By Mike Mooneyham
May 11, 2003
Lex Luger, whose chiseled physique and “Total Package” gimmick propelled him to fame and fortune in the wrestling business, now faces an uncertain future in the wake of his live-in girlfriend’s death and multiple drug charges.
Authorities say the death of Liz Hulette, 42, is not being treated as a homicide, and the official cause of death won’t be known until toxicology tests are complete. Hulette, the one-time “First Lady of Wrestling” and former wife of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, had been living with Luger at his home in Marietta, Ga., when she was stricken during the early-morning hours of May 1.
Luger, whose real name is Lawrence Pfohl, was charged with 13 counts of felony purchase and possession of a controlled substance and one misdemeanor count of distribution of dangerous drugs after investigators turned up the drugs at his residence. Reports indicate that police counted more than 1,700 pills, 100 bottles, and six boxes of assorted steroids, painkillers and growth hormones.
Police have not linked the discovery of the massive stash to Hulette’s death. Preliminary autopsy results confirmed that no sign of foul play was found in her death.
Police also had responded to a domestic violence call last month concerning a fight at Luger’s home, a $300,000-plus town house that the two had moved into last year. According to the arrest report, Hulette had two bruised eyes, bumps on her head and a cut on her lip. Luger was arrested at that time and charged with a misdemeanor count of battery.
The Marietta Daily Journal reported last week that Luger, 44, also had been arrested two days later for driving under the influence and rear-ending another car in his 2002 silver, twin-turbo Porsche. Luger reportedly had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and could not locate his license. Reports also indicate that he had a 9-mm handgun in the car. Hulette, who was a passenger, was sent home in a taxicab.
Luger’s license was already suspended at the time for failure to attend an earlier court hearing on charges of driving with an expired tag and no proof of insurance.
According to Cobb County, Ga., police department records, Hulette had been mixing painkillers and vodka shortly before her death, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported. She sat down to eat, started gurgling and then died, reports said.
“I have an emergency, medical,” Luger told the 911 operator, the Journal-Constitution reported. “My girlfriend has passed out and I can’t get her to come to … We were eating and she started gurgling. I don’t know why. Please send somebody, please.”
Luger later told the police that Elizabeth had consumed two glasses of vodka and took some medication for back pain. “I couldn’t get her eyes to focus,” Luger told the 911 operator. “She’s like totally limp … When I blow in (performing CPR), there’s just gurgling, probably from the food.”
By the time emergency crews arrived, five minutes after the call came in, Hulette’s skin had turned purplish. She was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at a nearby hospital. The full autopsy report is expected in a month or two.
The Journal-Constitution quoted Dr. Julie Jervis, a forensic pathologist at Kaplan College in Iowa, as saying that Hulette may have been the victim of the so-called “cafe coronary” in which people who are drinking alcohol and eating lose their coordination, choke on food and die of asphyxiation.
Former WCW and WWE women’s champion Madusa (Debbie Micelli) posted a commentary on her Web site regarding Hulette’s death.
“Liz and I have shared some wonderful times, laughing, crying, traveling and just plain being girl friends.’ Liz has truly been an inspiration to every women in this sport and started a path for the women of today. Her beauty is priceless, her voice I can still her in my head. I cried and I cried hard and I am angry. I feel that when tragic strikes our emotions want to strike back for the fear of not knowing what or how it happened, usually that is the case … I can tell you this the reason for her death will not go unnoticed and I truly believe the reason of why it happened will burn in hell!’ We miss you Liz.”
Hulette’s death, less than three months after another former wrestling star, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, was found dead of cocaine intoxication, has once again put the spotlight on drug abuse in the wrestling industry.
Sources say the 6-4, 270-pound Luger, whose weight had approached the 300-pound range late last year, had been working hard in recent months to get into “WWE shape.” Luger has been away from the wrestling business since 2000 except for an overseas tour last December for World Wrestling All-Stars.
Luger, the founder and operator of Main Event Fitness club in Atlanta since 1989, was an inaugural member of the HealthSouth Sports Council, a group of top athletes targeting school-age children with strong, positive messages. Luger made an appearance locally at the North Charleston Coliseum several years ago in which he discussed the importance of living a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
Luger’s son, Brian Pfohl, was profiled earlier this year in a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 6-8, 230-pound high school junior is a top basketball prospect who averages more than 20 points a game.
Luger’s first love also was basketball, but he accepted a football scholarship to Penn State before transferring in 1978 to Miami where he was kicked off the team at midseason for two off-field incidents. He had brief pro stints with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes and the Tampa Bay Bandits of the defunct USFL, where he was teammates with Ron Simmons and coached by Steve Spurrier.
“I attended all the basketball camps growing up,” Luger told the Journal-Constitution. “I really just enjoy going to the games and watching Brian perform. I’m not one of those pushy parents. I just want him to do good in school. I’ve had more operations than I can remember. It doesn’t bother me at all that Brian doesn’t play football.”
The article noted that Brian Pfohl and his dad weren’t the only two athletes in the family. His mom, Peggy, was a standout track performer at Penn State. His sister, Lauren, is one of the top swimmers in her age group (sixth grade) in the Southeast.
“We don’t have those high-pressure parents,” Brian said. “I’ve always looked up to my dad. Away from the ring, he is a very nice and laid-back guy.”
Luger, who was trained by the late Hiro Matsuda, broke into the wrestling business in October 1985 and was immediately elevated to main-event status. He defeated Wahoo McDaniel for the Southern heavyweight title in 1986 and within a year of his debut held NWA world champion Ric Flair to a one-hour draw, earning Rookie of the Year honors that year.
