Pro-Wrestling Kerry Von Erich Page #1
Last updated 16 September 1999
Professional wrestler Kerry Von Erich ended his troubled life Thursday with a single bullet in his chest, becoming the fifth of six brothers to die young.
Tragedy has been as much of a Von Erich family hallmark as athleticism, fame, and the "iron claw" pressure-point grip. In the end, friends and officials said, Kerry struggled as much with the demons of drug addiction and his brothers' deaths as opponents in the colorful world of professional wrestling.
"He said he felt that he'd never worked his way through the grief of the loss of his brothers," said wrestling promoter Grey Pierson, who spoke to Kerry twice Thursday about his planned Friday night match in Dallas against a wrestler known - ironically - as the "Angel of Death".
Mr. Von Erich, whose real name was Kerry Gene Adkisson, was on probation for a drug conviction and had been indicted Wednesday on a cocaine possession charge. A warrant had been issued for his arrest.
But Mr. Pierson, president of North Star Promotions, said that the 33-year-old wrestler did not seem despondent and had promised to appear as scheduled despite his legal problems. Instead, a memorial service will be held at 8 p.m. at the Sportatorium, followed by the rest of the planned matches.
"Although it was not spoken, I think he felt he was left to bear the mantle of the Von Erich wrestling dynasty. It fell on his shoulders. I think that mantle must have been a terribly heavy burden," Mr. Pierson said.
Mr. Adkisson arrived at his father's Denton County home about 1:30 p.m. Thursday and said he wanted to drive around the property, said Denton County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Sue Morrison.
"His father got worried about him, went to look for him, and found his body" about a quarter-mile north of the hourse, Ms. Morrison said. "This is being investigated as a possible suicide. There is no indication of foul play."
The family wrestling dynasty has been eroded by one death after another.
The patriarch, Jack Adkisson, gained fame as wrestling villian Fritz Von Erich after a football career at Southern Methodist University and with the professional Dallas Texans.
As his sons grew, five trained as wrestlers, and he built an international TV wrestling empire around their prowess.
And, one by one, they died. Of an intestinal inflammation. Of a drug overdose. Of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
"It's a tragic story," said Steve Planamenta, a spokesman for the World Wrestling Federation, for whome Kerry Adkisson had wrestled as the "Texas Tornado".
More recently, he had been a headliner for the Global Wrestling Federation as "The Modern Day Warrior".
Jack Adkisson tried to absorb the latest tragedy while surrounded by friends in the kitchen of his renovated farmhouse. He moved back to the Sandy Shores area last summer as he and his wife were getting a divorce.
Doris Adkisson and their son Kevin, who has been wrestling in the Virgin Islands, were on their way back to Denton County on Thursday afternoon.
Looking shaken and drawn, Mr. Adkisson declined to comment about his son's death. "I just can't say anything right now," he said. "I don't know what I would say."
Fans mourned the loss and offered sympathy to the family.
"I can only imagine the devastation that they're feeling. I know the shock I'm feeling," said Carol Herrera of San Antonio, who has trekked to Dallas as many as six times in a year to see Von Erichs at the Sportatorium.
"I can remember watching Fritz as a child; I was 4 or 5 years old," said friend Renee Valadez. "When you think of wrestling, you think of the first family of wrestling. The Von Erichs. Regardless of all the hardships, they were it."
"It's like I just talked to you yesterday," Ms. Valadez said in a soft, halting voice, referring to a conversation with a reporter 17 months ago, when Chris Adkisson took his life.
The World Wrestling Federation's Mr. Planamenta recalled Kerry Adkisson as "very religious, very family-oriented."
But a 1986 motorcycle accident, in which he nearly lost a foot, apparently left Mr. Adkisson addicted to prescription drugs.
He was arrested just over a year ago on charges of using forged prescriptions for Vicodin, a painkiller, and Valium, a tranquilizer. He later pleaded no contest on the charges and received 10 years probation.
