Tragedy in Texas: The Sad Story of the Von Erich Family

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FRITZ, DAVID, KERRY, CHRIS (front), MIKE, AND KEVIN

FRITZ, DAVID, KERRY, CHRIS (front), MIKE, AND KEVIN

In 1957, a former standout football player at Southern Methodist University named Jack Adkisson moved from Jewett, Texas to Edmonton in an attempt to catch on with the Canadian Football League. That didn’t work out, but a chance meeting with the legendary Stu Hart would change his life forever. By 1958, he was working for Klondike Wrestling. He and Stu invented the character of Fritz Von Erich, a Nazi villain.

From the time he entered the business until he retired in 1982, he was a standout both in and out of the ring. His career is truly legendary, as a performer, he held over 40 titles in 7 different promotions. He opened and ran World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) and was named the President of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) during the 1970s.

But let us back up a bit, to 1959, when Fritz’s 7 year old son, Jack Jr. died of an accidental electrocution. This began one of the most tragic stories not only in wrestling history, but arguably any family’s history ever. For most families, this is unheard of, a horrifying thought, for a parent to bury his child. For Fritz Von Erich, it was only the beginning.

In 1976, Fritz’s second child, Kevin Ross Adkisson, started wrestling for his Dad in WCCW as Kevin Von Erich. He stood out immediately, mostly due to working without boots, although he never intended to work that way. “Someone hid them on me”, Kevin said of his debut match, “so I just went with it”. “The Barefoot Boy” was wildly popular from his debut, good looking, and athletic, along with the bonus of being a rare (at the time) second generation star.

Kevin’s younger brother David joined the company in June of 1977. Called “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, David’s career took off faster than his brother’s. His temper and passion attracted fans to him. David and Kevin formed a tag team and quickly won the NWA Texas Tag Team Championships twice. After that, the brothers worked singles matches mostly. Kevin won his first singles title when he pinned Bruiser Brody for the NWA American Heavyweight Champion on Christmas Day 1978.

David had married his college sweetheart early that same year. Just 4 days after Kevin’s success, David’s infant daughter Natosha died just hours after being born. David left his wife and the WCCW soon after. Other promoters wanted him and for a couple years, he was very successful in the NWA and even 1 appearance with the WWF.

KEVIN, KERRY, & DAVID

KEVIN, KERRY, & DAVID

Kerry Gene Adkisson joined the family business in June 1979. “The Modern Day Warrior” Kerry Von Erich started working tag matches with Kevin and some limited singles competition. By 1980, he was a fast rising star, defeating Gino Hernandez for his first NWA American Heavyweight Title in the fall. Kevin started traveling throughout the other territories more and for a short time, Kerry was the only Von Erich in town.

By mid-1982, Texas fans were ecstatic. Kevin and David Von Erich had returned to the WCCW. And David hadn’t come back alone. His influence had brought the Fabulous Freebirds to the company. He and his brothers had great matches with them, particularly his 1 on 1 run against Terry Gordy. But everyone loved those 6 man matches, the 3 Von Erich boys versus Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy, Buddy Roberts, and of course, Michael “PS” Hayes. Again, villains make heroes.

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In early ’83, “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin was recruited into the company, again by the business savvy David. David and Jimmy feuded through a good part of that year, until Jimmy started a program with “Gentleman” Chris Adams in the fall. Just after Halloween, a fourth Von Erich happened onto the scene when young Mike debuted against Skandar Akbar. Unlike his brothers, Mike never thought of wrestling as a career. Actually, he wanted to work in the production department.

MIKE AND KERRY VON ERICH

MIKE AND KERRY VON ERICH

Mike, not a stellar athlete, worked primarily as a 2nd man in tag teams with his brothers. He worked largely with Kerry, only teaming with Kevin once. David was a shooting star by this time, and the NWA had him feud against NWA World Champion Ric Flair across the country. He was so hot that the NWA Championship Committee voted in January 1984 to have David defeat Flair. A Von Erich would be NWA World Champion, something that had eluded his own father.

But, on February 10th, 1984, during a tour of Japan, David Von Erich died. The cause of this has been disputed for years, the Von Erich family claiming myocardial infarction or heart attack. Many others, including Ric Flair, stated it was a drug overdose. Flair in fact, claims that family friend Bruiser Brody removed the drug evidence to protect the Von Erich name. One thing is certain, David had been admitted to a Texas E.R. 2 weeks earlier with complaints of dizzy spells and flu symptoms.

In May of 1984, a tribute was held for David Von Erich. Kerry was named NWA World Champion when he defeated Ric Flair in the main event. 18 days later, he dropped the title back to Flair, never to hold it again. The real reason for this was the NWA was very aware of Kerry’s own drug problems. Concerned for the company’s future with him as champion, they immediately returned the title to Flair.

