Kevin Von Erich Interview Transcript

Kevin Von Erich Shoot InterviewThe following extensive interview features WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Kevin Von Erich. Kevin talks about his family and tragedy, legendary World Class feuds, the Freebirds, drugs, suicide, the NWA title, and more. The interview was taped December 20, 2003 and was broadcast on Pro Wrestling Radio.

Eric Gargiulo: How are things out in Texas?

Kevin Von Erich: Everything is great. We have some warm weather, I am just looking out over the fields, and baby-sitting cows like I do all the time.

Eric: Your father had an extensive film collection I gather from the conversations we have had.

Kevin: Yeah, he sure did. It has been up in the attic at the Sportatorium all of this time. The Sportatorium, that’s pretty hot down there in Dallas, the humidity changes a little bit in the winter but during the summer it’s pretty dry. Evidently it was just right because they showed one of those tapes at the Dallas Film Festival last year. They just grabbed one and stuck it on, and rolled it. It had sound everything. Some of the earliest productions ever done in Texas.

Caller: What did you think of the passing of Chris Adams?

Kevin: That was really sad. There were a lot of really good craftsman out there. Guys that are really good at getting in the ring, giving 100%, and doing it again tomorrow. It is such a shame that it’s not available for them anymore. Guys like that desperate, and that is how Chris had gotten. I knew Chris to the point where I was a pall bearer at his funeral. I have been down twice now to southern England, Devon where his parents are from. They had a little ceremony down there in a church, from the 14th century. They are real nice people. Chris has a couple of daughters. Chris’s brother lives a real comfortable live over there in England. He has medal’d in the Olympics, 3 Olympics back to back. His wife was a bronze medalist in Judo. In England, it is not like its over here in America where we rack up a lot of gold medals. (laughs) So, they are pretty big celebrities over there you know? I was kind of hoping that I could get Chris’s kids, but it’s none of my business, and I was sticking my nose where it did not belong. I was thinking maybe the kids could be in that family and move out of this environment. It just did not come about. That is kind of where I have been.

Caller: Some wrestlers have said that it was difficult to wrestle in the Sportatorium. What are your thoughts on wrestling there?

Kevin: For one thing, the Sportatorium has been a real old, established building, even though it is like a tin barn. In the early days Elvis Presely played there, and only there in Dallas. Then Willie Nelson would only play that building when he came to Dallas, which was pretty often. All sorts of people. It was a historic building before we ever got involved with it. Then our show was picked up by the Middle East television over there in Cyprus, then Japan, Taiwan, England, France, so tourists would come to Dallas and they would want to see the Sportatorium. They could not believe it was an old tin barn. As far as it being a hard place to work, I have never heard that and I have worked almost every building in the country. It is one of the easiest buildings to work, and the reason is because the ring is right there. I would not say it is the best place to work in the business, because the best to work is down in Mexico City at Le Vista Arena. A bull fighting arena, you have people stacked up right over you, so you have people right there in your face. That is really the best kind of crowd to wrestle in, when you have the people right there, and you can draw from that energy. The Sportatorium was that way too, especially when it was packed to the rafters. When it was packed, it was just a feeling that I cannot really describe. I used to high jump in high school and college, so I knew how high I could jump, and how far I could do this or that. As soon as one of these places would fill the place up with people and there is all of that adrenaline, I could go a little higher, a little faster, last a little longer, a little harder, I loved wrestling in that building.

Eric: I thought one of the most unique things you and your brothers did at the time was sign autographs for the fans all the way up until the bell rang, and even sometimes after that.

Kevin: I appreciate you saying that, I thought it was really the only way to be. We were always kind of going by, “You can’t go wrong by doing right.” I know that other wrestling operations want the little kids to stay back and not touch. Let’s face it, they are little kids who came too see their hero, you need to rough up their hair, kind of wrestle with them if you can, just touch them, slap them backs, “Hey you’re a big kid.” “Hey you’re a pretty girl.” Just be nice, be approachable, it makes it such a memorable experience for the kid. I will tell you that if you are nice to somebody they may tell one or two people, but if you are mean to someone they are going to tell 50, and then those 50 are going to tell 50 more, and on, and on. It’s not just the right thing to do, it is good business too. You treat people like human beings and don’t worry about being poked with pencils, or bothered by fans. Professional athletes, we can take it. We take a lot worse. They are not going to hurt us.

