Longtime wrestling photojournalist Bob Mulrenin had more guts, determination and in the last few months of his life than any of us who knew him could have guessed at. And as he’d always done, he lived his motto of always living on his own terms, 24/7. His death on Saturday, November 19, from cancer, means that the wrestling world lost one of its greats, a “Superman.”
Bob called me in April 2022 and made me swear to secrecy about his health issues.
I’d kept quiet until PWInsider’s Mike Johnson — another of Bob’s friends — reported Bob’s condition Friday, then his passing in Brooklyn, NY. Bob’s sister okayed further spreading of the “Word of Bob” and said she’d been inundated with notes from people. Another legendary photographer, George Napolitano, told me Bob now would want people to know about his life.
In fact, Bob had said last May, “You guys can talk about me when I’m gone. Right now, I don’t want anyone to know unless they ask why I look different.”
With Bob’s death, I thought back to what he told me in April: “I began throwing up a bit during WrestleMania week especially that Saturday night when I got back to my room. I thought it was just the flu or not getting enough rest. Then out of the blue after I got home it got worse. I couldn’t hold anything down, even drinking water. The specialists said I had esophageal cancer and that it had spread. I’m going to do radiation and chemo and try to slow a bit. But they tell me I might have 1-1/2 to 2 years. So I’m gonna try to keep doing what I want to do.”
A few weeks later, he called and said he was feeling better with the prescribed protein shakes and that he could “finally handle some solid foods.” He was going to resume photographing as many Impact tapings, indies and reunions as he could.
Later on, he said he’d regrettably had to cancel what would’ve been an overwhelming trip he’d long planned for Nashville and the big Conrad Thompson-promoted Ric Flair weekend and was instead going to a less busy event. “Way too much going on every day and I got tired just thinking how’d I’d get to everything and be everywhere. I’m walking a little slower now. Hated cancelling that trip.”
Then he said he was finally able to hold even more solid food down and was happy he’d put back some of the significant weight back on that he’d lost since April. “I feel like however long I have, I’m getting stronger. So it’s more tolerable. I’m taking walks outside for exercise and doing some light weights like lifting 1/2 gallon water bottles. The lead guys (doctors) still give me 2 years tops and I’m going to try to do everything I want to do within reason for as long as I can. Just have fun and do what I love.”
He was realistic but also was going to “get in as much real life as possible.”
His sister, who’d been taking great round-the-clock care of him along with other family members, texted a few days after Bob fell at his home and was hospitalized, that he’d become almost non-communicative by Thursday. And by late Friday, he wasn’t recognizing others and had become non-responsive. She agonized over honoring his continued wishes if it ever got to that point to just put him in end-of-life hospice care. He’d long said, “I never want to be kept alive on wires and tubes.”
Saturday morning, she texted that she’d finally signed the papers for hospice care and how difficult that was for her. The nurses were doing everything to make sure he was comfortable at all times, but he passed just hours afterwards, on Saturday.
It is a shoot-punch to wrestling’s gut.
Bob was always the life of party at any event he was at, with his great humor and no b.s. philosophy on wrestling, music and life. He was also an expert on pop culture, getting tons of entertainment news feeds on his cellphone.
He had been doing wrestling photography for shows, signings and events since the late 1970s when he began covering WWWF TV tapings. Located in the northeast, he was able to be there for major moments, like the joint NWA/AWA Pro Wrestling America shows.
I can only describe Bob as having the energy of several people, certainly all the decades I knew him. We roomed together covering several WrestleManias, usually staying at the Highspots WrestleCon hotels like the one near my home in 2015 in San Jose/Santa Clara. I’d pick him up each time at the airport and he’d say “forget about checking in! Let’s go do stuff!”
That year, I found myself in the photo pit with Napolitano and Bob, and one memory was Bob introducing me to Maria Menounos, like they were old pals — which they were.
Those WrestleMania weeks were always busy and exhausting. We’d get back past midnight and I’d immediately try to get some sleep. He’d stay up all night, every night, cleaning up his images from whatever he had shot that day — properly centering each image, checking for color, hue and resolution and then spending even more hours uploading them to WrestlingFigs.com plus other sites. He was totally devoted to his audience and bosses, not wanting to let anyone down. He’d finally go to bed around 7 a.m. for about 60-90 minutes and then repeat it all over again, each day. After Sunday’s WrestleMania event was over, he’d make a bee-line for his room, and work all night again.
“I’ll catch up on my sleep on the flight home,” was his response each time any of us would nag him.
Bob would always get a hero’s welcome from everyone at the wrestler signings and events — especially from all his friends he’d worked with for years covering TNA and then Impact. (Kudos to Impact for releasing story and graphic.) He shot and covered everything in TNA/Impact, helping the company under various management changes, doing talent professional photo shoots, talking up all their shows in advance and more. He always gave the wrestlers his posed and action photos of them for any use over the years.
