It has been more than 30 years since Kerry Von Erich committed suicide, marking the end of an era for the Von Erich wrestling dynasty, whose notoriety for its personal tragedies at the time had already surpassed the family's decades-long legacy. in the ring.
As The iron claw hits theaters, ET looks back on its rare interviews with Fritz and Kevin Von Erich, which took place just one day after Kerry's death on February 18, 1993.
At the time, the family patriarch was still stunned after discovering Kerry's body on his Texas ranch. “It was a horrible experience for me,” Fritz said, before recalling her interaction that morning. “He said, 'I just want to go back to a quiet place to be alone for a while.' …When he saw me, he grabbed me and hugged me. And I hugged him. I kissed him. He said, 'Dad, I really love you.' And I should have realized that that was different. That something wasn't right there.”
After losing a third brother to suicide, Kevin (played by Zac Efron in the new biopic) explained Kerry's many difficulties (Jeremy Allen Blanco) faced in the days, weeks and years before his death. The most concerning issue at the time was the looming threat of a prison sentence, after Kerry was indicted by a grand jury on cocaine possession, breaking his probation following a separate drug charge.
“(Kerry) told me that if he had to go to prison, he would kill himself,” Kevin said of their final conversation. “I had seen that he could go that far with me, so he said, 'Okay, Kev. I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to kill myself. Whatever you say, buddy.' And that's how we left it right there.”
As her father (played by Holt McCallany) thought, “So many problems had built up that Kerry just couldn't see over the hill. She just ended it all.”
While Kevin claimed to not be “the superstitious type,” the mythologized “curse” of the Von Erich family was top of mind. “I was like, 'What the hell is this? Some kind of curse or something?' “I don't believe in that kind of thing,” he said, before admitting that “it seems like we've had more than our share.”
In addition to three deaths by suicide — Mike in 1987, Chris in 1991, then Kerry two years later — Jackie, age 9, the first child of Fritz and his wife Doris, died in 1959 after being electrocuted, first falling into a puddle and drowning. There was one more son, David, who died suddenly of an intestinal infection in a Tokyo hotel room in 1984. (Chris is, and somewhat controversialomitted from The iron claw.)
The tragedies of the Von Erich family became the perennial topic of conversation at the famed Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas, where Kerry's fellow wrestlers and fans gathered for a tribute ceremony on February 19. One of the attendees, David “Angel of Death” Sheldon, was earlier set to face Kerry in the ring that same night. Instead, he was remembering his late friend.
“(Kerry was) like a big, overgrown puppy,” Sheldon told ET. “Just a really friendly guy.”
At the event, another of Kerry's demons, a years-old secret known only to his inner circle, was made public for the first time: Kerry's right foot had been amputated after a motorcycle accident in 1986. Afterwards, he had performed with a prosthetics in order to compete, keeping his disability a secret from opponents and fans alike.
“I'm sure there are many wrestlers around the world today who have wrestled Kerry over the last six years who are surprised he had a foot,” shared David Simms, former wrestling coach and referee.
One of the few professional wrestlers aware of Kerry's secret was “Gentleman” Chris Adams, who described how his old friend endured a hidden battle during every match.
“To fight with (the prosthesis), the cast would just dig into the leg,” he explained to ET. “Every time he went out, he would swell or bleed, so the man was in a lot of pain every time he did any activity.”
“At some point he planned to reveal the fact that he had lost that foot to inspire people in the same condition,” Fritz said. “But sadly, Kerry died before he could do it.”
According to Gray Pierson, then president of Northstar Promotions, the organization under which Kerry competed after his long stint in World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), the revelation would have been a huge help. “Frankly, I'm sorry the fans didn't know,” he said. “I think the fans would have admired (Kerry) even more if they had known the struggle he went through.”
Pierson added: “I think he didn't want pity. I think he felt like the world had taken pity on the family and he felt sorry for the family. And he didn't want that. He didn't want to be cheered out of pity.” …he wanted to be cheered for because of his athletic ability.”
“(Kerry) loved his fans more than his own life. He really loved them,” Fritz recalled. “(The fans) have given my entire family everything we have. That's what I want them to remember. That Kerry loved them and truly loved them.”
Decades after Kerry's death, Kevin spoke to ET on The iron clawat the premiere in Los Angeles, sharing his hope that audiences will take away the best after seeing the Von Erich family's story on the big screen.
“A lot of people are hurting a lot and maybe they're at the bottom and they're thinking, 'How am I going to get out of this?'” Kevin said. “And a man has to fight. Life is hard, and a lot of people have it a lot harder than I do, but I think if this was the kind of movie that could help someone up and maybe show them that, you can do it. “Don't give up. Keep fighting. Keep trying.”
The iron claw It's already in theaters.
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