Superstar Billy Graham

Superstar Billy Graham

By Mike Mooneyham

Dec. 30, 2001

Professional wrestling is not an industry known for paying homage, or even remembering for that matter, the stars of its storied past. All too often, those who paved the way for today’s “superstars” are either neglected or forgotten, discarded like yesterday’s news.

Unfortunately, many of those former stars didn’t enjoy the luxuries afforded today’s generation, which has been weaned on big-money deals and guaranteed contracts. Some were savvy enough to stash away what little they made during their prime, while others weren’t quite as lucky, living out the rest of their days in physical pain that was the result of exhaustive traveling and working 300 days a year. Many have lived in relative obscurity, far removed from the spotlight that shines so brightly on today’s highly paid sports entertainers.

Unlike most major league sports and entertainment entities, though, professional wrestling has no strong connection to its past. It wasn’t even until the last decade that wrestling organizations even acknowledged when one of the industry’s former stars passed away, and that was usually reserved for someone who had spent considerable time working for that particular outfit. While some of the smaller, independent promotions have occasionally recognized a fallen performer’s plight or have even held a benefit show, it was rare for a company to take a pre-emptive stance and come to one’s financial aid before the fact.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]It was a shame when Johnny Valentine died earlier this year. Valentine was an icon in the wrestling profession who literally gave his life for a business that turned its back on him after he suffered a career-ending injury in a plane crash in 1975. He bravely struggled to survive until his dying breath on April 23, 2001.

There is no need to sugarcoat the facts in the case of Johnny Valentine. The man who will forever be known as “The Champ” suffered. He couldn’t afford adequate medical care. In all likelihood, he could have survived and recovered had the situation been different.

But over the years there were no front-office positions for Johnny Valentine, whose body was confined to a wheelchair but whose mind was as sharp as any “creative” talent writing wrestling today. Nor was there any flood of financial assistance that could have provided better medical care for him in the end. Aside from a meager but thoughtful contribution from the Cauliflower Alley organization early this year and some sparse individual efforts, there was no significant assistance from this multimillion-dollar industry.

Professional wrestling, though, has another chance to redeem itself. Superstar Billy Graham, one of the profession’s most legendary figures and the prototype for such characters as Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) and Jesse “The Body” Ventura (James Janos), needs help. And he needs it quickly.

Graham has spent much of the past 15 years in constant pain, battling the effects of a lifestyle that cast him in a role as one of the world’s most muscled and charismatic performers. Over those years he has undergone numerous surgeries, hip replacements and a fused ankle, the result of steroid abuse during a period in which the dangers and risks of the muscle-enhancing drug were not very well known. He has had more hospital stays and blood transfusions than even he can remember. But his condition has worsened considerably in recent weeks.

Graham spent 12 days in a Phoenix hospital prior to Christmas and was placed in ICU for two days after suffering massive internal bleeding from his stomach. Doctors later discovered that his hepatitis C had turned into cirrhosis, placing him in dire need of a liver transplant. Doctors have decided not to give him any more transfusions, hoping his blood count will come back up on its own.

Graham, who lost 20 pounds during the 12 days due to the tremendous loss of excess fluid that had built up around his abdominal cavity, is currently undergoing a battery of tests at a branch of the Mayo Clinic in nearby Scottsdale where he is being screened for a possible transplant that he needs in order to survive. He and his wife, Valerie, have been confronted with mounting medical bills and lack costly prescription coverage.

“This isn’t an optional thing,” says Valerie. “The stuff he has to be on now isn’t optional. Right now we literally don’t know where the money’s going to come from. I just know the Lord will provide.”

They know it will be a long, uphill battle, but their strong faith has sustained them. “He has been stronger spiritually and mentally than I’ve ever seen him,” she adds. “If he was going to die, the Lord would have taken him when he was bleeding to death. If he had not woken up in his sleep, he would have bled to death. But he woke up spitting up blood at 4:30 in the morning. God didn’t spare him just to let him go. He’s still got some stuff to do.” Superstar Billy Graham has learned his lesson well, and over the years has turned his setback into a positive experience, sharing his story with thousands of others. Along the way, however, he had to step on the toes of some who had other views and refused to buck the status quo. And in some cases, Graham apologized for coming out so strongly, recognizing that he had perhaps made his crusade too personal.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]

The bottom line is that Superstar Billy Graham, a bona fide member of professional wrestling’s hall of fame, deserves better than the deck he has been dealt.

This is where the wrestling community has a chance to put its best foot forward.

What a magnanimous gesture it would be for the industry to pull together and show support for one of its true superstars. Certainly the World Wrestling Federation, which has often showed compassion and lent financial assistance to a variety of causes, could strike a very positive chord by rallying around a man who helped fill company coffers as one of its most popular world champions ever during the ‘70s. In the spirit of the season, it might be refreshing for everyone in the business – fans, wrestlers, promoters – to look at some of the (loosely translated) words of a song written by Robert Burns more than two hundred years ago, but one that holds particular relevance today on the qualities of friendship and kindness.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And days of Auld Lang Syne?

