The Final Days of Randy 'Macho Man' Savage

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The Final Days of Randy 'Macho Man' Savage

From the driver’s seat of his 2009 Jeep Wrangler, just before the turn off Florida State Road 694 into the Seminole Mall, Randy “Macho Man” Savage stared through the windshield at the sun-washed commercial strip and sensed that something bad was about to occur.

“I think I’m going to pass out,” he muttered to his wife, Lynn, in the characteristic rasp wrestling fans knew from his promos, building up matches with Hulk Hogan, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.

Earlier that morning, the two-time World Wrestling Federation (currently World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE) champion had mentioned that he wasn’t feeling well. To his wife, this was nothing new. Randy seemed older than his 58 years; his body ached constantly, from decades of crashing into the mat while delivering his finisher, the flying elbow, from the top rope, among other physical stresses. Perhaps, Lynn suggested, he just needed to eat. So the two went to a Perkins Family Restaurant, where Randy ordered his usual, an egg white vegetable omelet. Still, Lynn wasn’t convinced that he was better.

“Why don’t I drive?” she offered.

Randy shook his head. After decades of piloting a colorful but controversial career, and a lifestyle that shielded him from suspicious sycophants and unwanted intrusions, he didn’t give up the wheel. And so, they returned to their previous positions in the jeep. At around 9:25 a.m., they were just west of 113th Street North in the city of Seminole, on a four-lane road, passing the traffic light by Regions Bank, when Randy suddenly lost consciousness. With his foot clamped down on the accelerator, the jeep crossed the raised concrete median into eastbound traffic. Lynn frantically looked at Randy, then out the front window at the motorcycle and bus moving in their direction. Reaching over her husband’s limbs with her long arms, the woman, who first met the Macho Man when he was a catcher with the Gulf Coast League’s Sarasota Cardinals, swerved to avoid the other vehicles, deliberately slamming the jeep into a tree across from a Publix Super Market and animal hospital.

The impact was so slight that the airbags didn’t activate. Lynn, 56, sustained minor injuries. Randy was pronounced dead at Largo Medical Center.

Since that day, two years ago on May 20, 2011, the real-life Randy Mario Poffo has been depicted as a recluse at the end of his life, a former celebrity who let his beard grow white, kept a registered gun in his glove compartment, and sequestered himself in a home surrounded by security fences and patrolled by guard dogs. But his family says that he was always accessible to them and spent his final months contemplating his legacy—personally, professionally and financially—and making up for time lost to fame.

“When Ang left the business,” says Randy’s 86-year-old mother, Judy, of her husband, Angelo Poffo, a wrestler who once worked under a yellow mask with a dollar sign as The Miser, “he’d never developed any hobbies, except going to the gym twice a day and watching the stock market. There was all this energy and no place to put it. Randy was different. He worked on his house, he was busy with his animals, he married again, and he took us to our doctor’s appointments—things he missed all those years when he was wrestling.”

Randy and his brother, “Leaping” Lanny Poffo, enjoy their last Thanksgiving together. Photo Courtesy of Poffo Family.

Randy lived near his mother’s development in Largo, Fla., down a bumpy, palm-shaded dirt road. Within the perimeter of the non-climbable fence, two dogs patrolled the acre-and-a-half surrounding his dark wooden home, built in a style more representative of the Old West than the modern Gulf Coast. On the brick pillars on each side of the front gate, cameras surveilled possible visitors. “You needed an engraved invitation to get in there,” notes Judy. “Tired of people, I guess.”

“Randy used to own a condo on the beach,” points out his brother, Lanny, another wrestler who worked, alternatively, as “Leaping” Lanny Poffo and The Genius. “But he couldn’t go out on the balcony without 1,000 people screaming, ‘Macho Man.’ He needed quiet.”

Ten days before his death, the family gathered on Randy’s property for Mother’s Day. Before their arrival, Randy called his mother with an unusual request: the ashes of his dog, Hercules, a German shepherd from a litter owned by the late wrestler, Hercules Hernandez. Judy brought the ashes to Randy’s home in an urn. The Macho Man marched the family to a designated spot and asked his brother to pour the animal’s remains.

“Why should I do it?” Lanny protested. “It’s not my dog.”

“I want you to do it. If anything happens, I want you to do the same thing with my ashes, the same way, the same place. If it’s good enough for Hercules, it’s good enough for me.”

In another family, a 58-year-old retired athlete might be beseeched not to speak in such morose terms. But Randy talked like this often. “I didn’t think too much of it because he always spoke fatalistically,” says Lanny. “He spoke fatalistically since our dad died.”

 

The Miser

More than wrestling, more than baseball, more than the women he romanced on- and off-camera, Randy loved his father. While the wrestling icon inherited his mother’s facial structure and penetrating blue eyes, he lived by the guideposts Angelo set, taking the older man’s codes of honor and loyalty to sometimes militant lengths, accepting nothing less than perfection from physical challenges.

