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Book Review: "Superstar Billy Graham: Tangled Ropes."

"Superstar" Billy Graham may be the single most influential figure to ever grace the squared circle. With a combination of stunning physical attributes and fantastic promo abilities, the Superstar was a wrestler who took wrestling by storm in the 1970's, a man who was quite literally ahead of the curve.

Billy Graham's book, "Tangled Ropes" is a harrowing look into the life and career of the man who was the single greatest influence on such more modern wrestling stars as Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, and Scott Steiner. While it is true that his charisma and look affected these athletes, it is another side of Billy Graham that truly influenced wrestling for decades to come: steroids.

Graham pulls absolutely no punches in this book, especially when concerning himself. Born to an abusive father in Arizona in the 1940's, young Wayne Coleman found refuge in weight lifting at an early age, especially after the wife of one of his workout partners bragged to the impressionable teenager that she liked to saunter around her house in the nude when her hubby wasn't home. I hope one can read in between the lines and see where that scenario is going. Wayne also made his own homemade weights with coffee canisters filled with cement. Wayne was naturally a large man, and the weight training made him almost frightening. There are some pictures of Wayne in High School sprinkled throughout the book, and it is truly a man among boys.

Another passion Wayne developed at a young age was Christianity, as he became a born again Christian. These few chapters in the book are thoroughly engrossing,  as you can see young, naive Wayne Coleman being taken advantage of by some of the more radical, nutjob sects of Christianity. Wayne was oblivious to the obvious warning sights, and became a preacher in his congregation, attempting to show that just because you were a man of God, you didn't have to be a wimp. It was at these sermons that Wayne developed the gift of gab, and it was about to lead him towards his future vocation.

Wayne grew weary of church life, particularly after his first three, count them, THREE marriages failed. He tried out for the NFL's Oakland Raiders and the CFL's Calgary Stampeders, but did not make the cut. Finally, a friend of his referred him to the wacky, wooly world of professional wrestling. More specifically, he referred him to Stu Hart.

Now, understand this. Stu Hart didn't so much train the future Billy Graham. Not much in the way of bump training. No, Stu just stretched the ever living fuck out of Wayne Coleman. Eventually, after administering sufficient torture to the big man, Stu deemed Graham ready to wrestle. His initial gimmick in Stampede wrestling was challenging wrestlers and marks alike to arm wrestling contests. It was a gimmick that spanned many territories for Wayne Coleman, and helped make him a viable draw all over the country. But after three months of touring with Stu's Stampede troupe, the Arizona boy grew weary of the bad weather and interminable driving conditions and decided to go home.

Back in Arizona, Wayne started working a club door as a bouncer. It was there that he met one of pro wrestlings most legendary figures, Dr. Jerry Graham. For the uninitiated, Jerry Graham may be the biggest wildman in wrestling history, both in the ring and out of it. Think Jake Roberts or Scott Hall are messes outside the ring? Those noobs couldn't hold a candle to the good doctor. As a quick aside, most of the books I have been reviewing, such as Terry Funk's book and this book, and others I have read but not had the time to do a proper review for, such as Harley Race's and Dusty Rhodes' books, have full chapters on the sheer madness that is Dr. Jerry Graham. He also happens to be Vincent Kennedy McMahon's favorite wrestler when Vince was a kid. (yeah, bad grammar, I know). That explains a lot. The fact is, someone needs to write a biography on this certifiable lunatic before all the people who rode with him and bunked with him are six feet under and pushing up daises. Trust me, THAT book would be well worth the lucre.

Anyway, Wayne met Jerry Graham at this bar in Arizona, and Jerry liked the kid so much that he made him an honorary Graham brother, to go along with storyline brother Eddie Graham. They tried to set up a promotion in Arizona, but it was a carnival of errors and folly, as it never got up and running. Instead, the newly christened Billy Graham decided to test his fortunes in LA.

LA promoter Mike LaBell took in Billy and Jerry Graham as a tag team. However, Jerry Graham's reputation preceded him, and LaBell made Billy personally accountable for Jerry's actions. Suffice to say, that didn't work out too well, and Billy was soon fired and left twisting in the wind for something Jerry Graham had perpetrated. Billy decided to try his luck with Roy Shire's San Francisco promotion. It was here that Billy became tag team partner, and friend of, a wrestling savant named Pat Patterson. Patterson helped develop Billy into a credible pro wrestler and let Billy pick his brain at every available instance. It was here that Billy Graham became "Superstar" Billy Graham, and once that happened, Vince McMahon Sr. came calling.

