The one they call “Mr. Outrageous” Al Burke was a successful wrestler for over three decades. For many that’s a successful career already but Burke transitioned into a life of acting and saw his success in that field as well.
The start and first path for Burke was his wrestling career.
Al Burke the wrestler
“I’ve been athletic all of my life, I mean in school I played football and hockey and track and things like that,” Burke says. “I did not like wrestling in high school. I told the wrestling coach, who was also the football coach, that I didn’t want to roll around with sweaty guys, I was into girls.”
After high school he ventured into Golden Gloves of boxing, followed by taekwondo, karate, bare knuckle fighting, and eventually into pro wrestling where he spent 37 years.
One of the biggest reasons Burke got into wrestling was from an interaction he had with legend Hulk Hogan. Some friends of his took him to meet Hogan, during the early 1980s. “He told all of us, where to go to wrestling school, how to learn and how to get into the business,” Burke continues. “I walked away from that meeting thinking, that is the stupidest thing. I can’t be a wrestler, why would I do that.”
The friends he went with had the opposite reaction and took wrestling as a career option right away, and they would share their stories and the benefits of a career in wrestling to Burke. “I would listen to their stories for two years, traveling all over the world, having a great time and finally I decided, yes, I would go ahead and do it,” he explains. “I went to school, and I outlasted all three of them, their careers combined to my 37 years.”
Other than Hogan, many of the wrestlers that Burke has worked with have been an inspiration to his career as he says the professionalism and the excellence in their craft would always leave him impressed. “If you watch the tape, and it’s on YouTube and stuff, it looked brutal and those guys were such professionals, you know it was almost like a night off,” he recalls. “The devastating blows that they hit me with weren’t too bad.”
The opportunity to be a part of the WWF was one of the most exciting times for Burke, due to the people he met and the company being at the top, a statement that is still true to this day, with the WWE.
“I was excited, I got a call from Tom Stone, he was the head booker for the mid-west and possibly the west too, I’m not sure, but because I was in Minnesota and we had such a big talent pool there,” Burke says. “He would call me because he was in the Milwaukee area and they didn’t have anywhere near what we had.”
Getting to work with the best wrestlers in the world excited Burke but he made it a conscious decision that this was the only company he was going to be the jobber for. That was one of the main reasons he didn’t venture into WCW, along with the success he saw as an indie wrestler.
“I was having a good time in the independents and that’s where I could really thrive and I won 16 different championships through the years with all the different independents, so they were happy to have me because of what I have done on the WWF,” Burke continues. Even though he was a jobber for the WWF, it never bothered him. “I got paid really good for that and where do you get to go work for three or four or five minutes and get paid decent money. I didn’t look down on it, but like I said I wasn’t going to go to anybody else and do that, so I figured WWF was it, they were the big dogs, of course, and still are.”
Andre the Giant was one of the best wrestlers that Burke had the opportunity to work with and he enjoyed that experience. “When you get to step in the ring with somebody like Andre the Giant, one of the biggest phenomena in the world, that was one of my big moments,” Burke admits. “I also worked with Ultimate Warrior. So, you know, guys like that are very iconic. I look at all those matches, and this was just a great experience, and I had a great time, what more can a guy ask.”
Al Burke the actor
Just like wrestling, a career in acting wasn’t something that Burke saw himself doing. He got an offer to play a bad guy role in the film Atomic Blue: Mexican Wrestler and since then he ventured into a career of acting.
“All you have to do is beat up a kid, kidnap and kill Mexicans in East LA. I’m like, hey I’m the bad guy, I don’t care, yeah that sounds great,” Burke says. “Well, the cool part in the movie, it was based on like a Mexican folklore on this masked hero, who was a luchador, so I got to work with the lucha libre guys and we had some fabulous fights and had fun and that really opened my eyes to acting. This is cool, I can do this.”
Even though he has agents and managers, Burke books a lot of his gigs himself. Not only acting in movies, but Burke had also made appearances in music videos, which he views is still apart of the acting craft.
“I ended up getting into music videos and realized, oh wow this is really cool, where a lot of actors look at that, well that’s not acting, you’re just playing a character, that’s beneath me,” Burke explains. “I’ll do it every day of the week because it’s good money it’s fun and you’re with the biggest bands in the world.”
One of biggest appearances for Burke was being in Billie Eilish’s “Bellyache” video.“I ended up getting approximately 15 – 20,000 of her fans on Instagram,” he says. “They instantly started following me. Everything kind of evolved around, so looking at a music video and saying, that’s really not acting, you know I made a living doing that.”
Burke is a person that doesn’t enjoy sitting around and tries to do almost anything that comes his way, even if it means he doesn’t have a big role. His small appearance in the Adam Sandler starrer, Wedding Singer, only had him say one line. He still gets residuals for that movie to this day.
For Burke, he says his wrestling career helped a ton when transitioning into acting, as he saw it as him being a character rather than being an actor. “I have never ever taken one acting class, not one,” he admits. “People are studying day in and day out for years, I’ve never taken one. All of the training as a pro wrestler has made me into the character that I am, I’m more of a character than an actor, I tell people.”
“You can go out and do 25, 50, 100 moves in a match, that does not make you a professional wrestler,” Burke continues. “You have to understand the psychology of telling the story to the fans and in doing that, I think really helped mold me, plus also promotions, getting work for myself is really what benefited me as an actor. I don’t plan to be an actor, I’m a character. You want the bad guy to go out there, you want the cop to go out there, whatever it is, you know I can do that. I really look at wrestling as really what got me to be a success in acting.”
Burke enjoys doing roles that are different for him. He says he wants to play the movie dad, but due to his persona he barely gets the opportunity to play one.
“I always love it when I get to do something different, like if I get to play a dad,” Burke offers. “Usually I’m a prison guard, so I like to do things out of the ordinary but then again, my bread and butter has been the cop thing.”
His upcoming projects include a 1980s-style horror film where he plays a security guard and another project where he gets to play a cowboy. Even with a busy schedule, Burke likes to work on his cars and bikes during his off days. “I don’t like turning down work, you know squeezing it together like this, suffer through it and have some fun and get some cool pictures on set and share it with my fans and love my life,” he explains.
His message to fans that want to pursue a career in wrestling or acting is to know what you want to do.
“I tell people that want to get into it, watch TV and decide which character you can do,” Burke offers. “Could you be the lawyer, could you be the doctor, could you be the nurse, could you be the judge, and then focus on that. If you’re thinking about being a pro wrestler, find a good wrestling school and really take it serious. You can put together all these moves and it don’t make you a pro wrestler.”
“Bad news will follow you much worse than good news and good news you got to work really hard for, so that’s my words to people thinking about being an actor or thinking about being a pro wrestler or being both,” concludes Burke.
TOP PHOTO; Al Burke at a Red Carpet event. Instagram Photo
2023 CAULIFLOWER ALLEY CLUB HONOREES
- Iron Mike Mazurki Award: CM Punk
- Lou Thesz/Art Abrams Award: Ron Simmons
- Women’s Wrestling Award: Mickie James
- Tag Team Award: Brian Knobbs, Jerry Sags “The Nasty Boys”
- Men’s Wrestling Award: Koko B. Ware
- Lucha Libre Award: Damian 666
- Men’s Wrestling Award: Joe Malenko
- Posthumous Award: Killer Karl Kox
- Independent Wrestling Award: Riea Von Slasher
- Charlie Smith Referee Award: Kevin Jefferies
- REEL Award: Al Burke
- James C. Melby Historian Award: Koji Miyamoto