In 1945, while serving in the U.S. Navy, Angelo broke the world sit-up record. The story about him taxing himself to the point that his tailbone protruded from his skin is an exaggeration. But Angelo did develop some form of friction burn and bled on the mat. His clenched fingers were swollen and temporarily sealed together. Then, he played baseball that night.

Officially, Angelo completed 6,000 sit-ups in just over four hours. He followed up with another 33for every year he believed that Jesus lived.

Angelo Poffo’s 6,033 push-ups were listed in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Photo Courtesy of Poffo Family.

That last detail became a complication in his marriage to Judy, a swimmer and diver who’d received a scholarship to the American College of Physical Education in Chicago. In 1946, the school was absorbed by DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the nation. Not long afterward, she met Angelo, home from the Navy, a catcher on the school’s baseball team and competitive chess player.

When the couple wed in 1949, neither family was pleased. “What have you done?” Angelo’s mother pronounced after the ceremony in her native tongue. Although she didn’t speak Italian, Judythe descendant of Jews from Lithuania and Belarusknew exactly what her mother-in-law meant.

Exhibiting the defiance that became the essence of Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Angelo stayed married to Judy for 61 years.

Randy would do anything for Angelo, sending his parents on trips to Japan and Europe and Israel until they told him they were too tired to travel. On Angelo’s 70th birthday, Randy paid $50,000 to buy his father a yellow, high-finned Cadillac—the same car the elder Poffo had purchased in 1959 and drove around the wrestling circuit for 200,000 miles. The former World Wrestling Federation champion restocked and refurbished the weight room at Admiral Farragut Academy, a St. Petersburg prep school, on the condition that the facility was named for his father. Later, when Angelo was sick, Randy installed an invalid toilet and walk-in bathtub in his parents’ home.

Angelo had a mantra he impressed on his son’s: “S.Y.M.”—Save Your Money. Randy was thrifty, too. Although never to his face, Randy’s detractors occasionally attributed the trait to his mother’s ethnicity. Clarifies Judy, “The whole family’s like that.”

Despite Angelo’s career choice, Randy’s initial goal wasn’t wrestling, but baseball, a vocation his father encouraged, building a winterized batting cage and pitching machine next to the family’s home in Downers Grove, Ill. Naturally a righty, Randy taught himself how to throw with his left hand in the event of an injury. As a high school senior, he hit .525 for the Downers Grove Trojans. When no team picked him up in the 1971 amateur draft, Angelo drove his son five hours to an open tryout at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Randy went home with a minor league contract. In four seasons in the Cardinals, Reds and White Sox organizations, Randy hit .254 with 16 home runs, playing catcher, outfield and first base.

In 1974, the future Macho Man was an outfielder in the Reds organization.
It was during this period that Randy met his future wife, Barbara Lynn Payne, while walking on Lido Beach in Sarasota. Starting in 1972, they dated for three years before veering in separate directions. “She never knew him as the Macho Man,” says Lanny. “She never knew him as a wrestler. She only knew him as a failed baseball player.”

His final attempt to play in the major leagues ended when the White Sox organization cut him in 1975, before the end of spring training. “When Randy got released, he broke all his bats and got rid of all his equipment,” Judy remembers. “It was horrible. But The Sheik saved him.”

The Sheik was Ed Farhat, a Lebanese-American U.S. Army vet whose wrestling gimmick included bloodying rivals with a hidden pencil, throwing fire and jabbering incomprehensible phrases fans took to be Arabic. He was also the promoter in Detroit, where Angelo and Lanny were wrestling at the time. “It was Christmas,” Judy says, “and they brought Randy along. Randy wrestled The Sheik, and he got over real good.”

The Sheik was a huge influence on Randy's career.

It was The Sheik who taught Randy a concept he’d later impart to younger wrestlers: “Be the main event, even if you’re on first.” Randy admired The Sheik with the zealousness he usually reserved for Angelo.

“He even cooked for The Sheik,” Judy says. “He made him cabbage soup.”

 

Family Business

When Angelo was wrestling in Hawaii in 1967, his sons were exposed to King Curtis Iaukea and Pampero Firpo, performers Lanny calls “the two best promos in the business.” Iaukea began his interviews in a near whisper, slowly building intrigue and his decibel level until his voice was piercing the speakers. Firpo ended his interviews with a signature, “Ooooh, yyyyeah.”

Randy brazenly stole from both. The other touches—the head tics, sucking in his bottom lip, twirling his fingers above his head—were all his.

