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"Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night," Kerry Von Erich was saying, "and I think everything is in order. Everyone is fine. That I'll see David later at the gym. Mike and I will meet for ice cream like we used to. Maybe Lance and I will catch a movie...
"Those nights are the worst. If I wake up at three in the morning, I won't be able to fall back asleep. I don't remember the last time I had a full night's sleep. I guess that's my punishment."
To fully measure the tragedy of the Von Erich family will require a perspective only years can provide. In 1982 the Von Erichs were, virtually without argument, professional wrestling's premier family. Critics who watched the progress of David, Kerry, Kevin, and Mike were astounded by the uniformity of their success.
"As one improved, so did the others," recalls Chris Adams, who spent many years in the family fold. "They did everything as a unit. Any titles or awards belonged not to the insividual who won them, but to the entire family. For someone who grew up without the benefit of tightly-knit family, the Von Erichs were simply tremendous."
They certainly were. Combined, the Von Erichs were a bigger draw than the Dallas Cowboys. Their infrequent forays out of Texas drew sellout crowds. Their appearances in Israel caused riots. The passion fans demonstrated in honor of the Von Erichs made Hulkamania appear minor by comparison. They were the toast of the town, and their town was the world.
"It doesn't seem all that long ago," Kevin Von Erich says. "You blink your eyes, and life changes. We've been through a lot, but we're still standing, Kerry and I."
Kevin, whose recurrent shoulder injuries have threatened his career, would like to recapture the World Class heavyweight title currently held by Al Perez.
A near-fatal motorcycle accident almost crippled Kerry. His left ankle joint was fused together and it remains to be seen whether he can ever again wrestle with the same authority that once helped him win the NWA World title from Ric Flair.
And the scorecard of family history is barely comprehensible. David Von Erich: death from acute enteritis, a severe intestinal inflammation. Mike Von Erich: death by suicide. Lance Von Erich: exiled from the family. Kerry and Kevin: downed by serious injuries. Plus the less obvious and non-physical injuries that are nearly as painful for a group that places friendship and loyalty on the same plane as family: the defections of Chris Adams, Al Madril, and Brian Adias.
"It's quite possibly the most incredible story in all of wrestling," says Senior Editor Bill Apter. "How one family, especially one as popular and loved as the Von Erichs, could be singled out for such tragedy gives you pause to think. What is going on here? How can this be?"
But there may be good news after all. The forecast in the Von Erich camp is not all gloomy. Kevin's shoulder has responded to rehabillitation. Doctors are cautiously optimistic about Kerry's comeback, and have even allowed him to do some recent in-the-ring sparring.
Most important, however, the spark of determination is flickering strong in both men.
"After everything is said, all the eulogies, the sympathetic words, the condolence cards, you still must get on with life," Kerry says. "People refer to the 'tragic Vob Erich family.' Hey I got news for you: I'm not a tragic figure. I look at it in a completely different way. I thank God I had David and Mike for as long as I did. They're gone, but they're always with me and within me. Each time I go to the gym or start complaing or feeling sorry for myself, I hear their voices. They won't let me quit. They'll always provide me with strength. Forever."
"I'll beat this injury," Kerry continued. "I'll come back and wrestle again. I have a dream of standing in mid-ring with Kevin, having just won the World Class tag team championship, hugging and crying just like the old days. I don't think that's much to ask for. I know its gonna happen."
For Kevin Von Erich, the task is already at hand. "I don't think twice about Al Perez. As far as I'm concerned, I have the title. It's just a matter of getting the coward in the ring."
"It seems as if I've spent the last five years of my life shuttling to and from hospitals," Kevin continued. "That's the hardest ride there is. Compared to that, Al Perez is cotton candy. I'll erase him like scribblings on a blackboard."
Perez relishes his encounter with Kevin. "It would truly be an honor to be the wrestler that finally puts the lid on the Von Erich family coffin. Kevin feels he's indestructable? Ha! I'm in destructable. I only hope Kerry is foolish enough to come back. Then I can finish his career, too. Put the family permanently out of the sport. Hell, the sanitation department should give me a citation for clearing our streets of Von Erich trash!"
The Von Erichs love to hear Perez speak. Says Kevin, "We've gotten too many late-night phone calls from policemen, doctors, and hospitals. We welcome threats from wrestlers. They can call us directly."
"Or they can see us in the ring," adds Kerry. "That sounds s-o-o-o good. 'See you in the ring.' Those are about the best sounding words I can imagine. I can't wait. I really can't."