by bookers have all played a part in wrestling scandals over the years. Lawsuits have been filed. Wrestlers have watched their careers sell-destruct. Beloved personalities have tragically died.
Thus far, professional wrestling has survived the setbacks and remained extremely popular. But the impact of the following well-publicized controversies has had a substantial effect on how wrestling is perceived by both hardcore and casual fans. For both groups, the scandals provided a rare glimpse of the real-life happenings behind professional wrestling.
Frank Goodish, a.k.a. Bruiser Brody, was hardcore before hardcore was a common term in professional wrestling. On July 16, 1988, Brody was allegedly stabbed to death by fellow wrestler Jose Gonzales in the showers of the Bayoman Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Brody bled to death on the locker room floor, surrounded by wrestlers and waiting for medical attention that arrived too late. While Gonzales was charged with the murder, he was later acquitted and actually made a professional comeback.
Over The Edge was supposed to be just another WWF pay-per-view. The Godfather vs. the Blue Blazer was supposed to be just another match. Sadly, May 23, 1999, will forever be remembered as one of the darkest days for professional wrestling. Owen Hart fell from the rafters of Kemper Arena in Kansas City to his death, a victim of a stunt gone bad. Grief gripped the Hart family, WWF co-workers, and wrestling fans everywhere. A lawsuit filed by the Hart family against the WWF and others is still in the pretrial stage.
Although he began his career as a fan favorite, Brian Pillman’s style evolved into a persona that was loud and obnoxious. His death on October 5, 1997, did not resemble that latter career style. In the quiet confines of a Bloomington, Minn., hotel room, Pillman–an employee of the WWF–passed away. According to the Hennepin County coroner, arteriosclerotic heart disease caused his death. Pillman’s affliction may have been exacerbated by painkillers he had been taking since being involved in an automobile accident on April 15, 1996.
The Von Erichs
Once known as a prominent family in professional wrestling, the Von Erich name is now more closely associated with tragedy. Five out of six sons of parents Fritz and Doris Adkisson all met untimely deaths. Jack died in 1959 at age 7 when he accidentally electrocuted himself. David died in Tokyo on February 10, 1984, at age 25. Mike over-dosed on Placidyl–a drug used as a sleeping aid–on April 2, 1987, at 23. Chris shot himself with a 9mm pistol on September 12, 1991, at age 21. Kerry committed suicide at 33 with a gunshot to the chest on February 18, 1993. Only Kevin survives.
Arrests of Ken Patera and Mr. Saito
All they wanted was a burger after the match. The problem was how they went about getting it after being refused service. During an April 6, 1984, late-night visit to a Waukesha, Wis., McDonald’s, Ken Patera and Mr. Saito threw a boulder through the window of the closed restaurant. A brawl ensued between the wrestlers and the local police at a nearby Holiday Inn. On June 6, both men were convicted on multiple counts of battery to a peace officer, not to mention criminal damage, and sentenced to two years in prison.
For all the publicity the lawsuit brought Rena Mero, the outcome was rather anti-climactic. Claiming that the WWF sought to intimidate her into performing obscene and dangerous acts, Mero filed a $110 million lawsuit on June 3, 1999. She also wanted the rights to the Sable name and a full release from her WWF contract. After public gyrations by both sides, including Mero appearing in the audience during a WCW “Nitro” broadcast, the suit was quietly resolved. Mero was able to keep the proceeds from her Playboy magazine appearances, but she was held to her contract and unable to use her famous moniker.
WWF vs. WCW lawsuit
Vince McMahon had lost the services of stars Kevin Nash and Scott Hall to WCW. “Nitro” was creeping up in the ratings with the New World Order “invasion.” But McMahon still had some fight left in him. In the summer of 1996, Titan Sports, Inc., filed a lawsuit claiming that WCW was duping the wrestling public into believing that there was an arrangement between the two promotions. Hall and Nash were portrayed as “outsiders” trying to overtake WCW, and the WWF took exception. The lawsuit is still working its way through the courts.
On November 18, 1993, more than two years after former ringside physician Dr. George Zahorian was convicted of selling steroids, WWF owner Vince McMahon was indicted for possession and conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids. The trial featured testimony from star witness Hulk Hogan on July 5, 1994, in Uniondale, N.Y. The 17-day trial ended when, after 16 hours of jury deliberation, McMahon was acquitted of all charges.