During a tour of Israel in 1985, Mike injured his shoulder, requiring surgery upon his return. 4 day after the surgery, he was rushed to the E.R. with a fever of 107 degrees, a side effect of toxic shock syndrome. During his healing, he lost considerable weight, and many believe; symptoms of brain damage surfaced. He often slurred his speech, as well as his ring work upon his return. He battled severe depression and alcohol and drug dependency spiraled as a result.

Kerry was in a serious motorcycle accident in June 1986. His right hip was dislocated and his right foot was severely damaged. The foot in fact, would later be amputated. Kerry hid this fact from fans and wrestlers alike for years, using prosthesis and even showering with boots on. With Kerry out of action, the company leaned harder on Mike, having him start a feud with Brian Arias in October.

Not long after that, Mike wrecked his car, suffering further head trauma. Stories abound from late 1986 through early 1987 of violent outbursts, drunk driving, and drug charges. Kevin notes an occurrence where his little brother attacked a streetlight for no apparent reason. Kevin believes that a large issue for Mike was his appearance; he and David looked very much alike, which caused the fans to have unrealistic expectations of him. On April 12, 1987, Mike Von Erich left a suicide note for his family, and then drove to Lake Dallas where he overdosed on sleeping pills.

Things were somber and quiet for Kevin and Kerry for the next few years, at least it appeared so. Kerry was badly addicted to pain killers and was arrested on drug charges multiple times. Kevin, always the rock, tried to help, but he had problems of his own. Albeit problems of a different nature. By 1990, he and his wife Pam were working on their 4th child. Just then, the youngest of Fritz Von Erich’s 6 sons, Chris, joined the company.

Chris loved the business and had always wanted to follow is his brothers’ footsteps. But, he suffered from severe asthma and a bone disorder that made them very brittle and easy to break. He had actually been involved in angles before. He performed run-ins against the Freebirds as a teen in the mid-80s. But finally, he was the next Von Erich. In more ways than one, he had been privately battling drug addiction and depression since Mike’s death in 1987. He battled pain and his issues for just over a year, but, on September 12, 1991, Chris Von Erich shot himself in the head.

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The family suffered another tragedy soon after, when Fritz Von Erich and his wife of 42 years, Doris, split. They divorced in July 1992. Once again, Kevin supplied the good tidings when his 4th child was born a few months later. It was about that same time when Bret “Hitman” Hart states, that Kerry Von Erich confessed to him, that he felt his brothers calling him. Kerry shot himself in the heart on February 18th, 1993 behind his father’s ranch in Denton, Texas. And finally, in 1997, Fritz Von Erich passed away at age 68, after years of suffering from brain and lung cancer.

von-erich-06

Kevin Von Erich has carried on as the center of the Von Erich universe. In 2006, he sold the WCCW video rights to Vince McMahon, officially closing the book on the company. In 2009, Micheal “PS” Hayes inducted Kevin and his family into the WWE Hall of Fame. Kerry’s youngest daughter Lacey started wrestling in 2007, winning the TNA Knockouts Title before retiring in 2010. And, be on the lookout for Kevin’s sons, Marshall and Ross Von Erich soon. The boys completed training under their dad and the great Harley Race in mid-2012.

A tragic tale indeed, but the Von Erich family story is one that everyone should know. Maybe a brighter future is ahead for the 3rd generation, they sure deserve it. Until next time, keep your shoulder off the mat.

A wonderful memorial video to the 1st Family of Wrestling


10 Responses to Tragedy in Texas: The Sad Story of the Von Erich Family

  1. GuitarAnthony says:

    In the second pic, that is Mike in the photo. not David. David was awesome, especially in old tapes from Championship Wrestling from Florida where he was mentored, both in the real sense and the worked sense, by Dory Funk Jr. Mike only ever had a decent match with Ric Flair which would be true for anyone in that timeframe.

  2. DollarDave says:

    You are correct, typo on my part. My apologies

  3. jonathansdream says:

    This is such a compelling story to tell. It is definitely something no family wants to go through. I remember watching an old tape of The Freebirds and Von Erichs going at it. The reactions from the crowd was something that stuck with me as I watched. They were into it the whole way man. Maybe there will be a brighter spot someday for the future Von Erichs…. I sure hope so

  4. Lalo_hopscotch says:

    Kevin wore boots early on, he was not barefoot in his debut and he wore boots in Georgia and St. Louis bouts which are on the net. Kevin’s story about his reason for going barefoot has changed a couple of times.

    He goes back and forth between “I forgot them” and “someone hid them.”

  5. jeff horner says:

    Sad story David was by far the best wrestler of the family,Was never a Von Erich fan,But enjoyed watching them and the free birds battle.

  6. Hanoi says:

    IM SO SAD I WOULD GATHER AROUND THE TELEVISION WITH MY FAMILY ON THE WEEKENDS AND WATCH THE VON ERICKS I DIDN’T KNOW IM SO SAD I LOVE THEM WITH ALL MY HEART.

