Interview by Chris Bernucca
The Texas Tornado is an appropriate nickname for Kerry Von Erich. The career of the 14-year veteran has been one of triumph, tragedy, and turmoil. There has been rehabilitation and redemption. There has been success and suffering. But through it all, there has been Kerry Von Erich, carrying on the wrestling rich tradition of his family name. It has been a rough 12 months for Von Erich. Last September, his brother Chris committed suicide, adding to the list of tragedies, that has befallen the family. In February, Kerry was arrested and charged with forging drug prescriptions. For the second time in his life, he entered a drug rehabilitation center. And recently, he parted company with the WWF, for whom he had competed the last two-plus years, reaching the top with an Intercontinental title victory over Curt Hennig in 1990. Von Erich cited personal differences with management as the reason for his departure, but expressed no bitterness torward his former employer.
Although his career has been an emotional roller coaster, Von Erich has always remained one of the most popular wrestlers in the sport. That may come from his willingness to spend time with the young fans who idolized him. PWI Copy Editor Chris Bernucca recently spoke via telephone with Von Erich, who has spent most of his recent time relaxing at home in Dallas. He is eager to return to the ring-perhaps even to the WWF- but on his own terms. Von Erich spoke about a number of topics, many of them not confined to the action within the squared circle. His candid demeanor may surprise even his most loyal fans.
Chris Bernucca: Kerry, you're no longer in the WWF. Were you happy there?
Kerry Von Erich: Yes I was, Chris and Vince McMahon was a man of his word and he never went back on it. I don't have a bad thing to say about him. Now as far as, the way they present their wrestling, the isssues...... well,some of them are kind of way out, you know?
Bernucca: Are you more a fan of let's call it, the Bill Watts-type of wrestling, the on-the-mat style of competition?
Von Erich:Yeah, of course I am . Anytime I can get out there and wrestle and not do a bunch of things that sometimes don't make alot of sense.......Bill Watts, he's from the old school, "We're out there to push wrestling." Vince is more into making the show look good. Watts is trying to get away from sports entertainment and put wrestling back in. Bill Watts may be saving our sport.
Bernucca: How long have you been in Texas during this recent inactive stretch you've had?
Von Erich: About four weeks. I've been feeling real good. I've renewed old friendships that I almost lost in the three years while I was in the WWF. It's been nice seeing my brother Kevin again. And it's been nice seeing my mom and dad and taking time out witth my two little girls Holly and Lacey. It's been real nice.
Bernucca: Does that level of comfortability extend to possibly a Texas-based federation such as Big D and Global?
Von Erich: No i'm not looking for the work. I'm gonna do whatever it takes to keep my sport alive for the next generation. My father kept it alive for my generation, and I have to keep it alive for the next one behind me. Watts is one of those guys that is trying to keep our business alive.
Bernucca: Let's talk about some stuff you've already done to keep the sport alive. I don't think people understand the extent of your injuries that are lingering from your motorcyle accident in 1986. How tough is it to be on the road constantly?
Von Erich: Well, our sport has never been an easy one. You've got guys that have got guts-and you've got guys that've got guts under guts-and what I'm doing sometimes calls for pulling the guts from underneath the guts. I've taken it as a real challenge. It's made me a better wrestler. It's made me sharper on my moves, it's made me better with my timing and delivery. You've got to be there with your strength and your quickness. And your mind ...... my mind's gotta be more into it now than ever.
Bernucca: Have there ever been nights where you've said "Boy I really wish I don't have to go out there tonight"? because the pain was so great or because of being so tired?
Von Erich: Not because of pain, being too tired, yes. There's nights when all of us say, "Man, I'm just too tired to go do this again." But as soon as that spotlight hits you, man, you come alive.
Bernucca: When you were in the WWF, were you just living out of a suitcase?
Von Erich: It's like hotel to hotel, man. We'r on the road over 325 days a year. We're just travelng city to city. It's no kind of life for someone who has a couple of little girls, or a family. or whatever. Right now, I'm going to cut my schedule to about 150 matches a year. If titles come along, great.I'll just keep pushing as hard as I can push. I will not rust in this sport. I'll fade away but I won't rust. And when I feel like I'm about to rust I'll quit. Bernucca: Earlier this year, you were arrested for forging prescriptions. Would you like to talk about that?
Von Erich: Yeah, but see, it was mostly a problem with the doctor. He got loose on writing prescriptions and stuff, and whenever one went across the counter. it raised a red flag in their computers. I got into prescription drugs. I got heavy into them where I was taking too many of them. I was taking this to wake up, and this to go to sleep, and this for pain, and I really have to tell you, I just kind of went insane doing that, you know. You may be doing this for today, but then you're gonna be hurt even more tomorrow. I went through like three years of it. And then on top of what we call "medicating a feeling". I was missing my brothers Dave, Mike, and Chris. It was a way to escape that feeling of hurting, and missing those guys, and I got lost. And now I can say I thank God I'm out of it. Although I never had a problem with drinking booze or anything, but it's all kind of the same. You drink booze to get away from a feeling, you do the same thing with pills and stuff.
Bernucca: It's an everyday battle isn't it?