Emailed question: Did the Von Erich-Freebird feud begin in Texas or Georgia? I remember Terry Gordy teaming with Jimmy Snuka going against Kevin Von Erich and a partner of his choice many times and to my recollection this was before Gordy and Michael Hayes were in Texas.

Kevin: Yeah, that was probably where I started to admire Jimmy Snuka. I was pretty young when I got into wrestling. Right when I got out of college I moved to Hawaii and started to wrestle out there. I was out there with Ricky Martel for a while, we ran that thing into the ground, it was just not to be, Hawaii is just not a good wrestling spot. The people over there are into vacationing you know? Anyway, I wound up driving a petty cab if you can believe that to get plane fare home, if you can believe that? (laughs) It was a humbling experience, it was really good for me. From there I went out there to WTBS. I went to WTBS directly from Hawaii and worked with some really good people out there. Jimmy Snuka, Terry Gordy, great guys that were just. Back in those days wrestling was changing. I’d say it had not changed yet. The guys in the dressing room were your 40 and 50 year old guys that had been in the business so long, they were smoking back there. An athlete doesn’t smoke, that’s the way I was always brought up. You go to bed early, you take care of your body if you want it to perform. So we get out there, that’s when I wrestled Terry Gordy and Jimmy Snuka. Snuka hit me with that splash, 260 pounds coming off of the top rope, hitting me as hard as he could. Man, I just admired a guy that could get up like that. He comes down hard, he was a great athlete, so was Gordy, Michael Hayes was a heck of a character out there, it was a lot of fun. It was before we started trying to play to a younger crowd. The kind of stuff that we enjoyed like really good rock music with a real interesting opening like La Grange, or Kerry would play Rush, “Tom Sawyer.” Ted Nugent, “Stranglehold.” In Japan we would come out to something else, sometimes it was Foreigner, “Cold As Ice,” or something. It starts off with something kind of interesting, and it has that crescendo. That’s when we would kick the doors open and come out, just blow the roof off of this place. Then what you would have to do is keep the energy of the match higher than the energy of that entrance song. Wrestling just kind of mimics rock music. Because we started playing to a younger crowd we started selling more cokes and candy, instead of the beer and pretzels. We were out-marketed like crazy. My dad was an old-timer, he wrestled the old style. The kids were coming and they were wanting pictures, posters, t-shirts, buttons, coffee cups, keychains, and all of that. We weren’t selling all of that, we were just letting the fans make that stuff up and sell it to each other. Now Vince, Vince McMahon was a real master at that. He went ahead and had all of the dolls out for Christmas. I can remember one of the toy companies coming up to my dad’s office one day, we were all sitting there. It was a really big one, I think it might have been Mattel. My dad had this greasy bowl of chili that he used to eat everyday for lunch. So, dad’s chili was there, and “Mr. Big Toy Manufacturer” had to sit out there and wait for dad’s chili, and dad took his time so the time left. (laughs) Dad did not realize where wrestling was going.

Eric: How innovative was your company with the music, the matches, camera angles, etc., was to what we see today?

Kevin: Most of our television crew, we were all just a bunch of young guys, the camera men, engineers, directors, and everything. We all tried new stuff, we shot it on dual audio so we would have a stereo sound. We did a whole lot of innovative things in our production. Back then, you had NWA, then WCW, then Turner Broadcasting. I think Vince bought that. They hired all of the people that put our show on. With the brothers dying it kind of got. I say kind of, big time. It got painful to come. I know the people loved us, and we liked them too. Anyone that likes you, you can’t help to like them back. With all of the death, and all of the sadness, it was painful, and I can’t see paying money to hurt. I know there were a lot of times I was in that ring, there was someplace where I would rather have been. The last thing I wanted to be was looking across the ring and feeling like I have to kick that guy’s butt. I was feeling bad for so long though, that I just couldn’t wait for them to ring that bell most of the time. Now I am thinking of, “He’s watching me. I will be up there with him someday, love, peace, and happiness” (laughs) Let’s all be friends. That is kind of what grief does to you. It was kind of hard to think, ” I can’t wait to kick that guy’s ass.” Because what was really on my mind was something else.

