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.