"People knew he had a substance abuse problem, and we certainly tried to help as much as we could," Mr. Planamenta said. "It seemed something that was very difficult to him to overcome."
Despite his apparent addiction, Mr. Adkisson had compassion for others and liked to help with charity events, Mr. Planamenta said. The World Wrestling Federation often brings children with disabilities or terminally ill children to wrestling matches, he said.
"If he knew there was a child in the building who had a disability or something, he'd want to go meet this kid," Mr. Planamenta said. "He was so good with the community."
The ill-fated Von Erichs were once considered a wrestling dynasty.
At its height, from 1980 to 1985, the family's television show was syndicated in 66 U.S. markets and in Japan, Latin America, and the Middle East. Kerry was a success in the ring, winning the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship on May 6, 1984 at Texas Stadium. A record crowd of more than 32,000 watched the match, called the "David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions." Kerry lost the title later that month.
But tragedy struck with the regularity of a referee's bell, starting with the electrocution of Jack Jr. in 1959.
David, 25, died in February 1984, during a wrestling tour of Japan. Michael, 23, overdosed on tranquilizers in April 1987. The youngest, Chris - far smaller than his brothers and father - shot himself with a 9mm pistol in September 1991.
Three weeks ago, Kerry Adkisson told his probation officer that the strain of his addication and the family's losses were mounting.
"He talked about it then. He said he just missed his brothers and didn't feel like going on," said Gary Hunter, recalling their last meeting, a routine probation session Jan. 27 at the Frank Crowley Criminal Courts Building.
Mr. Hunter said the wrestler rejected his advice to seek counseling for suicidal feelings and his drug problem.
"He said he was putting up a pretty good fight," Mr. Hunter said. "But it was tough. He said because of the world he was in, the wrestling world, the availability (of drugs) was just so convenient."
Mr. Hunter, the probation supervisor in state District Judge Larry Baraka's court, said he had gotten to know Mr. Adkisson during the five months he supervised the wrestler on probation.
He said he is taking Mr. Adkisson's death hard. "I feel a little hurt. I got to know him in that time."
When Mr. Hunter last spoke with Mr. Adkisson, by phone Wednesday, the wrestler did not hint that he planned to kill himself, he said.
Judge Baraka, who placed Mr. Adkisson on 10 years probation in September, had the harshest words for the wrestler.
"Ain't that a shame," the judge said. "It's sad. It's very sad. I really sympathize with his family. He's obviously a very weak man....he took the coward's way out."
Judge Baraka said he learned of Mr. Adkisson's death shortly after 5 p.m., after a break in a trial. "My heart just kind of sank," he said. "Killing yourself over this."
Judge Baraka said Mr. Adkisson "may or may not" have gone to prison on the drug charge. "If it was automatic, we wouldn't have had any reason for a hearing."
Charles Caperton, Mr. Adkisson's attorney, said he had come to love his client like a son.
"He's like a child. He's like a 14-year-old boy who never grew up," said Mr. Caperton, visibly fighting back tears. "I would give just everything on earth..." he said, before pounding his fist on a wooden partition in a courtroom. "If there was something I could have done..."
Mr. Caperton said he had planned to represent Mr. Adkisson on the latest charges and was unaware his client felt suicidal.
"He had no money, but I wasn't going to leave him," he said.
About two months ago, the wrestler gave his lawyer a pair of his world champion wrestling boots. He autographed them "in appreciation of all the caring and love Charles had given him," said Mr. Caperton's wife, Marilyn.
"Kerry was special. Kerry was very special," she said.
Jack Adkisson, Jr. - Died of electrocution in 1959, age 7.
David Adkisson - Died of an infection during a tour of Japan in 1984, age 25.
Michael Adkisson - Died of an overdose of tranquilizers in 1987 after an infection had forced him from the ring, age 23.
Chris Adkisson - Died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1991, age 21.
Kerry Adkisson - Died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound February 18, 1993, age 33.
Kevin Adkisson - the last surviving son
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