The 9 Lives Of Hulk Hogan: A History Of The Times Hulkamania Narrowly Avoided Destruction

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This week Hulk Hogan celebrated his birthday, which must have been bittersweet. While Hogan the man is still going strong, his career may very well be finished after a series of racist and homophobic comments were made public. Then again, Hogan’s career is nothing if not resilient.

Hulk Hogan has tasted more than his share of success, but his career has not been a charmed one. During his 35-plus years in the wrestling business, Hogan has faced stumbling blocks and setbacks that would have destroyed the careers of most men, and yet he’s always found a way to survive. To land on his feet. Before we declare Hulkamania dead and buried, let’s look back at a few of the other times that slippery cat Hulk Hogan somehow avoided career destruction…

#1. WWF Fires Hulk Hogan for Appearing in Rocky III

“Hey brother, know anybody who’s hiring?”

Vince McMahon would like you to believe Hulk Hogan burst into existence as a fully-formed, red-and-yellow dynamo the second he beat The Iron Sheik for the title in 1983, but in actuality, he first started working for the WWF (or WWWF as it was then known) in 1979. As the ’70s segued into the ’80s, Hogan was learning his craft and making a name for himself in Japan, while also establishing himself as a top heel in WWF, and then, suddenly, it seemed to be all over. Hogan agreed to a cameo role as Thunderlips in Rocky III without consulting with WWF, and Vince McMahon Sr. fired his ass cold. Just as Hogan’s career was really taking off, he was grounded by Papa Vince and sent to work in the AWA, a second-tier operation compared to the WWF.

How Hulkamania Survived

In some ways, Hogan’s time in the corner actually helped him. It allowed Vince McMahon Jr. to make a clean break and repackage Hogan as an American-loving, vitamin-swilling good guy when he took over WWF. Also, wrestlers making cameos in movies was still relatively rare at the time, so appearing in Rocky III helped boost Hogan’s star aura, and in the end, was probably worth getting sh*tcanned over.

#2. Hogan Almost Kills Richard Belzer on Live TV

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Prior to the first WrestleMania, Vince McMahon sent Hulk Hogan out on the talk show circuit in hopes of proving his wrestlers weren’t your stereotypical violent cavemen. Hulk managed to prove the exact opposite. Richard Belzer, of Law & Order: SVU fame, had a short-lived talk show during the ’80s, and when Hogan came on, he brashly challenged the WWF Champ to put him in one of his dumb fake pro-wrestling holds. Hogan, not wanting to expose the business, put Belzer in a legit front facelock, then dumped his unconscious ass on the floor, causing his skull to crack open on live TV. Belzer sued the WWF for $5 million.

How Hulkamania Survived

Well, Belzer did ask to be put in the hold, so he kind of had it coming. That said, Hulk was lucky Belzer wasn’t hurt more. If he had received brain damage, or God forbid, had died when his skull cracked the floor, Hulkamania would have been over before it truly began.

#3. The George Zahorian Steroid Trial

Famous people wore things like this on purpose during the ’90s. 

I don’t mean to shock you, but a lot of guys who worked for the WWF in the ’80s used steroids. That included 6-foot-7, 310-pound sentient slab of muscle, Hulk Hogan. Unfortunately for WWF’s bulgy warriors, their hormone-fueled party began to attract the attention of the U.S. government, and in 1991, George Zahorian, WWF’s favorite mark doctor, was indicted for alleged steroid and drug trafficking. While nobody in WWF was directly charged, it would come out during trial that Zahorian sold steroids to numerous WWF employees, including Vince McMahon and noted vitamin-pusher Hulk Hogan. Given Hogan had built his entire persona around clean living and prayers-saying, it was a critical blow.

In order to rehabilitate Hogan’s image, Vince McMahon got him booked on The Arsenio Hall Show, and things did not go well. Okay, so he didn’t choke Arsenio out or use any, uh, choice words, so it could have been worse, but it was pretty uncomfortable. Hogan claimed he didn’t even know Zahorian, and only used steroids three times in 1983 to heal injuries. Most people rightfully identified this as complete bullsh*t (rumor is Hogan was going to confess to using steroids regularly before they were made illegal in 1988, but backed out at the last moment).

How Hulkamania Survived

WWF’s lawyers convinced the Zahorian prosecutors that Hogan didn’t have to testify in the case (they originally wanted him to). Since Hogan didn’t actually testify that he used steroids he still, technically, had plausible deniability on his side, even though other people did testify under oath that Hogan and others in the WWF bought and used steroids. Also, national treasure Arsenio Hall believed Hulk, so who are you to argue?