Observing Randy’s feral ring style, Georgia promoter Ole Anderson changed the wrestler’s surname to “Savage.” As his character developed, Randy phoned his mother and asked her to mail a compilation of nicknames. “I saw the term ‘Macho Man’ in a magazine and just put it on the list,” she recounts. “A few days later, Randy called me from Macon, Ga., and said, ‘What’s a Macho Man?’ I said, ‘I have no idea.’”

Not long afterward, Angelo opened his own promotion, International Championship Wrestling (ICW), based in Lexington, Ky. He used his sons as talent, along with a rotating cast that included Rugged Ronnie Garvin, Bob Orton Jr.—father of current WWE star Randy Orton—Ox Baker, Bob Roop and Crusher Broomfield, later known as the One Man Gang. While other promoters attempted peaceful coexistence with established territories, the Poffos—even Judy was involved with the group, as a bookkeeper, and Randy’s future wife, Elizabeth, would work under her maiden name, Liz Hulette, as an on-camera host—ran an “outlaw” league that competed with the entrenched organizations. Angelo promoted his wrestlers as legitimate tough guys, as opposed to showmen, offering to bet $20,000 of his own cash at one point—against a donut—that Randy and his partner, Rip Rogers, could defeat a tag team from the rival Southeastern group in an actual fight.

Randy and his brother Lanny wrestled each other for the family’s ICW title. Photo Courtesy of Poffo Family.

It wasn’t as funny as it seemed. Randy and other ICW performers began showing up at opposition shows, threatening to disrupt matches and frightening their adversaries to the point that some began arming themselves. During a confrontation outside a diner, Memphis Wrestling’s Superstar Bill Dundee pulled a gun on the Macho Man. Savage grappled it away and pistol-whipped him.

“I hated that stuff,” Lanny says.

Manager Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart was a staple in Memphis, but he would monitor the ICW shows on Channel 24. “I couldn’t tell anybody I was watching it,” he says. “That’s how tense it was. But I’d never seen anybody wrestle like Randy, the way he’d come down off the top rope. And he was colorful.”

Eventually, Hart helped persuade current WWE announcer Jerry “The King” Lawler, the star and partial owner of Memphis Wrestling, to reconcile with his enemies, and a talent exchange was brokered. Feeding off the legitimate animosity, the Poffos began appearing on the Memphis promotion’s cards, with Savage in the main events. In wrestling circles, the Macho Man suddenly had national exposure.

“Randy was destined to be the greatest wrestler no one ever heard of, if Jimmy Hart hadn’t extended the olive branch,” Lanny says.

Randy’s one-time manager, Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart, was one of his strongest backstage advocates.

Although ICW folded in 1984, the Poffos’ renegade efforts were fondly remembered not only by fans, but by Randy himself. In 2009, the family gathered at an Olive Garden to celebrate Angelo’s final birthday. Angelo had dementia by this point, and his functions were failing quickly. As Randy watched Judy tend to his father, the Macho Man declared that the entire clan belonged in the WWE Hall of Fame.

“How about that? The Von Erichs all get in,” he sneered, referring to the Von Erich family’s recent induction. “Even Chris.”

Like the Poffos, the Von Erichs were a multi-generational wrestling family. Father Fritz began his career playing a Nazi heel, but later, as a promoter in Dallas, depicted himself as a tough, devout Texan while building storylines around his sons. Of these, David, Kevin and Kerry were exceptional athletes and bona fide stars. Mike was apparently forced into the game and performed accordingly. Chris loved the business, but he was small, sickly and injury prone.

The Von Erichs were also professional wrestling’s most tragic family. David was 25 when he died during a Japanese tour. While some suspected an overdose, the family contended that David suffered a heart attack caused by ruptured intestines linked to enteritis. Kerry, Mike and Chris all committed suicide.

“It isn’t fair,” Randy continued. “If they ever want me in the Hall of Fame, we’re all going in together, as the Poffo family.”

Tragic but talented: future WWE Hall of Famers (from left) Kevin, David and Kerry Von Erich.

 

Macho Madness

In 1984, as Vince McMahon was cherry-picking the best talent in the industry, Jimmy Hart was hired by the World Wrestling Federation. Not long afterward, he was told that the group was also interested in Randy and wanted Jimmy to facilitate the introduction.

“I couldn’t just call down to Memphis and say, ‘Hey, Vince wants to hire Randy,’” Jimmy recollects. “Everybody down there hated Vince because he was taking all the good wrestlers and putting the territories out of business.”

As Jimmy strategized, he remembered that the Poffo brothers generated extra income by selling Herbalife products. “So I called Mr. Coffee”—Guy Coffee, a backstage figure on the Memphis circuit—“and told him that I had a guy who wanted to buy $500 worth of Herbalife,” Hart says.

“Randy calls back and says, ‘What’s this about Herbalife?’ And I said, ‘This isn’t about Herbalife.’”