Superstar was a phenomenon in every sense of the word in the then WWWF. He had a couple of starts and stops, but eventually defeated Bruno Sammartino to become the WWWF World Champion. He headlined card after card, sellout after sellout, at New York's famed Madison Square Garden. Even as a dastardly heel, Superstar was revered in New York for his tremendous, and I mean tremendous abilities on the mic. It is hard whether to say if Billy Graham ripped Dusty Rhodes' stuff or vice a versa, but they were both just mesmerizing on the M-I-C. They had a three match series in New York that culminated in a Texas Bullrope match that many fans still remember fondly to this day. Indeed, "Superstar" Billy Graham was riding high.

And then it all came crashing down, VH1 Behind the Music style.

For starters, Billy was a hardcore steroid and drug guy. Mind you, they were not illegal back then, but, as we have all learned, they are not healthy for you. The first sign of this for Superstar was when he was instructed to lose the WWWF Championship to bland babyface Bob Backlund. Billy was a prisoner of his own hype and did not want to lose the title to someone labeled "Howdy Doody" or "Opie" by both fans and wrestlers alike. He did the job in 1978, and was never the same man again. He spiraled into a deep depression, fueled by addictions to multiple drugs at this point. He took time off, and, much as my generation heard the old "Ultimate Warrior is dead....this is a different Warrior" rumors, Billy returned in 1982 as a self professed karate master. No one bought it. Billy was spiraling out of control, and only through the grace of god and his fifth (!) wife, Valerie, was he able to recover. Somewhat.

Billy returned to the newly christened WWF in 1986, but something was immediately awry: his hip. Years of steroid abuse had reduced nearly all his joints to bone on bone, and he needed hip replacement surgery. Mind you, this was a full 4 years before Bo Jackson had a similar procedure and had to end his football career. Superstar tried to persevere, but had to swallow a myriad of painkillers to even walk to the ring. He managed Don Muraco for a bit, tried commentary, but was in too much of a drug induced haze to continue on. Superstar believed that Vince Jr. had hired him in perpetuity, so when he was let go in early 1989, he became a bitter, bitter man.

I don't think much needs to be said to any wrestling fan worth his salt for what happened after Superstar was fired. He waged war against the youngest McMahon. Billy is remarkably candid (or received one hell of a payout) about the steroid trials and ring boy scandals of the early 1990's, saying he lied out of pure spite, only wanting a handout from Billionaire Vince. The most despicable thing he did, one I find personallu unforgivable, was the way he threw Pat Patterson under the bus in the ring boy scandal episode of the "Phil Donahue Show." Pat Patterson was instrumental in getting Superstar's career off of the ground floor, and the way Graham discarded a long time friend like that is unforgivable. Vince McMahon has forgiven Billy Graham, but Pat Patterson never will.

We all know the story from there: Billy gets back in Vince's good graces, is inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame (Shame?) and all is right with the world.

Well, that is where the book ends, but Billy Graham continues, post publication, to be an enigma and contradiction. But that is neither here nor there.

The fact of the matter is this: this book is a must read for any wrestling fan, or so called fan of the mat games. It is refreshing candid, but I would remind the reader to do his/her research, and take several parts of the tome with several shakers of salt. Still, it is one of the better reads provided by the WWE arm of publishing, and I would highly recommend it to any fan. Going on the "Buy It/Read It/Trash It" scale?

Read with an option to buy.


  1. Good review.

    Melter has hinted several times, including his recent health problems, that he is basically a liar and at the least, someone who always over exaggerates things

  2. Been toying with whether or not I should actually post this, but hey, it's an honest post so...

    Every time in the last little bit when I've read about another one of Graham's health problems which occur with semi-regularity, and that coupled with his extreme bitterness and seeming delusions, as horrible as it sounds to say and admit, I think to myself, "Just die already, Graham." It just seems like he's in such a bad way physically and mentally such that life is torture for him due to the sheer consistency with which he's gravely ill and extraordinarily angry about something.

