Today is the 67th birthday of the one-and-only Nature Boy Ric Flair. Of course Ric’s exploits inside the ring are legendary, but it isn’t just hardcore wrasslin’ fans who love The Nature Boy. He’s clearly had his fair share of followers in the wider entertainment industry, and over his long career, he’s had the opportunity to do movies, cartoons, game shows, video games, commercials and all sorts of other wacky ephemera.
So, without further ado, here’s some of Ric Flair’s most memorable appearances outside of the squared circle…
10) The Cleveland Show (2011)
I’m including this one because it’s relatively recent, and Flair actually had a fairly significant part in it, but man, The Cleveland Show was a pretty poor television program, wasn’t it? Flair is running a male bonding friendship camp for, uh, some reason, and Cleveland and his unfunny friends decide to sign up. It’s pretty clear the Cleveland Show writers didn’t know much about Ric Flair beyond the fact he’s a wrestler who says “woo,” so I’m not sure why they put him in this episode. Y’know, aside from random pop-culture reference = humor. I guess I answered my own question.
9) Body Slam (1987)
Body Slam is a piece of peak ’80s dorkiness about a down-on-his-luck music promoter named Harry (Dirk Benedict) who decides to get into the wrestling business and accidentally fuses music and pro grappling together, creating an unprecedented Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection. Hmm, sounds vaguely familiar. Roddy Piper and Tonga Kid play the oddly mismatched tag team Harry manages, but there’s plenty of other wrestler cameos in the movie, including one from the then-current NWA World Champion, Ric Flair.
Flair doesn’t get much to do, merely showing up in the audience during the movie’s climatic wrestling match, but he does get a nice introduction, and it’s certainly a curious sight to see Flair and Bruno Sammartino hanging out in the front row together boogieing to some sweet ’80s hair metal licks. Even more surprising, Sammartino’s dancing is actually better than Flair’s.
8) Uncle Grandpa (2014)
Much like his Cleveland Show cameo, Flair doesn’t get to do anything terribly distinctive here, but Uncle Grandpa is a vastly superior show, so I’m ranking it higher. This particular episode is about a legendary wrestling match between Chicken Man (played by the titular Uncle Grandpa) and The Best (played by a living piece of pizza). Ric Flair pops up to provide expert wrestling analysis throughout the episode. Also, his house has been bought by the living piece of pizza, which Flair eventually eats. That description may not make a lot of sense, but trust me, it’s actually pretty down-to-earth for an Uncle Grandpa plot.
7) The Wrestler (1974)
No, not that The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke couldn’t lace Ric Flair’s boots. We’re talking about the 1974 movie inexplicably produced by the least Hollywood wrestler of all time, Verne Gagne. The Wrestler is a truly strange artifact, as it contains Hollywood actors like Ed Asner, but most of the cast is made up of wrestlers from Gagne’s AWA, all of whom are more or less playing themselves. The storyline, about a wrestling promoter struggling to find a replacement for the aging Gagne, is also pretty much the real-life story of the AWA, giving the whole thing a pseudo-documentary feel.
So, where does Ric Flair come in? Well, Ric was trained by Gagne, and was just starting his career around the filming of The Wrestler. At this point, the man had not yet found his inner Nature Boy – he was a barely recognizable, pudgy, brown-haired brawler with no discernible charisma. Very little footage exists of this forgotten Flair era, a blurry match fragments or two on YouTube is about it, so it’s fascinating to see Baby Flair pop up in this movie. I’ve cued up one of his appearances, above. Yes, believe it or not, that guy mumbling into his plate to Billy Robinson’s left is the man destined to become the greatest pro wrestler of all time.
6) Wacky North Carolina Commercials
Flair never got to do Slim Jim commercials or grace boxes of Fruity Pebbles, but when it comes to regional North Carolina commercials, he’s the undisputed man. Up above, you can check out one of his ads for the Woooo! scratch-off tickets put out by the North Carolina State Lottery. Yes, Ric Flair once had his own lottery ticket. Take a minute to stew in that delicious irony. While we’re at it, you can also watch a flying Flair almost have a stroke as he shills sketchy-sounding protein energy shots.
