This is the fourth episode in a six-part series “Dark Side of the Ring” on Viceland. Apparently the numbers for wrestling-related programs have been good because Vice is debuting “The Wrestlers” on May 22 and an extended-cut version of “Dark Side”
Anyhoo, this episode is on the deaths in the von Erich family. I’ll zip through this one pretty quickly because there’s not a ton of new information from it.
In this one Kevin von Erich, Jim Cornette, David Manning and Dave Meltzer do much of the heavy lifting with Kevin von Erich serving as both a contributor and a moderator if that makes sense.
– The first scene is Kevin on his farm/property in Hawaii. He said he wanted to get away from wrestling and there’s better place to be. He talks about being an older brother and beyond the usually sibling fighting they loved each other, loved being around each other and Kevin said they had a “us against the world” mentality.
– They talk about Fritz von Erich as a wrestler. He was a heel running sort of a German Nazi sympathizer gimmick from what I know and he was a star but he was hated for his gimmick. Kevin said his mentality was to be the best bad guy. Dave said Fritz wanted to get out of wrestling and raise his family. Cornette said it was the goal of every wrestler back then to buy a territory and run it. That was where the money was.
– Getting into the brothers, Cornette says Kerry was the clear star. He had the look, the physique, the star appeal. David was the best worker, Kevin said he was a true student of the game and a technician. Cornette puts over Kevin as the best raw athlete. He was physical and brought that athletic energy. They looked great. World Class was the No. 1 show in Dallas at it’s time slot. Manning said they set the stage for where wrestling would go.
(I agree with all that. David is rather under appreciated as the best worker but Kerry was just next level in terms of star appeal. If he never had the issues he could have carried World Class into the 90s and beyond. He would have been to Dallas what Jerry Lawler is to Memphis. They all had a great way of drawing fans into the fight. They made you feel their struggle and their success.)
– The von Erich boys were raised on television. Because their dad was such a big star all the things they accomplished athletically through school were broadcast on TV or put in the newspaper. They were in the wrestling magazines. Manning compared them to teen idols. Cornette said it was a lot of pressure. Kevin believed that people knew they were human but they had good hearts.
– Cornette said David was the one that the NWA would’ve picked as an eventual world champion. He was the one that best fit what the alliance wanted as a worker and a champion. (FWIW I don’t think he would have been anything more than a transitional champion for Flair to get the belt back from but it might have been enough for David to have headlined a Starrcade to a big show outside of Texas. Who knows?)
– Manning replays the night that David died. He got a call early in the AM from Japan. Manning went to relay the information to Fritz and Fritz said very matter of factly “which one?”.
– Kevin said David’s death hit him the hardest and he never really “got up” from that one. Meltzer said David’s death was felt all around the area with fans. Manning talks about the big crowd that came for his funeral. Kevin said that was the first time he realized how big of a deal they were.
– They talk about all the rumors surrounding David’s death. There are a rumor that Bruiser Brody found him unconscious in Japan next to some pills and threw away pills. But Manning and Kevin both say he was sick when he left for Japan and the official word was ruptured intestines from acute enteritis.
– The first Parade of Champions was huge, over 40,000 at Texas Stadium and the NWA title was going to change hands, which told Manning that Fritz had some clout. Of course Kerry von Erich beat Ric Flair that day in 1984. It was huge news in Dallas. Kerry’s reign lasted about three weeks.
– They go into the terrible idea of Lance von Erich. Cornette said it started the downfall a little quicker. The general consensus was it failed because the fans knew and then on top of that Fritz lied to them. That’s a big deal in those days. Kevin said he and Kerry were dead set against it.
– Kevin defends Mike as a great athlete. Cornette said he Mike was a nice guy but he wasn’t cut out to be a wrestler. Meltzer talks about Mike having these underwhelming matches against top talent like Flair. Kevin said the injuries piled up on Mike
(Mike was just…he didn’t have the look at all. David wasn’t big from a muscular standpoint but he was like 6’7 or 6’8 and looked like a real athlete. Mike looked like a kid. To be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t put him on steroids)
– Mike has a major medical issue and Kevin re-enacts the prayer that one of the chaplains did and Manning says the doctors said it was a miracle that Mike survived. And of course Fritz wheels Mike out for a press conference and my God the footage they show is just brutal. He was so sick and struggling.
