The WWE had low-brow angles and gimmicks long before CM Punk mocked Lawler’s heart attack

A certain segment of the pro wrestling community was up in arms after Monday Night Raw featured an angle that played off the real-life heart attack and near death of Jerry “The King” Lawler.

Some said the angle was in poor taste, particularly when Paul Heyman feigned his own heart attack and WWE Heavyweight Champion CM Punk pretended to administer CPR.

But such garish actions on wrestling aren’t exclusive to 2012. Unfortunately for all of us, the McMahon family has set a low bar at least since the early 1980s about what types of angles and heat are appropriate.

Here are some less-than-stellar moments that I can recall growing up watching wrestling that rival Monday Night Raw’s heart attack angle:

Let’s first not forget that Andre the Giant had a fake heart attack in 1988 when Jake “The Snake” Roberts put his boa constrictor on Andre, something which I wrote about previously.

There are more serious infractions, however. I still shake my head at the blatant racism in the WWF in the ‘80s, particularly towards blacks:

  • “Dr. D” David Schultz and Rowdy Roddy Piper frequently ripped on African-American wrestlers during bigoted promos.
  • Athletes like S.D. Jones, the Junkyard Dog, and “Mr. U.S.A.” Tony Atlas were always portrayed as having hard heads because, well, you know, black men have thick skulls. I remember telling my mother that black wrestlers all had hard heads, which I’m sure thrilled her. Shit, Jones’ gimmick was you’d ram his head into the turnbuckle, and to show it didn’t hurt, he bang his head into the buckle four or five times and then do his cool strut around the ring.
  • The famous WrestleMania workout session in 1985 featuring Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff was a great segment marred by Orndorff calling blacks “scummy.” Thankfully, that part of the clip has since been erased from history on YouTube.

Meanwhile, Randy “Macho Man” Savage got huge heel heat with subtle hints that he was an abusive boyfriend to Miss Elizabeth. He berated her on TV and often manhandled her at ringside. I honestly think that type of character in 2012 would not fly any more because of all the attention to domestic violence.

Finally, in 1983, when the Iron Sheik was on his way to winning the WWF Heavyweight Championship, people in America were still stinging from the 1979-1980 Iranian hostage crisis, during which 52 Americans were detained by terrorists in Iran for 444 days.

The Sheik constantly taunted fans with by proclaiming Iran was No. 1 and spitting on the ground when mentioning the U.S.A. This was a theme that Vince McMahon has constantly returned to, even during active wars with soldiers being killed overseas. Granted, the Sheik and Sgt. Slaughter did huge business during their feud, but those battles played off peoples’ real-life fears. Ditto for Nikolai Volkoff singing the Russian national anthem during the height of the Cold War.

My point is, yes, you can be pissed at the WWE trying to increase pay-per-view buy rates by leapfrogging off Lawler’s health issues. But you can’t be surprised the WWE would do it — just look at decades of history.


  1. Pingback: Comparing Rusev’s rise to the Iron Sheik’s famous run in 1984 | Boston Garden Balcony
  2. Joe Lowry

    I agree with BGB, this type of storyline would have been pushed the very next night on RAW during the attitude era. With the WWE going public there boundaries had to change and of course there “attitude.” I loved the 80’s wrestling, but when the Attitude Era came along, I found myself glued to the TV’s again only this time it was on Monday night. Who could forget Brian Pillman and Stone Cold Steve Austin storyline? Pillman pulling out a gun and threatening to kill Austin. This would never even be thought of today. What about Eddie Guerrero’s fight in a Texas Saloon – all motivated by race. This stuff would constitute jail time for Vince nowadays. And of course the nudity. The envelope was pushed to its limits on RAW. Sable and her pasties, Miss KItty (aka Kat or Stacy Carter) and her neverending pants being pulled off exposing her rear end…Not in this lifetime…ahhh how i miss the “Attitude Era!!’

  3. Chuck Mullen

    Ill keep this short and sweet.

    I thought it was simply excellent, and it was not tasteless. It clearly worked the emotional aspect, and IN FACT I think it came about 7 weeks too late… it should of been the promo the MONDAY after Toronto… if you ask me. The heat that it would of got then, WOULD OF SURPASSED this by light years.

    Too the haters, wrestling IS entertainment. And if your favorite TV show did the same thing, would you be wishing for the character to go die? Definitely not. Would you BOYCOTT the show? Of course NOT. You may be angry now, but it will pass.

    • bostongardenbalcony

      It’s an interesting point about doing the promo the week after the heart attack. As I mentioned in a comment on the Camel Clutch Blog, that type of “pushing the boundaries” stuff happened all the time during the Attitude Era.

      • J. Cee

        In live stage acting or in any kind of improv, it’s the performer’s responsibility to work around any errors during the performance, or otherwise incorporate the mishap into the act so as to keep it flowing. It’s all about staying in characeter. Though any medical emergency is no cause for entertainment, I would guess that the WWE had no alternative but to go with it until the next scheduled commercial, then pick it up from where they left off.

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