One year ago, I lost a very dear friend of mine. I knew him as Bill. Some called him Percy. A lot of people called him Paul. He was actually all three of these people, and each name represented a different part of his personality. And because he was truly larger-than-life in so many ways, the gravity of his passing is something I still have trouble formulating in my own mind.
William Alvin Moody of Mobile, Alabama was also known as Percival “Percy” Pringle III, professional wrestling manager for World Class Championship Wrestling, and known even more so on an international basis as Paul Bearer of the WWF/WWE. He was 58 years old when he died on March 5th, 2013 due to respiratory failure. I have never known, nor may I ever know, a person like him ever again.
I think it’s high time I did something for him on this web page, in his honor. This is a project that he and I started together back in 2002, and keeping it going is the best way to keep his legacy alive on the internet. I have long wanted to do a tribute for him here, but I did not want to use it as a spotlight for my own interests. Now that time has passed, it’s something that is completely appropriate. And, even more fitting, is the fact that he was so comfortable with death. Bill always told me, “My life is death,” due to his work in the funeral business (which was 100% legit) and his managerial duties with The Undertaker. I know he would be happy that I was doing this for him on the anniversary of his passing.
So many things went through my mind when Bill died. I hope you never have to experience anything similar. Here was a dear friend of mine, who just happened to be world famous, who just happened to portray a character who represented death. Some people thought his death was a wrestling angle, another chapter in the ongoing saga with The Undertaker and Kane (Paul Bearer’s “son”). I guess I can understand that, looking with the eyes of an outsider. But a lot of people thought about him as the character first, and not as a person — that was really tough. And then I was getting bombarded by the press and whatnot. (Bill’s death was such big news, it made The New York Times obituary section.) It was just an ugly time. I did what I had to do, with the blessings of his family, then promptly retreated.
I am not breaking confidence with any of the things I am talking about here — I have too much respect for my friend to do that. Bill was very open about his own personal struggles (a lot of which was talked about right here on this web site). I am merely going to talk about things that are fitting, in order to properly describe to you the man that I knew.
I met Bill Moody via the internet in 2002. He sought me out because he wanted to do a web site about his career. (He had followed some of my past projects.) We started e-mailing, back and forth, then we started talking on the telephone. Imagine having somebody of his stature seeking you out not only to do work, but be an on-going partner! We immediately clicked, and soon we were talking on a daily basis. It was a pretty amazing thing, and to this day I feel so fortunate that everything came together as it did.
Since he had so many names that he went under, one of the first things I asked him was what to call him. “I’m just Bill Moody from Mobile, Alabama,” he said. And even though seemingly everyone around him called him “Percy” — even his own wife — to me he was always just Bill.
Now things were not exactly rosy in the Moody household. He had left World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) to take care of his wife Dianna, who was stricken with cancer. Bill always had trouble with his weight, and it got worse and worse as he tried to balance home life with life on the road. Finally, he decided to go home to take care of his family, with the understanding he could always come back to WWE when he chose to. When he was home, he grew depressed over his situation, and his weight grew even further out of control. The cancer treatments went through all of his savings, he was on the verge of losing his home, and he was now pretty much housebound at over 500 pounds.
The internet was his outlet to the real world, and he poured his heart into it. Knowing what I knew about his situation (he did not divulge everything to me — some of it was brought to my attention through other sources), I did everything I could to make sure this was something we could both have fun with, so he had something to look forward to every day. I designed the web site in a way that he could tinker with it when I wasn’t around, and he educated himself on how to do a lot of the duties on his own, even without my instruction. He really impressed me with his ability to learn and adapt. Through our efforts together, I found him to be one of the most creative, diverse, intelligent people I have ever met, which is saying something because I have worked with many remarkable talents in the entertainment world. But Bill was something else, indeed.
Due to his weight, and all of the stresses in his life, he was pretty much ready to die at this point. A lot of people don’t know how bad it really was. He would tell me little things, and it tore me apart knowing my friend was in such agony. WWE wanted to bring him back several times, but he always turned them down. Mentally and physically, he could not do it. Finally, when asked what WWE could do to make his life better, so he could come back to the wrestling business that he loved so much, Bill told them he had only one thing that could save him: gastric bypass surgery. WWE gave that to Bill as a gift.
