The Not - So - Perfect World of Kevin Von Erich
By: Craig Peters
It is a comforting thought to those of us who do not enjoy the notoriety of a Mr. T or a Christie Brinkley or a Michael Jackson that fame may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
While a lot of us “ordinary people” might look at national celebrities and feel pangs of jealousy, we forget that these people are crippled by their popularity. They’re unable to enjoy simple pleasures - a quiet dinner at a restaurant or a walk on the beach, for example - without being mobbed by people requesting an autograph here, an answer to a question there, and “Gee, I’ve always been a big fac of yours, maybe could you please just give my wife Mabel a kiss as soon as I get this camera all set up, hold on, it’ll only take a minute, there, I think I’ve got it, hold on for one more, aw, gee, thanks, I hope I haven’t spoiled your evening.”
No wonder so many celebrities take refuge in 47 - room mansions behind 12 - foot - high steel spike fences. There are times when they just want to be left alone.
I was thinking about this recently as I leafed through reams of material about the Von Erichs. I found a folder marked “Kevin Anecdotes” and read through dozens of pages of transcribed interviews and accounts of personal visits by various wrestling reporters over the past few years.
I noticed a pattern in Kevin’s attitude, a pattern indicating that while he may enjoy his life inside the ring, his daily life away from the ring could be a source of personal anguish.
What follows are several vignettes concerning Kevin Von Erich. For those of you who are thrilled to hear about Kevin’s ring exploits and have ever felt the urge to trade places with him, these sketches of his life may come as a surprise and an eye-opener.
After all, fame isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Kevin Von Erich sat at a 45 - degree angle in the device known as a double chest machine, a piece of Nautilus gym equipment designed to build the muscles in the arms and chest.
Part of the exercise regimen with this machine involves pushing against a pair of hand grips until the arms are completely extended. The grips are connected to adjustable weights that can provide resistance up to 200 pounds.
The machine in intended to be used on a two - to - four ratio basis. This means that one should extend one’s arms in two seconds, then bring the arms back, and the weight to rest, in a period of four seconds. During that four seconds, the muscles in the arms and chest experience an enormous amount of tension as they support the weight. It is one of the best known ways of developing the arms and the chest.
With the weight set at maximum, Kevin was completing his fourth set of 20 extensions Thick streams of sweat ran down his face. With his eyes squeezed shut, his teeth clenched tightly, and the veins in his arms, neck and forehead bulging, Kevin counted his repetitions between strained gasps for air.
The count of “20” was triumphant scream as 200 pounds of steel weight clanked to a rest position. Kevin’s chest heaved as his lungs gulped in oxygen. His body covered with sweat, he looked as if he had just stepped out of a shower. It was nearly five minutes before Kevin was able to speak, and even then he was still breathing very heavily.
“Damn, do I hurt,” he said, wincing ever so slightly as he massaged his arms and shoulders. “I wish my fans could really understand what I have to go through when I train. All they see is the end result. But I’ll tell you, I really didn’t feel like training when I got up this morning. I had a hell of a match against Buddy Roberts last night, and all I wanted to do was roll over and go back to sleep.
“Other people can roll over and go back to sleep when they feel bad. They can call in sick to work. But I can’t do that. I can’t train when I want to. I’ve got to train when I have I’ve got to forget the pain from last night and.. ow!… and I’ll tell you, that’s not very easy to forget. Not easy at all.”
Kevin glanced at the clock on the wall.
“Well, here goes again. Rest period over, time for the fifth set.”
Kevin slowly sat himself back in the double - chest machine. He was feeling sore and tired, but he knew he had to keep working. If you’re intent on maintaining your physique, you can’t afford to let up on the training regimen for even a day. Like the saying goes “no pain, no gain.”
Even the dark corner of a virtually unknown restaurant in downtown Dallas could not provide Kevin Von Erich with a hiding spot. Despite his obvious attempt to avoid recognition by other diners, several fans interrupted Kevin’s filet mignon dinner to ask for his autograph. He smiled as he signed, but he didn’t talk much. Although there are times when he truly enjoys signing autographs and speaking with his fans, Kevin’s heart didn’t seem to be in it this evening.
“It bothers me sometimes,” Kevin said. “You know, I can never come into a restaurant like this and just have a quiet meal. I’ll either wind up trying to hide in a corner like tonight, or I’ll have a crowd of people surrounding me all night.