Caller: How come Bobby Duncam never worked World Class since he was from Texas?

Kevin: I wanted to know, the callers that have called in have said such nice things, and I want you all to know, I haven’t been in the ring for ten years and you all are remembering me, I want you to know that I sure do appreciate you guys thinking of me like that, and especially living up in Philadelphia where you are not going to hear any positive news about the Von Erichs. I am so grateful to have fans up there and I hope to come up there and have a cheese steak with you all real soon. I don’t know that Bobby Duncam was a heck of an athlete. A lot of wrestlers came from West Texas State University out here. The Funks, Gene Kiniski, I think Kelly Kiniski played football out there, Tully Blanchard was there, a lot of the boys. They call him Bradshaw now, we called him Big Johnny Hawk. He was from Abilene Christian I believe. That is right near West Texas State. That area has produced a lot of professional wrestlers, just a real hardy bunch of Texas skoll dipping, gold ropers, because they are just plain tough. Bobby Duncam was one of those, Bobby Duncam used to go to Japan and just terrorize those Japanese wrestlers. He was a good athlete.

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Caller: I met you in 1982 when you worked for Fred Ward out in Georgia and you were such a gentleman. Do you have any memories of a match you had which was your Iron Claw vs. Jimmy Snuka’s Mandible Claw?

Kevin. In 1982 in Georgia? Yeah, oh shoot. I want to tell you that Jimmy Snuka is known for a whole lot, he can do anything in the ring. He is the epitome of an athlete I think. (laughs) But, let me tell you this. I don’t remember that Mandible Claw. It must not have been too much. (laughs) I am sure it hurt or he would not have done it, but it is nothing that really stands out in my mind. It’s not like one of those splashes from Kamala, or Snuka, or something like that. But Mandible Claw? I don’t really remember that one.

Caller: What went into the decision making behind David’s proposed NWA World Title reign?

Kevin: Well, it was, I guess the world has changed a lot, we can be a lot more frank. The fact was we never really knew where we stood with that NWA crowd out there. They all stayed on the Carolinas, Virginia, and the East Coast out there. And they would go down to Florida, that would be really about it. It was really a close knit bunch of guys. Rhodes, the Anderson brothers. Dave really wanted to be friends with those guys, but it was so tight that it was pretty much a closed circle. Dave was frustrated, I was pretty much comfortable going solo my whole life. Dave always wanted to be one of the boys, and he really wanted those guys to like him out there. I didn’t think it was going to happen. For one thing, Dusty Rhodes was their World Champion. He was probably weighing 4 1/2, something like that. It didn’t look, I think they wanted to put the strap on someone to give them a little bit of credibility. I hate to say that because Dusty is a hell of a guy. We never knew where we stood. We had pushed the NWA Champion out here in Dallas quite a bit. Every decision that came out of the NWA came out of the Carolinas, or Atlanta, so we really just, you know it was wrestling old school style about to turn into a young people’s kind of a game, and they had not made that change yet. We considered that group out there, the old NWA, pretty much in the dark ages. They were still getting a hold, working a hold out in the middle of the ring for fifteen minutes, none of the really high risk stuff that we liked to do, and the real fast pace. They were pretty much doing it the old style, and that was our thing. If you old men want to wrestle, let’s get some fresh batteries for your pace makers. We are going to do it Texas style. That is what we were saying. I know that insulted a lot of people, but we were kids you know? You don’t think about feelings and things like that, you know? You just think if you want to be a King, you have to kill a King.

Caller: What are your comments about steroids and drugs related to all of the recent deaths in pro wrestling?

