Derek Burgan Reviews 20 Years Too Soon: The Superstar Billy Graham
I have to admit that when starting my Billy Graham DVD, I was a little surprised to see that the first
thing that came on the screen was an ad for the Billy Graham DVD. Yes, the very same DVD I was already watching. You'd
think someone in production would have caught that along the way.
When the Billy Graham main feature started,
we were immediately thrown into one of Billy's darkest hours. Filmed in black and white, in December 2001, Billy was at death's
door. "They tell me, if I don't get a new liver I will surely die." Soon, the narration by THE VOICE began. You know THE VOICE.
He's the guy that talks over all the DVDs and most of the PPV intros. He's like the guy who you hear in commercials trying to sell the latest and greatest
movies. "In a world he didn't create…", "In a time no one could forget…" You know, that guy. Anyway, THE
VOICE talked about Superstar's twenty years of drug use, his "vengeful crusade," and asked if we would all get a chance to
see Billy get a second chance.
It should be noted that, like seemingly all WWE DVDs, this one is top notch. There
are a ton of photos from Billy's personal collection used throughout and whenever there is talk about a particular wrestler
or wrestling match, we get to actually see what the person is talking about. The DVD went back to Billy's humble origins,
where Superstar talked about growing up in a less-than-ideal family situation. Not learning to walk until he was two years
old, young Billy found himself often being beat by his father for being such a slow learner. While in the fifth grade, one
of Billy's brothers started working out at a local gym and asked Billy to come along. Billy was mesmerized by the bodybuilder's
physiques and thought to himself, "That's what I want to be." The first exercise Billy wanted to do was squats and started
to immediately unload a squat bar that had 250 pounds loaded onto it. Not understanding you can't take all the weight off
of one side, Billy proceeded to do just that, causing the bar to flip over and crash through the gym's window.
brother enlisted into the service, leaving Billy without a gym to go to, so Billy just created his own weights through the
use of cement blocks and lead pipes. We're talking old school baby! In high school, Billy was able to take advantage of the school's gym
to train. Billy was also an incredible athlete in track and field, claiming to be groomed for the Olympics in discus and the
shot put. Falling into the wrong crowd, Billy dropped out of high school and that was the end of that dream. Around this time
Billy also had his first religious experience. He was driving his dad to work each day and kept passing a gigantic tent that
had a sign proclaiming YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN. This sign intrigued Billy and one night he walked over to the tent and was
able to witness a man who "preached Hell, fire, and brimstone." That day Billy "had a legitimate, legitimate born again
experience" and asked Jesus Christ to forgive his sins.
Billy then became a preacher himself and, to help convert a
younger crowd to the church, would bend pipes and rip phone books in half while giving sermons. Now that's my kind
of church! Ripping up phone books FOR CHRIST~! Billy wanted the kids to realize you could be a good Christian and have a nice
physique as well. Billy was also being encouraged to get married so he wouldn't be tempted by the girls at church. Billy did
end up marrying a 19 year old girl, but the two didn't love each other and soon got a divorce. By this point Billy was petrified
he was going to Hell until an evangelist showed up at his church and claimed to have the "Word of Knowledge." This man scanned
his eyes across the room, stopped on Billy, and said, "Young man, your marriage has been forgiven as it wasn't ordained by
God!" "HALLELUJAH!" yelled Billy. Meanwhile, a thousand miles away, Honky
Tonk Man was muttering "Oh, brother…."
Billy then went
from his hometown in Phoenix out to Santa Monica, California, where he fell into the Muscle Beach crowd. Billy trained at
the original Gold's Gym and there were some unbelievable pictures of an extremely young Arnold Swartzeneggar while Billy was
talking. Billy said that he was able to train with Arnold for a while and it really helped him out. No doubt! Billy trained
for the NFL but, like Brock Lesnar, realized that was a lot tougher than it looked, and soon found himself playing up in the
Canadian Football League. After being traded from Calgary to Montreal, Billy realized football wasn't the career for him but
he knew that something was his true calling. Along came wrestling as a friend asked Billy, "How would you like to become
a wrestler? It's a lot of fun and easy money."
And don't forget, like Verne Gagne said, "You have to workout for six hours a day, every day, otherwise it's a snap!"Billy went back to Calgary and spent two weeks in Stu Hart's dungeon
and Billy said the word "dungeon" as if the experience still haunted him. "This man (Stu Hart) proceeded to abuse me.
