This is the fifth episode in the six-part series “Dark Side of the Ring” on Viceland network. This episode focused on the mysterious death of Texas wrestling star Gino Hernandez.
(Before we start, I’m going to disagree a little with Scott on Gino Hernandez and whether he was he going to be a star. It just depends on your definition. Was he going to go to the WWF and make $25,000/week fighting Hogan? Definitely not. Could he have made it to the NWA/WCW? Probably not in the 80s but definitely in the 90s. The downside was that he and Tully Blanchard basically had the exact same gimmick. Tully was better in the ring. I think Gino was a better talker and a little better at the overall presentation, which would kind of have him impeding on Ric Flair territory. So there might’ve been some conflicts there. But don’t get it twisted Gino was a star and would have continued to make a shitload in the territories. First of all he had two great things going for him: He was very handsome and he could talk people into the building because he was easy to hate. He was the heel in World Class. I could see him going to Memphis and making a ton of money harassing Jerry Lawler. I could absolutely see Cornette using him in Smoky Mountain. Even as the 90s came I could see him in ECW firing up the people in the ECW Arena or in WCW as a TV/US Title sort of guy. If I had to predict his future. I believe he would have been in WCW about the same time Steve Austin arrived.)
The main speakers here are Patrice Aguirre, his mother, Janice Gillespie, the ex-wife and mother of his two daughter, Jeanie Clark/Williams, David Manning, Jake Roberts, Bruce Prichard and a few others.
Gino’s family looks through his pictures. His mother says he was a good son, a good father and she wants everyone to know he was a good man. His younger sister says she remembers when he turned heel and going to the shows and seeing his act, being shocked.
David Manning said he was a star. He had that special thing. He could’ve ended up like Randy Savage (uhhhh…I think he could have been like Savage in Memphis because he was willing to be crazy in the ring. His workrate couldn’t have translated to the WWF like Savage’s did in my opinion. Although he was young and didn’t do more than he had to in World Class). Roberts said he had charisma and that goes a long way. Prichard talks about his look and the way he talked, plus he was good looking and dressed well. He was easy to hate.
Manning tells a funny story and Gino taunting a big cowboy in the stands to the point of where the cowboy wanted to get in the ring. Security stopped him but Gino kept egging him on to the point of where security let him go and of course Gino ran away. Manning adds that on the mic he was on the level of Flair, Michael Hayes, etc.
Prichard says he was just a young kid getting involved in the Houston wrestling scene when he met Gino. Gino treated him like a kid.
Gino’s mom was a model and single mom. Gino’s real name is Charles Wolfe but she always called him Gino once he developed the persona. She talks about his personality and she really brings nice human touch to this documentary. She was surprised by his wrestling acumen and he says he got it from his Dad, whom he had very little contact with. (There were rumors that Paul Boesch was his dad because Boesch was particularly fond and protective of him but Aguirre squashes that rumor in an un-aired clip)
Gillespie, talks about meeting Gino. They were married as teenagers and had two children. She said Gino was consumed by his career and working out, keeping his look, and then he was about his family. And that was it. His daughter, Lisha Gillespie, talks about hearing him talk and how it was a voice she always knew.
Roberts talks about the difference between the persona and the person. Jake Roberts doesn’t give a shit about life and stay out of his way or he’ll fuck you up. But Aurelian Smith is a human being that care about people and he’s a recovering alcoholic. Aurelian has problems but Jake doesn’t. That’s the difference.
Gino lived his persona. At times his mom had to remind him that he was around her and to cut that shit out.
The tag team with Chris Adams, the Dynamic Duo, was a hot pairing. They feuded with the von Erichs and there was the big blowoff at the Cotton Bowl when the Dudes went against Kevin and Kerry von Erich in a hair vs. hair match. Kevin said Gino just owned the crowd. He knew how to get them going.
Prichard talks about Gino’s nightlife. He said it was no secret that Gino did drugs. He said he’s never seen him out of control on drugs but he liked to have a good time and everyone knew it.
Jeanie Clark or Jeanie Williams as she refers to herself in this documentary said she met Gino in 1985. She tells a story about him taking her to a nightclub and Gino slipping her some acid. At that time Jeanie had divorced Billy Jack Haynes, had already been in a long-term relationship with Chris Adams and was heading toward a union with Steve Austin. What a ride.
Manning said he met Gino out in Vegas for a big party. He said Gino ran with a pretty tough crowd in Houston. He replays an old line about being involved in wrestling was like being involved in the mob.
Roberts and Gillespie take turns talking about the crowd that Gino ran around with. Roberts didn’t want to go into detail but said they were pretty strong, powerful people within Dallas. Gillespie, who had divorced Gino by now, said it wasn’t a safe crowd.
They go into the match when Gino blinded Chris Adams as part of the Duo first blowoff match against each other. Adams lived the gimmick outside the ring as well. Keeping his eyes bandaged when in public with his wife Toni.
Aguirre talked about the last time she saw Gino and how nervous he was. She said he wasn’t afraid of anything but this was different and adds “if someone wants to get you, they’ll get you.”