Kevin: Well, OK let me say this. I am assuming he was probably thinking about Hawk. Hawk was a great guy, a really great guy, so articulate, a hell of a guy. I hated to see that, but remember this. When the Road Warriors first started, steroids were not illegal. They were performance enhancing, they for professional athletes, and people that have come out of surgery. God, I mean even the cops were taking them. That’s where the wrestlers were getting them, the cops! The cops, you know they want to be built, and to be able to take care of business when they’re out on that street at night. So, they were really abused. I think by some kids out in Florida. Teenagers were starting to take them. The thing is with the steroids, you have to work out super hard too. If you have a steroid in your body as you work out, your heart its a muscle too, it gets bigger, and an enlarged heart is a bad thing. We came from, well I don’t mean to pop off you all. My dad used to always tell us, “Pay the price that the other guy won’t pay.” We never really did get into steroids. I say we didn’t, Kerry did. Kerry kind of did when he was throwing the discus for the University of Houston. He was one of our Olympic hopefuls, that was the year he, Matt Wilkens, and some other guy were going to represent the United States, and that was when that Korean airliner got shot down. Kerry had the AAU record for under 19 in the whole world, but he couldn’t throw against the East Germans, or the Russians, people on his level you know? Anyway, they under a doctor’s care would give that stuff, it wasn’t an illegal thing back then, but it did get abused, it would be like anybody could go into get that stuff, and then they didn’t work out, they would just take that stuff. You could always see someone who takes steroids. They had pimples all over them, bald headed, it’s pretty much a giveaway. And they get fat too if they don’t work out, they retain water. It was always easy to see those guys. Wrestlers were always looking, looking for things like that. “He’s a roid freak, he’s a roid freak.” Some guys, I don’t want to name any names, but there are some of the wrestlers that are up north there. Billy Graham, he discovered Hogan you know, out in a club in Florida as a bass player. I remember Superstar would go to take a leak, and blood, you know? He was doing them, but he was not doing anything wrong. He was hurting his own body and he knew it. You have to make a decision. This is what I do for a living. I am a professional wrestler and I want to be the best one that I could be, and if other guys are taking it than I am not going to short myself, I want to be a better athlete than he is, so you have to say this is what I do, I’m going to be the best that I can, and if they are going to do it too, it comes to a point where you think, “Damn it. I am going to have to do it too.” It’s a reality and it did get a lot of guys. I am happy to say that was not a big thing in my family.

Eric: Billy has been very outspoken against his own use and is planning on releasing a book next year.

Kevin: Good. Billy is a really good guy. A really good guy.

Caller: What are your thoughts on the possibilities of a union and promoters giving healthcare?

Kevin: I have never heard anything about it. I think it is a great idea but a little late in coming. God, even migrate workers have a union. Wrestlers, you are hurt, it’s just tough. Your family goes without. So you get in the ring hurt, you stay hurt, one day comes along where shoulders, elbows, knees don’t bend anymore, back. It is a high price to pay. Wrestlers and rodeo guys. Those guys had it worst than me because they made all of their trips by car. It was really tough, but injuries are part of it.

Eric: Do you have a message you can pass along during such a critical time, the holiday season, about suicide and the after effects on family and friends?