Hey, Rolexes don’t come cheap, brother.
5) Rappers Love Ric
Ric gets name-dropped on a lot of hip hop tracks, which makes a certain amount of sense. Stylers and profilers need to stick together. Some rappers take it a step further, though, directly sampling The Nature Boy’s various rantings and ravings. Of course you probably know about Killer Mike’s Ric Flair, which is entirely made up of Nature Boy samples, but even Kanye slips some very Flair-esque woos into his track I Don’t Like. Not sure if they’re actual samples or not, but they certainly sound like it.
4) Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 (2009)
One of the gimmicks of the Command & Conquer series was that the games continued to feature intentionally cheesy FMV cutscenes starring live actors long after that went out of vogue. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 in particular features a murderer’s row of b-level celebrities and has-beens, like Tim Curry, Gina Carano, Jonathan Pryce, Randy Couture, Jenny McCarthy, George Takei, and yes, Ric Flair as the gruff Commander Douglas Hill, who introduces various missions. Seeing Flair, the antithesis of military discipline, playing a hardass commander is certainly unexpected, but hey, he actually does a pretty good job with it.
3) Family Feud (2007)
Pro wrestling and Family Feud have had a long, fruitful relationship, and unsurprisingly, Ric Flair was arguably the best wrestling contestant they ever had. During his entire week-long run, Flair never took off his robe and always seemed half-in-the-bag and about to say something horrifying. And this was before the Steve Harvey era, so the possibility of somebody saying something inappropriate was still kind of exciting. Of course if Flair was on now, the entire half hour would probably just be Harvey goading Flair into taking out his dick.
2) Celebrity Wife Swap (2013)
Usually Wife Swap is reality TV at its most grating and soul crushing, but this episode, in which Ric Flair and Roddy Piper trade wives (well, Ric is between wives at the time, so he trades his girlfriend) is pretty fascinating. Yeah, Wife Swap is phony as all hell, but it’s still more real than the ultra-fake world of professional wrestling, so the show remains an eye opener, giving you a bit of a peek into Flair conducts himself in real life. Of course it’s also a rather heartbreaking reminder of what a fantastic, stand-up dude Roddy Piper was. Sigh.
Oh, and no, for those worried, Ric Flair (shockingly) doesn’t spend the entire episode trying to sleep with Roddy Piper’s wife. She would not have put up with that nonsense. Instead we get an amazing scene of Ric Flair going to the grocery store while wearing a fake mustache that looks like an old banana peel. Flair’s incredulous, genuinely baffled looks as he watches people, ugh, buy their own food, elevates this to much-watch status.
1) Baywatch (1996)
The WCW episode of Baywatch will forever be the greatest meeting of wrestling and pop-culture. Two great American art forms, pro wrestling and syndicated ’90s beach shows, colliding at the height of their powers. The episode starts with Randy Savage leaving Hulk Hogan to die after a jet ski accident, and Pamela Anderson, Yasmine Bleeth and Gena Lee Nolin getting hot and bothered about giving the Hulkster mouth-to-mouth. It’s onwards and upwards from there.
Ric Flair, who rolls around Venice Beach in a stretch limo with Kevin Sullivan and Vader, gets to fulfill his destiny by playing an evil land developer who’s going to SHUT DOWN THE YOUTH CENTER. It’s a wonder any youth centers survived the great purging of the ’80s and ’90s. Of course, because this was a mid-’90s WCW tie-in, Hogan crushes Flair’s plans easily and smugly, but come on, Flair still gets to have a hot promo exchange with Pamela Anderson and a match with Randy Savage with full kung-fu movie sound effects added. This was Flair’s best pop-culture crossover, and possibly one of the best moments of my life.
So, there you have it, a quick rundown of Ric Flair’s strange and varied career outside of the wrestling ring. Are there any good ones I missed? Just want to wish Ric a happy birthday? Style and profile your way on down to the comments.