Stu Hart maimed me. He showed no mercy on me. I didn't know how to wrestle, and he knew it." Hart gave Billy an arm
wrestling gimmick and sent Superstar around the loop to destroy babyfaces in arm wrestling contests. The fans ate it up. Well,
next time around the loop Billy would then have to wrestle the very same babyfaces and this time the fans shit on him because,
"Stu Hart forgot to really show me the finer points of having a wrestling match."
Superstar Billy Graham
went back to Phoenix and worked as a bouncer. One night Dr. Jerry Graham came into his club. Jerry Graham, a former wrestler,
was now a promoter and asked Billy if he would like to work some Indian reservation shows. Billy agreed, but found out fast
how little independent wrestling shows pay. Welcome to wrestling Superstar Billy Graham! Jerry and Billy went to Los Angeles
and started teaming together. Three months later, the musical Jesus Christ Superstar opened and Billy finally had his "Superstar" name. It's
not said at any point on the DVD, but Billy was obviously wrestling under a different name before he met Jerry Graham. This gets even weirder later on when a doctor starts talking about the real
life injuries of Billy Graham, but the Doc only uses Billy's real name of "Wayne Coleman" when referring to Graham. The name
Wayne Coleman is not mentioned by anyone else on the DVD at any other point, not even by THE VOICE.
While in Los Angeles,
Billy did the arm wrestling gimmick again and one night he challenged FREDDIE BLASSIE~! This was great as the DVD then segued
to a short bit on how great a wrestler Blassie was back in the day. After a hard fought battle, Blassie put Graham's arm down
for the count and was immediately jumped by two Mexican wrestlers. That was the last time Graham ever worked with Blassie.
Billy then went to San Francisco, where Roy Shire put Billy with Pat Patterson. It would be impossible for Graham to put Patterson
over more than he did. Patterson was the best heel Billy had every met and Billy admitted to learning everything he knew about
the psychology of wrestling in the one year he spent in San Francisco. I need to re-read some Wrestling Observers,
but I think Patterson was one of the guys incredibly upset when Billy Graham was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Billy
talks about this in more detail in his new book, Tangled Ropes, explaining he totally understands how Patterson must feel.
wrestler Ray Stevens to Minneapolis and the A.W.A. Billy was teamed with The American Dream Dusty Rhodes! Around this point
in his life, Billy was wrestling some shows down in Florida and went to an IHOP one night after the matches. In a table next
to him were two good looking women. This was a great story as Billy told it. Long story short, one of the women was
a hairdresser and Billy asked her if she wouldn't mind bleaching his hair. Billy asked her to "bring along her friend." This friend became Billy's wife, Valerie. At the time Valerie was too
frightened to get out of the car, but once she got into Billy's apartment and saw all the bibles and other religious paraphernalia,
she knew she would marry Billy one day. For some reason I don't think when my girlfriend saw my in-the-package Empire Strikes
Back Boba Fett figure she thought, "MARRIAGE!"
Billy got a call from Vince McMahon Sr. and was soon in New York wrestling
for the WWWF. Bruno Sammartino was still hot as hell at this point. Jim Ross said, "Bruno was steak with a little Italian
seasoning. Superstar was sizzle." In Baltimore, Billy faced Bruno for the WWWF title. Vince McMahon Jr. was on commentary
and even though I may give him crap for the "what a maneuver" type of play-by-play, that man knew how to get an audience into
a match. The fans were at a fever pitch when Billy tripped up Bruno and used the ropes to help get a three count.
agreed that the entire industry changed at this very point as Billy's style and delivery of promos was something completely
unique. Both Billy and Hulk Hogan talked about a house show in Tampa Bay that Hogan first saw Billy wrestle at. In possibly
the line of the DVD, Triple H said, "I don't mean this as an insult to Hulk Hogan, but he was a cheap Superstar Billy Graham
knockoff." That might not be an insult, but it's certainly a backhanded compliment. We then got a chance to see a bunch of
Billy promos and this was fantastic. In one promo during the old Mid Atlantic days, Billy said, "I'm like Coca Cola, people
want the real thing." And after comparing Hogan and Big Poppa Pump to Billy Graham, you'll realize who the real thing
was. Both John Cena and new TNA champion CHRISTIAN gave their thoughts on Billy's unrivaled speaking ability. Cena even called
Graham, "The original doctor of Thuganomics."
