The story so far…
In Parts One and Two 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. Over the next few months, Barry revealed insights into his past and how he never really wanted to be a wrestler. Music and acting were his true passions. Despite working for the WWF, Barry’s lost ambition proved destructive as the vices of drugs and alcohol took over and he found himself in prison. It would be years before Barry would be able to get himself out of the dark hole he had dug for himself. Things would only get worse.
To ease his turmoil, Barry got lost in the old cliché of sex and drugs. But nothing worked. He was still lonely. He still felt unworthy.
Things got worse for Barry in 1992. Although no longer working for the WWF, he managed to become a key player in an infamous sex scandal involving the company.
Barry’s involvement in the scandal happened years earlier in 1978. He was just 19 and wrestling with a faction of the NWA at the time. For a show in Amarillo, Barry ended up traveling with the booker, Terry Garvin.
Throughout the drive, Barry says that Garvin kept asking if he could perform oral sex on him. Barry politely kept turning him down.
“I didn’t feel threatened or anything,” Barry remembers. “Maybe a little uncomfortable because he was being so persistent because he did it every 30 miles and this was a six-hour trip. When we got there, it was over. I wasn’t traumatized. He was so hurt or whatever that he didn’t even ride back with me.”
Barry didn’t give the incident much thought. He says he never felt in any real danger of being harmed or sexually assaulted. Besides with his father and brother, no one would dare mess with him.
But eventually, Barry became very vocal about the incident and that decision still haunts his conscience to this day.
It seemed that the late Garvin, who went on to work in the WWF front office (a job he got through friend, Pat Patterson), had a penchant for trysts with young ring boys working for the company. According to the book, Sex, Lies and Headlocks The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment written by Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham, everything went awry when one ring boy, Tom Cole, refused Garvin’s advances and was subsequently fired. Cole’s allegations were reported by Jeff Savage in the San Diego News Tribune on March 11, 1992.
Once the story broke, the press was all over it. Barry says he was asked by a local radio show host if the allegations concerning Garvin could be true. Barry told him yes and then told him about his own experience with Garvin. Barry was then asked to appear on the radio show to tell his story.
“I didn’t really give it a lot of thought at that point,” recalled Barry. “A part of me was pissed because I thought there were boys being abused.”
Barry thought he was doing the right thing. He talks about remembering another ring boy, not Cole, approaching him before the scandal broke, while Barry was still on the WWF roster. The boy confessed to Barry that Garvin was doing things that were making him uncomfortable. Barry says he gave the boy the best advice he could. Again at the time, he says it wasn’t something that fazed him.
Once Barry’s story was made public, the issue became even bigger. According to Barry, he’d heard that Vince McMahon was calling him a liar so Barry went and had a lie detector test conducted. He claims he passed.
On March 13, 1992, Vince McMahon appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live denying the allegations against Garvin. Barry called in to the show.
“My beef was, I’m not lying, I have proof,” said Barry. “And I suppose from there it became personal and I got cloudy. I pushed it. From there, I was flying all over the country and doing TV shows. In retrospect it wasn’t really cool. It’s kind of like good intentions gone wrong. I will admit that I had a sour grape or two to grind. You wouldn’t have got me to admit that then. I was also getting letters from mothers around the country saying that I was doing a great thing. I really ended up in the middle of a bunch of shit.”
The pile escalated when Barry appeared on the popular talk show of the time, Donahue, with McMahon.
Unbeknownst to Barry the whole thing had been a sham. Everything he was trying to do had been for nothing.
Cole’s brother had hired a lawyer who struck a settlement with Vince McMahon. According to Assael and Mooneyham, Cole was given a new job with the WWF and $150,000 in back pay.But the kicker: Cole sat with Linda McMahon during the taping of the show and according to Barry if anyone not part of Team McMahon would have mentioned Cole’s name, Cole was going to stand up and say that Vince was the only one who cared about him.
