AS I SEE IT 6/13/2001
In the last few weeks, we've seen the spectre of drug use in wrestling
(specifically, in the WWF) rear its ugly head again.
First, it was Brian James (Armstrong), who worked a Sunday Night Heat taping, in his own words: "messed up". He told Vince McMahon and Bruce Pritchard that he needed time off, due to a divorce he was going through. He was indefinitely suspended, then fired by the WWF shortly afterward. This incident followed two other occasions where James had been suspended and sent to rehabilitation.
Since James's termination by the WWF, there have been incidents where he has no-showed independent shows, and exhibited erratic behavior at one other show following which he was arrested.
Brian Christopher Lawler was caught two weeks ago at the US-Canadian border with methamphethamine, marijuana and cocaine while traveling from Sunday Night HEAT in New York to the Monday Night RAW in Calgary.
He was fired by the WWF, due to the nature of the drugs and the fact that he was caught with these drugs crossing the US-Canadian border; NOT because of who his famous father is... even according to a statement that Lawler himself made on the situation.
Eddie Guerrero came to the RAW taping on June 5th "unable to perform" due to what has variously reported to have been muscle relaxers and/or painkillers prescribed by a doctor for a recent injury. He was sent home and directed by the WWF to go to rehab (with pay).
Each and every time a wrestler is singled out, let alone dies, due to the effects of drug use, people write editorials decrying drug use. But Vince McMahon has YET to enact a comprehensive drug testing and rehabilitation policy. Neither did Eric Bischoff or Paul Heyman when their promotions were operating.
Jim Ross made comments in the Sun newspaper-owned SLAM Wrestling.com regarding the Guerrero situation:
"Anybody that's talking about it is talking about it with a total lack of sensitivity because it's newsworthy. Like it's good dirt. Oh man, this is good juicy $#@t here. This is the real stuff. This is what we love to report. This is about drugs. And I'm so disillusioned with that whole mindset."
No, Mr. Ross... I don't love to report about people like Eddie Guerrero having a drug dependency.
The Eddie Guerrero I've gotten to meet is a decent human being who cares about his friends. I remember seeing Eddie bond in a special way with the fans of ECW during 1994 and 1995.
I remember the way Eddie sat in a bar full of wrestlers and fans after a WCW show in Baltimore and prayed for Brian Hildebrand when the first word came down about Brian's cancer back in 1997.
I remember Eddie getting involved in the special night that WCW did for Brian in Knoxville...heeling along with Chris Jericho in a way that Brian, as a student of the business, especially appreciated. He also worked in the celebration of Brian's life called "Curtis Comes Home" in Pittsburgh to defray Brian's medical expenses.
So, Mr. Ross...if there was ever anyone I wanted less to report about regarding such a subject, I haven't met him.
But the fact of the matter is that we have to.
Because the WWF, and the wrestling industry as a whole over the last 20 years has acted like drug use is just a problem to manage....not solve.
When SLAM Wrestling.com asked Jim Ross in if these situations would cause the WWF to institute comprehensive drug testing, Ross answered that it would not:
"We do drug tests upon cause or we take appropriate action upon cause. We had a situation where in our view Eddie Guerrero was unfit to work and we took action. He's in therapy. I don't know what else I could do with him?"
It seems like it's necessary AGAIN to start listing the names of the victims to remind those in the business and the fans who forget all too quickly:
* David (Von Erich) Adkisson, died in February 1984 from an accidental Placidyl overdose while touring Japan.
* Mike (Von Erich) Adkisson, committed suicide on April 12, 1987 with an intentional overdose of Placidyl.
* Bruce (Buzz Sawyer) Woyan, died from a drug overdose on February 7, 1992.
* Kerry (Von Erich) Adkisson, committed suicide near the Adkisson family home in February 1993 while awaiting a jail sentence for forging prescriptions.
* Art Barr, the greatest American born luchador ever, died in November 1994 in his sleep from mixing alcohol and painkillers at age 29.
* Eddie Gilbert, died of a heart attack in February 1995 in Puerto Rico. Much as I publicized the Gilbert Memorial Weekends held for years... it's important to also mention that Eddie was very human and had a problem with using prescription painkillers and steroid use.
* Brian Pillman died in a lonely hotel room in October 1997, hours before he was to be part of a nationally televised PPV event. The cause of death was officially a "heart attack". In reality, the years of using steroids and use of prescription pain killers after his ankle was broken in a Hummer accident had more than a little to do with it.
* Louie Spicolli died on February 15, 1998 from an overdose of somas (muscle relaxers). As I've told the story before in this column, he was addicted to somas while in ECW, to the point that he could barely walk into the TraveLodge after each ECW Arena show.