Luger held the WCW world title on two different occasions and was given one of the greatest promotional pushes in the history of the then-WWF, but could never attain the popularity needed to headline the promotion. The company had even taped an interview with Luger as champion before scrapping a nine-month plan to give him the title, going instead with Bret Hart.
Vince McMahon, who once saw Luger as “the next Hulk Hogan” after a similar push with Sid Vicious had backfired, turned Luger from his “Narcissst” heel role, in which he played a pompous, egotistical character that mirrored his real-life persona, into a xenophobic American patriot draped in red, white and blue, and sent him on a nationwide bus tour dubbed the “Lex Express.” The Express was designed to generate mainstream publicity for Luger and tape him doing charity work for telecast on WWF programming. Despite well-produced videos and exposure in a number of mainstream outlets, Luger failed to spark media interest and the Lex Express derailed.
A series of “Who is Lex Luger?” videos also were aired in an attempt to sway viewers.
“A lot of my friends who knew me when I grew up are shocked when they see me in front of millions of viewers wrestling or talking because I was actually very shy and introverted,” Luger explained in the video. “Because I was rather quite and shy and introverted, I think a lot of times that’s mistaken as being arrogant by people who don’t know you.
“My friends who really got to know me knew better. But when people look at you, they want to stereotype you or prejudge you by how you look and how you act. If you’re shy but you excel at something, they think you’re arrogant or stuck on yourself. It’s like a vicious circle. The more people think about you, if you’re shy, the more it almost propagates itself. Sometimes I feel like I fight that to this day
now even in my career with people on television or in the press.”
Luger bolted the WWF in 1995 and appeared on the first-ever Nitro for WCW on Sept. 18 of that year.
– Marissa Jeanne Vaziri, 27, the daughter of Hossein Khosrow Vaziri (The Iron Sheik), was found strangled to death in a bed at a Riverdale, Ga., apartment she shared with her boyfriend. Police arrested her companion, Charles Warren Reynolds, 38, last Sunday in connection with her death.
Reynolds confessed to the crime, according to police reports, and said that he and Marissa Jeanne Vaziri, who didn’t work in the wrestling business, had been drinking and taking pills prior to the incident.
A local pastor told police that the suspect called him about 8 a.m. Sunday, asking the pastor to pray with him. When police arrived, the pastor and two church members were at the apartment.
“It’s my fault. Take me, I’ve done wrong,” Reynolds told police, according to investigators’ initial reports.
Vaziri was the eldest daughter of Hossein Vaziri, 60, who is most famous for a 29-day reign as WWF champion that ended with a loss to Hulk Hogan on Jan. 23, 1984, that ushered in WWE’s “Hulkamania” era.
– Road Warriors Hawk and Animal (Mike Hegstrand and Joe Laurinidas) are scheduled for tryout dark matches at Raw Monday night in Philadelphia and Smackdown Tuesday night in Baltimore.
Animal’s “little brother,” Johnny Ace (John Laurinidas), works as a WWE official and is being groomed to take over Jim Ross’s position as the company’s talent relations chief.
– Raw ratings dipped to a 3.5 for last week’s show. The Beer Bash overrun was the show’s highest segment with a 4.3.
– Jonathan Coachman’s ouster from the announce desk with the reinstatement of Jim Ross should lead to “The Coach” becoming part of Teddy Long’s disgruntled stable.
– The Kevin Nash-Triple H brawl last week on Raw has drawn considerable criticism. The Halifax crowd jeered Nash, the babyface, while the announcing crew tried to cover up by explaining that it was a “Canadian crowd.”
Nash, whose mobility is limited due to a number of knee surgeries, has worked only a handful of matches in the past three years while nursing a variety of injuries.
– Triple H (Paul Levesque) and Stephanie McMahon have set their wedding date for Oct. 25.
– WWE has released more than 10 members of its office staff over the past week. Also reportedly cut from the talent roster was Eric Angle, Kurt’s brother and Nidia’s love interest.
– “The Proud Prussian” Kurt Von Poppenheim, who was a major star in Oregon, passed away on May 1 at the age of 89. He wrestled from 1937 to 1964.
– Trish Stratus told a Halifax newspaper last week that she wasn’t interested in following Torrie Wilson’s lead and doing a Playboy pictorial. “It’s not my thing It’s so huge I think it might overshadow anything I might do in the industry or the ring,” said the 27-year-old WWE diva.
– A woman who was allegedly stalking WWE star Kurt Angle and his family has been arrested in Detroit.
Deann Siden, 34, is accused of following Angle across the country and threatening his family through telephone messages. Siden allegedly claimed she was pregnant and Angle was the father, but Pittsburgh-area police say there was no relationship between the two.
– Ric Flair and Jeff Jarrett will participate in a charity basketball game May 31 in Charlotte to raise money for the Autism Society of America. The M&M’s Hoops for Hope with Elliott Sadler all-star basketball game also will feature former Los Angeles Laker star John Salley, co-host of the “Best Damn Sports Show, Period,” and will pit NASCAR drivers and local celebrities against the media. The “Best Damn Sports Show” will feature its broadcast on Fox Sports Net from Charlotte’s Halton Arena. Other Charlotte celebs slated to play in the game are NFL star Wesley Walls, who will join Elliott Sadler, Hermie Sadler, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton, Tony Raines, Jamie McMurray and Darrell Waltrip in an effort to raise funds for autism research.
– Sources report that Scott Hall was on his best behavior during a recent wrestling swing through Puerto Rico.