    You have these stretches of time where he's in and out of the hospital, closer and closer to the end, and then there are these stretches where he goes on these rants about how awful this wrestler is and that wrestler is and how awful Vince is and the HoF is the single biggest mistake he ever made. For someone who behind the scenes has always made a huge deal about his faith, he sure doesn't seem to be at any kind of peace. He might think he's at peace with himself, but he sure isn't at peace with a ton of stuff that basically isn't even in the forefront of his life anymore.

    Do the anger and bad health go hand in hand? Possibly, so maybe such it's a vicious cycle that my knee-jerk response is ill-placed. But when there's just NEVER any good news for him, it's like "Wow, what kind of life is he living?" You've got the extreme bitterness in people like Bruno, and the extreme health issues in people like Scott Hall and Sunny, but no one else has them all wrapped up together like Graham does, and definitely not to such an extent.

    This book and the related DVD were such a feel good moment for all involved... and then it went downhill since then.

  3. It's kinda weird to think Billy Graham is only six and ten years older than Flair and Hogan respectively. The pre-1984 era just feels so much further away.

  4. To quote Jerry Seinfeld in regards to George's big confession...

    "Well... good luck with all THAT.."

    In all seriousness, it's really only the one line you put in there that rubbed me the wrong way. I can totally understand being all like "eh don't really care what he thinks / has to say" and maybe that's what you mean by it, but it seems very strange to me to end up at "I wish you'd just die already" for a guy that has nothing to upset you but complain about professional wrestling.

  5. Worker to the end.

  6. Well, I knew I'd be taking a risk by using the line, but it's really directed more towards this sense that *everything* about him is miserable. I certainly am able tune out plenty of people who bitch and moan; I've always just shaken my head at Bruno. But with Graham, the SUM exposure of his rapidly failing health (and I can't stress that enough) with article after article of his negative attitude and anger and bitterness paints to me a picture of someone who just... I don't even how to describe it, and I'm sure whatever words I use won't convey it well.

    The only thing I can think of is that elder family member who is just always sick and always having problems and compounds on top of it with always placing blame elsewhere and always making things miserable and everything is just one struggle after another, where sometimes you just think, "You know, I think there will be more peace for all involved once this is over in the ultimate sense."

    So it's maybe in my moments where I've read a few too many articles in a short time about all his issues where I reach the point of the "the line," but behind it all really is this sense that he's reaching the end, and it's not a very pleasant one based on all of the factors I've discussed.

    Again, just my opinion, misguided though it might be based on whatever stories I read about him.

  7. I get all that and I don't disagree with you, he does seem like a bitter dude. I sympathize with your analogy with a family member and I'd be lying if I didn't think she same thing at times with my sister after all the stuffshe's put my family through. I guess I just mean it sounds like you're saying you'd get some sort of sense of relief from him passing, but why are you wishing death upon some sick old man you don't really know? lol Maybe I am totally misunderstanding what you're saying.

    I definitely don't want to paint you as something you're not, but is this like a fan/team loyalty thing where people feel compelled to dislike a guy because they've been critical of pro-wrestling? Like some people (in and out of the wrestling industry) seem to have so much venom for guys like the Ultimate Warrior or Lex Luger because they feel (to quote any WWE roundtable) they didn't "pay their dues" or "love the business" or something along those lines and so they should be derided at every possible opportunity.

  8. Oh God no... people can criticize all they want and I won't take it personally! It's nothing like that. No venom (Vic or otherwise) at all involved.

    And I'm not actively hoping he passes, either. But I think the sense I'm trying to convey is that every time I see an article about his anger and his health, all I can think is, "How much longer can this go on?" And when it does all end - again based on *everything* I've mentioned as having gone down in the last few years - there might be this sense that there is this chaos and turmoil that has finally dissipated. Too much exposure to the chaos and turmoil can result in "the line."

  9. Oh okay, I gotcha. Sorry, I don't even know why i am harping on this anyways. I've been in a rotten mood all night, need to take a pill lol

    I just hope he's working everybody and is nothing like his 'media persona' haha. Hopefully he's happier than he comes off, although I don't think we'd have most of the shoot interviews we do if it weren't for wrestlers being bitter lol. That's why I love shoots like Mene Gene's, just telling his history and commenting on this and that. I must be one of the few people that can't stand listening to guys complain about everything or talk about how terrible such and such was for hours, even Cornette (who I loved as a performer) gets on my nerves.

