Worst: What Happened To Jerry Lawler, And How Hard It Is To Explain
I slept for about an hour and a half last night. Most of it was spent tossing and turning, wondering how the hell I was going to turn an awful Raw turned tragic into this grand, wistful piece about what Jerry Lawler means to the wrestling community, and how we’re all gonna band together and pray and help him get through it. I don’t know if I can do that. That’s Dave Shoemaker’s job.
Here’s the truth: I hate Jerry Lawler. I love the idea of Jerry Lawler, though. I like the idea that an average-looking, average-sized guy from Tennessee, armed with nothing more than some great punches and an ability to connect with a crowd, put on a shitty-looking crown and became the King Of Wrestling. He doesn’t look like Hulk Hogan. He looks like me, for Christ’s sake, and he’s piledriving Superstar Billy Graham. That’s cool. I think of him getting hit by a car, being the f**king asshole who slapped Andy Kaufman or feuding with the goddamn Batman and I smile, because that’s exactly how dumb and interesting wrestling should be.
Jerry “The King” Lawler from 30 years ago and Jerry Lawler the Raw Announcer are two different things. Jerry Lawler the announcer is destructive to the show he’s supposed to promote. He’s casually racist, cruel to women, blind to logic and determined to keep the bar for compassion and reasoning as low as possible. A lot of this is what comes through his earpiece, but the words come out of his mouth, so I guess he’s to blame. He changes his mind for no reason. He spent most of the last year yelling at Michael Cole over matches full of guys busting their asses to be something in a company who’d rather have a 60+ year old man feud with a non-wrestler about who can make who lick the other’s foot. It’s continuously one of the worst, assiest parts of Raw.
If I switched gears and said, “Jerry Lawler is a legend we all remember him from the Attitude Era, he had a heart attack on Raw and now let’s remember him for all the great things he’s done”, I’d be a liar. I run a sports site, and a big problem with doing that is the knowledge that I have to jump on every tragic thing that happens as quickly as possible and share the most palatable, clickable opinion so you’ll come back and read me tomorrow. As much as I’d like to pretend otherwise, it wouldn’t be out of character for me to just post a bunch of Lawler/Bockwinkel clips and pretend I think God gives a shit about pro wrestlers.
Here’s the truth about last night, as best I can understand it. It was f**king terrifying. Lawler blanked out during the Daniel Bryan/Kane vs. Prime Time Players match, and when we finally got back to Cole it was him earnestly explaining that this was “not part of tonight’s entertainment” and that Lawler had been taken to the back to be looked at by doctors. This, two weeks after the backstage fight with CM Punk gave him “chest pains” or whatever. It wasn’t unreasonable to think, “okay, they’re telling us it’s not part of the story, so it’s part of the story” like they always do. It wasn’t unreasonable to react to their serious voices (or “Owen voices”, as we call them) with “yeah, right”, because they always use them. They use Owen voices when John Cena gets heinously assaulted by whoever backstage. The Attitude Era created a disconnect between reality and fans who could accept fiction as reality, and honestly sometimes it’s easier to just pretend it’s a work as long as you can. Helps your stomach hurt less.
Then, there was the silence.
The silence was the worst part. They came back from commercial and did their matches, hype videos, backstage shots of Rey Mysterio or whatever in complete and utter f**king silence. You knew Cole couldn’t interrupt a 619 spot with news about Lawler being dead, but you were just waiting for it to end and cut back over to him with tears in his eyes. That’s the end to the wrestling tragedy story. Misawa taught us that. Chris Benoit taught us that. Remember when the reports first came out about Benoit and his family being dead, and we all thought, “Oh, they ALL died? Maybe there was a gas leak in his home or something”. Like that could ever f**king happen.
It was like sitting in a hospital waiting room. I remember “Smoke And Mirrors” playing, but I don’t remember anything Cody Rhodes did. I love Cody Rhodes. He should’ve made me happier. But when you’re in a hospital waiting room, Jesus, nothing makes you happier. It’s just a TV you can barely hear, some Highlights For Children magazines and the weird feeling that Death is standing in the hallway, staring at you, waiting for you to drop your guard.
There was a lot of righteous indignation on the Internet about WWE, and HOW DARE THEY~ keep the show going, and how Vince McMahon was/is a heartless monster who only wants our money, and beautiful hero Jerry Lawler was fighting for his life somewhere backstage. The truth there is that there isn’t a right answer. You can’t armchair quarterback a tragedy. The show should go on. The show shouldn’t go on. Whatever. Chances are, everybody backstage gives a shit about this guy, even the ones who don’t care about anybody and just want our money. It’s not our call to make. It’s barely theirs.
John Cena trotted out to do his John Cena thing, and I tried to deal with it. The news kept getting more hopeful. Jerry had the great luck of going down at a WWE event, where doctors and EMTs are ready and waiting. He was responsive. He was breathing. His heart was beating. He was stabilizing. It made me feel like I felt when I was 14, listening to the doctor describe what was going on with my grandmother, wanting to know what to do and how to help but not really being able to hear anything or stop staring at the floor.
They came up with a few hashtags to help us show our support for Jerry. #PrayForJerry. #PrayForLawler. Does that feel right? Am I supposed to Tout about it if he dies?
Pro wrestling fans sorta make their own line for things like this. Sometimes we stand back and don’t want to interrupt. Sometimes we slam our hands on the ring apron during match finishes. Sometimes we heckle, or we stand a little too close to Christy Hemme during mark photos, or we call wrestlers by their real names because we know about them and they owe us for our support and we’re the reason why they’re all here. We jump on Twitter to bark at each other for how we’re handling a tragedy. We think it’s weird to make jokes, but we use hashtags, because hashtags are classy and jokes aren’t. Nobody has the same line. My line and your line aren’t the same. My line and the line of someone exactly like me aren’t the same. We never know where to stop, or where to start, or where we’re going.
So where’s the line, here? What’s the truth? The truth is that I hate Jerry Lawler and don’t want him back in the announce booth, and that whether he can still go or not, a 62-year old man should not be bumping and working a tag match on television. The other truth is that the thought of losing him like this tears me up inside, and that no matter how many asinine, destructive things he says to make my wrestling experience worse, he’s a wrestler, and I love him, and I want him to be okay. I don’t want him to die. I don’t want the guy who got hit by a car or got cussed out by Andy Kaufman or feuded with Batman or piledrove Superstar Billy Graham to be gone. I don’t want The King Of Memphis, Tennessee, to be another barely-researched statistic about wrestler deaths on Nancy Grace. I don’t want all the people who care about him to be in pain. I don’t want Michael Cole’s voice to hurt like that anymore. I don’t want Jim Ross’s hands to shake. I don’t want it.
I want Jerry Lawler the man to recover, be as strong as he was before it happened, and live his life for as long as he can. My opinions on wrestling or what should go where don’t f**king matter. I want his heart to be okay. The heart is usually the best part of a wrestler.
[photo via arda_ocal]