"The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes
The DVD went into Graham's reign as WWE champion, including the unbelievable legacy of selling
out Madison Square Garden for 19 of his 20 title defenses there. Dusty Rhodes talked about how Billy could talk the fans into
buying tickets, especially the women who loved bad asses. We got to see some promos from Dusty and Graham previewing their
"Texas Death Match" at the Garden, and this stuff looked awesome. Graham said that Dusty was by far his favorite opponent
and the two went on to have a Texas Bullrope Match that tore down the house. Gene Okerlund, of all people, explained there
was "a formula in wrestling where the good guy chases the bad guy. Eventually the good guy has to win or the fans will think
it's futile." I don't think I need to explain how just about every single promoter today as forgot this Number One Rule of
McMahon Sr. was dead set in his ways to have Bob Backlund as champion, no matter how successful Billy Graham
was with the belt. Billy felt that his title reign "came to an end way too soon" and that the loss devastated him.
Billy took a hiatus from wrestling and went back to Phoenix. Billy began abusing drugs and had a severe "fall from grace."
His wife Valerie explained that Billy had been taking so many downers that "a vast majority of 1979 and 1980 were spent in
a drug induced coma." Billy came back to the WWWF to challenge Backlund and to say he looked different would be the understatement
of the year. I was prepared for a shock, but this even threw me for a loop. Billy said that the "Superstar" character was
dead in his eyes, so Billy shaved his head and became this goofy karate gimmick. Valerie hated the karate stuff, but the rematch
with Backlund sold out the Garden.
Billy was so out of his mind on drugs that Big John Studd approached Graham and
explained to Billy that everyone was afraid he was going to die. Graham just packed his bags and went down to the Crocketts
in Georgia to work for the NWA. It just so happened old pal Dusty Rhodes held the book at the time. Graham finally dropped
the stupid karate gimmick, weirdly calling it "devil" inspired, and went back to be "Superstar." The change was night and
A Superstar promo co-starring a
Graham went back to Vince McMahon Jr, who was now running the WWF, and soon had a job. In a must-see
moment, Graham was out in the Arizona desert, with a F---ING TARANTULA CRAWLING ACROSS HIS HEAD, shooting a promo on his return
to the ring. This was the WWF era that I grew up watching and what a blast to the past it was watching all of this again.
During a match, Billy knew right away that he blew his hip out and would need hip replacement. Having no insurance,
Billy went to Vince McMahon Jr. and Vinnie Mac agreed to pay for the surgery as long as Billy paid him back through wrestling.
WWF TV aired doctor's explaining how bad Billy's hips were and the actual surgery itself. We got to see the skits of Graham
training for his comeback and Billy's first match with Steve "the Brooklyn Brawler" Lombardi. 100 years from now, everyone
is going to think that Steve Lombardi must have had the charisma and superstardom of the Rock and Steve Austin combined as
he is the only personality who participates on all these DVDs. Think about it. If you only knew WWE from watching DVDs, you
would have to think this clown was the measuring stick by which all others were judged.
Billy was wrestling
in pain and "misery" and was moved over to become the manager for Don "the rock" Muraco. Oh man, what a blast seeing old Saturday
Night's Main Event promos! Billy was also put on play-by-play for the matches, and loved doing it. Steve Lombardi said that
Billy was one of the great announcers, but Bruce Pritchard said that announcing wasn't Billy's "forte." With everything else,
Billy was now having ankle problems and the pictures of his
Superstar's doctor examines Nicole
swollen ankles were disgusting to look at. Billy had both ankles fused and could
barely walk. This was the point where Vince McMahon let Billy go from the company. "A crushing day," as Graham remembered.
