There's no doubt about it: Wrestling in the '80s underwent a boom in popularity that hadn’t been seen in years. Due in part to the WWE’s acquisition of some of the best talent from the many regional wrestling companies that were going out of business, they put together one of the best rosters ever. Additionally, the NWA/WCW had a bevy of legendary stars, like Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes, plying their trade. With so many stars on the rise, many of whom arguably should be in consideration for any major wrestling Hall of Fame, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the details of their lives weren’t well known. That notion is what inspired us to put together this list of the most shocking things you didn’t know about your favorite '80s wrestlers.
In order for a fact to be considered for inclusion on this list, it first needed to be about a wrestler who performed in a notable fashion as part of the wrestling industry during the '80s. Also, it needed to be something that we bet the majority of wrestling fans would find surprising. With that in mind, please read on, but remember that everyone’s knowledge base is different, so while avid wrestling fans may know a few of these facts already, the average wrestling fan likely won't.
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24 Lou Albano’s Video Game Connection
A former grappler in the ring himself, WWE Hall of Famer Captain Lou Albano spent the '80s serving as a manager in the WWE. Associated with major acts at the time, including international music sensation Cyndi Lauper whose music videos he appeared in, he played a pivotal part in the Rock ‘N’ Wrestling era. However, while most wrestling fans are aware of his appearances that ensured he was seen on regular rotation on channels like MTV and MuchMusic, he had another major claim to fame. In a decade which could be argued was Mario and his brother Luigi’s most popular era, a syndicated show called The Super Mario Bros’ Super Show was created. When it came time for Mario to be cast they turned to, you guessed it, Captain Lou.
23 Kamala’s Amputation
An unforgettable figure in the annals of wrestling history, the man who came to be known as Kamala in both WCW and the WWE appeared in the ring for several decades. Also known as The Ugandan Giant, he would come to the ring dressed like a racist caricature of a wild savage and always used the services of a manager to do the talking for him. Prone to smacking his own belly and letting out guttural sounds, he certainly made his mark on those who saw his work over the years. Sadly, things haven’t gone very well for him over the last several years. Suffering from complications from diabetes and high blood pressure, he has had to have both of his legs amputated since 2011. While it was covered on wrestling websites, many fans who don’t frequent those sites would be shocked to see how he looks now.
22 Rick Rude, Family Man
Unquestionably one of the most hated wrestling villains of the 1980s, Rick Rude was the type of performer who truly committed to getting crowds to loudly boo him. Always coming to the ring wearing tights that left little to the imagination, he spent his first several seconds in front of the crowd gyrating and goading the audience with his boisterous promos. Even going so far as to have the face of one of his greatest enemies’, Jake “The Snake” Roberts’, wife plastered on his crotch at one point, everything he did in the ring made him look like a womanizer. However, according to one of his peers, Bret Hart, he was completely dedicated to his wife and family, to the point that he was said to keep his wedding ring on even in the ring, which was abnormal.
21 Jim Neidhart and Charles Manson
Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart is best known for playing a pivotal role in The Hart Foundation. Teaming with his brother-in-law, Bret Hart, the pair made a legendary tag team and then they’d go onto to reunite years later when the group expanded and became a full-fledged faction. The man has led an incredible life outside of the industry, though, including impressive athletic accomplishments but his history isn’t all good. Case in point, after he was cut from the Oakland Raiders football team he took part in a fight and as a result ended up in jail. Only spending twenty-one days inside, it is still very noteworthy as he was imprisoned alongside a notorious criminal, Charles Manson. We guess that is one more interesting association to add to his history.
19 Haku, The Toughest Wrestler To Ever Live?
An industry that has always dripped with machismo, there have been many people over the years that have reputations as legitimate tough guys. After all, these folks make their livings trying to convince audiences everywhere that they are adept at kicking ass and there are definitely some pro wrestlers that have done their job well. Would you want to fend off attacks from people like The Big Show, Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Mark Henry, or a long list of wrestling’s other tough guys? We know we wouldn’t. However, while all of those people seem fearsome, there is one man in wrestling who is routinely pointed to as the scariest of them all. The man known as Haku or Meng at various parts of his career is the subject of stories that make him sound almost mythical and while some may be a bit exaggerated one thing is clear, don’t piss him off.
18 Ted Dibiase, Christian Minister
Another one of the most reviled bad guys of the decade, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase spent years on end flaunting his money and using it to buy almost anything he wanted. The person with arguably the most convincing evil laugh we’ve ever seen, it is hard to picture him as anything but the bad guy who’d pay off a lifeguard to close out a pool so he could have it to himself. Yet, in real-life Ted underwent a huge change in his personal life back in 1999. Finding the lord, he became a Christian Minister and since then has spent many days traveling the world to spread the word. Going one step further, he wrote an autobiography which he hoped would help others find the belief that defines his life these days.
