By Mike Mooneyham
Oct. 13, 2001
Few wrestling arenas in the country have generated as much lore and fable as the now aged Dallas Sportatorium. The heart and soul of World Class Championship Wrestling during its heyday in the early and mid-1980s, it was here that the lives of wrestling heroes somehow became entwined with the fictional world they were part of.
The candle burned out long ago at the Sportatorium. The adoring, overflow crowds moved on. The “world famous” Sportatorium is now a decaying structure. All that remains are the memories of those rocking Friday nights when the arena was a wrestling shrine for the Von Erich family and their red-hot World Class promotion.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Years ago the dark, run-down building would come to life on Friday nights when wrestling’s favorite sons – the Von Erichs – and their renegade band of rowdies would transform the arena into a rock concert atmosphere of frenzied fans, especially teen-agers who were drawn by the good looks, athleticism and charisma exuded by the young gladiators and the loud, pulsating music that accompanied them to the ring. Scantily clad females would flock to the arena each week hoping to exchange glances with the Von Erich brothers, comic book stars who were elevated to the level of gods, thanks in large part to their iron-fisted father’s matchmaking magic. The Sportatorium faithful in those days included a young, blond-haired dockworker named Steve Williams (the future “Stone Cold” Steve Austin) and a 6-9 basketball player at Fort Worth’s Texas Wesleyan University named Mark Calaway (the future Undertaker).
The Von Erichs launched a televised wrestling revolution in the early ’80s – several years before Vince McMahon would take the wrestling industry to new levels. Von Erich family patriarch Fritz Von Erich (Jack Adkisson) was producing a syndicated wrestling show called World Class Championship Wrestling, which ran in 66 national television markets, as well as Japan, Argentina and the Middle East. World Class evolved into a showcase for the Von Erich family. His stars were seen on television sets from Texas all the way to Israel and South Africa. And, in the end, the All-American Von Erichs would always overcome tremendous odds to defeat the villains.
Unfortunately, in real life the lines between good guy and bad guy were not so closely drawn, and abuses ran rampant. Fritz Von Erich and four of his five sons who worked for the promotion died, three the victims of suicide, one from questionable circumstances during a tour of Japan. Only Kevin Von Erich, the oldest son, would survive, barely escaping death. Tragedy would befall a number of wrestlers who gained fame and notoriety during the Von Erich era, with many from the ill-fated promotion dying before their time. The list includes Bruiser Brody, Bobby Duncum Jr., Terry Gordy, Gino Hernandez, Scott Irwin, Dick Murdoch, Rick Rude, Buzz Sawyer, Jeep Swenson and ring announcer Ralph Pulley. The glamour of the ring would die with them.
Among the ring idols of the World Class era was Chris Adams, a good-looking, three-time national judo champion from England who immigrated to the United States in the early ’80s. Adams was a natural for the Von Erich clique as he skyrocketed to fame, strutting to the ring in his trademark Union Jack attire and dropping opponents with his signature “superkick,” a karate-like maneuver that would become the finisher for WWF champion Shawn Michaels a decade later.[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
Like the Von Erichs, “Gentleman” Chris Adams lived bigger than life, at one time owning a house in England, land in Texas, a red Corvette, two condos and a Mazda RX7. But also like the Von Erichs and many of his colleagues from that promotion, Adams’ time in the sun would be tragically cut short by a lifestyle that would result in his personal collapse and, last Sunday, his death. Police say 49-year- old Brent Parnell, a man described as Adams’ best friend and former roommate, shot the 46-year-old to death during a drunken brawl in Waxahachie, Texas. The two men had been drinking and “roughhousing” when the shooting occurred, police said. The suspect told police he shot Adams in self-defense. Parnell had served as best man at Adams’ recent wedding. The two had met 11 years ago while promoting wrestling matches together.
The incident was only the latest in Adams’ long fall from grace. At the time of his death, Adams was awaiting trial on manslaughter charges in last year’s drug death of a girlfriend and faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
In 1986 Adams made headlines for an incident on an American Airlines flight heading for Dallas. Adams was returning from a Caribbean wrestling tour when engine trouble delayed the plane in Puerto Rico. When the plane took off again, a drunken Adams became belligerent after a flight attendant asked him to sit down. “I make 25 times the money you do, and no one like you is going to tell me what to do,” Adams said before head-butting the co-pilot. A federal jury convicted him of misdemeanor assault. That same year Adams’ “Dynamic Duo” partner, Gino Hernandez (Charles Wolfe), died of a drug overdose. The promotion eventually folded as a result of McMahon’s national expansion and the growing number of corpses in World Class Championship Wrestling.
With the collapse of World Class during the late ’80s, Adams remained in Texas as an independent wrestler and opened up a wrestling school where he trained Austin, who ended up marrying Adams’ ex-wife. Adams, meanwhile, had taken up with another blonde named Toni, and used the real-life story as an angle for the two to feud with Austin and new bride Jeanie Clark.
Adams was twice convicted of drunken driving in recent years and was sentenced to a year’s probation after a 1989 incident in which he assaulted second wife Toni Adams. The couple divorced. Another relationship of eight years ended in 2000.
In April 2000 Adams, who had taken his girlfriend at the time for dinner, drinks and pool, decided to take the party to Parnell’s Dallas apartment where the couple drank wine and mixed orange juice with the club drug GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), which Adams later told police he had left in the apartment. Adams later woke up in a hospital. His girlfriend, 30-year-old Linda Kaphengst, died there 12 hours later. Fourteen months later, in June of 2001, Adams was charged with manslaughter in her death. A couple of months before Kaphengst’s death, Adams had been hospitalized in Denton when friends mistakenly thought he had overdosed on GHB because they couldn’t wake him. Adams and his girlfriend had taken the drug more than 20 times, he said, and still believed GHB was safe. Adams, who wanted to “kill the pain” by drinking even more heavily, was hospitalized for depression and had recently said that he was seeing a psychiatrist and a counselor.
Adams was raising his 7-year-old daughter with new wife Karen; his 10-year-old son lives in Detroit with his ex-wife, and a 19-year-old daughter lives in Colorado.
“I thought I had paid my dues, and that it would never end,” Adams said in an interview earlier this year. “It’s like a roller- coaster ride at Six Flags. It’s up and down, then something comes along and makes it crash.”
The Global Wrestling Federation took over the Sportatorium in 1991 and struggled for several years until folding in late 1994. Jim Crockett ran the NWA out of Dallas for several months until closing the doors in April of 1995.
All that remain are the ghosts of a very special era.