It was August 24, 2003 and was a normal Sunday afternoon in Phoenix where it was about 100 degrees and I was sweating Crisco (dry heat my Oklahoma backside!). It was the WWE’s annual summertime extravaganza known as Summerslam headlined by an Elimination Chamber match for the paying customers. But behind the scenes a very different kind of main event was going down that scorching day in Arizona. After years of exile, years filled with controversy and near death experiences, that was the day that former WWE Champion and future WWE Hall of Famer Superstar Billy Graham physically returned “home” to rejoin his WWE brethren and to slowly begin to mend fences and establish new relationships within the company he helped build.
But not everyone was overjoyed to see Superstar.
Some people have long memories and to “old school” wrestling people forgiveness, in their eyes, has to be earned. Right or wrong that’s just the way it is.
This was the first time I had ever personally met Superstar even though I had heard a truck load of stories about this colorful character from many of our mutual friends and acquaintances from my over 30 plus year career in “the business”. I had no issues with Billy, no grudges, no bad experiences or memories, he didn’t owe me money, he had not no showed an event I was involved and while I did not know him personally I felt badly for him that day. While many of the WWE Superstars embraced Billy like a returning brother who had been absent from the family for years others gave the former WWE Champion the cold shoulder. I felt uncomfortable for Billy because of how some were snubbing him but I don’t know if Billy was even aware of it that day. Superstar Billy Graham was back as the center of attention and receiving accolades from wrestlers, many of who he had never met, and loving every minute of it!
You see, Superstar Billy Graham isn’t Switzerland…he’s not neutral…on any subject. Superstar is a guy who has always been a lighting rod of controversy and as a peer or co-worker you either liked him or you did not. There was no gray area when it came to Superstar and how people felt about this man who could arguably be considered the first sports entertainer…EVER. (In all due respect to Gorgeous George.)
But, cutting to the chase, Superstar Billy Graham is simply lucky to be alive today.
He should have died several times but he was always able to get a foot on the rope before the fatal three count went down. It’s funny how that works. Billy won the WWE Title from the legendary Bruno Sammartino in 1977 in Baltimore by using both feet on the ropes to “rob” the Living Legend of the coveted championship. Ironically, when Billy lost the WWE Title to Bob Backlund a little less than a year later once again Billy had his foot on the bottom rope as he was pinned by Backlund. It almost seems like God has not only put Billy’s feet to the fire a few times but near the ropes, as well.
I respect Superstar for many things but especially for his innovative stylings he brought to “the business”. Superstar’s physique was “freak of nature” material but he has paid dearly for how he attained his “24 inch pythons”. Superstar was one of the very first wrestlers to fully grasp the psychology and importance of how to verbally communicate with the paying customers and wrestlers to this very day utilize this art form Billy perfected. He influenced the wrestling careers and in ring personas of Hulk Hogan, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Dusty Rhodes, Austin Idol, Big Papa Pump Scott Steiner, and another life long fan of Superstar’s, Triple H, to name a few. That’s a helluva legacy.
Billy Graham has been many things in his life albeit none of them were of the low key, Ward Cleaver variety. He has been, among other things, a competitive body builder, a contestant in strong man contests, a bouncer, a pro football player, an evangelist, a motivational speaker and a pro wrestler of worldwide stature. He has run a foul of the law, has been physically abused by legendary wrestler and trainer of wrestlers Stu Hart, has clashed with the businesses biggest and most powerful promoters, went on “Donahue” to rant on Vince McMahon, and probably attempted a thousand times to “get rich quick”. He has had issues with EX’es, his children, and, as I have mentioned, has almost died more than once.
What a life. What a story. This book details in brutal honesty the life of one of the most colorful, controversial, and candid individuals I have encountered in my almost four decades in “the business”.
I am happy that I can call Superstar Billy Graham my friend. I have also had the privilege of meeting and getting to know his wife, a Saint and with out a doubt heaven sent to be the Superstar’s soul mate, his wife Valerie who has gone through more hell with Billy than any woman should have to endure in 9 lifetimes. This is really their story. It’s a story of living…dying…and surviving.
Drugs, sex, rock & roll, wrestling, preaching, beautiful people, famous friends, and more are all a part of this incredible story. This is one book you will not soon forget.
Jim "JR" Ross