When people talk about the 1980s WWF wrestling boom inevitably fans point to Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper. For sure the feud of these two behemoths lit up the eyes of the loyal fans of wrestling, but who brought the casual or new eyes to the sport? The answer is simple — two women made the difference in rocketing wrestling into mainstream popularity and they are pop star Cyndi Lauper and ultra hip, new wave wrestler Wendi Richter.
Cyndi Lauper was the mega popular pop star of the early to mid-1980s whose star rose to the heavens with her seminal album She’s So Unusual in 1983. Her songs “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, “She Bop”, “All Through The Night”, and “Time After Time”, all became top five hits on the record charts.
Her fame grew not just because of her catchy tunes, but because she was made for television. Lauper stood out because of her look which included ever changing vibrant hair colors as well as mix and match eclectic vintage clothing. In short, when her music videos played on MTV (the popular music video channel in the 1980s) Lauper captivated her audience with a look that vibrated the screen. In fact she started her cross over into wrestling by casting WWF manager “Captain” Lou Albano to portray her father in a few videos.
Multi-decade women’s wrestling champion The Fabulous Moolah, in her self titled book, remembered the influence Lauper had on the WWF’s audience and demographic. The crowd which was traditionally male and older was now flipped on its head once Lauper was on the scene. Cyndi became wrestler Wendi Richter’s storyline manager and led her into battle.
Wrote Moolah: “Cyndi and Wendi came into the ring while the PA system blared ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun,’ and the crowd went crazy. A lot of new fans were coming to wrestling because of Cyndi. I remember looking out at the crowd that night and seeing groups of young teenage girls, dressed just like Cyndi and with that crazy bright red hair, holding ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ signs.”
Prior to her pairing with Lauper, Wendi Richter was a young wrestler who traveled through the wrestling territories that once dotted the landscape of North America. Having been trained by the Fabulous Moolah in the late 1970s Richter didn’t really stand out at first. In fact, Moolah described her as, “tall, lean, and pretty, and I taught her the moves. She was always a bit clumsy though.”
By 1984, Richter was a seasoned professional wrestler picking up knowledge as she went along. She developed a fondness for certain places to wrestle in because of the money.
“I always liked going there to the AWA.” recalled Richter to SlamWrestling.net at the Niagara Falls Comic Con in June. “Minneapolis was always packed houses. I liked Verne Gagne and Vince McMahon, those were my favorite places to go as far as crowd turn out. Their houses had a better turn out than in the south.”
Once WWF owner Vince McMahon put Richter and Lauper together, Wendi was apprehensive about her new partner but she soon learned better.
“When I first met her, I thought she would be on drugs and kind of crazy because she looked like it with her hair different colors but she was nothing like that,” remembered Richter with a smile. “She had the biggest heart. Just so thoughtful and kind to others. She would give strangers and homeless people money. She was very down to earth. I was around animals in wrestling and she was civilized.”
Richter went through a transformation during the Rock ’n’ Wrestling era, spearheaded by Lauper and Hulk Hogan. At first Richter was pretty unassuming, attractive, yes, and she played up her Dallas, Texas, upbringing by wearing a cowboy hat to the ring. Really, she just didn’t stand out.
Once Lauper got her hands on her everything changed.
“She gave me a makeover,” gushed Richter. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me, other then getting saved, was getting that makeover. I was a cowgirl and then I became modern.”
Soon, Richter was wearing funky sunglasses, outrageous jewelry and acquired offbeat vintage clothing finds with her new pal Lauper. Richter even found stylish new fabric that spoke to the bright colors and interesting patterns of the 1980s to use for her ring attire.
“In the WWE today, they have make up artists and people making their clothing,” said Richter. “We didn’t have any of that. Anything I wore in the ring I had it made myself. I had a seamstress and we came up with ideas. Then she would fit it to me.”
Richter became known for using interesting makeup patterns and loud colors that mimicked those of Lauper. “In some pictures I had Cindi Lauper’s makeup man do my makeup but when he wasn’t there, the makeup was done by me.”
The development of her new style led to high profile matches on MTV and then at the first WrestleMania. The enormity of WrestleMania didn’t really sink in right away. “I knew it was very important, but I didn’t realize how important it was,” said Richter. “I had no idea that 30 years later they would still be having WrestleManias.”
She is always amazed by the fan reaction she still gets about that event. “People always refer to that (WrestleMania), I don’t think about it day to day, I just thank the Lord that I am safe and have my education.”
Over three decades later, it isn’t her title win over Leilani Kai that Richter cherishes. It is meeting such interesting celebrities. “I knew it was important when they had Liberace and Muhammad Ali there and I got to meet them. It was pretty big. I was so honored that I got to meet those people.”
Richter is thankful to have been paired up with Lauper. From appearing on major wrestling events to media appearances or even making a cameo in Lauper’s video for “She Bop”, Richter glows when talking about those stylish days. “Whenever I talk to Lauper we just pick up like old friends.”
TOP PHOTO: Wendi Richter after her WWE makeover. WWE photo
- Apr. 19, 2012: Wendi Richter’s Cauliflower Alley Club speech
- Mar. 23, 2010: Wendi Richter: A celebration of her ups and downs
Caleb Smith became a wrestling fan the week before the first WrestleMania thanks to a loud mouth guy in a kilt. He really enjoyed meeting Wendi and was pleased as punch that she was so kind.