  7. My name is Ron G. Mullinax and I am the Author of, “The Secret of the Iron Claw, published in 2002, (1st addition), and Fritz VonErich; Master of the Iron Claw, Published in 2005, (2nd addition). I was at Fritz’s side when he pasted away in 1997. The 3rd generation VonErich’s will be very interesting in the years to come since I remember Lacy, Ross, Marshall when they were all very young. In my opinion Kevin was the best a father could be to his 2 son’s and daughters. One of the conversations Jack, (Fritz) and I had were about his son’s and grandsons. He had told me at one time that he would never allow his son’s to fail in anything. If they went fishing or hunting Fritz would always make sure they they caught something or killed something and Kevin raised Ross and Marshall the same way. This is why I say watching Ross and Marshall will really be an event because those boys love their father as much as Kevin, David, Kerry and Chris loved Fritz. To me this has to be one of the best and family’s the state of Texas has produced, all the VonErich’s loved the state of Texas, God, their father and Pro Wrestling.

  8. DollarDave says:

    Thanks for those comments Ron, I would love to pick your brain by email or something sometime. I grew up in Virginia and Georgia and know much more about MidAtlantic and Georgia Championship Wrestling, though I have watched tons of WCCW and now with the WWE Network in place I will be catching up on even more. I must also search out your book.

  9. Tena McKinsey says:

    I lived in Lake Dallas and went to school in Lake Dallas with the Adkisson’s.
    I knew Jack as Mr. Adkisson. I knew his parents on the corner. We did not think anything of Jack pretending to be Fritz and putting on a show. The boys were younger than me. But I knew them, been to their house and watched them rehearse. We all grew up watching them in other sports. My nephews were their ages, but Lake Dallas was so small back then. We were all close. I, like the rest of Lake Dallas was devastated and mourned greatly over all tragedies, just like it was our own family losing someone. I remember each of the deaths and services. David’s was maybe the hardest because it was first. There were thousands of people there. I recall the heart attack caused by tomaine poisoning from what he had eaten; fish. You know tomaine poisoning from fish is fatal. Were there drugs? Not like you paint it so much. Mike’s death was extremely hard. I saw Mike, talked to him earlier at the fishing barge, believed to be just before he made the decision out at the lake to down a bunch of pills and zip himself up in a sleeping bag. Mike had some serious issues after he survived 107 temperature and toxic shock syndrome. I was always haunted with wondering if there was anything I could have said or done. Of course, I did not have a hint, Mike’s intentions. Everyone was worried over Kerry’s state of mind. He was going to have to face the music on the drug problem and the truth was going to come out about his foot. So sad to be so down and even with everyone trying to help and keep a watchful eye, Kerry managed to get out of sight and I just think Jack died a lot that day too. With each tragedy we all had hurt and prayed so hard, an alternate resolution would be discovered by the next. Chris wanted and even though he was somewhat taken out of the equation when he was really young because of his health, the absence made him want even more to be able to do what the others did. And then his brother had chosen to step out of life because of what his change had done to him. For Chris to shoot himself though, was the first of the tragedies to be so violent. We were all really shook. So for Kerry, we were even more shook up. But, I saw those guys when everyone was searching for Mike and I saw how it affected them when Mike was found many days later and his body was in such a bad condition. Everyone needed counselling. We all were so into the thing that Mike was a walking, talking miracle even though, yes, there were side effects of 107 temperature, he was alive and a lot like himself a lot of the time. Then we were so into but Chris will get it, he cannot do what he so desired, yet that was more than he could bare just like Mike. After Kerry, I think the whole world was praying for Kevin.
    But those guys really did good in the arena. I know Jack never knew how high the price would be. We were all so proud of them and just pissed for more, not realizing what the pressure and demand was doing to them. So who really is responsible for their demise.

  10. DollarDave says:

    I have written a number of these posts over the last year. I actually almost didn’t post this one due to the grim subject matter. My intention was never to disparage the family, as I have a great amount of respect for them. I could write posts of the downsides of the wrestling business every day if I so chose. Unfortunately the wear and tear, physical, and psychological demands of the business, particularly pre-2000, is just too much for most people to handle. The Von Erich saga, as bleak as it is, may be the most obvious story to show the hard side of the business that exists. On another note, I reread this post after reading your notes and I hope it doesn’t read as I stated David died of a drug overdose. I, nor anyone I talked to or sources I consulted knew for sure. I only acknowledge the Flair statement to emphasize the doubt over what happened. I do believe had he passed in the US, better answers would be available. I would like to thank you for your insight and again if you’d ever like to discuss anything, I’m always interested in a new perspective that I wasn’t able to obtain prior. You can email me at the above link, dollardave0915@att.net or follow me on twitter @DollarDave2814

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