The incident still upsets Barry. As he tells it, Cole’s brother was contacting him constantly before the talk show appearance and to have everything end up in a set up, to see it all culminate in some kid wanting a job, goes beyond angering him.
I ask Barry if he could do it all over again, would he tell anyone about the allegations?
“Absolutely not,” he answers without any hesitation. “Not without knowing a hell of a lot more.”
I ask him what he would like to change about the scandal.
“I’m a hell of a lot smarter now than I was then,” he began. “I was pretty gullible then because I thought people were like me and I took that for granted. I didn’t realize when these people said, ‘c’mon man you really gotta tell your story and do the right think and come on my radio show;’ they couldn’t give a fuck about me or Tom Cole or anybody else. They were trying to further themselves. They smile, pat you on the back, try and give you that convicted look. They almost make you feel like if you don’t do something you are responsible. If you don’t come forward and say something, you are responsible for every molested child in the world. And then you want to do the right thing.”
What he would also like to change about the scandal are the broken ties that resulted with McMahon and Patterson.
“It is important for me to express how sorry I am and how I was wrong,” expressed Barry, who also intends to write apology letters to both McMahon and Patterson.Orton says he never saw Patterson engage in any of the behavior that Garvin was accused of. But during the time of the scandal Barry remembers elaborating on incidents that occurred with Patterson (who, as it is widely known, is a gay man). Incidents where Patterson would tease Barry in a harmless way when he came out of the shower or on a road trip.
“When you are in the moment and people are asking you certain questions and in a certain way, I probably took it farther than it should have went,” comments Barry. “I don’t really remember. I know I never had anything against Pat Patterson.”
* * *
In the aftermath of the scandal, Barry became an outcast in the wrestling world. To some people, he still is. Many were afraid to talk to him.
Several people in the business were told not to. Barry even started going by a different name, Barrymore Barlow.
Already relying on drugs like Valium to get through the scandal, Barry needed something stronger. Something bigger.
There seemed to be just one cure: methamphetamine.
For eight years, Barry used crystal meth.
“The way I got into it, I was bummed out at life, met this girl, went to stay with her one night and we got real freaky and I was a sexual tyrannosaurus, all day and all night,” explained Barry bluntly. “Then a year later, I woke up and was like, ‘now I need this shit.’ That was a long journey into the dark and the rancid and the putrid and the ridiculous and the dangerous and the deadly and the soulless.”Consumed by depression over the scandal, Barry describes his meth years as the point in his life when he fell off the world in grief.
“I laugh at everything,” he remarked. “I didn’t laugh for eight years.”
He continued, “I swear to God that when you do meth for a long period of time, it actually replaces your soul in your body. It decides that it can’t live in a place with all this shit, so your soul checks out and the souls of other dickheads jump in.”
In 1999, Barry himself almost checked out.
For four days he kept a .44 Magnum in his mouth determined to kill himself. He says all he needed was one reason not to.
A friend called him on the phone and encouraged him to see a therapist. It was the reason he needed.
With the help of a therapist, whom Barry admits he still consults today, Barry beat his addictions and started experiencing life again.
Being able to have a second chance, having the ability to still be alive is not lost on Barry.
“If there was a yearbook in the wrestling business, I would have been voted most likely to OD,” he comments seriously.
He also admits that whenever he hears of a wrestler who has passed away much too young, such as Curt Hennig, that he was expecting to be gone way before them.
* * *One of the first things Barry did when he beat his addictions was focus on what he was truly supposed to be doing with his life all along. Focus on his real love: acting.
He went to New York and began studying classical theatre. Barry tells me he spent a year in New York studying with Robert Patterson. We have promised each other total honesty from the beginning so I tell him I have no idea who that is.
He immediately takes offense at my lack of knowledge when it comes to theatre. So he spends countless hours educating me on the subject he loves most and he also takes it upon himself to fill my email inbox immediately with information on the subject.
In his opinion my ignorance is disgraceful. By the end of yet another one of our conversations — by now there have been several — I am dizzy trying to retain everything he has taught me from the psychological perils of Method Acting to his beliefs that the basics are everything when it comes to acting to his theories on why Marilyn Monroe is no longer with us.