“And it’s not that I don’t like the fans. That’s not it at all. On the contrary, I absolutely love my fans. They’ve given me so much inspiration over the last few years.
“You know, maybe it’s the love I have for the fans that bothers me so much,” Kevin said. “I’d really like to get to know them on a personal basis. I’d like to sit down and talk about more than just wrestling… but that doesn’t seem possible. I guess my fame is too much of a fascination to them. It’s really kind of sad, because there’s a whole world of people out there who recognize my face, but they don’t know who I am. There’s a big difference.”
“People have asked me that question before,” Kevin Von Erich said, “and I guess I would have to say that there are as many bad things about being a Von Erich as there are good things.”
Kevin, the oldest of the Von Erich brothers, was in an unusually candid mood. It’s not often that he speaks about his family heritage or his view of himself in the wrestling world as a whole.
“I think the fans expect a little something extra out of me simply because I’m a Von Erich,” he said. “If my name was Kevin Wilson or Kelly, I might not have to work as hard to be accepted. But I’m a Von Erich, and that means that fans remember my father, they remember the Von Erich name, and they automatically have an opinion about me. Fortunately, it’s usually an opinion that’s flattering, but I pay a price for that flattery - they expect that much more from me.
“A lot of fans expect me to be perfect,” he continued, “and with the pressure I put on myself I find that I’m trying to be more perfect than perfect. It’s a dangerous trap to fall into, but it’s also a very easy trap to fall into. I start worrying about whether I’m training hard enough, whether I’m living up to the fans’ expectations, whether I’m as prepared for my next match as I should be… Then I start worrying about whether all these worries are going to affect my wrestling. It becomes a vicious cycle.
“There are some days I wish I was an unknown rookie. Then I wouldn’t have all these worries.”
“But what was the most unusual feeling you ever had during your wrestling career, the most unexpected emotion you ever experienced?”
Kevin Von Erich had to think long and hard about the question before he began his answer.
“It would probably have to be the time I was Missouri State heavyweight champion,” he said. The statement was followed by a long pause, and one could imagine Kevin reliving the five months between November 1979 and April 1980, when he wore the Missouri belt.
“It was odd,” he said, almost as if he still didn’t understand all the feelings he experienced during those months. “Holding on to that champion was an unusual experience because I was a champion for more than my Texas fans. The Missouri State title draws a lot of national attention.
“But I was being pulled and pushed from both sides. As far as the Missouri title went, I was a champion and had wrestlers coming after me all the time. But I was also top ranked for the NWA World title and that meant I was one of the challengers going after Harley Race’s belt. I was challenger and champion all rolled into one.
“Plus I had pressures from my family in Texas,” Kevin said. “There were feuds to be dealt with at home, fans who were wondering why I couldn’t wrestler in Texas while I was defending the title in Missouri, plus the champion - challenger things I just mentioned. I had pressure from all sides. It was like trying to juggle nine balls in the air all at once - I had to drop a couple of them eventually. I couldn’t keep that kind of intensity up forever.
“I grew a lot during those months. I found out that I was able to handle a lot more than I thought I could, both emotionally and professionally. They were hard months.
“The strange thing about it is that a main part of this sport is striving for perfection, striving for perfection, the striving for championships. But when you strap that championship belt around your waist, you find out that there’s a lot that comes with the glory that you never expected, and a lot that you wish would go away. It’s hard.”
It was past midnight. Dallas’ Reunion Arena bad been empty for nearly an hour before Kevin Von Erich finished his shower. He dressed and prepared to go home. In the company of a lone reporter, Kevin surveyed the empty arena where the deafening noise of cheering fans seemed to still be echoing through the seats.
“It was rough night tonight,” Kevin said of his match with Jim Garvin, “I’m tired. All I want to do is go home and sleep.”
“What about tomorrow?” the reporter asked.
“Tomorrow?” A deep heavy sigh followed Kevin’s rhetorical question, then he provided his own answer.
“Tomorrow I’ll wake up at 7, pump some iron for a couple of hours and have breakfast. That’s only the beginning,” Kevin sighed again. “I’m not looking forward to it, I’ll be honest with you, not right now anyway. But I’ve got to do it.”
“Sounds pretty rough,” the reporter commented.
“It’s kind of like diving into cold water. It’s not so bad once you’re in, but that first dive isn’t easy!”
“Why don’t you take the day off?” the reporter asked.
“I wish I could,” Kevin said longingly, “I wish I could.”