Billy out of work, Valerie got a job to support the two. In a wonderful moment, Valerie explained that Billy was upset that
she was working, "but not so upset he got a job." That's classic. Billy was being so despondent that he looked for ways to
self mutilate himself, scaring the hell out of his wife. With the WWF getting hot and exploding with Hulk Hogan, Billy felt
it was like rubbing salt in his wounds. Billy felt betrayed and began to file lawsuits during the entire steroid scandal era
of the early '90s. Billy admitted he lied about everything and that he took steroids 10 years before ever even getting into
wrestling. Billy loved steroids despite the fact that his wife absolutely loathed them. Valerie wanted to have a big family
and realized quickly the juice was making Graham infertile. In the second best line of the DVD, Jim Ross said, "If you abuse
steroids and get too big, it's not a matter of if you'll tear you're muscle, it's when." How appropriate in
this day and age. Despite all of this, including taking away his wife's number one dream, Billy said he would still do everything
all over again because of the rewards steroids brought him. That might be the most honest statement ever made on a wrestling
Billy went back to the ministry and gave up his lawsuits. For years Billy wrote and called Vince McMahon
for forgiveness. Eventually Vince did forgive Billy, but added that if his family hadn't gone on to become ultra-rich, he
might not have been so forgiving. To make things worse, Billy contacted Hepatitis C because his liver started to go. The medical
staff told Billy he was going to flat out die if he didn't get a new liver and it wasn't how many years he would live, it
was days. One doctor explained what liver disease was with a picture of Billy's liver that was downright disgusting. More
disgusting than the tarantula stuff and if you knew how much I hate spiders, you'd appreciate what I'm saying. Billy was put
to the top of the "need a liver list" and got a call saying one was available. Valerie felt a lot of guilt as she was happy
Billy was getting a liver, but knew it was because someone had died. That person was a 26 year old girl who died in a car
accident. Billy held up a picture of the girl and put her over big time, and you can see how years later he is still affected
by her gift.
Superstar's long suffering wife, Valerie
With a new liver Billy felt reborn and full of energy. The first day with the new liver he
didn't even go to bed for 36 hours. Somewhere Jeff Hardy is reading this review and thinking, "light weight!" Billy
wanted to give back and promote organ doning. In 2003 Graham was able to make it to a WWE show in Phoenix and was treated
like Willie Mays at a baseball dinner. The cameras were there and we got to see Billy meet with wrestlers and all the McMahons,
including – in a nice moment – Vince himself. After the hug, Billy felt like the weight of the world had been
lifted off his shoulders.
Billy then got a call from Vince McMahon concerning the WWE Hall of Fame during WrestleMania XX weekend. Billy was thrilled to find out Triple H would be inducting him. Valerie said
that the Billy Graham story was "an awesome story of redemption" and I think she may be right. Meanwhile Billy just wants
to be remembered as the ultimate entertainer.
The DVD closes with a plug to encourage viewers to donate organs by checking
out the website www.OrganDoner.govBonus Features: Several
matches throughout Graham's career are included on the DVD. Two are from the AWA in 1973, one against Armando Rodriguez and
the other against Angel Rivera. We get to see the famous match in Baltimore in 1977 when Billy beat Bruno Sammartino for the
WWWF title. There are two successful title defenses by Graham, both at Madison Squard Garden. One against "The Polish Power"
Ivan Putski, and the other being the "Texas Death Match" we saw clips of during the main feature against Dusty Rhodes. Billy's
loss of the WWWF title to Bob Backlund in 1982 rounds out the collection. The promos included in these matches are worth whatever
price you pay for the DVD. Billy Graham certainly is the ladies pet and the men's regret, the man of the hour, the man with
the power, where what you see is what you get, and what you don't see is better yet.
Easter Eggs: We have to
thank Bert Duckwall for sending these in. These are both available by going to the Chapters
portion of the main menu.
Growing up: Double Click left- Billy talks
about accidentally stabbing a kid with a pick axe as a kid.
click Right- Billy and Ric Flair talk about Billy and his wife giving Ric his first bleach job to his hair. WHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Overall Thoughts: Another top notch release from the WWE DVD division. When you have just about
all conceivable video footage, you can put together one hell of a documentary on a wrestler's life. Both Superstar and his
wife Valerie shine in this DVD, Superstar for his off the chart promo ability and unique look, to his long-suffering wife
finally seeing a real man emerge from underneath years of lies and bitterness. This DVD can be purchased by Clicking HERE!
Don't forget to check out Derek's weekly Wrestling Enjoyment Index or his latest Opinion Piece.
Special Thanks to Superstar historian Keith Lipinski and OVW Specialist Mike Roe for their help with this review.