  10. I find it hard to trust ANYTHING Graham says. He was SO anti-Vince for so long, only to do a massive turnaround and claim it was ALL lies? I mean, he knew where the bodies were buried, so to speak, and a lot of his later words seem to be those of a man who was happily paid off, and thus lied about all those OTHER things he said. Who's to know what's the truth anymore?

  11. Yeah, it's funny. The business DID do a massive switch-around at the time, however, with Flair & Hogan going into the stratosphere just as Backlund retired to pout about losing his title, Harley Race wound down due to age, and Graham fell apart.


    I just bought Scott's worst of wrestling PPVs on the kindle.

    HOLY SHIT. If you have .99 cents to spare (and a kindle/kindle app for apple products if you are rich... smh), pick it up.

    I never read the Girls Gone Wild / WWE PPV. I only heard of it from Scotts books... This shyt is hilarious.

  13. Lerxst, I read your posts, and had you said "shut up already" I might have been with you, but "just die already" - doesn't that seem a bit harsh? Even for Graham, whom I - like most of us - are sick of hearing complain about stuff, but still, I wouldnt wish that on anyone.

  14. Oh sure. I see how it is. Where's the thread-jack for you to endorse the Man Movie Encyclopedia? Something that would be PERFECT for your day and a half off.

  15. Then after he's inducted, he goes on this huge tirade about how it's meaningless, and he goes and sells his ring on eBay. Graham's a piece of shit, as far as I'm concerned.

  16. Gonna be butthurt for a while?

    Have a snickers.

    Who says I didnt have your book already crybaby?

  17. I do love me a snickers.

    If you did buy the book, I appreciate it, and truly hope you dig it. If you haven't, I lowered the price to 99cents today. The price change will take effect in the next couple hours or so.

  18. good. cuz if u want me to choose between ur book and a gallon of gas...

    im choosing the gas.

    seriously, i finally dcided to start actually paying for books, instead of acquiring them for a change. So i figured id throw some charity your way and RIP YOUR BOOK TO SHREDS IN THE INITIAL

    "SALT IN THE EYE!" by The Fuj

  19. Does the book contain color pictures?

  20. I really have no idea what you hope to gain from these reviews you do. You do these reviews on a blog and then in the review you say "I know bad grammar" if you know its bad grammar and you're trying to be anything close to a professional why don't you spend the extra thirty seconds to make sure its NOT bad grammar? Ifyou're NOT trying to be anything close to a professional then why even bothering doing these reviews for the masses? The difference between typing up a review for the masses and just making a random post on the message board is supposed to be the professionalism and the crispness of the content. You make all sorts of grammar mistakes, you go off on side rants that have little to do with the actual book talking about ANOTHER book that doesn't even exist yet. I have no idea what you think it is you're offering people with these reviews when no one is going to take your opinion seriously with the lack of professional writing ability you have. Honestly I'm a bit disappointied in Scott that he seems to give whatever random guys face time on his blog that ask for it. Seems like there should be some sort of quality control.

  21. "Yeah, it's funny. THIS BUSINESS DID do a massive switch-around at the time, "


  22. I remember seeing a picture of him when on TV when I was 15 or something and thinking "Man Hogan looked weird back then." that's how much Hogan ripped him off that I could have been convinced that it was Hogan having a bad photographer.

  23. I thought we agreed that Keith only books people he knows will get a negative reaction, therefore cementing his position in the main event. HE'S BECOMING WHAT HE HATED.

  24. Oh snaps. That makes sense. Scott told me I couldn't do boner jokes anymore because I was winning over the blog and stealing his heat. He also told me to quit rating matches with such dead on accuracy and start giving love to outrageously crappy matches. I do what I'm told because I have a family to feed.

    That sly bastard!

  25. I think this should be a pop-up for when someone comes to this Blog. I'm serious. Every time someone comes here, they gotta read this.

  26. He admits he is a liar in the book. Honestly, it may be the most truthful stuff ever spewed from his heathen lips. I find Billy Graham is beyond redemption, but this book is a pretty fascinating character study.

  27. That paragraph reads like a third grade English essay. Good job butsekcs.

  28. Quick tip: Don't criticize someone else's writing with a post littered with run on sentences and grammatical errors.

  29. I like that there are different voices on the blog.

    Some I like, some I don't like. Guys that I'm not huge on I usually just skim to see if something really catches my eye. The only one that I ever skipped entirely was Chuckles Reneke because he was just too damn long winded.

    But I digress. You can always just skip the article if you know that you don't care for the author.


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