Memphis has had some odd ways of treating its celebrities. Either by adding "they're from here
, you know" whenever discussing them (Kathy Bates
, Issac Hayes
), or by building them into larger-than-life
personalities who make at the very most a moderate dent on the National
scope (Cybil Shepherd
). Or they forget them altogether and let them get fame elsewhere (The Oblivians
Jerry Lawler would fit into the second category somewhat, even though he hasn't needed much help with the building of his personality. He began wrestling on WHBQ-13 Wrestling around 1970 as a heel, or a bad guy. Over the years he's made so many turns that around 1989, Memphians have just given up and cheered him no matter who he's fighting, and he's had matches with everybody who's ever been anybody that's worked the US pro circuits from 1970 to now.
He got over with the crowds on the basis of proclaiming himself the true King of Memphis, and well, at the time (at least in the minds of most wrasslin' fans) that title belonged to Elvis Presley. So in early 1977 he went into the studio to prove his musical prowess, with production by 1960's local teen rocker-turned-wrestling manager Jimmy Hart, and recorded "The Ballad of Jerry Lawler". It was scheduled to be advertised with posters around town proclaiming "The King is Dead, Long Live the King" Most ironically, the release date was August 16, 1977. Posters were en route to being posted when news of Elvis' death came on the radio, and the posters never went up. All copies of the posters were destroyed. The singles were sold though, and the record was a local hit. In 1978, there was even talk of Lawler recording a song with Alex Chilton but plans for that fell through.
In the early 80's he got involved in a very public "feud" with comedian Andy Kaufman, which involved Andy's habit of wrestling women in his nightclub comedy act since 1979, during which he declared himself "Intergender wrestling champion". He wanted to wrestle in front of real wrestling fans too, and where no other league would have him, Eddie Marlin, who promoted the Continental Wrestling Association CWA in Memphis, did. And he wrestled a few matches with women, one of which which got Lawler involved. Lawler challenged Kaufman to a match, and as a result of a pair of piledrivers, Kaufman was in traction for 3 days at St. Francis Hostpital.
After which he momentarily stopped his wrestling act. At least until him and Lawler were guests on Late Night with David Letterman. It was scheduled for Lawler and Kaufman to apologize to each other and hug and sing a duet of "What the World Needs Now Is Love". But Lawler and Kaufman had something else planned. And instead of apologizing to Kaufman, Lawler got up before a commercial break and slapped Andy in the face, knocking him out of his chair. When they came back from break...
DAVID LETTERMAN: Hi, there and welcome back to the show, ladies and gentlemen. As you can tell, Andy Kaufman is here, sort of...Andy, are you coming in here again or...
ANDY KAUFMAN:I am sick of this bull shit! You are full of bullshit, my friend! I will sue you for everything you have! I will sue your ass! You're a motherfuckin' asshole! As far as I'm concerned! You hear me?! A fuckin' asshole! Fuck you! I will get you for this! I am sorry, I am sorry to use those words on television. I apologize to all my fans. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. But you, you're a fuckin' asshole! You're a fuckin' asshole! You hear me! A fuckin' asshole!
And with that, and a cup of coffee
thrown at Lawler, he was back into wrestling just like that. And their feud (which was not legitimate, despite what I'm From Hollywood
says) continued until the end of 1983, when Andy started to to focus on other things
. Lawler though still went on. Wrestling almost every night, and leading a charity softball
team called "Lawler's Army
", doing ads for the now-defunct Bill King's Brake-O
, and hosting a sunday morning sports recap
show on WMC-5
, who also hosted the saturday morning wrestling shows in the 80's and the 90's.
As part of a minor-league deal signed between the WWF and the United States Wrestling Association USWA(which replaced the CWA in 1989 after the American Wrestling Association AWA stopped working with them), Lawler went to wrestle, book, and do commentary for the WWF. He still makes his home in Memphis, and even when he's been booed in other parts of the country, when the WWF holds events in Memphis, he gets a standing ovation. He's also influenced his son to get into the field, and nowadays Brian Lawler (aka Brian Christopher) can make his own name. And around 1995 he also brought his wife Stacey into the business (through the local USWA organization), and finally bringing her into the WWF in 1999. As of 2/27/2001 Lawler and Stacey left the WWF. Stacey was fired after a dispute with bookers over her current storyline direction, and Lawler gave his immediate resignation as a result. He's still very active in Memphis wrestling with the Power Pro Wrestling organization since 1997, which he was a co-founder of and a promoter for.
Besides wrestling, he's also been involved with a few other interests around town. He's held a few art shows, where he's sold his sketches. He also had his sketches used to illustrate Mick Foley's christmas book. He's had parts in the movies, in Life With Mikey, and the Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, where Jim Carrey and Lawler got in a bit of a minor scuffle over Carrey's insistence that he do all the wresting stunts (He didn't get to). And most notably, in 1999 he ran for mayor of Memphis, losing to Willie Herenton and Joe Ford, but finishing third with 11.7 percent of the vote.
I would call him a renaissance man, but only in the local sense.