THe birth of paul bearer





It was four days before Christmas in Dallas, Texas. World Class Championship Wrestling had closed down a couple of years before and The USWA was ready to move back to Tennessee to make room for the new Global Wrestling Federation at the Sportatorium.


I found myself without a job and on the verge of bankruptcy. My car had been repossessed and we didn’t have the money for a Christmas tree, much less presents to put under one. It became painfully hard to look into the eyes of my ten-year old and three-year old sons. I knew in my heart that my wrestling career was over and it was time to make a drastic change.


I called my friend “Ravishing” Rick Rude, who was working for the WWF at the time. I told Rick exactly what was going on in my life, that I planned on moving back home to Alabama to go back to work in the funeral industry. He was very sympathetic and asked me not to make any quick decisions. In fact, Rick told me that he would call me back before the end of the day.


When we talked again a couple of hours later, he said, “Vince wants you to call him at home.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Now, let me know what he has to say,” Rick concluded.


I immediately fell back onto the sofa, dropping Vince McMahon’s telephone number to the floor. After about twenty minutes, I finally realized that it wasn’t a dream, and gathered the strength to dial Mr. McMahon’s private home number.


“Where have you been all these years?,” I remember Vince asking me. After some small talk, he told me that he would certainly like to meet with me after the holidays. The conversation still didn’t solve my Christmas problems, but I did have a sleepless night thinking that I may finally make it to “The Fed.”


Early the next morning, my phone rang and it was Mr. McMahon’s right hand man, Pat Patterson. Pat wanted to know if I could catch an early afternoon flight to New York because Vince wanted to see me sooner than expected. Of course, my answer was positive and he provided the flight information I needed. Things were happening so quickly, I could hardly digest them.





Darkness was falling over the New York skyline as my American Airlines jet made its way into John F. Kennedy Airport. As I walked down the jet way, I spotted a well-dressed gentleman holding a card with my name written across it. I identified myself. He took my bag and told me to follow him to my limousine. “Limousine? Hell, I don’t even own a car,” I thought to myself.


I actually felt like I was one of the Beverly Hillbillies as the limo driver took me through New York City and into Connecticut. Finally, we arrived at a majestic five-star hotel in Stamford, where I was whisked away to my penthouse suite. I wasn’t in the room five minutes before my phone rang. It was Pat Patterson. “Percy, Vince want to see you at 10 o’clock in the morning.” Pat told me, “I’ll pick you up at 9:45 (a.m.). In the meantime, you can eat, drink, and do anything you want to do. Just sign your name – it’s all courtesy of Titan Sports.”


To say that I was nervous is an understatement. I was scared to death as I entered Vince McMahon’s office the next morning (which was also my wedding anniversary), December 22, 1990.


We talked about everything under the sun. It didn’t take long for Vince to make me feel right at home. As he looked over my resume, he began to laugh. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. “You have a degree in mortuary science?,” Mr. McMahon questioned me. “This is just too much.” Little did I know that they were looking for a manger for The Undertaker and Vince wasn’t aware that I had a background in funeral service, as well as being a wrestling manager. It was a match made in heaven, and when I left Titan Towers, I had a WWF contract in hand.


We made it through the holidays. The WWF contract was a suitable anniversary gift for Dianna and myself. I went on the road in January 1991 as the WWF character known as Paul Bearer, managing The Undertaker.



THE NAME



William Moody was NOT the first Paul Bearer on television. Creature Feature was a local program emanating from St. Petersburg, Florida beginning in 1973. It was a horror and suspense program hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer (Dick Bennick, Sr.), done in a style very similar to Svengoolie, with campy comedy segments wrapped around an old horror film.


There were other names considered for Moody before they arrived at the Paul Bearer name, though he never revealed them.


There was a rumor that Tennessee veteran Tojo Yamamoto was considered for the role of The Undertaker’s manager at one time, under the name of Morty Shin. Moody stated that was not true.



THE URN



Although one might assume it was a prop designed for the Paul Bearer character, the fact of the matter is the original urn (and all the regular urns thereafter) was a real urn.


Moody was looking for just the right urn when he was visiting a funeral home and he noticed a floor sample, one that wasn’t selling. It was perfect in every way – he said when you saw it, that was exactly what people would expect when they thought of an urn. He tried over the years to get more of that same style, but they were no longer made. That is why the later urns looked different.





He needed to carry special paperwork with him to get through security – he would never allow his prized possession to be checked in with his bags. After September 11th, getting it through security became too much of an issue, so WWE had multiple urns later on that were just kept with the ring crew, as they travelled from town-to-town.



FIRST WRESTLEMANIA



It was 1991, my first year portraying the Paul Bearer character for the World Wrestling Federation. I was on the road living my dreams, holding the ladder while Mark Calaway began his climb to the top of the sports entertainment industry.


My first WrestleMania was scheduled to almost fill the 100,000 seat Los Angeles Coliseum. However, due to the Gulf War security alerts, it was moved next door to the smaller L.A. Arena. But it didn’t matter to me. On March 24, 1991, I was finally going to appear in the “granddaddy of them all.” Celebrities such as Donald Trump, Henry Winkler, Regis Philbin, Willie Nelson and many more were also in the building.