Von Erich: Yeah, you take it one day at time. Today I won't need no pills. I don't know about tomorrow.
Bernucca: You went into the Betty Ford rehabilitation center earlier this year?
Von Erich: Yes I did.
Bernucca:Is that something you wanted to do on your own, or is it something suggested by a judge,or McMahon or your father?
Von Erich: No, it was something I had to do on my own. In 1987 I went through drug treatment, but I went through it for my famiy, I didn't do it for me. When I went through Betty Ford, I did it for me, because I was kind of sick and tired of being sick and tred. I'm sure a lot of people that read this will know what that means.
Bernucca: How was McMahon's attitude when you came back? Was he receptive to taking you back?
Von Erich: Oh, yeah, he stood behind me all the way. See, Chris, there's alot of drugs in our business. There's alot of that. There's alot of hiding feelings and a lot of hiding pain. And there are drugs more so than probably anyone could even come close to imagining. Bernucca: What I've heard is it's basically a big rock concert with guys with muscles. That type of stuff goes on in rock, and they're on the road an awful lot, too.
Von Erich: That's a very true statement. us and rock 'n' roll are the very same thing. Those guys are on the road every day, so are we. We're entertaining people, so are they. it's just we're entertaining people by using our bodies and getting the crap beat out of us. Vince McMahon has totally cracked down on steroids. I can tell you there is no one in the WWF doing steriods right now. And I can tell you that with a complete, clear conscience. That's one thing that Vince has done he has made his company drug free. He made his programs work.
Bernucca: Who are soome of the wrestlers you really respect?
Von Erich: Well, i respect The Ultimate Warrior, with his staying power in this sport. Big Bossman is incredible. Curt Hennig has been an incredible athlete. And then someone that might surprise you is Roddy Piper. Piper has been someone who has had the most incredible staying power in this sport.
Benucca: Can the sport survive without Hulk Hogan?
Von Erich: Hulk Hogan's another man I respect a lot Hogan has been through some tough stuff, and the press has sensationalized it. They tried to make Hogan look like a bad guy, and Hogan isn't a bad guy. That son-of-a-gun , I've sen him go down with the children and hold those kids and love those kids like nobod. He's an incredible individual that way. He's got a heart the size of Texas. The guys I mentioned, i don't respect them only for their wrestling ability or what they've done, I respect them for the kindness they've shown people that are not as fortunate as they are. The WWF has a lot of people that care a whole lot about kids and helping the young people in our society.
Bernucca: But I'll ask again, Can the WWF survive without Hogan? Does the sport need that one shining light?
Von Erich: I think that "one shining light is detrimental to our sport because when that one guy that's out front shining gets hurt or decides to take a break, the whole sport takes a break. And I don't think you should ever- in anything in life-put your eggs in one basket. You've got to put the focus on the whole show and nt just one match. The guy in the main event does not like the pressure of knowing that if there's people there, it's because of him- and if there's people not there it's because of him. Hogan's done a great job with it Warrior's done a great job with it. Piper's done a great job with it. There's been a lot of great ones that have held on that way. Sting has done great in WCW.
Bernucca: What is up next for you as far as the rest of 1992 and looking into 1993?
Von Erich: I'm gonna slow down and try enjoy life more whch in turn I will make a better wrestler. I speak to a lot of kids all over the country about Jesus Christ, drugs,leadership and goals. My new lighter schedule wil give me more time to do that, to reach kids.
Bernucca: You said you were going to scale back your schedule almost 50 percent?
Von Erich: Yeah I sure am. And it's not going to hurt the popularity of the Von Erichs because the Von Erichs will never lose their spot in the wrestling world. I'm going on my 15th year. My brother Kevin is going on his 16th year. But the Von Erich name has gone in it's 35th year,so we've been in almost four decades. Whenever our name is on the card It will be a big drawing one.
Bernucca: What do you consider the greatest moment in your career?
Von Erich: It's one that didn't involve wrestling,because of wrestling it happened. It was when Mike was in the hospital with toxic shock syndrome. It was how many of the fans stood behind my brothers and me. It always surprises us how many people stand behind us, they say,"come on man you can do it". My reception by the public,it's hard to describe it, it's been so warm. A great moment in wrestling was when I took the NWA title from Ric Flair in Texas Stadium in 1984. That was a big high. Also, when my dad and Kevin and David and I had an eight-man tag team. I mean for three boys to be in the ring with their father up against The Freebirds and Jimmy Garvin, it was just an incredible high when that happened.
Bernucca: If you could change one thing about the sport, What would it be?
Von Erich: Right now, you've got two gigantic entities in the business. I would like to see our sport get back to the territories. The whole nation could still be the WWF but the WWF could say, send its champions into Dallas to wrestle against the champions there.
Bernucca: One last question, Kerry you've been in the sport 14 years any regrets?
Von Erich: Oh yeah I've got regrets. I'm sorry that when I had some injuries,I got used to taking pills for it. Whenever I needed to sleep on airplanes,I'd take a Valium for it, you know. I regret ever starting into that and I'm sure 99 percent of wrestlers you talk to about this would say the same thing, that's a big regret. All the injuries weren't there. Yeah, there's regrets in what the sport has done to the individual.