Many of you by now will have watched ESPN’s short documentary on Scott Hall, “The Wrestler,” taking its simplistic title from the fictional feature film of the same name starring Mickey Rourke in a critically-acclaimed performance. Yes, Darren Aronofsky created an incredible piece of fiction to reflect many facts, but as we’ll see: life imitates art, too.
When I heard of Aronofsky’s involvement on the Hollywood project, I had high hopes that, for once, Tinseltown would deliver a more honest portrayal of the pro wrestling industry, rather than either the grimy or glamorous extremes of such celluloid abominations as the down-and-dirty Grunt and the McMahon-produced rose-tinted No Holds Barred, both of which adhered to kayfabe. When would a film show the business’s fascinating creative complexities?
Aronofsky’s opus didn’t disappoint. With Nicolas Cage stepping aside leaving the starring role for the suitably world-weary Rourke, the story of Randy “The Ram” Robinson struck a chord with real-life wrestlers like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, moving many of these semi-retired old pros to tears. Telling the tale in a serious manner, treating the art form of pro wrestling as exactly that, Aronofsky’s honest presentation didn’t repel Hollywood, it attracted it – and received rave reviews. It wasn’t just the greatest pro wrestling movie ever made, it was one of the best films of all time, many argued.
After presenting a private screening to Vince McMahon, Aronofsky was concerned he’d hit a nerve with the promoter in portraying pro wrestling as a chew-’em-up, spit-’em-out drug-filled, drug-fueled business, especially after McMahon had leaned on his media partners to refrain from promoting Barry Blaustein’s Beyond the Mat.
But when The Wrestler became a box office hit, McMahon smelled money, wanting a rub, wooing Rourke to actually appear at WrestleMania and engage in an altercation with the top heel at the time, Chris Jericho (as I’ve suggested they’ve done before, WWE failed themselves by crossing lines between kayfabe and reality by acknowledging on-screen Rourke’s performance in the film that shows wrestlers planning matches and performing blade jobs).
Still, Aronofsky told a truth that McMahon still claimed wasn’t applicable anymore, but it’s more complicated than this. Aronofsky’s flick suggests that wrestlers are pushed to themselves push their own bodies to the limit, paid too little to take suitable time away from the ring while still remaining relevant, and that’s true. Vince and his daughter Stephanie continually argue that there isn’t anything inherent about the art form that forces performers to engage in copious amounts of alcohol and drug abuse; for every Scott Hall, there’s a Kevin Nash. There’s a lot of truth to that, too.
ESPN’s piece clearly showed that Scott Hall grew up in an alcoholic family, almost expected to fail along with them, before shooting a man dead in a nightclub skirmish, bypassing counseling for the tragedy, and entering pro wrestling prominence shortly after. The significant revelation of the documentary for even longtime sports entertainment followers was Hall’s claim that he came up with the Razor Ramon character portrayal to McMahon, based on Al Pacino’s performance as Tony Montana in Scarface that featured the famous line, “I’m the bad guy? OK, say goodnight to the Bad Guy!” Without wanting to reach for Pop Psychology 101isms here, we have to see that this may be telling about who Hall felt he truly was considering what he’d been through.
In Scarface, Tony Montana’s quest to experience the “American Dream” after leaving Cuba saw him embrace all its requirements to disregard others and snatch a significant piece of the pie for himself at all costs. He not only dealt drugs but abused them, living his life on a razor’s edge, and eventually is shown sitting in his mansion with his face buried in a mountain of cocaine, before the inevitable bloody showdown with the law.
Scott Hall’s wife watched him lose his grasp on reality as the years went by, living the lavish lifestyle his WWF and, even more, his WCW contract afforded him, with – according to Sean “X-Pac” Waltman – cocaine freely available to such stars as him. He was waking up in hotels with Shawn Michaels and double-checking with him to make sure his heart was still beating. With their clique (or “Kliq”) flying high in both the WWF and WCW, never did a group of pro wrestlers enjoy as much influence or as much rock-and-roll living. This too was life on a razor’s edge.
Perhaps this is the real drug, one that it seems even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson concedes: the unmatched high of performing for a live crowd as a different character, to be a good guy, or, in Scott Hall’s case, the Bad Guy. Pro wrestling, for many, is the drug. But it’s too simplistic to suggest that this in itself causes drug abuse; after all, Scott Hall’s best friend Kevin Nash is, as I write, part of the biggest storyline in the biggest pro wrestling company in the world, looking better than he has in years. That is Nash’s big finale, it seems, while Hall awaits his own showdown, perhaps as doomed as Tony Montana.
However, the nature of pro wrestling as a drug and its abuses are what provide a breeding ground for the demons to take over the likes of Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, Shawn Michaels, or even, more recently, the Hardy Boyz. This is something that Stephanie fails to recognise when interviewed for the documentary: throwing “six figures” in money at rehab programmes is reactive, not proactive. It is the lack of an offseason and the abusive nature of the art form on the bodies of the performers subjected to such lofty expectations that exacerbates such conditions as Scott Hall’s.
This is something Stephanie’s husband Triple H should know. After all, he was in The Kliq for years himself.