– Kevin thinks Mike had brain damage and talks about incidents that Mike had when he dealt with uncontrollable rage. Cornette said that Fritz always wanted a happy ending and could get it when they were writing it but real life didn’t match the story. Mike got arrested for substance and committed suicide shortly after he was released from jail by drinking and overdosing of Placidyl.
(It was here Kevin seemed to be re-living that death and had a shock of emotion so he asked the producers to take a break. Man Kevin von Erich is a soldier. No way would I talk about this the way he does)
– Kevin said that there was a feeling they were letting people down with the deaths and the issues. Cornette said that he doesn’t doubt they were good kids and God-fearing kids but they were also prone to do dumb things like the rest of us. The difference was their mistakes were broadcast and the people started questioning their character.
– They tried to get Chris involved. He was short, he had asthma and Cornette said he just shouldn’t have been near a wrestling ring. He broke his arm and he was out. Kevin said Chris had a spot up on the property and Kevin met him there. Chris promised him he wouldn’t do anything so Kevin left and asked Fritz if Chris ever wrote a suicide note. Fritz told him to get back up on the hill but by then Chris had shot himself in the head.
– Chris was close with Mike and Kevin believes he never really recovered from Mike’s suicide. He died at 21.
– Kerry goes to the WWF, finally taking Vince up on an offer. By 1989-1990 he still had the great look. They bring up the motorcycle accident that caused the amputation of his foot. Manning said he wouldn’t have ever thought it would be kept secret. Kevin said Kerry was ashamed of it. Cornette said they felt like they had to do it to keep Kerry from looking weak. Kevin said he was proud of Kerry for coming back. Cornette opined that they could have made it an inspirational story but instead it was something else he had to hide and that it probably weighed on him.
(I can’t necessarily agree with Cornette here. I see where he’s coming from but if it was disclosed that he was wrestling with a fake foot it would have been difficult for the matches to have any validity and Kerry was still a huge star and a major draw in the area. He needed to have credibility)
– Meltzer said he was too physically limited and eventually the WWF stripped away a lot of his identity. (Eh…They did generally always acknowledge he was Kerry von Erich but The Texas Tornado was his name with them. And he rarely used the claw but IMO the discus punch was a better finisher for the WWF. It was a little comical and dramatic)
– Meltzer added that Kerry wasn’t happy there and was starting to have major issues with the drugs. Kevin said Kerry liked the stardom whereas he was more of a family guy and that’s probably what saved him. Manning said taking all the drugs after the accident wasn’t good for him.
– Kerry was going to get arrested from probably violation and was going to jail. He asked his wife if she’d wait for him and she couldn’t give him the answer he wanted. Kevin relays a story of him suggesting to Kerry they go to Alaska and hunt so he could take him somewhere that there were no drug dealers and he could clear his head.
– On the day Kerry was supposed to be indicted for his probation violation he went to Fritz’s ranch, told him he loved him and then went out to a spot on the lake and shot himself in the heart. Kevin said the Fritz said he had never seen such a peaceful look on Kerry’s face. Cornette replays the message of Kevin saying “I used to have five brothers and now I’m not even a brother.”
– Fritz’s final years were hell. He was depressed from losing his kids and he had brain cancer. Kevin talks about the story of Fritz pointing a gun at him and daring Kevin to kill himself. Kevin smartly ran out and said he wasn’t going to let a man with cancer end his life. Kevin said he was happy when his Dad died because he was in horrible pain and deserved better. He said Fritz was a good man.
– Kevin fought his own depression for years and talked about him stealing a gun in hopes of getting arrested and going to prison. He returned the gun, however, and got himself right.
– We end it with Kevin living in Hawaii on some property and being surrounded by his kids and grandchildren. His sons Ross and Marshall look like wrestling stars all the way and it’s no surprise they are in the business. (Rumor is they recently signed with MLW. I would be shocked if they didn’t end up in NXT at some point. Marshall, in particular, looks like someone that Vince would go crazy over)
The Bottom Line: Not too much new stuff here. The Independent Documentary, “Heroes of World Class” is on YouTube and it’s the best wrestling documentary I’ve ever seen so if you haven’t seen it you should invest the two hours because it’s worth it. It covers everything in more detail with some great footage. Sometimes you can look a person’s face and it probably tells a story of their life. Kevin’s face has been through everything, the good, the bad, the ugly and a lot of heartbreak. But he’s still here and you watch this or you watch “Heroes of World Class” and you have ton of respect for the person that he is and the fight that he has.