17 Roddy Piper’s Golden Gloves
A life that involves traveling the world and playing over the top characters that you have to really commit to in order to succeed, wrestlers, as a bunch, clearly lead interesting lives. Still, amongst such a crazy bunch, Roddy Piper seems to have stood head and shoulders above the rest. An actor, bagpiper, and wrestler who is said to have had his first match in his teen years, it seems as though he succeeded at everything he tried. An example of that is that he trained in Judo under Gene Lebell and was always happy to tell people about winning golden gloves in boxing at just fifteen. We guess it makes a lot more sense to us now that he participated in several worked boxing matches during his wrestling career as a result.
16 Iron Sheik, The Shah’s Bodyguard
The person who lost WWE’s World Championship to Hulk Hogan to start off The Hulkster’s first run as champ, that accomplishment alone is enough to make The Iron Sheik’s career legendary. Also, a former Tag Team Champion with his partner Nikolai Volkoff and a WWE Hall of Famer, a career like that seems like it must be a life’s work but few know how much he’d done prior to wrestling. Born in Tehran, Iran, he was a former amateur wrestler who was good enough to compete in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, for instance. However, the most fascinating era of his life in our minds has to be his tenure as the bodyguard to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his family until he fled the country in fear for his life.
15 Hulk Hogan’s SI Cover
We all know that Hulk Hogan was a gigantic star in the 1980s. Crossing over to such a degree that he was a regular on talk shows and became a household name, he was the star that the entire wrestling business revolved around. In fact, to this day, even though someone like The Rock has become an international movie star, Hulk Hogan may still be the best-known wrestler of all time. Still, even though there were legions of folks who seemed to be interested in everything he did, there were certain things you just don’t expect a wrestler to do. You wouldn’t expect a wrestler to dance in a ballet, play in the PGA, receive the Nobel Peace Prize, or grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. Yet, somehow The Hulkster pulled off the last feat on this list during the '80s.
14 Sid and Arn Anderson’s Brutal Fight
We all know that the fights we see in professional wrestling rings aren’t on the up and up and someone in the back instructed the folks in the ring who should win and who should lose. However, it is also pretty well known among fans that over the years there has been a long list of real fights in the back, at the bar, or the hotel between these people. One such incident took place between Psycho Sid and legendary Horseman, Arn Anderson while they were both working in WCW. Evidently, Arn didn’t take too kindly to hearing Sid brag about how big a star he was going to be and that the other Horseman better get out of his way and an argument between the two broke out. Quelled pretty quickly, hours later Sid is supposed to have burst into Arn’s hotel room and the two got into a fight that ended with Sid suffering four stab wounds and Arn twenty, all from a pair of scissors.
12 André The Giant’s Practical Gear
André may not be the most famous wrestler of all time, as people like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Steve Austin have more of a claim to that prize, but he is definitely up there. Wrestling all over the world at his prime, his immense size made him a draw wherever he went to the point that it seems as though the WWE Hall of Fame was pretty much created for him. As a result of his beloved career, there are a lot of details about his life that are pretty well known, including his drinking prowess and several undefeated years. However, one tidbit that seems to barely be known at all is the reason why he wore the singlet many people associate him with. A piece that had one strap go above his shoulder, it appeared in the later years of his career because he was forced to wear a back brace beneath it.
10 Jim Duggan, Chess Player
WWE Hall of Famer Jim Duggan’s years in the wrestling business earned him fans all around the world. A character that always stood up for what he believed in, he could regularly be seen sporting a 2 x 4 and American flag and his character was never presented as a Brainiac. In fact, he often times posed with his tongue partially out while screaming like he was some sort of patriotic beast. That is why it was so shocking to find out that during his high school days he was a member of the chess club. It isn’t like we ever thought that he only communicated through screams and grunts in his personal life, we understood it was a character, but being a proponent of a heady strategy game didn’t seem likely either.
8 Kerry Von Erich’s Amputation
One member of a family of wrestlers that are mostly synonymous with tragedy today, due to him and several of his brothers killing themselves, at one time Kerry Von Erich was hugely popular. A former NWA World Heavyweight Champion, he seemed to have the full package, from good looks to in-ring ability, and to be poised to be a gigantic star. Also brought into the WWE for a time, he reigned as the Intercontinental Champion as The Texas Tornado and built upon his already huge fan base. We’re guessing that the WWE fans at the time would have been shocked to learn that Kerry only had one foot during his entire run in the company. Involved in a motorcycle crash in 1986, the damage to his appendage was so severe that his right foot had to be cut off to save his life.