#4. Hogan is Forced Into Exile, Makes a Terrible Comeback

Hulkamania is running mild. 

Even though Hulk Hogan totally never used steroids for non-medical purposes, he mysteriously disappeared from WWF TV for almost a year from April 1992 through March 1993. Hogan had taken short hiatuses before, but nothing like this. The reality was, the whole steroid thing was too radioactive, and Hogan’s performance on Arsenio was so bad, Vince McMahon sent him home, possibly for good.

Eventually, Vince would bring Hogan back, but his 1993 comeback was one of the limpest major returns in wrestling history. The 1993 Hogan suspiciously appeared to be around 50-pounds lighter and 10 years older than 1992 Hogan, but that didn’t stop him from crapping on upcoming star, Bret Hart. Hogan decided at the last moment he needed to win the title at WrestleMania IX to “send the crowd home happy” and so we ended up with a scenario where Yokozuna beat Bret for the title, then was immediately squashed by Hogan. This, of course, made both Yoko and Bret look terrible. When Hogan then refused to drop the title back to Bret, Vince McMahon saw the writing on the wall. Vince declared Hulkamania dead, took the title off him, and let him ride out the rest of his contract at home. It seemed like the fall of the Hogan empire was at hand.

How Hulkamania Survived

Thankfully there was a whole company of Hogan marks operating out of Atlanta, Georgia, but even a jump to WCW didn’t revitalize Hogan’s career right away. His first couple years in WCW, as we’ve painstakingly documented, were just as bad, or worse, than his last year in the WWF. It wasn’t until he joined the NWO in 1996 that the good ship Hogan finally righted itself. So yeah, Hogan basically spent a solid four years on the skids before getting his sh*t together, but hey, as we’re establishing in this article, when you’re Hulk Hogan people are willing to give you a lot of time and chances to figure things out.

#5. The Vince McMahon Steroid Trial

Hogan may have dodged a bullet during the 1991 Zahorian steroid trials, but things got a whole lot nastier when the U.S. attorney came at Vince McMahon himself with steroid charges in 1993. Building off the Zahorian case, the prosecutors tried to nail Vince for distribution, saying he would buy the drugs from Zahorian, then pass them out to his testosterone-craving employees. This time around Hogan would not escape testifying, but even though Vince had basically just sent him packing, Hogan shockingly fell on his sword for his old boss.

Hogan testified that Zahorian would send steroids for Vince and himself to the office, and Vince had no role in distributing the drugs. This testimony, combined with a lot of sloppy work by the prosecutors, resulted in a victory for McMahon. Good news for Vince, but Hogan had totally opened himself up on the stand, going so far as to admit he’d regularly used steroids since 1976 and had lied on the Arsenio Hall show. There’s no way he was wriggling out of this one, right?

How Hulkamania Survived

Wrong. History is written by the winners, and almost immediately the story of McMahon’s steroid trial became, “How Mr. McMahon valiantly stood up to and defeated the federal government!” The also pretty major, “Hulk Hogan admits he’s a steroid-abusing liar” story quickly got swept under the rug. Still, it was pretty shocking that Hulk didn’t get raked over the coals more than he did. Perhaps, as often happens, the media just got tired of the story. Maybe Hulk managed to fly under the radar in WCW. Whatever the reasons, Hulk Hogan, as jacked-up as ever, continued on his merry way.

#6. Nick Hogan Is Sent Away For Reckless Driving

Comedy Central Roast Of David Hasselhoff - Arrivals
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In 2007 Hogan’s son Nick was involved in a single-car accident while driving his souped-up Toyota Supra nearly 60 mph in a 30-mph zone. Nick walked away relatively unscathed, but his passenger, U.S. Marine John Graziano, sustained injuries that would leave him seriously disabled for life. Nick was charged with felony reckless driving, and sentenced to eight months in prison.

That would have been bad enough, but things got even worse when it came out that  jailhouse tapes of Hulk and Nick running Graziano down as a “negative person” showed them making plans to spin the whole situation into a new reality show. Needless to say, this went over with the public about as well as a fart in church (or, to keep it Hogan-themed, leg-dropping the priest).

How Hulkamania Survived

For the most part, this was a Nick Hogan scandal, so Hogan could kind of step back and be, “Hey, I tried! Kids, am I right?” Also, while the jailhouse tapes revealed the Hogan family to be out of touch dickfaces, nothing reported was illegal or overly politically incorrect, so after an initial furor, public memory faded. On the plus side, Nick’s incarceration did signal the end of the Hogan family’s regrettable run as reality -TV stars.

#7. Hogan Reveals His O.J. Simpson Fantasies

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Happier, less O.J. Simpson-envying times. 