For Auld Lang Syne, my dear

For Auld Lang Syne

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet

For Auld Lang Syne

And here’s a hand, my trusty friend

And gives a hand o’thine

We’ll take a cup o’kindness yet

For Auld Lang Syne

For Auld Lang Syne, my dear

For Auld Lang Syne

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet

For Auld Lang Syne

Donations can be sent to Superstar Billy Graham at 15402 N. 28th St., Suite 105, Phoenix, Ariz. 85032.

- Veteran wrestler “Maniac” Mike Davis died of a heart attack on Christmas Day at the age of 46 at his home near Dallas. Davis was best known for his run as one half of The Rock-N-Roll RPMs team along with Tommy Lane. The two held a variety of regional titles throughout the ‘80s. He also was a former NWA world junior heavyweight champion and held the U.S. tag-team title with Mike Rotundo in 1983.

Davis was a graduate of Furman University where he played football and ran track. Among those who helped break him into the wrestling business were Lars Anderson (Larry Heiniemi), Ole Anderson (Al Rogowski), Gene Anderson and The Assassin (Jody Hamilton). Davis was a mainstay in the Georgia and Mid-Atlantic areas during the early ‘80s.

- Harvey Martin, better known for his exploits on the football field with the Dallas Cowboys but also remembered for his role in a famous battle royal at Wrestlemania II in 1987, passed away on Christmas Eve at a hospital in Dallas. Martin, 51, who had been battling pancreatic cancer for more than a year, also did some announcing for the Dallas-based World Class Wrestling in 1988 and seconded Michael Hayes and Steve Cox when they won the World Class tag-team belts from The Samoan Swat Team at a 1988 Cotton Bowl show.

- A 10-bell salute for those members of the wrestling community who left us in 2001. They include: Mike Davis (46), Hoss Strickland (64), John Paul Henning (73), Kurt Von Brauner (82), Rhonda Singh (40), Alex Perez (71), Terry Gordy (40), Ace Freeman (87), Tex McKenzie (72), Clyde Steeves (74), Johnny Valentine (72), Lou “Shoulders” Newman (87), Haru Sasaki (70), Ossie Timmons (81), Benny McGuire (54) and Nell Stewart (73).

- The World Wrestling All-Stars (WWA) has quietly positioned itself as a potentially viable player in the pay-per-view market and a force overseas. The first WWA PPV will be a two-hour pre-taped event available on Jan. 8. “WWA: The Inception” will feature two hours of footage from a show Oct. 26 in Sydney, Australia, that aired live on PPV in that country.

Tour promoter Andrew McManus has scheduled a live PPV from Las Vegas on Feb. 24 and was in the United States last week meeting with potential talent and sponsors. Among the most heavily courted have been Kevin Nash, whose AOL Time Warner contract expires Monday, and Scott Steiner, whose deal expired earlier this month. Both also have been negotiating with the WWF but have been leaning toward the WWA since that promotion meets both wrestlers’ demands for a more relaxed schedule.

Rumors have been circulating of a possible reunion of The Kliq at the WWF’s Raw at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 7. Hunter Hearst Helmsley is scheduled to make his return on that show, and if Nash were to sign with the WWF, it is possible that Scott Hall would be brought in as well. Sources say that if those pieces fall into place, Shawn Michaels, who recently appeared as a guest on the WWF’s Excess show, might be penciled in as well, along with the fifth member of the stable, X-Pac (Sean Waltman). The reunion would take on added significance since Madison Square Garden was the site of the group’s infamous “curtain call” in 1996 when several members broke character and hugged in the middle of the ring at the end of the show. Other sources, however, report that such a scenario would be nixed because it would diminish the impact of Triple H’s heavily hyped return.

- The Rock, “the most electrifying man in sports entertainment,” has a new home video release entitled “The Rock: Just Bring It,” which hits the stores on Jan. 8 at a price of $14.95 for the video and $24.95 for the DVD. In addition to some of The Rock’s greatest matches, the video goes outside of the ring and behind the scenes of the filming of Universal Pictures’ “The Scorpion King” starring The Rock, which is scheduled to hit theaters in April. The video also goes behind the scenes to the photo shoot of The Rock and New York Mets’ all-star catcher Mike Piazza for USA Weekend’s cover on America’s favorite pastime: the World Wrestling Federation or Major League Baseball.

The DVD version includes a number of extras, including The Rock’s classic interview with Lillian Garcia, and footage of The Rock and Bill Gates as they unveil X-Box.

- Last week’s Raw did a 3.2 for its Christmas Eve edition.

- Randy Savage has agreed to appear on the Feb. 24 WWA PPV in Las Vegas.

- Charles Warrington (Head Banger Chaz) is being released from his WWF contract on Jan. 14.