The story so far…
In Part One of the Barry Orton epic, SLAM! Wrestling writer Jamie Hemmings had the opportunity to meet Barry Orton when she attended the Cauliflower Alley Club Reunion in Las Vegas last April. Barry had invited a few of the wrestlers attending the reunion to his house to watch parts of his film, Tweak the Heat, and he asked Hemmings if she’d like to join them. At the end of the screening, Barry promised her a personal interview. A few weeks later she received an email promising that he would finally break his silence on the infamous WWE scandal.
Given that Barry and I reside in separate countries, our interview had to occur over the phone. Our first conversation lasted over eight hours. Barry wanted to be thorough. He wanted to do this right. A part of him wanted to be analyzed, the other wanted to be cleansed.
He starts off by saying, “I was always different.”
An understatement that evokes irony, laughter and despite his protests, pity.
He tells me that wrestling didn’t interest him. When Bob Orton Sr. is your father and Bob Orton Jr. is your brother, this has to be a problem. While he idolized his older brother, who is eight years his senior, and often imitated his interests, Barry’s true loves were music, movies and performing.
“I can remember being five years old and hearing ‘I Got You Babe’ by Sonny and Cher,” recalled the now 47-year-old. “I thought it was like the saddest and the most coolest thing I ever heard. It moved me to a degree. I just tapped into it.”
His father was often on the road and soon so was his brother. Music was the perfect outlet for him.
“I spent a lot of time alone, so I had to keep myself entertained,” he remembered. “I made believe a lot.”
Then his tone softens.
“I always felt inferior and that I wasn’t good enough,” he confessed. “I didn’t have a lot of self esteem and I was pretty sure that I was incapable of doing anything right or well.”Those who know anything about Barry will have to shake their heads at his dark, youthful prophesy. Because for several years, it seemed Barry continued to believe in those thoughts.
And it almost destroyed him.
Barry continued pursuing music throughout his youth. He remembers his first band was called the Midget Monkees and that their play list consisted of Monkees hits. But he wasn’t one for bubblegum pop. He preferred the stylings and antics of Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin. Barry started bands with names like Back Door, Hedonism Guru and Hedonism Twist.
He was also crazy about motion pictures, analyzing every facet about them, especially favorites like Poltergeist and Tribes. It’s something he still does today. A lot of our conversation and ones that followed are spent discussing and dissecting films.
The people of Missouri, including his bandmates at the time, weren’t ready for young Barry’s impassioned ideas.
“No matter what I did, it wasn’t cool, but I was so passionate about it,” he remembered. “I was like here’s what we are going to do, we’re all going to wear gorilla outfits and I wrote this song. They would conspire and kick me out of the band.”
It’s a common theme throughout his life and one Barry often repeats: he was always ahead of his time.
A non-conformist attitude didn’t adhere with the world of academia either. According to Barry, he was asked to leave high school before he was able to finish. He kept pursuing music stardom, but when a potential record deal for his band fell through, the crestfallen 17-year-old moved to Texas to live with his sister.
While there, the two of them went down to visit their father and brother in Tampa, Florida. For the first time, Barry saw the family business in a new light.
“There was something about having that response from the crowd which is comparable to the kind of response you get from playing in a band,” he divulged. “There was an energy. It was infectious. It was intoxicating.” Barry expressed his interest to his father and began training in Tampa under the watchful eyes of his father, Bob Roop and Tully Blanchard, whom Barry bluntly refers to as a “dickhead.”
Barry trained alongside Tito Santana and after four months he had his first match with Blanchard when Blanchard’s opponent, Mike Hammer, failed to show up.
“I went out and they introduced me as Barry Orton,” he recalled with a laugh. “Everyone booed. Tully was such a prick during the match, he ate me up. He gave me every bump known to man: suplexes, pile drivers, hip tosses, back drops, body slams… you name it. I was so nervous I couldn’t see a foot in front of my face. The match went about five minutes. The ref helped me up and everyone gave me a standing ovation. They felt so bad for me.”
Barry’s intention was to wrestle for a couple of years, make some money and then pursue his real dreams.
But it didn’t work out that way. Barry continued to wrestle in various territories throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s. And when his brother ended up leaving Tampa and working for the then World Wrestling Federation (WWF), now World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), he got Barry booked there as well. Fans would mostly recognize him under the name Barry O, a decently-built 6-foot-1 quality piece of enhancement talent with a mullet.During his career he even managed to hold a few tag titles including the International Championship Wresting Southwestern tag team titles with his brother Bob and the National Wrestling Alliance Americas tag team titles with Hector Guerrero. In singles competition, Barry was also the IWF Heavyweight Champion and the World Organized Wrestling (WOW) Heavyweight Champion, albeit for one day.
According to Barry, his first WWF match was a 15-minute bout with Canada’s own Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Barry recalls Chief Jay Strongbow exclaiming, “Goddamn the kid can work,” afterwards but the words were lost on him.
“I was always struggling because I wanted to be a musician,” he confessed. “I never saw myself as a professional wrestler. I was into the performance end, but I didn’t live the lifestyle. I wasn’t about being in the gym six hours a day. I was about being a rock star. Where I was gifted in the ring, I didn’t do all the things you were supposed to do. And because of the fact that I didn’t work out, I didn’t have the looks or the body and I didn’t get the opportunity which hence frustrated me and made me continue to believe I was not worthy. I would turn to drugs and alcohol to escape and medicate.”