7 George “The Animal” Steele, School Teacher
We’ve already talked about the wild savage character played by Kamala but he wasn’t the only bestial figure in the WWE at the time. There was also George “The Animal” Steele, a wrestler who came to the ring sporting a green tongue, extremely hairy back, and who routinely ripped into the turnbuckles in order to “eat” the fluff inside. Portrayed as being a simpleton who acted like more beast than man, it is crazy to find out that his life outside the ring was the polar opposite. Working as a teacher in New York when he wasn’t taking parts in feuds with the likes of Randy Savage, he taught Physical Education to legions of children. Interestingly enough, he utterly refused to ever acknowledge his wrestling career while in his personal life too, which must have confused many of his pupils.
6 Randy Savage, Baseball Player
To this day, there are many wrestling fans that will tell you that Randy Savage is their favorite of all time for good reason. Able to put on amazing matches, including his bout with Ricky Steamboat that many point to as the best match ever, you could rely on him to entertain when he stepped between the ropes. Also impressive on the mic, his promos were passionate and unraveled but still oftentimes managed to be relatable and inspiring. In order to become as good as he did one thing is obvious, he needed to have the work ethic to hone his skills. Perhaps he learned the necessity of hard work during his childhood as he was also a minor league baseball player that seemed to be set for the majors if it weren’t for an injury. After hurting his shoulder, his dreams were dashed but he didn’t give up easily as he spent months teaching himself to throw with the other hand and became good enough that he still came close to being called up.
5 Bam Bam Bigelow, Real-Life Hero
A wrestler with a unique presence in the ring, Bam Bam was a large man who instantly caught your eye. Far more agile than anyone would expect a man his size to be, “The Beast from the East” as he was known, did things in the ring that seemed improbable, to say the least. Still, one of the main reasons why his career is so memorable is the distinctive fire tattoos that adorned his shaved head which now seem like a forbearer of things to come in his life. In 2000, while Bam Bam was working in WCW, he came across a burning home with three children trapped inside and rushed in to save them. Able to break them out of their fiery prison, he wasn’t unscathed during his heroic feat as he suffered burns to forty percent of his body.
4 Lanny Poffo’s WCW Run
Best remembered as either Leaping Lanny Poffo or The Genius, he spent time in the WWE where he would come to the ring wearing a cap and gown and then read aloud a unique poem for the fans each week. Clearly, that isn't the type of gimmick that is going to win the fans over and he spent his time there as a loathed villain due to his egotism and boisterous behavior. For those of us that found him entertaining, though, it was sad that his career seemed to come to an end when he left the WWE in the mid-nineties. That is why we were shocked to learn that he remained employed at the top of the industry for almost five years after that due to his run in WCW. Don’t remember his time there? There’s good reason for that as despite getting paycheques from the company between 1995 and 1999, Lanny never stepped foot in front of a WCW camera in all that time.
3 Jimmy Hart’s Music Career
Known as “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart during his wrestling career, he is one of an elite few managers that the WWE has recognized with induction into their Hall of Fame. Gainfully employed in the wrestling industry for decades, he worked for many companies, including the WWE, WCW, TNA, many independents, and even Wrestlicious. A flashy figure that was adept at getting attention wherever he went, he perfected the art of taking the hatred he engendered in the fans and transferring it over to the wrestlers he was charged with getting over. However, very few fans were probably aware that he a hand in recording the entrance themes of several stars, a role he had a great resume for as a member of The Gentrys earlier in his life. A band that had a hit song called “Keep on Dancing”, that song sold over a million records.
2 Jake “The Snake” Roberts Hated Snakes
Jake “The Snake” Roberts is a man whose career has been overshadowed at times by talk of his addiction struggles but if the controversy has caused you to forget his skills, it is a shame. Arguably one of the most skillful manipulators of wrestling fans ever, he got more out of a smoldering look than his peers could out of a vitriol-laced promo. Also memorable for his nickname, it made perfect sense because Jake would carry a sack to the ring with him that held a snake he would lay on his defeated foes after beating them. However, despite spending years carrying snakes across the world, it is amazing to find out that the creatures actually scare him. Quoted as saying, “I hated the sons of b*tches. I’m terrified of them”, we can’t make his feeling more clear than that.
1 Ric Flair Adoption Facts
The only wrestler ever inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame twice, Ric Flair is pretty much always in the conversation of the best wrestlers of all-time. Acknowledged as a sixteen –time World Champion, despite winning the belt more times than that, he holds the record to this day and has spent decades in the spotlight. Still, despite years in the public eye, there are aspects of his life that are highly questionable to this day. Born in Memphis in 1940, he was adopted from a facility called the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and while adoption is a common practice the details of his are anything but. That is because the aforementioned facility was found guilty in the early 50s on kidnapping charges because they were found to have taken kids from their parents against their will.
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