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JG's Retro Column: What Are Your Personal Demons?

By James Guttman
Apr 27, 2007, 12:30


Originally Published: January 23, 2003

We all have personal demons - myself included. They're the problems that plague our lives and always seem to be in our mind. Often times you find that past troubles and conflict affect every aspect of your being. It's fear and resentment that can hurt your chances for success both at work and at home. For most of us it's a private matter – something we care not to discuss. But for the men and women who have chosen to entertain us on a weekly basis that is not an option. In fact, it's almost impossible to hide.

The first time I was cued into the fact that wrestlers have problems that are more real than we know was in 1993. I was still writing my weekly newsletter and was quite excited about the opportunity to meet one of my idols at a local autograph session. The meet and greet was held at a comic book store on Long Island and since I had known the owners fairly well, I was given access to interview the special guest. Early on in the afternoon, he was personable and everything I had expected. However as time went on, he began to sneak away at different moments. By two hours in, he was incoherent and rambling. His eyes were glazed over in a way that I had never seen before (I was only 15). The afternoon ended with us escorting him outside where he could "get some air" and him vomiting all over himself. To cover up the situation, the owner gave him a T-Shirt that they had made bearing his likeness (they sold them at the autograph signing) and asked him to wear it. We never did get to do that interview and the worst part of the story is that a week later, the wrestler called the owner and threatened to sue him for making shirts with his name on them without informing him. When he was explained that he actually wore the shirt a week earlier and was photographed in it – he had no recollection. I won't say this man's name but I will say that it's a name that wouldn't shock you if you knew. In fact, most of you probably have guessed who it is by now.

But my goal here isn't to slander a man down on his luck. Quite the contrary, it's to illustrate how sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the characters on television actually live in our world. They have the same family problems, chemical dependencies, and personal heartache that we all experience. It wasn't until that day – seeing it firsthand – that I knew just how real it could be. But for some performers being larger than life can produce the false hope that they are invincible. That's just not the case.

The day Eddie Gilbert died was one that I will always remember. I had met Eddie mere months earlier at one of the old John Arezzi Wrestling Conventions on Long Island. I had grown up watching "Hot Stuff" toss fire and antagonize Jerry Lawler like no one's business. Like so many, I had heard the horror stories of Eddie and knew he had problems. The day I met him, he was both down to earth and cordial. He joked and gave me an autographed photo. It's something I've held onto for years. He told the classic Gilbert jokes about being the "Johnny Carson of Professional Wrestling" (alluding to his many marriages) and took pot shots at numerous people there. In fact, my favorite moment of that day was Eddie emceeing an auction for various wrestling memorabilia. Eventually we got to an item that seemed to be less than well received – Wendy Richter's old cheerleading outfit. After trying to egg the crowd into bidding anything over $20, Eddie decided to start a "Do it for Wendy!" chant. Well, in typical Hot Stuff form the chant morphed into "Do it to Wendy!" She wasn't too pleased.

The day I found out the Eddie died was painful. I had no clue that he had passed when I called a friend who ran a store in the area. The way I found out the news hit me like a botched Steiner-line.

"Eddie Gilbert died. I found out this morning. I won the pool!"

"What pool?"

"The death pool! I had Gilbert; (another employee) had Jake Roberts."

I wanted to throw up. The sad fact of the matter was that it wasn't about how much or how little this person enjoyed Eddie's ring work. It was about the fact that he thought of Eddie Gilbert as a character. He thought of him as the proverbial "dancing bear", existing merely to put on a show and then being expendable when his time was done. He never thought of him as a person.

As any long time wrestling fan can tell you, the hardest part of following this business for a prolonged period of time is seeing the people you grew up with pass away. You never forget the moments you saw them perform. From Dino Bravo to Brian Pillman, whether you loved them or hated them – you knew who they were. Now they're gone. That's not just "wrestling" – that's real.

Now I'm not here to go off on some sort of self-righteous rant. In all actuality I'm guilty of the same things that I'm preaching against. Professional wrestlers know that this sort of thinking comes with the territory. If you're looking to get fame and fortune from the art form you choose you must be willing to accept the ignorance and judgmental ire of your fans. My only question is where do we draw the line? At what point do we admit that we don't fully know the people we see on TV? We merely know the images they portray.

The reason for this topic goes back to that darn Raw X Show in Time Square. In the hour and a half I waited outside the building before snaking my way in, I was lined up with other wrestling fans. While for the most part, they seemed excited and positive, there were a few that felt the need to share their "intelligence" with the rest of us. As anyone who has been sandwiched with hardcore fans can tell you, it begins quite innocently. At first we learn that they can remember names like Avatar and Big Bully Busick – but as their eagerness to show their knowledge grows so does their arrogance. We hear how "Steve Austin is this" or "Scott Hall is that." It's funny to hear how Buff Bagwell is "soooo out of shape" from someone who's pushing maximum capacity on his own dungarees. The thing that you need to realize is that the law of averages dictates that a good amount of people standing in that line went home after the show and did drugs, overindulged in alcohol, or had some sort of domestic violence episode. It's not cynicism, it's not negativity – it's a fact.

While I admit that I at times have poked fun at a headline I read regarding someone's "demons", I don't judge. So many aspects of someone's life lead him or her to the paths they choose. While we think we know every part of a wrestler's being simply because we followed their careers from the start, we never fully know their lives. I never had Sunday dinner with the Von Erichs. I never knew how Rick Rude must have felt when a back injury prematurely ended his career. I never witnessed an argument between Steve and Debra Williams. I wasn't there.

The strange part about the above statement is that you can say the same about your friends and co-workers. You can never experience the home life of someone unless you live there. We all go through the same types of tragedies and tribulations. Although personally, I can never imagine how my problems would translate into a life that involved spending 250 days a year away from my home. I guess that's something we'll never fully grasp until we do it. Sure you may be able to keep everything together in your life now, but how would you handle things in someone else's situation? Would the temptation get to you? To paraphrase the Smashing Pumpkins – Could you fake it, for one more show?

The next time you look in the mirror ask yourself…

Were you proud of everything you did today?

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