Sometimes as a journalist a story becomes more than just a story.
In 2005, my clumsy self literally walked right into Barry Orton while he was doing some filming at the Cauliflower Alley Club (CAC) reunion. Honestly, I turned around swiftly and ran smack into him and his video camera! Sixteen years later he was still one of my best friends.
On March 19, 2021, my friend died at the age of 62.
So now I have to say goodbye.
Randal Berry Orton was born on May 28, 1958. This is the part where I could go over Barry’s wrestling career and of course his involvement in the World Wrestling Federation’s (WWF, now World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE) infamous ring boy scandal. My apologies, but no I’m not going to do that.
What I’d like to write about and share with you today is the Barry I knew. The friend I’m missing so terribly right now.
The Barry I knew was someone who would have marathon phone calls with me. If I saw his name come up on my phone, I knew to get comfy because we would be talking for a while. Our longest call ever was over eight hours and it marked one of the first times I witnessed a sunrise. I can still hear the kiss sound his lips would make over the phone as he chain smoked.
Other than when I interviewed Barry for my story in 2006, we didn’t really ever talk about pro wrestling. Barry wasn’t a big fan of pro wrestling. Despite coming from a pro wrestling family, he had never wanted to be a pro wrestler. Barry’s intention was to wrestle for a couple of years, make some money and then pursue his real dreams of music and movies. So, it really stuck out to me when Barry called me all excited just days after his nephew, Randy Orton, had won the WWE Championship from Drew McIntyre at the 2020 Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. I just remember thinking, ‘Are Barry and I really talking about wrestling?’ and how funny and rare that was. And although I couldn’t see Barry’s face, I could tell he was beaming for Randy. Families are complicated and Barry would talk about having ups and downs in his relationship with Randy, but the one constant was Barry being unable to hide the pride he had for his nephew and his accomplishments.
Instead of pro wrestling, Barry preferred to talk about politics, movies, music and outer space.
Barry introduced me to the comedic stylings of Bill Maher and very quickly I was obsessed with the comedian too. Like Maher, Barry was not a fan of Donald Trump, so he always appreciated and applauded Maher’s blunt analysis on the former U.S. President. Barry would often reference Maher’s weekly talk show in our phone calls, so I was always sure not to miss an episode.
Barry told me that his first band was called the Midget Monkees and that their play list consisted of hits by The Monkees. But he wasn’t one for bubblegum pop. He preferred Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin. He was also crazy about motion pictures, dissecting every facet about them, especially favorites like Poltergeist and Tribes. And his favorite actor was Marlon Brando. Oh, could Barry talk about Brando! Barry’s more recent obsession was the Marvel movies. He would chide me for not having watched all of them. Barry was such a fan that he watched them frequently and even in the proper timeline sequence!
Barry’s recall abilities weren’t as great as the years went by, but we tried to make his troubles into a game. He would often say, “Jamie, who is that actor…” And I would challenge myself to figure out who he was talking about with the limited clues he could provide. Not to brag, but I actually got quite good at figuring out who Barry was talking about with very little to go on.
Oh, how he loved outer space. I’m sure some people will find this fact surprising, but Barry was truly a space nerd! And with me having a husband who has a Masters of Science in space studies, Barry loved to talk to him too and pick his brain. About a year ago, Barry was convinced the moon was going through some severe changes and he insisted that my husband and I take our telescope outside and look at the moon and report back to him. Due to cloudy conditions this took us a couple of nights to achieve and in the end, we didn’t really see what Barry found so troubling, but it wasn’t much of a hardship to be outside looking up at the night sky with someone you loved.
A few months ago, Barry figured out how to do video calls on his cell phone and I was one of the first people he called to try it out. I had just showered, had no makeup on and was dressed in an old, oversize sweatshirt that I stole from my Dad years ago. I answered the call, but apologized immediately for my appearance. Barry quickly replied, “This is when you are at your most beautiful!” He then insisted I had to take my phone downstairs so he could see my husband too. Barry was like a little kid that day so excited to be able to see us as he spoke to us. It’s such a simple thing I’m sure so many of us take for granted, but on that day, Barry was hands down the happiest I had ever seen him.