* Rick Rude died in April 1999 from the effects of GHB, the date-rape drug.
* Bobby Duncum, Jr., died in February 2000 from an overdose of the painkiller Fentanyl, which can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Duncum had three patches at the time of his death.
Then there's the people who have survived.
In past AS I SEE IT columns, I mentioned Tommy Dreamer's painkiller use, something he admitted to publicly at a ECW CyberSlam Q&A after Louie Spicolli's death. Thank God, he got himself clean, and stayed that way. There's Steven Regal, who has been very open about his addiction to painkillers and has discussed his recovery on WWF.com.
Then there are those people with drug issues many are still wondering about....such as Shawn Michaels who was to return to the WWF...until a backstage incident in April 2000, where he was said to be "disruptive".
Another example is the incident I reported on (and personally witnessed)in a previous AS I SEE IT... regarding the ECW worker handing out percosets at the door of the Stadium Holiday Inn hotel bar like they were candy in front of fans, bar employees, and security guards. This then well-known worker has largely disappeared from the wrestling business.
There are still more cases... like the one of the independent wrestler, (known for previous drug/alcohol use) who came up to a worker "in the office" at a small indy show who had some sort of stomach medicine. The wrestler came out of the locker room, looked at the office worker taking the pills... and said: "What do those do to you?". Those of us standing there were uncomfortably silent. Even he stopped and took a step back and realized just what he'd said.
It's hardly news to anyone reading this that too many wrestlers think they're immortal. They think they can use painkillers or muscle relaxers to ease the pain of working night after night...or use various growth-enhancing substances to get big and stay big....or use any one of a dozen other "recreational" drugs... and think that nothing will happen to them. It's always someone else it happens to.
Mick Foley talked in Foley Is Good about the drug use he'd seen. While Foley talked about past steroid and crack use in wrestling, the drug Foley sounded most concerned about was prescription drug use. He explained why he avoided use of pain killers, even when the use might have been warranted... because he'd seen all too many times how easily those painkillers and muscle relaxers could become addictive.
Let's face it. There's always some unscrupulous bastard who will help feed the addictions of wrestlers for a price. Just because doctors wear white coats doesn't mean they aren't drug pushers.
Then there's the even MORE unscrupulous bastards who run wrestling promotions, KNOW about these glorified drug pushers, KNOW about these performers, and the physical and emotional pain they feel from working in the ring and traveling out of it...and refuse to do what is necessary to rid their companies of the drug use that results.
With all of these recent incidents, I keep waiting again for another wrestler's obituary... which unfortunately will come all too soon, unless the wrestling industry is willing to get serious.
It's true that the WWF has assisted some workers on an informal, case-by-case basis, including Davey Boy Smith, Steven Regal, and in the Guerrero situation.
But unless Vince McMahon and the WWF are willing to institute mandatory random drug testing for all workers for growth-enhancing, pain-killing, and major addictive and recreational drugs; create an formal Employee Assistance program for his workers; and deal with some hard choices that may result - across the board... the list of wrestlers who are addicted...and who die... will grow longer and longer.
While the idea of mandatory drug testing made me uncomfortable for years, the fact of the matter is that the issue isn't one of civil liberties any longer...not within the wrestling industry. The issue is keeping talented performers and human beings alive. That's the bottom line. What has been done over the last 20 years within wrestling isn't working.
If Vince McMahon doesn't care about doing drug testing as a decent human being or an enlightened employer, maybe he should do it to prevent what will happen to his business if he doesn't.
If the Parents Television Council can raise the hell that they have just because of content issues - real or imagined... imagine what happens the next time a well-known performer dies.
The political extremists will then have a real issue to attack professional wrestling with. One can imagine L. Brent Bozell and the PTC almost salivating at the opportunity. If they're willing to use dead children to further their ideological agendas, they'd certainly be willing to use dead wrestlers to do the same.
Following such a death, I can easily imagine many more mainstream advertisers scrambling away as fast as they legally can...the media having a field day... and government agencies breathing down the neck of the wrestling industry. The days when Phil Mushnick and L. Brent Bozell were the worst enemies that wrestling had will be memories of the past.
It's up to the wrestling business, once and for all, to decide if it will get serious about drug abuse. It's time for them to decide if they give a damn about their employees. It's time for wrestling to decide if it gives a damn about itself and its long-term future.
And it's time for all of us to say a prayer for Eddie Guerrero...that he gets and keeps himself clean...and comes back to entertain all of us... and to live...
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)