The main event saw Hulk Hogan win his WWF World Heavyweight championship back from the then “Iraqi sympathizer” Sgt. Slaughter. The large undercard was without a doubt a who’s who of sports entertainment. The Rockers defeated The Barbarian and Haku. Kerry Von Erich beat Dino Bravo. The British Bulldog bested The Warlord. The Nasty Boys won The WWF Tag Championship from The Hart Foundation. Jake Roberts defeated Rick Martel in a blindfold match. The Ultimate Warrior had his hand raised over Randy Savage. Japan’s Genichiro Tenryu and Koji Kitao beat Demolition. The Big Bossman won by a disqualification over WWF Intercontinental champion Curt Hennig. Earthquake pinned Greg Valentine. The Legion Of Doom beat Power & Glory. Virgil won by a count out over Ted DiBiase. The Mountie beat Tito Santana. And in our match, The Undertaker pinned Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka.


Even before I stepped into the middle of that WrestleMania ring, my head was spinning from all my dreams coming true, one right after another. I had signed my first WWF contract just months before on December 22, 1990. Followed by my first appearance as Paul Bearer on Titan television on January 28th, in Macon, Georgia. I had my first house show match with The Undertaker on February 7th, in Knoxville, TN. I was floating on air the night of March 15, in New York City, as I walked down the aisle of Madison Square Garden for the very first time. Somebody please pinch me and tell me I was not dreaming!


Right before WrestleMania VII, we were running several other California towns. I was still the “new kid on the block” and listened to every word of advice the veterans offered me. Jimmy Hart was always a big help. He would always sit down with me and fill me in on the best – and the worst – of each town we were going to. Jimmy’s information on what hotel to stay at, to rent a car or to not rent, all his tidbits were priceless.





Being interviewed by Regis Philbin at my first WrestleMania in 1991. Believe you me, I was scared to death!



We worked the Arco Arena in Sacramento, the Fresno Convention Center, and the legendary Cow Palace in San Francisco. Sherri Martel was making the drive from Fresno back to San Fran alone, and asked me to be her copilot. “Sister Sherri” turned out to be an excellent teacher also, and quickly became one of my many friends.


Speaking of new friends, I will always remember my first day in San Francisco. I was going to have breakfast in the hotel and ran into Sgt. Slaughter and his manager, Sheik Adnan. “Sarge” invited me to sit at their table, and I realized that he was one of the nicest guys I had ever met. When he found out that I had never been to San Francisco before, he asked if I wanted to take a ride around town with them.


In those days the WWF champion always had a company limousine at their disposal 24/7. This country boy from Alabama felt like a king riding around in a big fancy car with the world champion. We hit Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Lombard Street. To top it off, I even got to ride to the Cow Palace with them for the event that night. I just couldn’t take it!


Little did I know at the time, I would have almost 12 years ahead of me with the World Wrestling Federation. So many memories. So many miles. So many friends, cities, arenas.



TRAVEL SCHEDULES



In December 1990, I was thirty six-years-old when I was signed to my first World Wrestling Federation contract. I was already a fifteen year veteran of the industry. I had been married for eleven of those years, with two young boys at my heels. As The Undertaker and I hit the road together in January 1991, little did I know that I was expected to look out for another young man in addition to my own. My job title may have been “wrestling manager,” but the invisible fine print made me one of the highest paid babysitters ever.
You must understand that Mark Calaway was receiving the proverbial torch that was being passed to him by Hulkamania. Yet I was charged with the duty of making certain that the fire remained lit.
I have always been a perfectionist. Everything must have its place – from my underwear drawer, to the paperclips in my office desk. So, it was only natural that when I traveled the world that I adhered to a strict itinerary. I never arrived in a city without having hotel and rental car reservations, and to say that I was a victim of habit is an understatement. In my entire 12 years with the WWF, I never missed a flight or even received one traffic ticket. Without a doubt, I was the perfect match for Mark, because he was the complete opposite. I am not saying that I was an angel, not by a long shot. When the mood hit me, I could party with the best of them. The tall “Deadman” that I walked beside, was the proof of that.
I have so many stories that I could tell about all the fun we had together, traveling the world all those years as “the duo from the dark side.” Hindsight being 20/20, at the time I wasn’t the one who was really having all the fun. I was always worried about, cars, hotels, planes, and things. Many times, by choice, I would stay behind in the room just to be sure that one of us was awake when we needed to be the next morning.
One time we were finishing up a tour on the east coast of Florida. We were all going home the next morning, and “The PartyTaker” wanted to go out on the town. Being the opposite, I wanted to be fresh for my arrival in Sweet Home Alabama.
The rental car was in my name, and I was always worried that something would happen and I would be responsible for it. Anyway, PT (PartyTaker) took the car and promised he would be back at the hotel in plenty of time for me to catch my flight home the next morning.
I got my usual two hour before the flight wake-up call. I showered, finished packing, and checked out at the front desk. If I called Mark’s room once, I called it a hundred times obviously he wasn’t back yet, because I couldn’t find the car either. I was pulling my hair out! The sun was coming up, and I figured I would just catch the airport shuttle, when I started to hear tires screeching. It might as well been the “bong” of our ring entrance music, because I knew who it was.
Finally, my rental car slammed to a halt in front of our hotel and there he was. What a sight to see, red hair and all, grinning like a mule eating briars. He knew I was hot too, and he loved it. “I told you I’d be back before your flight left,” said Mark. I didn’t say a word, as I grabbed the keys, tossed my luggage into the backseat and flew out of the parking lot. You just had to be there.
By the way, do you think there was any gas in the car? Please! It was sitting on E. Oh yes, those were the days.