Happy days were always a cause for celebration for me and Barry as we both struggled with depression. And during our friendship we experienced each of us having really good and really bad days. During a bad day, all it would take was a phone call to Barry and in no time at all he’d have me laughing. He had such a loud, full laugh. It was more of a guffaw really. Barry and I both had times where we questioned if we wanted to continue living. During these times Barry would ask me who would even miss him if he was gone. I would immediately and unabashedly pipe up, “I would miss you! You mean something to me!”
A source of Barry’s depression was undoubtedly his association with the WWF’s ring boy sex scandal. It was a sore subject for Barry and a moment that changed the entire trajectory of his life. It was also something he could never fully escape from. Barry had been one of the people to speak out about allegations of sexual abuse and harassment brought forth by young, male ring crew members. Barry even shared his own experience with one of the alleged perpetrators, Terry Garvin. Barry did several media interviews culminating with an appearance on Donahue.
There are many people who have questioned Barry’s motives. Regarding the scandal, Barry even admitted to me: “My beef was, I’m not lying, I have proof. 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.”
But with me being the mother of a young son, I often told Barry that what he did was incredibly brave and ballsy. And I was proud of him for standing up for the young boys even though it led to him being blackballed from the pro wrestling industry and cost him everything. Barry told me he wasn’t even sure if he had ever watched his appearance on Donahue after it aired. I tried to convince him to watch it on YouTube, just so he could see how assertively and articulately he had stood up to fellow guest, Vince McMahon, the chairman and CEO of WWE. But he just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t face the painful memories.
On March 20, 2021, I was helping my friend with her garage sale. I saw I had missed a call from Barry on my phone and made a mental note that I would call him when I got home. And then a few hours later a fellow Slam contributor sent me a message offering condolences about Barry. I immediately called Barry’s number hoping he would answer and this would all be a misunderstanding.
Barry didn’t answer the phone.
Instead his sister, Rhonda Orton, told me she had been the one calling on Barry’s phone earlier to let me know that Barry had died. She told me that Barry thought the world of me and I told her I felt the same about him and I loved him.
I remember returning home and going outside with my husband and a glass of wine. We held hands as I tearfully looked up at the sky and attempted the impossible: finding the words to say goodbye to my friend. I honestly don’t remember what I all said, but everything came from my heart and by the end, my husband and I were both crying and missing someone who had been such an important part of our lives.
I cried so much yesterday. I’m crying now as I write this.
My friend Barry was a quirky guy. He was not a perfect man. He would often ask me why I was his friend. As someone who is also on the quirky side, I told him that it wasn’t always easy for me to connect with people, so when I did connect with someone, I kept them. I kept Barry for 16 years and I would have gladly kept him for many more.
I’m trying to take comfort in the fact that Barry is at peace now. I don’t have to worry about him anymore. Our last phone conversation, a few days ago, was filled with laughter. And like always, we ended the call by saying, “I love you” to each other.
My heart is broken. The tears keep coming. But I’m also picturing my friend Barry up in heaven. Like me Barry loved animals more than most people, so I’m just envisioning him reuniting with all the pets throughout his life that he loved and lost. I see his pets just piling on him so excited to see him again. My dear friend, Barry, is being given an abundance of love.
And he’s smiling.
It seems only fitting that Barry get the final word:
“I would just like to be remembered as the guy who meant well and was plugged in,” Barry once told me. “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 f*** 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.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The cause of Barry Orton’s death has not been released as of press time. A funeral for Barry will be held at 10 a.m. on March 30, 2021 at Affordable Cremation and Burial Service located at 2127 W Charleston Blvd in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The top feature images are from the author’s collection. The picture on the left of Barry Orton in red is credited to Eddie Cheslock.