Sitting in an appropriately regal throne, Jerry Lawler takes us through a whirlwind survey of his fifty-year wrestling career in an hour-long episode of Biography. Much of it, as always, has been well-covered, but there are enough interesting tidbits sprinkled throughout the episode to make it worth a watch for even already big Lawler fans.
The story opens up in 2020, as Lawler is in Jackson, TN to wrestle in celebraton of his fifty years. There are luminaries such as Lex Luger, Sgt. Slaughter, Ricky Morton, and more in attendance, all singing the praises of a man with a truly interesting career.
Backing up, however, Lawler sets the scene of his childhood in Memphis in the early 50s, born into a life that he compared to Leave it to Beaver. He became a sports fan — but became more of a wrestling fan and began to study their moves. He’d also discovered his artistic talent as a youth and started sending in his illustrations of the wrestling action to Lance Russell, announcer for the Memphis wrestling scene. Russell used the illustrations on the air and invited Lawler in to meet the wrestlers, especially Jackie Fargo who had requested some work from Lawler.
Lawler followed Fargo around and fell in love with his celebrity lifestyle. Jerry talked his way into the ring and takes his first bump, being thrown to the floor and getting knocked out. Fargo tried to talk Lawler out of the wrestling business, encouraging him to follow his art, but Lawler’s mind was set.
Jerry Jarrett explains that Lawler’s greatest skill was connecting to the fans. As Fargo was getting too old for Jarrett to bank on, Lawler is booked to beat him and off-handedly says that Fargo had been the king of wrestling, but Lawler was going to take his place — thus branding himself as the new king.
He talks about marrying Kay Williams, who he’d known from high school, and having two children just at the time that he started to travel more and more. One of those children, Kevin, appears in the episode to recall how tough it was for his father to be gone so much, surely the most often cited reason for a hard childhood by any wrestling son or daughter. Jerry and Kay divorced only a few years later.
Deciding at the time to stick with wrestling, when it was obviously going to conflict with a Leave it to Beaver-style family life, Lawler’s next big feud took him to a whole new level of notoriety: his well-documented business with Andy Kaufman.
Lawler recalls that, as the two were set to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman, that he and Andy received notes on how Letterman hoped the segment would go. They were to be antagonistic at first, but the segment would end up with apologies all around and Andy singing “What the World Needs Now is Love.” Andy called Jerry beforre the show and says instead of the plan, what if Jerry just slugged him?
The whole affair netted Lawler national publicity, and it’s not long until Jerry says he was rebuking the advances of Vince McMahon’s WWF, not wanting to give up on the Memphis territory for both sentimental and financial reasons. Eventually, Lawler says that a deal was worked out for Memphis to remain in operation as a developmental territory for the WWF, allowing Jerry to appear on WWF TV as well.
After antagonistic feuds with Bret Hart, The Ultimate Warrior, and others, Lawler is set upon his next career path when Randy Savage leaves the WWF and his commentary position. Jerry, not one to be shy on the microphone, settles right into the new job.
At the dawn of the attitude era, Lawler finds that he is on commentary full-time and reveals that he didn’t like it — at least not as much as wrestling. He admits that he’d much rather go out for a ten-minute wrestling match than try to be entertaining for a three-hour show.
He also reveals what he may think is a bombshell: that he always had notes of jokes and insults ready to go, rather than thinking of them off the cuff. Yeah, it was usually easy to tell that he had a joke locked and loaded and was just waiting for at least a semi-appropriate time to plug it in.
Sam Roberts offers some real revisionist history, suggesting that it was Jerry Lawler’s voice that painted the picture for what people saw on screen, and that he really was the voice of the Attitude Era. Lawler’s job, of course, was never about painting the picture, but to insert humour when he could around Jim Ross who was painting the picture.
Lita speaks very diplomatically when she describes Lawler’s lack of a filter when going gaga over the women wrestlers of the time, and that “if you want to try to put a positive spin on it, at least Jerry was always excited when we came to the ring.”
Lawler then walks us through his off-screen marriage with Stacy Carter, which became an issue when Stacy was released from the WWF. Lawler stood by his wife, walking away as well. He was shocked that Vince McMahon agreed with his decision and let him go so easily, but within the next year he and Stacy had divorced so Lawler came back to work.
Fast forward to 2012, and Raw is in Montreal on September 10th. Lawler, having wrestled in a match alongside Randy Orton earlier, returned to the commentary booth to continue the broadcast. Michael Cole describes the moment when he heard snoring, at first thinking that Lawler was making fun of the match in the ring at the time, only to see him face down on the desk, turning blue.
Over top of footage of EMTs employing CPR and Lawler’s hand twitching in the ambulance, Lawler declares that everybody thought he was dead on his way to the hospital, but he returned to Raw two months later … and is still wrestling as we arrive back in in Jackson, TN on September 26, 2020.
Oddly, they repeat a line from JBL: “I don’t think Jerry wants to grow up, and why should he,” which he was shown saying about ten minutes earlier. Lawler had said it himself earlier in the show, too, admitting that he has “Peter Pan Syndrome” and refuses to grow up. Whatever he’s doing, it works for him, as beyond the adulation from wrestling stars throughout the episode, it’s perhaps Michael Cole’s description of Lawler as the most consistently happiest person he’s ever known that seems most apt.
- Slam Wrestling’s Jerry “The King” Lawler story archive
- October 12th, 2022: The King and the comedian featured on this week’s ‘Tales from the Territories’
- Slam Wrestling’s WWE/A&E review archive