Manning relays this incredulous story of Gino telling him that someone was in his backseat while he was driving and when he saw them they jumped out. He was convinced someone was after him and going to kill him. He said he wanted to buy a gun. Manning told him he would be all right.
Aguirre got a call from Gino’s manager wondering where Gino was. Jeanie said the next day she saw Gino’s car parked in a funny way. Manning said he was missing shows, which was rare, especially when he missed Houston. He sent a referee to Gino’s apartment and the ref found his car but no one was answering the door. Eventually the ref got a look in the house and saw his body there in the bed. Manning said they found a gun in Gino’s room (some have said they found it in his hand).
Gino manager, Walter, had to make the call to Aguirre and tell her he was dead at the age of 28. The exact cause of death could not be determined at the time because of how bad his body was decomposed. They didn’t find drugs or any paraphernalia in the apartment.
Aguirre got a knock from one of the Gino’s friends who wanted to discuss the funeral. He told her Gino owed him a lot of money but he was going to take care of the funeral. She said she was scared of him and it sounded like a threat. The man didn’t sound remorseful at all.
Prichard talks about the funeral. It was a closed casket. Gillespie said there was a group of men in the front that were taking care of financing the funeral and it was an expensive funeral. He said they had a champagne toast for Gino and a strange eulogy. Jeanie said she felt like there was drug-dealing going on at the funeral.
Aguirre said that a guy named John Royal gave the eulogy. She just knew he was a drug dealer, a well known personality around Dallas. At that point Aguirre said she kept relatively quiet to assure the safety of her and her daughter. She hadn’t talked to anyone until this documentary.
The rumor mill went crazy after Gino’s death. Andre the Giant said he was shot in the head. WRONG. And then there was the BEST rumor as fans told the police to make sure Chris Adams didn’t do it as payback for Gino blinding him. Jeanie confirms that the police DID investigate Adams. That’s tremendous.
Aguirre has a lot of questions and basically did her own snooping over the years. Manning believes there was foul play involved. He talks about Gino having a deadbolt lock in his apartment and he always locked it but on the day he died, he didn’t lock it. An autopsy showed that Gino had five times the normal amount of cocaine needed for a overdose. The autopsy had all kinds of mistakes. It said he was obese, Hispanic and uncircumcised. All of which are untrue (his ex-wife confirmed the last one) and she wondered if he faked his own death. Aguirre said she knows that if he were alive, she would have heard from him by now.
Gillespie says she feels like she was killed. Roberts said it’s possible given the crowd he hung with. Gillespie opined that maybe he knew something he shouldn’t have known. Gino’s daughter, Lisha Gillespie, said that he was telling people someone was trying to kill him. Jeanie tells an incredible story of how paranoid Gino was. He had cereal bowl of cocaine and thought he heard something so he turned on the water faucet, grabbed his gun and tried to keep her quiet so he could stare outside and monitor any movement.
Vice asked Roberts how he knew Gino was doing drugs. “Because I was doing them with him. I ain’t no saint.” (TRUTH BOMB)
Manning said that a source told him that Rick Hazard, the referee Manning sent to check on Gino, saw the bowl of coke and dumped it out.
Aguirre says she’s lived quite paranoid for too many years. She believes he’s not here today because of the people he was around. She just wants answers.
And credit to VICE, they found John Royal, fresh out of prison. They have a phone conversation with him. He admits to paying for the funeral but denies that Gino owed him any money. Royal said he was with him until about 1 a.m. on the night he died. Gino was partying and eventually left with some young ladies and that was the last they saw of each other.
Another interview, a drug trafficker that remained anonymous, said that Gino’s death was completely accidental and he felt bad that his mom didn’t know the truth and had been worrying about this for too long. Gino was also involved in selling drugs. Royal adds there were no foul play.
The anonymous voice said Gino started out recreationally but got heavily involved. He believes that Gino drank a lot of the club and then went home and overdosed. He tells Gino’s family to not spend another minute worrying about him because he died of a situation of his undoing. Aguirre is very emotional but seems satisfied with this story. She said she could finally stop being scared and she was ready to have a margarita, which she did, which was awesome.
Prichard said he wants to believe it was a tragic accident. That’s what he wants to believe.
Gino’s daughter said that her grandmother has been through a lot and through it all she hung in there.
Manning said that Gino’s legacy is one that’s incomplete and he often thinks about what might have been.
Lisha says that she’s reminded of her dad often and people that knew him said they see a lot of him in her. She has five children and they all have a piece of him in their makeup (damn if the little boy they showed, presumably his grandson, didn’t look exactly like him).
Bottom Line: There was just a lot here to consume. A lot of questions. Some answers. Some explantations that lead to more questions. Gino’s family, particularly his mother, were the stars. You wanted those answers for her because you feel like she deserves to have that piece of mind. I don’t know of I’m willing to accept the answers but it seemed like she was and at the end of the day she’s the most important person. Another tremendous hour and credit to Viceland for digging deep and trying to get some answers. I’m ready to say that this is the best hour of wrestling on TV behind NXT.