The Tragic Real-Life Story Behind the Von Erich Brothers of 'Iron Claw'


It is difficult to understand how the so-called “Von Erich Curse” can be seen as nothing more than an idea mythologized by wrestling fans and even non-existent by the family's only living relative. Tragedy, as much as stardom, has followed the family since the 1950s, when Jack Adkisson began wrestling under the moniker Fritz Von Erich.

It was during that same decade that Fritz invented one of the sport's most iconic fighting moves, the Iron Claw, in which he extended his enormous hand over his opponent's face and squeezed it into oblivion.

That same decade, in 1959, the family suffered its first unspeakable tragedy, when the youngest son, Jackie, died at just 7 years old in upstate New York after being electrocuted, falling on his face and drowning in a puddle of snow. melted.

In the years and decades that followed, pain and sadness plagued the Von Erichs, and these calamitous events would sadly come to define their storied wrestling legacy.

The family's wrestling stardom and tragic events became the subject of ESPN. 30 for 30 short dubbed documentary Fighting the curse in 2015. Almost a decade later, Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen Blanco lead a star-studded cast for A24's film about the true story of the Von Erich family, aptly titled The iron claw.

The two prominent protagonists are at the center of the story, which follows the Von Erich family, led by Fritz (played by mind hunter star Holt McCallany). Efron plays Kevin Von Erich, White plays Kerry Von Erich, Harris Dickinson plays David Von Erich, and Stanley Simons plays Mike Von Erich. The Von Erich brothers spent most of their careers in World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), where they won multiple singles and tag team titles. The family was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009.


With the film's first trailer released Wednesday, ET takes a closer look at the Von Erich family's real-life wrestling history.

Who is Fritz von Erich?

Long before he found wrestling stardom and became the patriarch of a family that produced wrestling stars, Jack Adiksson was a football star at Southern Methodist University in Texas. The story goes that he played briefly for the then-Dallas Texans of the National Football League.

After football, Jack found wrestling in the early 1950s. According to a 1988 family profile in D Magazine, Jack began fighting under the nickname Fritz Von Erich and adopted the role of a Nazi villain. At towering 6 feet 4 inches, Fritz was considered a terrifying figure, regardless of his creepy persona.

Fritz would eventually abandon the villain role in the mid-1970s for the “good guy” role. But he kept his name and his children would later adopt the famous nickname that would define them as one of the most emblematic families in wrestling.

Tragedy strikes in 1959

Fritz found stardom in the 1950s (never mind that he was only paid $5 a fight), but his highs as a wrestling star paled in comparison to the lows.

While living in a trailer park in Niagara Falls, New York, his wife, Doris, gave birth to their first child, Jackie, in 1952. But just seven years later, Jackie died from electrocution. He touched a live wire while playing in the trailer park. After touching the cable, little Jackie fell on her face and drowned in a puddle of melted snow.


Fritz was not at home or on a wrestling trip when Jackie died, and Doris, according to D MagazineHe wanted to die after the death of his son. The outlet also reported that her death in 1959 is how Doris would judge time (“It happened almost 12 years after Jackie died,” she will say about some family event).

After the loss of his children, the magazine reported, Fritz returned to the ring with a vengeance.

Four more children die 10 years apart

It is between 1984 and 1993 when the family is devastated by one death after another.

David was the second son to die and this also came out of nowhere. He died suddenly of an intestinal infection in a Tokyo hotel in 1984. He was soon followed by Mike, Chris and Kerry.

Mike died at just 23 years old from a drug overdose. D Magazine reported that after being arrested for DWI, Mike drove into the woods and took a lethal overdose of tranquilizers. Police found his body curled up in an old sleeping bag just a few hundred yards from Von Erich's home. Police also found a note from Mike addressed to his mother:

“Mom, you've always been wonderful. I'm in a better place.”

Mike had a big heart. He quietly visited disabled children in his spare time and had reportedly been giving his money to a poor elderly woman who lived near him.

“I don't think Mike was ever really sure he felt good enough to take on the role of Von Erich,” Kerry said. D Magazine. “I mean, it hurt him inside to think that he wasn't as fast or as strong as the rest of us. And after the toxic shock, when he started losing his balance on the top ropes, or losing a grip or something, he thought that He had lost part of himself, you know what I mean?

Chris died next. He was just 22 years old when he committed suicide after being shot in the head. Kerry also committed suicide after being shot in the chest in 1993. She was 33 years old.

On the day of his tragic death, Kevin and Fritz spoke with ET following Kerry's death on the family ranch in Texas. After losing a third brother to suicide, Kevin explained the many difficulties Kerry faced in the days, weeks and years leading up to her 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.”

It was Fritz who discovered his son's body. After that horrible moment, Fritz remembered his interaction that morning, something he believed should have alerted him.


“It was a horrible experience for me,” Fritz recalls. “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.”

Despite such a tragic story, Kevin told the Dallas Morning News in 2015 that the “Von Erich Curse” does not exist.

“It's not a curse,” he said at the time. “To tell you the truth, I may have believed it when it was happening, but I never said it out loud.”

For ESPN 30 for 30 short doctorate, Fighting the curseKevin said that “after all this I went a little crazy.”

“I wanted to die, but I wasn't going to commit suicide,” he added. “I wanted to go to prison and fight, and I wanted to be punished like I had done something. It was stupid.”

Kevin Von Erich at the WWE Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary WrestleMania on April 4, 2009 in Houston, Texas. – getty

In 1997, the family patriarch died of brain and lung cancer. He was 68 years old.

Where is Kevin Von Erich?

Kevin moved to Hawaii with his wife and four children. His mother, Doris, also came. He died in 2015.

Kevin and his family announced earlier this year that they were moving to Boerne, Texas, just northwest of San Antonio.

The iron clawwritten and directed by Sean Durkin, hits theaters December 22.

What Kevin Von Erich says now

ET spoke with Kevin at the Los Angeles premiere of The iron claw just days before the film hits theaters. Kevin Opened about forming a strong bond with Efron.

“Zac likes to do the things that I like to do,” Kevin tells ET. “And we're already talking about (doing) a spearfishing trip in Kauai, at Kalia Reef. And we'll see about Jeremy and the other guys, but Zac and I have a trip planned.”


Kevin also shared the message he hopes fans get from the new film.

“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?' Know?” says Kevin, a married father of four who recently moved from Hawaii to nearby San Antonio, Texas. “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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