Ric Flair Ain't Dead Yet
Posted: Nov 8th 2017 By: Mick Rouse
In the world of professional wrestling, everything is debatable. Everything, that is, aside from this one simple fact: Ric Flair is the greatest of all time.
The Rock and CM Punk could talk circles around their opponents if you put a microphone in their hand, but never as absolutely as Ric Flair. And, yes, Shawn Michaels could make even the most dismissive viewer believe that he was taking the beating of his life, but everything he did in the ring came directly from the school of Ric Flair. And, of course, Hulk Hogan and John Cena broke through the mainstream, but neither of those guys have had both their name and catchphrase dropped in the first 15 seconds of a Kanye West song.
No other wrestler has permeated culture in the painlessly cool way in which Ric Flair has. So, it's only fitting that director Rory Karpf set his gaze upon the Nature Boy for ESPN's most recent 30 for 30 offering, dropping today. In the lead up to the film's debut, we caught up with the living legend himself to discuss his recent medical scare, his family, and, of course, how to be stylin' and profilin'.
GQ: Before we talk about the documentary or anything else, how are you feeling after your recent hospitalization?
Ric Flair: I'm feeling better. I've gained back some weight, which is a big deal for me. I lost 43 pounds. I weighed almost 250 when I went in. I only weighed 206 when I left. I was on life support for 10 days. I had to learn how to walk again. I couldn't walk. I could stand on my legs, but I had no balance. I couldn't twist the cap off a Gatorade bottle or open a Diet Coke. It's funny, though, I don't really remember it. A few weeks of my life just completely gone. I guess that's the good thing.
You definitely had a lot of people scared there for a minute.
Yeah. I was, too. But like I said, I don't remember much of it. As a matter of fact, it took me two weeks to catch up with my fiancé, Wendy, on what was real and what wasn't, because I just dreamed. I remember dreaming about different things, which is probably good because I went through a lot of surgeries.
If it's not too personal and you don't mind me asking, what were some of the things you dreamed about?
I dreamed about my parents. Wrestling. I don't remember dreaming about anything bad. Nothing that I was bothered by. I said my parents name a bunch of times and I dreamed my youngest daughter, Ashley [known by most wrestling fans as Charlotte], got married. Don't know to who yet, but that was a big part of it. I kept dreaming everyone was there at the wedding reception.
I got to watch the 30 for 30 the other day, and I was really impressed with this one. I had some high expectations and I think they did a great job with it. What was your first reaction when you got to sit down and watch it?
I thought it was fair. I think it gave wrestling fans a real perspective on what wrestling was like when I was in my prime, as opposed to the business now.
The travel. And they travel a lot now, but wrestling an hour every night for 15 years—twice on Saturday, twice on Sunday, never a day off. The kids now are working over 300 days a year, but they don't work 365. They wouldn't be in Sydney one night, St. Louis the next, then back to Tokyo the next night. My schedule was insane. But it was part of the job and I loved it, so I wasn't bothered by it then. I certainly traveled, but I always made a good time out of it the best I could. I always found something to do. [laughs] Not always good, but something to do!
One of the coolest things I think they did in the film were these illustrations and animations about some parts of your life, like going to the bar after a show and buying everyone rounds of drinks. That was obviously a big part of the culture back then.
Every night. Every single night. Everything was true except that I was never sitting there alone trying to figure out my next move. I was never sitting in the bar alone at the end of the night, trying to find my identity.
You're a social being who likes to be surrounded by other social people.
It's funny, I never drink at home alone. I never did. I never, ever sat at home alone and drank. I might have people over to my house or at my pool when we're having a barbecue or something, but I like to be out there. Well, I did. But I'm a social guy. I've always been able to make friends.
Something that surprised me a bit watching the documentary was how blunt and frank some of the comments from two of your friends, Triple H and Shawn Michaels, were. At one point, Shawn questions whether you've ever taken the time to get to know Richard Fliehr, the man. I'm curious, are those conversations that you've had with Triple H or Shawn Michaels in the past, or was that surprising to hear them saying some of the things that they said?
It's not conversations I've had with them in the past, but it's a fair assessment. I don't think I ever did take time to get to know myself either.
Do you think that's changing, especially now after the health scare?
Oh, yeah. It started changing maybe two years ago. But it's a very fair assessment. I just did my thing. I never drank before work, but when work was over, I was out. And depending on what city it was, how late I was out.
Yeah. If you're in the middle of Montana, it might be a bit harder.
Hey, I could find fun in Montana, let me tell you. But if I went to Chicago or New York… There are a lot of funs towns. It's the little towns that killed me. When I would go to work in Kansas City for that territory, those little towns out in Kansas would absolutely kill me. To wrestle an hour in the parking lot of a used car dealership in the rain… Are you kidding me? I'm going to find something to do afterwards. And I'm not driving back to Kansas City.
What was your favorite town to hit? Do you have one?
Obviously, I love the south. My two favorite towns were Atlanta and Chicago. Nothing compares. I like Miami, too, but Atlanta in the eighties? Jesus. And Chicago, good lord.
Chicago has a reputation for being a great wrestling town, too.