He was a regular at Cauliflower Alley Club Vegas reunions in Las Vegas. His longtime fellow wrestling fan and top friend Greg from Baltimore would pick him up in his rental and Bob immediately asked to be driven each time to the nearest Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, since there were none near him in New York, before going to check in at the host hotel. After one CAC awards banquet, we had tickets to the Stratosphere amusement park area with roller coaster rides high above the Vegas Strip. One of his oldest wrestling friends, “Sunny” Tammy Sytch, went with us. Bob said he had “a zillion points” at Bally’s Hotel chain to get rooms in Vegas, although he only irregularly played the slots during his little downtime. And another Bob motto was “any time I can get out to Vegas is always heaven for me.”
For many, Bob is connected to the Godmother of Pro Wrestling, Georgiann “Georgie” Makropolous. He helped with her Chatterbox newsletter, and then as the Internet arrived, he helped her be a part of WrestlingFigs.com, where she broadened her online presence. He was always helping Georgie with her computer, newsletter, teaching her new software to keep track for example of all the wrestler’s birthdays, anniversaries and more. And then helped her get out all those cards including holiday cards to talent like Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Sabu and more. When she passed in January of 2010, Bob kept her work alive on the site as well as her legacy.
The Ringside Collectibles/WrestlingFigs.com site was Bob’s primary home, though he contributed to plenty of other publications and websites. He loved working for WrestlingFigs but he wasn’t really a collector of wrestling action figures. “I have some but I really don’t write about figures at all for the site! Our experts cover and do all that and I cover the wrestling,” he once told me.
Bob also said over the years that he loved working for his friend Paul Heyman’s Heyman Hustle site. But well before that, whenever Bob couldn’t solve something on his own in 1990s ECW and later in WWE, he’d often say “I’m speed-dialing Paul E now!”
Heyman was but one of many major names that Bob could reach out to. He was especially close over the years with Road Warriors Hawk and Animal, and others like Frankie Kazarian and wife Traci Brooks, Christopher Daniels, Bully Ray, Velvet Sky, Tommy Dreamer, Mickie James, and Howard Finkel, to name but a few. He also helped Highspots.com and others within the business.
A big goal Bob set and achieved was finally going to Japan. He went to shoot a big DDT card in 2017. “I really notched one off the bucket list when I got to finally go shoot there,” he said. Prior to that trip he’d long craved, he asked me over phone calls and texts to teach him some basic Japanese/Nihongo to help get around on Japan’s JR-rail and subway lines, where to catch the Shinkansen Bullet Train, how to request press access and other details.
More recently, Bob was seen ringside, alongside Napolitano, at the famed All In pay-per-view, saying afterwards, “It really was the biggest indie show of all time.” Bob was thrilled he shot it, “because once Tony Khan created AEW, they hired their own in-house photographers who were then the only ones allowed to shoot ringside, like WWE. So it was a huge deal being able to do that when you see how big AEW quickly became.”
There was more to Bob than pro wrestling.
He loved music, and had told me that one of his idols was Kris Kristofferson. Well, at the time, Jody Kristofferson was still wrestling and I knew him from the NorCal wrestling scene. I learned from Jody that his famed father would be coming to the CAC in Vegas to watch him wrestle. Naturally, I told Bob and he changed his plans to attend. Bob later said it was “a big wow” to meet and take some photos with Kris. Of course, I dragged Bob into many photos, especially with yet another longtime friend of Bob’s in Lisa-Maria/WWE’s Victoria/TNA Tara, who he had no idea was attending her first CAC. “Another great surprise,” was how Bob explained it.
Twice Bob came out to the West Coast for non-wrestling (a rarity) and somehow got a same-day tickets to attend the Grammys and then, the following year, a Billboard Music Awards televised event. “They wouldn’t let me bring my cameras in but those experiences at both were way worth the treks out as I at least got to go in early and watch the rehearsals, and see Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, the Foo Fighters and all the big names,” he said.
Another time, Bob traveled to Los Angeles with his good friend and wrestling super agent, the late Scott Epstein. They attended a Conan O’Brien TV taping. Bob and Scott were hoping just to get on-camera but had no idea they’d steal the last segment before commercial break. Right after Conan’s monologue, was a closing bit showing various audience members with audio and graphics claiming those zoomed in on were award winners for funny accomplishments. The skit ended with the camera at length, focused squarely on Scott, with Bob also on-screen sitting next to him. They laughed about that for days — plus getting to chat with Conan’s long time co-host Andy Richter who is a huge wrestling fan.
In 2009, Bob told me: “I also like covering things outside the biz like stand-up and music, but wrestling is my life, the main thing.”
There was a group of us watching AEW’s Full Gear together when I got the news, and we paused during the show to salute him. There won’t be a funeral or memorial, as per his wishes, and he will be cremated.
I always admired Bob, his drive, his skillset, his ability to build friendships. That massive energy. But having seen him fight cancer this past year, he was more than a photographer to me — he was Superman.
Now, Bob’s off shooting in Heaven, rubbing shoulders with other recent losses from the photographic world, Blackjack Brown and Dore Dequattro — though he no doubt still wants the latest, greatest mega camera lenses to shoot from the hard-cam spot.