The hits kept coming for Hogan around this time period, as his wife Linda filed for divorce in late 2007. Shortly after the breakup, Linda began dating a 19-year-old who had been a high-school classmate of Hogan’s daughter Brooke. A situation like that could understandably drive a man to say some inappropriate things, but Hogan took it more than a skosh too far in a Rolling Stone interview, where he expressed sympathy for O.J. Simpson and indulged in some weird murder fantasies

“I could have turned everything into a crime scene like O.J., cutting everybody’s throat. You live half a mile from the 20,000-square-foot home you can’t go to anymore, you’re driving through downtown and see a 19-year-old boy driving your Escalade, and you know that a 19-year-old boy is sleeping in your bed, with your wife. I totally understand O.J. I get it.”

No, Hulk, I’m beginning to think you don’t get it.

How Hulkamania Survived

Hogan would not have recovered from “I wish I could butcher my wife” comments so quickly in today’s climate, but people were more blase about weird misogyny in 2008, and besides, everybody was too busy being mad at Hulk over the Nick Hogan jailhouse tapes. People only have so much room in their hearts for Hogan rage.

#8. The Sex Tape

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If the guy on the right is your hook-up, you need to reassess your love life. 

And then there was the time we all saw Hulk Hogan’s schlong. Hogan has tried to frame his sex tapes as a mistake he made when he was at the lowest point in his life, but they were actually made in 2006, before his son’s accident and the divorce. Basically, scummy shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge arranged for his bestest buddy Hogan to sleep with his then-wife Heather. Unbeknownst to Hogan, Bubba was secretly filming the horrifying hump sessions.

The tapes would lay dormant for years, but then somebody with a beef with Bubba stole the tapes, leaked them to Gawker and then Gawker published an X-rated snippet of the Hulkster Hoganing his friend’s wife on their front page. Hulk went on the attack, but Gawker refused to remove the footage until Hogan filed a $100 million lawsuit against them.

How Hulkamania Survived

Having a sex tape go public isn’t necessarily a death sentence for a celebrity in this glorious age we live in, particularly if you can frame yourself as a victim who had no hand in its release, which legitimately seems to be the case with Hogan. Hell, Hulk was doubly not culpable, since unlike most celeb amateur pornos, he claims he didn’t know his was being filmed. You should never have to look at the genitals of your childhood heroes, but eventually everybody got over it, and WWE brought Hogan back in to shill the Network and hug cancer survivors in 2014. Little did we all know what else was on those tapes.

#9. Hulk Hogan Is Caught Saying Everything You’re Not Supposed To Say

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We’ve covered this story pretty extensively over the past few weeks, so I won’t go too far in depth. Quickly, it turned out Hulk Hogan’s boner was actually the least distressing thing about his sex tapes. Shortly before Hogan’s lawsuit with Gawker was set to go to trial, a conversation from one of the tapes, in which Hogan drops the n-word several times and outright identifies himself a racist, was leaked. In the ensuing frenzy, a homophobic exchange was also dug out of Nick and Hulk Hogan’s old jailhouse tapes. Hogan was immediately fired from WWE, scrubbed from their website and dropped by all sponsors.

How Hulkamania Survived?

Could this be the final blow for Hulkamania? If we’re sticking to the metaphor, then Hogan’s career is on its final life. Of course, this would be tremendously hard to come back from no matter when it happened in Hogan’s career. Uttering the n-word and declaring yourself a racist is pretty much the ultimate sin a celebrity can commit. Hogan’s past scandals have outed him as a hypocrite, a man of sometimes poor judgment, but this latest incident may be proof of something darker. That Hogan just isn’t a very good person. That’s not something you can erase with a simple apology.

That said, given Hogan’s history, it would be foolish to count him out, even after this nuclear bombshell. Hulk Hogan is the most important performer in WWE history, and by extension, the history of pro wrestling. The amount of stored up nostalgia for the Hulkster is huge, and the temptation to let bygones be bygones yet again will eventually be equally huge. Hogan also has the tiniest hairline crack to squeeze through, in that these were private conversations never meant to be made public. Hogan can claim, as he has, that these were off-the-cuff, ill-considered comments that don’t reflect his true feelings.

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Ultimately, it will be the audiences that Hogan has been pointing at and throwing his torn T-shirt to for 35 years who will decide whether he rebounds from this latest blow. Do the Hulkamaniacs give Hogan another shot, or is it finally time for it all to come crashing down? It’s time to take a stand, folks, it don’t help to hide.

(Via Vice Sports, Time, PeopleWrestling Observer, Tampa Bay Times and CNN)