Wrestling With Tragedy

As the sole survivor of his family's ring dynasty, Kevin Von Erich struggles to keep a painful past alive.

"I heard a pop, and I said, 'Chris, tag me,' and he goes, 'No, wait, I'm gonna do my drop kick,'" Kevin recalls. "I said, 'No, Chris, no!' Well, a drop kick would have been perfect, but he couldn't do it. I could tell his arm was broken. But he threw his drop kick anyway, and he fell and broke his other bone, too--the radius and the ulna. Broke 'em both. It was too bad that it just wasn't to be for Chris. He had heart, though."

Chris became too weak and too injured to wrestle. In September 1991, after loading up on cocaine and Valium, the 21-year-old took his own life with a 9mm pistol. He killed himself on the family's farm, a mere 300 feet from the dream home Jack had built for his wife. Kevin found his brother lying near a pile of old Indian relics that Chris and Mike had once collected.

There was also a suicide note, which read: "It's nobody's fault. I'll be with my brothers."

In 1993, his mother told The Dallas Morning News that Chris' death was, in all likelihood, almost an accident. She believed he was "toying with the idea when the gun went off," and she didn't believe "the note he left was written with conviction."

Kevin also never thought Chris meant to kill himself. To believe that a second brother had died by his own hand was just too difficult for him to accept.

By the early 1990s, Kevin Von Erich was almost wiped out by wrestling. The business had changed dramatically since the birth of Jack's WCCW. Now he had the mighty WWF and WCW to contend with, each with their cushy cable-TV deals and marketing gimmicks. The regional promoters were dying in the hinterlands, losing their audiences and their wrestlers--to the Vince McMahons and Ted Turners of the wrestling world.

Jack had enough of wrestling after Mike's death. He no longer wanted to book his sons, and his business sense began to fail him. Fed up, he turned the Sportatorium over to Kevin and Kerry--who then teamed up with a Tennessee-based promoter named Jerry Jarrett. The brothers ended up suing Jarrett, claiming he had swindled money from the WCCW and cut the brothers out of bookings in the very organization they had helped build. Jarrett contended that he had rescued the WCCW, that the brothers weren't showing up for bookings, and that when they did, "they were not in a physical or mental condition to wrestle."

The suit was eventually dropped, but Jarrett likely had a point. Kerry was off in the WWF, and Kevin had exhausted himself trying to keep up the bookings in his brothers' absence. Sometimes he would wrestle three times a day in three different small towns; he became the franchise, the sole paycheck. Either Kevin fulfilled the obligations, or the family went broke.

Kevin found himself shooting up more and more with painkiller. He limped through the day and faked his way to victory in the ring. He took matches he shouldn't have, risking more concussions and injuries.

"Money was the only thing I got out of it," Kevin says. "But money was enough, because it was money for the family. The family was hurtin'. With the brothers going down, the family needed me. So you just dig down and get it, pull it out."

A bad concussion caused Kevin to be banned from wrestling in Texas, so he decided he'd just fight in Japan instead. "Over there, there are all those kickboxers," recalls Kevin, "and they like to kick you in the ribs and in the head. Well, the first night, the first match, my back was to the referee...and I got kicked right in the ear, and it was a terrible concussion. And so I had headaches, I was throwing up all the time, so the injuries are what made me get out of it."

Kerry was also in no shape to wrestle, much less walk. The motorcycle accident he suffered in 1986 had cost him his foot--and, in the process, turned him into a drug addict. By 1991, his wife of a decade, Cathy, left him and took their two daughters. She demanded he pay $2,500 a month in child support--which was nowhere near what he was spending on cocaine.

He was arrested in 1992 in Richardson for forging prescriptions for Vicodin and Valium. After a stint in the Betty Ford Clinic, he received a 10-year probated sentence. Four months later, on January 13, 1993, the cops pulled him over and found cocaine and a syringe in his car.

On February 18, 33-year-old Kerry went out to his father's house, secretly took a pistol he had given to Jack as a Christmas present, borrowed his Jeep, and drove out into the mesquite. He put a single .44-caliber bullet into his heart.

Kerry had warned Kevin he was going to kill himself--though Kevin couldn't bring himself to warn his father. Why upset the old man if Kerry was just bluffing? But it wasn't as though Kerry hid his suicidal longings: He dropped hints, left notes, and whispered to those around him that he was thinking of ending his life. But no one believed someone as strong as Kerry, who was the closest of all the sons to Jack, would actually become the third Adkisson boy to kill himself. Such things just don't--can't--happen. Only they did.

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