Wrestling With Tragedy

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

The last time Kevin wrestled in Dallas was shortly after Kerry's death. Promoters at the Sportatorium scheduled a Kerry Von Erich memorial match and asked Kevin to attend, though he wanted no part of it. He was sick of wrestling, sick to death of it. His family had disappeared in just a few short years--no way in hell he was going near the Sportatorium, a place packed with memories that were beginning to rot.

"I sure hated that, but I did come back and wrestle," Kevin says. "It was hard to get into that ring. I can't explain it. It was hard to do it...It just brought up those memories of the brothers and all that."

After his career ended, Kevin spent much of his time with his family and his father, watching the legend fade into shadow. Doris and Jack were divorced in July 1992, a year before Kerry's death, and Kevin could never figure out how Jack had withstood losing his family. Although Jack had lost so much, he had still held onto his home in Denton County and a net worth estimated at more than $600,000.

On July 25 of this year, Jack suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with brain cancer. He knew he didn't have long to live, and he welcomed death, said he was anxious for the chance to see his sons again.

As always, Kevin was there for his father, even though Jack, though never in any pain, was "hard to be around," fluctuating between being moody and distant. Jack and Kevin rarely spoke about the many tragedies they had both suffered--they didn't have to.

On September 8, Kevin and Jack were at Jack's house watching Monday Night Football when, during the fourth quarter, Jack began suffering enough for Kevin to call the nurse to administer morphine. Jack slept throughout the following day, then died quietly and quickly on Wednesday.

"He got out with no pain at all, and you have to think that's a good thing," Kevin says. "I've visited people that were suffering so bad it would take me weeks to get over it. But see, like, I'm telling you all this sad stuff. I guarantee you've got sad stuff too."

Now Kevin begins the task of collecting that sad stuff and showing it to the world. He and Mike's ex-wife are now assembling the family history and posting it on the Website, which is located, appropriately enough, at www.vonerich.com. There, Kevin will provide pictures and bios of his brothers and father, celebrating their place in pro-wrestling history--not as tragedies, he hopes, but as heroes. He will sell old videotapes of the brothers and Fritz; Jack had left behind hundreds of black-and-white reels of old wrestling films, which Kevin one day hopes to market on the Website.

"Someone asked me if I wanted to do the Website as a way to keep my brothers alive," Kevin says. "I said, 'No, not necessarily.' I just think it was a hell of a wrestling show, and I'd like people to see it."

Kevin often says that when people first meet him these days, they treat him as though he is "a ghost." There are those who wonder why he is not dead or how he kept from becoming another dead Von Erich. That is why he is willing, not necessarily happy, to rehash the past one more time. If nothing else, he shrugs, maybe someone can learn something from his tragic story. Meanwhile, he is still trying to figure it out for himself.

"I'm from the country, and last winter, there were persimmons growing on the tree," Kevin recalls. "Well, persimmons drop off during the winter. They fall to the ground and rot. The wind was blowing hard on this one persimmon, and it hadn't fallen off--and it was the dead of winter. I was thinking, 'I'm like that persimmon. I'm not going to let go of the vine. The wind's blowing, it's killing me, but I'm not going to let go.'

"I didn't have a choice. What was I supposed to do? Lay down and die? I'm a family man. I have kids. There were times when I thought, 'I can't stand any more of this.' But I think God strengthened me, and I can take it. It's great now. I have everything a man could want. I have children, I have a beautiful wife who takes care of my kids so I'm free to do the dad things--like play catch and things like that. I think things couldn't be better for me."

Minutes later, as if on cue, the cellular phone next to him rings. It's his son. He has been sick in bed all day with a cold. He wants his dad to come home.

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