Vices that ruined his reputation and severely altered his judgment and the course of his life.
Vices that led to straight to prison.Barry believes that the year was 1986 and for the first time in our conversation he becomes uncomfortable, almost leery.
“I was in a car wreck and I had been drinking and someone died,” he reveals carefully.
It’s a topic that still troubles him. Barry, married to his first wife at the time, had been in the car with another woman. He ended up spending two weeks in the hospital. The other woman died.
According to Barry, the WWF wanted him to clear up all his legal troubles before he came back to work. In the meantime, Barry began working for Stampede Wrestling in Canada. In an homage to his father, Barry revamped the Zodiac character.
“The gimmick was kind of a cross between a vampire and the villain from Seven even though Seven hadn’t come out yet,” described Barry. “Astrology had a part, witchcraft had a part, Satanism had a part. Although I never blatantly did anything Satanic. It was always innuendo. Instead of ‘Hail Satan,’ I would say, ‘Luuuuuke!’ Because I thought Luke was a nickname for Lucifer. That’s as far as it went. It worked really well and it was fun doing it.”
Bob Johnson has been involved with Stampede Wrestling since 1979, and currently he works as a consultant. He’s always been impressed with Barry’s creativity and mind for the business.
“I always considered him to be the Quentin Tarantino of the wrestling business,” declared Johnson in what has to be one of my favorite personal descriptions of Barry.
Johnson remembers Barry’s time in Stampede with fondness, especially the way Barry raised attendance and put over then-heel Jason the Terrible [Karl Moffatt]. “Barry came in and we teamed him with Jason the Terrible,” explained Johnson. “Barry said, ‘I have some really interesting concepts’ and we were just totally blown away. He seemed to be totally creative and really understood what the word work meant in the business. And connecting to the crowd, he really knew what he was doing. Jason the Terrible became a super heel, he was a bad guy already, but he became a super bad guy with the arrival of Barry Orton’s Zodiac.”Johnson’s favorite Zodiac moments were the infamous interviews Barry used to give.
“Barry would come in and the Zodiac character was dressed in a black mask and he has this synthesizer music and he had all kinds of graphics that had never been done on TV,” he remarked. “He had this really interesting sound track that he did when he talked. The voice was just something really weird and different, very surreal. It was so advanced for the time and it really got over.”
Johnson wasn’t the only one impressed with Barry’s rendition of the character. It seems Barry’s own father was a fan.
“At the CAC, Bob Orton Sr. was talking to me and he said, ‘Barry wasn’t the original Zodiac, I was, but Barry was able to really do something with it,'” Johnson recalled.
Unfortunately, Barry’s time in Stampede was cut short when it was time for him to face up to his legal responsibilities. On the advice of his lawyer, Barry decided to accept a plea deal, to avoid a trial and facing several years in prison.
At a mitigation hearing, he received the maximum mitigation sentence of 3.75 years.
“Had he stayed in Stampede, wrestling could have still gone full blast here because he was bringing so many good ideas,” offered Johnson. “Barry was so humble. I never saw him have false pride. And he got along with everybody. People liked him up here. To me the dream team of the wrestling business would be some kind of combination of Bruce Hart and Barry Orton running the WWE. The product would be 10 times as good as it is now.”Barry served the sentence in Arizona. He was an ideal inmate. He took the time to complete his GED and complete some college courses. The wildest story he has is getting a haircut from a death row inmate, he claims it’s his first one. If you see the length of his hair now, he’s probably telling the truth.
Barry made his first parole, being released 13 days short of two years. His wife was there for the hearing, but the marriage ended soon after. It had been too much for her. The couple’s first daughter had been only a year old when Barry entered prison and their second daughter was born while he was incarcerated. She remarried and her new husband adopted the children. Barry says he wanted the best for them. He would end up marrying three more times after this, all of them failing.
“What I had to deal with, was all relative when you think about the victim’s family,” pondered Barry. “The victim is also everybody that you know. It was my wife. My kids. My mother. My father. My sister. The WWF. You feel like everything that everybody said about you all your life is true.”
After his stay in prison, Barry went back to working with the WWF, albeit briefly.
Times had changed.
He says he felt like his identity was slipping away.
Promoters wanted him to change his ring attire. They asked him to cut his hair.
“It wasn’t even fun,” Barry described. “It wasn’t even enjoyable. It almost wasn’t even tolerable. It just made me feel like you know how it is when everyone gets together and you’re having a party, hot dogs, a couple joints, beer. Everyone is having a good time, talking about what they are going to be doing with their lives, it’s great. Famous scenario.”Then there’s a couple of assholes who have too many beers and they really shouldn’t be there anyway. Before you know it there’s all this drama. People that you love that are friends are talking about kicking each other’s asses. But you are kind of stuck there because you rode with someone else. You just hate it and it breaks your heart and you just wish everyone would get along and have a good time. You’re willing to sacrifice your tent and your shit if everyone would be cool. That’s how it was.”
It’s almost heartbreaking how keen his mind is to the business. With one simple analogy, he has summed the feudal system of the wrestling business today.
I want to be neutral. I don’t want to feel sorry for him especially when I know the story is going to keep shifting downwards. This is just the beginning of the downward spiral…
- The Other Orton: Part 1
- The Other Orton: Part 2 – Barry O breaks his silence
- The Other Orton: Part 3 – Barry O: Scandal, Drugs, Recovery
- Orton family story archive – Bob Sr., Barry, Bob Jr., Randy