But I digress, it was during his time in New York that Barry met Zoë Wild. Wild was studying writing and, like Barry, she too had had a bout with crystal meth addiction. The two became friends and spent time taking in operas, Broadway plays and other cultural fascinations in New York.
During a bad case of writer’s block, Wild called Barry up. She told him she had to write a 17-page story and that it had to be turned in by 7:00 a.m. the next day. She needed a last page. Barry came in and helped her out.
Barry left New York, but he never forgot the story he and Wild had written together. He called her up and asked her if she wanted to film it. Wild agreed. The story was expanded on and the script became Tweak the Heat. The film, a brutally honest and well shot look at the world of crystal meth, is something that Barry has taken so seriously and is beyond proud of.From the shocking facts given about the drug in the opening screen to the smart dialogue, Barry is hoping people will get the message.
“There’s a hell of a story to be told,” he said. “People should know, meth is not a glorious thing. And there is hope. People who see it realize how bad it is, but there is hope. If we save one person, we have done a hell of a thing.”
Barry intends to release the film for the 2006-2007 festival season. Nancy P. Corbo plays the character Samantha in Tweak the Heat. She says she has known Barry for about six years. The two met in acting school. Corbo confesses she wanted to be a part of the movie because of the script and the director, who just happens to be Barry.
“He was very generous,” she commented about the filming experience. “And what he did for me is one of the roles which is originally a guy, he said, ‘you know what I’m going to tweak this script, no pun intended and Nancy I think you would be absolutely incredible.’ I told him that I would love to and he wrote a very interesting role for me.”
Corbo knows Barry for his film endeavors. She admits she doesn’t know him as a wrestler. “All the years I’ve known him, he has seemed incredibly focused on his craft,” she said. “That’s why he and I really clicked. We were both really focused, really serious and willing to give up anything that we could for it.”
For Corbo that meant leaving Las Vegas for Los Angeles to study acting. The initial move brought on some tough times financially for the actress. Her friend Barry noticed.
“When he saw the trouble I was going through, he obviously knew my parents didn’t really understand, so he wrote this letter to them which was amazing,” she explained. “It must have been a 20-page letter. He hand delivered it to them and he left. The letter just basically said your daughter is one of the best people I know. She is doing everything in her power far more than anyone I’ve ever known to do what she wants to do. She is busting her ass. She is the type of girl who could be doing anything with her life, but she chose acting. The letter didn’t preach or anything, but it was obvious I needed help.”
Two days later, Corbo’s father mailed her some money. She says she was very touched that Barry would take the time to help her without her knowledge.
She added, “He is one of the few people in life that are full of passion, not just for his work, but in life. I’ve learned so much from him. There are times in my life where I am doing something and I will have this little voice going, ‘What would Barry do?’ The only thing I can say is that I hope he takes better care of himself and that he lives a lot longer than he thinks he will.”
* * *It is several months later and I still think back on my grandmother reading my cards before I ventured off to Vegas. Neither of us had any way of knowing that I would meet Barry and that he would decide I was the person worthy of sharing his story with.
I’m beyond grateful Barry trusted me. I can’t even begin to tell you how many phone calls, emails, transcripts and Barry’s creative writings (much appreciated by the way) that were poured over to write this story. I only hope I have done this man justice.
And only fittingly I will give him the last words, but they are not his final words. Because I truly believe we will be experiencing positive, life-altering things from this man. Brace yourselves.
“I would just like to be remembered as the guy who meant well and was plugged in. I have this ongoing thing that I was born 20 years too late and 10 years too early to really have made a difference with what I really wanted to do. The guy who would have done good if he would have had better timing, who in the end figured it out and did the best he could. I don’t have much anymore, but fuck it, I’m happy. I believe in what I am doing and I believe it’s good and even if I die tomorrow, these past six or seven years, I haven’t had to regret waking up in the morning.”