Kevin: Well Eric, they are ugly comments. The holidays, you are right. It is really tough for me to look across that Thanksgiving table and see all of those empty chairs, and my little kids where my brothers used to be. There are people out there that are suffering right now. What I have to say is not what I wish I could tell them. Grief doesn’t get better. When you lose someone, all of your friends bring food over for the first couple of weeks, the reality of the loss hasn’t set in yet. The reality, it really hits you in the face one, two months later. That’s when the food is not there, that’s when the house is empty, and that’s when the people are really suffering. Dang it you all, it doesn’t get better. It just gets to where you are used to dealing with. It’s the hardest thing to deal with that God gave us I think is grief, dealing with it. I have heard people say, “How could there be a God and let this kind of suffering go on?” You know, to a lot of people that is a hard question, and it used to be to me until an old man told me a story one time. This is an old man, Mr. Brock, he is 102 years old, and he built a little farm house on our property out here, in fact I am in here right now. He raised cattle like I do, and he said, “Kev, when you have to separate the calf from that mama. You have to put the calf in the pen and the mama outside the pen. They bellar, and cry, and you can see tears coming out of their faces because they want to be with each other so bad. It’s such a beautiful thing, a mother and a calf together. Eventually that calf grows to her size, yet he or she is still trying to nurse. If you don’t divide them, separate them, that calf is going to suck that mama dry and kill her. She will die, and the calf will die too because it won’t be weaned. The man has to step in and wean them, and it’s a painful thing to the both of them. It’s a painful thing to both of them, and they just cry to you, and just cry all night up to the house for you could hear them. “Relieve our suffering,” is what they are saying, but we know better. But if we do relieve that suffering, then they are both going to die.” It’s just like God thinks on a higher plain than we do. When I try to think of things that my mind, any of our minds are not capable of mass produced, and we can understand so much, and some stuff we can’t. That’s where I have become comfortable with that position. There are some answers that I will never have. There is a God, there is a Devil, the Devil destroys, and God rebuilds. That is a fact I can attest to because I am a product of it. My parents divorced after 43 years. Look, don’t feel sorry for me. You all are up there with the Towers, and all of the losses you have to go through. I know there are harder stories than what I have. Gosh, I wish I could tell you something more uplifting. Well, that’s just the facts. It just doesn’t get better. I wish I had a more uplifting message for you, but that is just one of the toughest things we have to go through. But, you know what? We have to. People say, “How can you do it Kev? How can you stand on your hind legs after this?” It is because just when you have no other choice but to get up and go, or lay down and die, than it is a pretty easy choice. It’s tough, but it’s something that you’ve just gotta get tough and do it. When someone is telling you something, like they are talking about suicide, you know? Don’t think that people who talk about suicide never do it, because that is not true. I think if someone talks about it than they are really thinking about it. Do your best to get your mind clear and do whatever you can to tell them what they will do to their loved ones if they commit suicide. It’s a terrible thing. It seems like a quick fix to their little problem right then, a few years they probably won’t even remember their little problem. As they say, keep your pistol cocked and your powder dry, and the world will turn. You have to keep that attitude.

Caller: Will you ever return to the ring?

Kevin: You know Eric, I run four companies right now, and I am swamped. I have got the Internet, the cattle, commercial properties, the stock market, and then other things I am doing with oil and gas leases. Really just no time, I wish I would have learned to make my money work for me a long time ago rather then dislocate my bones. I am so busy now I just don’t see that I could put the time in to train and come back, even though I still weigh the same, same height, still got a pretty good bench, I climb, do push ups, chin ups, swim, for endurance. I have got some bad knees so I can’t run. That was the biggest part about preparing for wrestling was I ran the high hurdles. As long as I knew I could run the high hurdles, I knew I could wrestle. My knees aren’t good enough to run the high hurdles, or even sprint, so I couldn’t get in the ring right now. I think I have had too many knee surgeries, and back injuries. I’ll tell you what though, I’d like to when I see some of the stuff going on out there, I’d love to get in there. There is nothing like going to the ring in an electrified house, that bell rings, and then all of the sounds kind of just disappear. You can almost hear your heart beating. You are in the ring, believe it or not you don’t look at hands, you don’t look at feet, you look right at his eyes. The eyes tell every move he is about to make. I miss that feeling. I miss that feeling of being so highly tuned, so sharp, it felt good for him to try to do something, and for me to counter it before he could.

Eric: Will any of the old World Class footage be available on DVD?

Kevin: Oh man, I am glad you asked me that. As a matter of fact, I am putting together some DVDs right now. I believe some are going to come out in Walmart, and some in Blockbuster. A few other places too. On these DVDs, you know where you can have the bonus features? I am going to come on and give you some behind the scenes stuff, and tell you some little things that I am sure you all don’t know, that will be really interesting to you. I want to tell you something about the wrestling business too, it is funny as heck. We played some great tricks on each other. There are a lot I am going to tell you about on the DVDs. So keep an eye out, I am going to really pour my guts into them, we all are going to enjoy them, and I am going to enjoy making them too.

Listen to the Kevin Von Erich Pro Wrestling Radio Interview.

The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling

Heroes Of World Class Wrestling

Gentleman’s Choice (the Chris Adams story)

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