It's unreal. Rush Street and the women. A lot of drinks, good food, women. Chicago is a great town. It's obviously more fun in the summer than in the winter, but the winter doesn't keep people from coming out and drinking.
I'm glad you mentioned Miami, because I moved to Miami fairly recently. I'm glad that it has the Ric Flair seal of approval.
Oh, Miami is great! Hell, I hitch hiked to Fort Lauderdale when I was 15 years old.
Wait, what? Why? From where?
For spring break, from Minneapolis. I told my parents I was going to Chicago on the train. They dropped me off at the train station, bought me a ticket, drove away, and I walked out the door and hitch hiked all the way to Fort Lauderdale.
How long did it take you?
Were you jumping into multiple cars, or did you find one person to bring you the whole way?
A couple of truck drivers. And once I got to Florida, I got into a car with four girls from Michigan State and went all the way down to Fort Lauderdale. I have a lot of stories that have never been told. The documentary was only two hours long. It could have been four. If it does well, maybe they'll do a sequel.
It's insane. Like, you were in a plane crash that should have ended your career, but it didn't. For most people, that is the story. For Ric Flair, that's like, five minutes of the story.
You know what's funny, though? For years, people would say I could always fly in bad weather, because Flair's not going to crash twice. That was the joke at the time. And then I got hit by lightning, and it killed the guy next to me. So then the joke was that I've got nine lives. I think I started to believe my own press that that I was invincible.
The whole documentary was an emotional ride, but sections of the documentary about the passing of your son Reid were especially heartbreaking.
Not a day goes by that I don't think about Reid. You know, did I make the right decisions or the wrong decisions. You just don't know, because with a child that has had those sort of [addiction] issues for almost five years and had been to rehab facilities all over the country—I mean, I sent him everywhere trying to figure this out. The thing that I didn't mention, because I didn't want to put heat on anyone, is that their answer was, "Let him bottom out." And I would just say, "I'm not going to find my kid in an alley dead. I'm not letting him bottom out." Maybe that was my fault for always letting him back in, letting him off the hook. I'd stay mad at him for a day, but how do you stay mad at your kid? Because when he wasn't messed up, he was the greatest kid in the world. There was nobody like him and everybody loved him. But, man, it was a cycle. Every three to four months, he went off. He'd be gone for three or four days and you couldn't find him. It affected everybody. It was a lot.Those are things that bother me. I don't think about the wrestling and the drinking. I think about the decisions I made with him. I would have rather had him with me than somewhere else if something was going to happen, and sure enough… Then we're in the paper again. One of the reasons I left Charlotte was because they just beat his brains out. The Charlotte Observer did. When he passed, you would have thought we invaded Bosnia. "Ric Flair's Son Died." Okay, I could live with that one. But when his autopsy report came back, big bold letters again. I just said screw 'em. I said, "Goodbye, Charlotte. I was Charlotte before you were." I just had to get away from it, because every time I turned around, someone was asking me. They brought it all back to the surface again.
Yeah, you deal with it and you grieve and you compartmentalize it, and then it all bubbles back to the surface a couple months later. I have to say, though, I give both you and Ashley so much credit. I think it's commendable the way in which you both have been so open about everything with Reid.
Well, she says everything she's doing now she dedicates to him, and that's the truth. You know, the one thing I don't talk about very much—you don't like to say this, but I know this, because I know Reid. He never would have been able to adjust to her success. We would have been dealing with that forever. He was a good professional wrestler, but Ashley's not good. She's great.
Ashley is doing the impossible right now, which is living up to the legacy you've left behind. You got a chance to act as her on-screen manager for a bit. What was the biggest difference you noticed backstage and in the locker room compared to the different eras of the wrestling business you were a part of?
Number one is the social media part of it. There are a bunch of tremendous people working there, but they can't enjoy themselves the way we did. They beat to a different drum. They read the Internet. The Internet is their God sometimes, you know? They listen to the fans. Vince McMahon can say you had a good match, but they'll pull up something on the Internet by somebody who doesn't know shit about wrestling that says their match was crap, and they'll get all wrecked about it.
You can read a thousand positive things on Twitter, but the one negative thing is what you'll always remember.
And it sticks with them. It kills me. It kills me, because I've dealt with that with Ashley.
I was going through some photos recently of you throughout your career, and I have to ask you about all the robes and the suits.
Never the same suit on TBS. I never wore the same suit twice. Every week, for how many years. I bought something new every single week.
Where were you getting all these clothes from?
Michael's in Kansas City and Friedman's in Atlanta, where I bought all my alligator shoes. And I had about 30 robes. Lex Luger said to me one time, "It's image enhancement." That became my excuse. I spent a fortune on clothes.
Level with us, Ric. What is the key to looking as good as the Nature Boy? Is it even possible?
I just think you need to talk to your tailor. You know, come up with ideas from the tie on down that compliments you and your personality. And you have to be able to pull it off. I don't mean like Cam Newton, because I don't consider that getting dressed up. That's more his gimmick. To use the expression, to be the man, you've got to be able to spend the money and you've got to be able to have someone who is clever enough to separate you from the pack.
What's the biggest no-no in Ric Flair's style book?
I've got news for you, skinny ties with the tie bar aren't in. Those skinny ties with the tie bars? Forget it.
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