I was spending time with Bill in Las Vegas when he was at 525 pounds and could barely lift his own two feet off the ground. He was putting on a brave front, working his famous personality to the hilt, but he had forgotten to take his beta blockers and could not move without being in excruciating pain. So, he sat in a chair and held court, and I acted as his representative, bringing him drinks, finding people for him, etc. I assumed the role of his guardian and protector, and I did so without even hesitating because I knew it had to be. It bonded us incredibly. Fast forward one year, post-surgery, and Bill was under 300 pounds for the first time in over a decade, full of zest and exuberance, keeping up with me 100% as we trounced up and down the Vegas Strip. Truly, he had become a brand new human being in one single year.
I want to stress this fact: WWE did save Bill Moody’s life. They will never truly get the credit they deserve for all the good that they have done for people over the years. The surgery changed everything for him and made him a brand new person, inside and out. I can never thank WWE enough for what they did for Bill. Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, Undertaker and all of WWE treated him as family, with genuine love, care and respect. Placing him in the WWE Hall of Fame is just another example of how highly they thought of him.
Bill was not always “on,” as people might think. He had a way of compartmentalizing his television personae, to the point where he could turn it off or on, like a light switch. The man I knew was actually very quiet and shy. I know that might really surprise people, considering how flamboyant and outgoing he was in professional wrestling. Maybe because he knew me and trusted me, he never did any shtick around me at all. We hardly ever talked about wrestling — it was the furthest thing from our minds. I know I could have picked his brain about so many things over the years, considering who he was and what he had been exposed to, but wrestling trivia hardly ever came up. We were just friends with many more things to talk about other than wrestling, and that was exactly how it should have been.
We were both very interested in death and graveyards, eyeing everything not in a salacious way, but with respect and reverence. We would travel around to look at tombstones and walk through mausoleums together. For him, it was obvious why it had appeal: this was his line of work, outside of wrestling (plus, hell, he was Paul Bearer!). For me, it was a field that my own family had been involved in for many years, and I always had a natural, unexplainable affinity for mortuaries. When we would visit, we both found a very deep sense of calm that might not make sense to most people. It would remind us of our mortality, as well as the absolute beauty of life.
Percy grew up in the Gulf Coast area, where Stan “Plowboy” Frazier was a huge pro wrestling star. “Tiny,” as many knew Frazier in the region, was one of the men that Bill took photographs of when he was a young fan, hoping to break into the business. Bill liked him so much, when he was booking cards for World Class, he brought in Frazier to work some shows for him, even though the Plowboy was quite old and broken down at that point. Everything came full-circle. And I happened to be a huge fan of Frazier, to the point where I ran a web site about him and his career. (A lot of guys in the wrestling business call me “Plowboy,” which is something I am incredibly proud of.) It was PlowboyFrazier.com that first brought me to Bill’s attention — he had known about me for many years, in a roundabout way.
So, it was rather poetic that Bill and I visited the grave site of Stan Frazier in Biloxi, MS, together. I mentioned that to Bill at the time, how it was through this wonderfully oddball character that we became friends. He smiled because he knew it was true. We even called each other “neighbor,” just like Frazier would call folks (and I would imagine that’s where the Fabulous Freebirds picked it up,too). The spirit of Stan Frazier was always floating right above us, somewhere.
Bill’s last name — Moody — could not have been anymore fitting. He was very moody and cantankerous at times. I always knew how to steer clear of him, and fortunately I did nothing to raise his ire too much. Boy, he could really scare people off! This was, after all, a professional mouthpiece who was not afraid to say exactly what he felt. Many of us used to sit back and watch him go, for it was truly a sight to behold — It was really like watching a comedy act on the level of Don Rickles in his prime, where you would cringe at the outcome, but you couldn’t look away. He would become Percy or Paul, and everybody would run for the hills. I am just glad I was on his good side, for I know just how bad things got if he didn’t like you.
But the Bill Moody I knew was more than these occasional flare-ups. He was much more than Paul Bearer or Percy Pringle. Bill, in his own way, was one of the most loving and devoted family men I have ever known. He loved his family sometimes to the point of self-detriment. Bill gave everything he could to those he cared about. He had a very definite sense of what was right and what was wrong, and lived by this code. He was methodical, he was thorough, and always very attentive to the things that were important to him.
Bill was a combination of father figure and big brother to me. It’s so hard for me to put in words exactly how I felt about him. Bill was a friend, a fierce protector, and a genuine inspiration to me. He opened so many parts of the world for me that I never would have otherwise known. He was incredibly generous to me, in countless ways. Most of all, he was my “neighbor,” and somebody who forever changed my life. And there is no way in the world he will ever be forgotten — not be me, not by anyone.
- Mar. 6, 2013: The fascinating story of Percy Pringle III / Paul Bearer
- Mar. 6, 2013: Mat Matters: The complex Percy Pringle