MANAGER/BABYSITTER



World Wrestling Entertainment Superstars of today are practically clueless when it comes to having difficult road schedules. When I was playing Paul Bearer, we hit the road the day after Christmas in 1993.
The company opened an 8-day run with a double shot in Canada. We worked a matinee show in the afternoon at the old Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, followed by an evening event in Kitchener, Ontario. December 27th had us in Toledo, OH December 28th in Canton, OH the 29th in Warren, OH the 30th in Johnstown, PA December 31st, New Year’s Eve in Williamsport, PA New Year’s Day in Allentown, PA January 2nd in Scranton, PA and finally a flight home on Monday, January 3rd. This particular tour was one of the easy ones.

For the 9 events that I listed, my highest nightly payoff was $400, with the lowest being $225. It’s like winning the lottery, right? Wrong. At least one third of each day’s payoff went to taxes. Notwithstanding out of pocket expenses, which included a rental car, hotel room, food, tips, and entertainment. I didn't quite need an armored car to transport my check home, after that proverbial visit to the pay window, if you will.

Then you must consider another price that you must pay to play in our game. Being away from home, away from your family and friends, especially on holidays such as this one, New Years.

This particular New Year’s Eve, The Undertaker and myself drove to Allentown, PA after working that evening in Williamsport, PA. The only reason we made the drive was because we would already be in the town where we were going to work New Year’s night. No offense to good ‘ol Allentown, but there is not too much difference between your thriving metropolis and Williamsport.

We checked into the Allentown Holiday Inn around 11:30 p.m. We had time to drop our bags off in our respective rooms, call home, and hurry to the bar just in time to get our celebration hats and blow horns. Oh yes, what a sight it was, Mark Calaway and I, wearing paper Happy New Year hats and blowing horns. Please… not a chance in hell.

We found a table hidden in the corner, and it was there that the duo from the dark side, along with Mr. Jack Daniels, welcomed in 1994. It didn’t take too long for Allentown’s residents to realize exactly who was hiding out in the corner of their party palace. We loved our fans, we truly did, but nothing can put a damper on a private conversation between two coworkers than a steady stream of autograph seekers. Not mentioning those that were lucky enough to have cameras. Smile!

As the clock struck 1:00 a.m., our celebration had run its course. I found myself back in my lonely hotel room, watching a replay of the ball dropping in Times Square. In just twelve hours I would find myself at Afa’s Wild Samoan Training Center in Allentown. We gave our word to “Pops Anoa’i” that we would make a New Year’s Day personal appearance for him to publicize his wrestling school. That was just fine with us we loved “Pops.” We were staying over in Allentown again anyway after the evening show.

Then it would be on to the Catholic Youth Center in Scranton. No worries, as there was light at the end of the tunnel because on January 3rd, Delta Airlines was carrying this fat man to Sweet Home Alabama. It was there, in the southern comfort of my Dixie heritage, that I would celebrate the arrival of 1994 with my family, just three days late.





On tour with the WWF in Europe. This classic photo, from my personal scrapbook, shows "the gang" traveling together on a tour bus, between events, in the mid-90s. From right to left are: yours truly (Paul Bearer), Gerry Brisco, Hunter "HHH" Helmsley, Henry Godwinn, Kevin Nash, The Undertaker, Phineas Godwinn, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Scott Hall, Shawn Michaels and Sean "X-Pac" Waltman, those were indeed the good old days.



FLYING TO SAN ANTONIO



After 13 years of flying around the world with the WWF/WWE, I am a member of Delta’s Two Million Miler Club, notwithstanding the hundreds of thousands of miles I have earned on all the other airlines. During all that time in the air, I am fortunate to only have one occasion where I actually feared for my life.
The Undertaker and myself were flying into one of my favorite Texas cities, San Antonio. Unfortunately, we were on “the cattle car express,” Southwest Airlines. Now, maybe I shouldn’t say that – Southwest really isn’t all that bad, unless you are a 300-plus pound wrestler. The flight was rather unremarkable, until it came time to put the wheels down in the Alamo City.

The wind was blowing pretty hard, but veteran travelers like us were unconcerned. I was sitting by the window, and we had an empty seat between “The Deadman” and myself. As we drew closer to the tarmac, the plane began rocking from left to right. Needless to say, we began to get a bit concerned. As we gazed out the window, the shifting became more intense. Just as we were about to touchdown, we veered hard to the right, and I saw the right wing come within inches of hitting the ground. I looked at Mark he was looking at me, as the wheels made contact with the concrete. We made it once again!

Considering all the time we have spent in the air, we have been very blessed.