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"Dark Side of the Ring" Pulls Back the Curtain on Pro-Wrestling's Tragedies
Now in its fourth season, the well-done docu-series continues to shed light on deep struggles within the industry.
I’ve written before in this newsletter about my history as a pro-wrestling fan. I’m more of a casual fan these days, and look back on the mid 80s and late 90s eras with great fondness. I was a kid during the former, when I was still a semi-believer. During the latter, I was at the beginning of my professional career, having recently graduated from college. I was more interested, at that point, in the surprisingly innovative storytelling and ratcheted-up athleticism.
In the 80s, during the WWF’s glory days, I never gave much thought to wrestlers’ personal lives. This was in large part because I naively believed that the modern-day gladiators I cheered and booed on television were basically the same people in real life — minus the tights, makeup, and body oil. Their families, vices, and financial situations only crossed my mind in the context of on-air storylines. I became more in tune with the behind-the-scenes stuff in the late 90s, especially after the industry began to break away from kayfabe outside of the ring, and dirt-sheet websites grew popular. But even then, I don’t think I fully appreciated the physical and psychological demands that came with being a professional wrestler.
In the real world, chronic pain and the hard lifestyle often gave rise to drug addiction. Addiction, infidelity, extensive travel, and other excesses of fame led to lots of broken families and careers, and lives ending far too soon. In some cases, they even led to murder.
Over the last year or so, thanks to Peacock, I’ve found myself checking out some of the old WCW Nitro and WCW Thunder episodes I last watched 20-25 years ago, and have realized just how many of the wrestlers performing on those shows have since passed away. The number is absolutely staggering, and most of those people, if they were still alive, would be younger than I am right now.
But the numbers, as bad as they are, don’t tell the full story. That’s where Dark Side of the Ring, a Canadian VICE TV documentary series that debuted in 2019, comes in. The program does an extremely impressive, journalism-quality job of chronicling the complex stories of those many of us idolized in our youth, who dedicated their lives to a very tough business that, in numerous cases, contributed to their personal downfalls. It’s been hailed by critics and pro-wrestlers alike for its commitment to truth-telling and tracking down those who best know the real stories. This includes close colleagues and family members, as well as — if they’re still alive — the subjects themselves.
Co-created and directed by Jason Eisener, the show is narrated by longtime, well-respected wrestler Chris Jericho, who brings a lot of credibility to the project. For a lifelong fan like me, who’s still pretty fascinated with the business, Dark Side of the Ring’s interviews, stories, and even the spot-on body-doubles used in the dramatizations amount to mesmerizing television.
The series began, I think appropriately enough, with the story of Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Elizabeth, perhaps the most iconic wedded couple in the history of wrestling. It’s also covered Chris Benoit (who murdered his family), Bruiser Brody (who was murdered by another wrestler), the Von Erichs, the Ultimate Warrior, Brian Pillman, Owen Hart, The Road Warriors, Chris Kanyon, Bam Bam Bigelow, Abullah the Butcher, and The Dynamite Kid (my all-time favorite wrestler) among several others. And sadly, there have been so many human tragedies within the pro-wrestling business that the series will never run out of material.
So far, the makers of Dark Side of the Ring have presented that material with integrity. Their approach doesn’t feel exploitive, and they’re careful to tell both sides of contested accounts. The show’s fourth season is about to wrap up, and I’m hoping very much for a fifth.
I can’t recommend the show highly enough, especially for old-school wrestling fans. You can find out how to watch it here.
(And if you check it out, you may just recognize Lance Storm, the retired pro-wrestler whose blurb appears on the cover of my book Restitution, as a repeat interviewee.)
Were you ever a pro-wrestling fan? If so, who was your favorite wrestler? Let me know in an email or in the comment section below.
Odds & Ends — YouTube Edition
This just-recorded acoustic version of an obscure, almost 30-year-old song from a wildly underrated, very recently reformed 90s rock band is more amazing to me than any of you could possibly imagine. Thanks, Sugartooth!
Sinéad O'Connor passed away last week, and regardless of how you may have felt about the controversial Irish singer, if you've never listened to her amazing rendition of Silent Night, you definitely should:
Obligatory Dog Shot
So, we clearly stink at fostering. Only two dogs in, and we just signed the adoption papers on this gal. She's ours. Meet Stella, our third pit bull mix.
One thing particularly interesting about her, as you’ll find out in the weeks to come in this section, is that she looks like a completely different dog every time we take her picture.
Have you picked up your copy of RESTITUTION?
Interested in a signed copy? You can order one (or five) here.
Already read and enjoyed it? I’d love if you could leave a review for the book on Amazon.
When I was in the fourth grade, my elementary school’s Music teacher one day sat my class on her temp-room floor and blasted “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. I’m sure there was a lesson behind the selection, but I only still remember that moment because I, knowing as every other student did that it was the popular theme song of the latest Rocky movie, began throwing air-punches coinciding with the song’s guitar motions. Three seconds later, I was told to get up and sit in the corner of the room until the end of class. To this day, I’m not sure exactly why.
Anyway, it’s an iconic song, and Rocky is an iconic franchise… which is why the Rocky III soundtrack made for an easy purchase at a used record store a while back.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Also, if you’re not caught up on my Sean Coleman Thrillers, you can pick the entire series up at a great price on Amazon. And if you’re interested in signed, personalized copies of my books, you can order them directly from my website.
Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!