The next Saturday morning, Hart met Randy and his wife, Elizabeth, outside a Memphis gym. “Randy pats me down, as if I’m wearing a wire,” Jimmy says. “He was paranoid. Then, he says, ‘My car. Not your car.’”

“When I laid everything out for him, he had one question. ‘Will you take Lanny?’”

Almost immediately, Randy propelled himself to stardom. An early storyline involved the various managers in the World Wrestling Federation competing for his services. After several weeks, he revealed that he was choosing to go with the unknown Miss Elizabeth—his real-life wife—instead.

The Macho Man with the World Wrestling Federation title and real-life wife, Miss Elizabeth.

“What’s wrong with Lou Albano?” Roddy Piper asked the Macho Man on a segment of “Piper’s Pit.”

“Lou Albano doesn’t have the same pizzazz,” a twitching Randy replied, drawing out the final word.

Elizabeth was unlike any female wrestling personality before or since. A demure, soft-spoken brunette with a subtle Southern accent, she exuded a vulnerability that added to her beauty. Although Randy seemed to control and sometimes bully her, he also appeared co-dependent, which led to some interesting scenarios: George “The Animal” Steele “rescuing” Elizabeth and taking her into “protective custody,” a bloody Ric Flair forcibly kissing Elizabeth after losing to Savage, Randy breaking up his tag team, the Mega Powers, with Hulk Hogan after accusing the Hulkster of having improper intentions.

“Yeah, and I see a shark,” Savage told announcer Mean Gene Okerlund, “a shark with teeth, a shark with lust and lust and lust for Elizabeth.”

Although they’d actually been married for seven years, the pair “wed” in the ring in Madison Square Garden at the SummerSlam pay-per-view in 1991. At a “reception” later shown on television, Elizabeth opened a box to discover a deadly cobra, compliments of Jake “The Snake” Roberts. A feud with Roberts quickly followed.

“We were driving to Indianapolis, and I was in the backseat, pretending to be asleep, when Randy and Elizabeth started fighting,” Lanny says. “Elizabeth didn’t want Randy to get bitten by a King Cobra that night at the Market Square Arena. And Randy said the snake was de-venomized—Jake had told him so—and he was going to let the snake bite him because it was good business.”

The next day, Randy had a 103-degree fever. He blamed the snake bite.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts unleashes his cobra on the Macho Man.

 

Macho Man and Ricky Steamboat

Randy’s finest moment with the company occurred at WrestleMania III, where he had a match with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat that was considered the best encounter ever seen on a World Wrestling Federation pay-per-view. Randy obsessed over the match, charting it move for move with Steamboat beforehand. Even for fans who knew that the action was predetermined, it was easy to suspend disbelief. There was a backstory involving Randy crushing Steamboat’s neck with the ring bell. In the ring, the two traded a series of thrilling near-falls—with the referee counting to two before one combatant dramatically raised his shoulder—before the official was knocked down and Randy snatched the bell to aggravate the injury. From ringside, George “The Animal” Steele pulled the weapon away. Randy turned to inflict more damage. But as he scooped Steamboat up for a bodyslam, The Dragon grabbed Savage’s left leg, rolling him to the canvas and pinning him with a small package.

As Randy and Elizabeth were transported back to the dressing room in a cart designed like a small ring, the Macho Man appeared to be crying.

Randy never felt he had a WWE match as classic as his WrestleMania III encounter with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.

“Randy was a real pro, one of the closest brothers I had in wrestling,” says fellow second-generation wrestler and five-time World Wrestling Federation champion Bret “Hit Man” Hart. “Great timing. Great athlete. He was always very safe. He’d never do anything careless that would hurt you. I’d let Randy do anything to me in the ring.”

He was also a dynamic entertainer, a valuable asset as McMahon began making deals with licensees and advertisers. One iconic commercial featured the Macho Man asking, “Need a little excitement?” then, raising his voice like King Curtis Iaukea: “Snap into a Slim Jim!”

Randy Savage was arguably Slim Jim’s most memorable mouthpiece.

But Randy could also harbor a grudge, particularly when the slight was directed at his father. In 1987, the World Wrestling Federation booked an old-timers’ battle royal at New Jersey’s Meadowlands. Angelo was still in good shape at the time and wanted to participate. Randy lobbied for his father. But when Lou Thesz, Nick Bockwinkel, Bobo Brazil, Ray Stevens and the other retired wrestlers entered the building, they learned that Angelo had never been invited.

“Randy really loved Vince until the battle royal,” Lanny says. “He felt really bad when Al Costello, who was one of Dad’s best friends in wrestling, said, ‘Where’s your father? He should be here.’ Randy never forgot about the battle royal. He felt guilty, like he should have done more. He’d belabor the point.”

 

Nacho Man

Still, Randy stayed with the company and, by 1994, was appearing less in the ring and more at the announcer’s table. “What frustrated Randy was he felt he never had a match as good as the Steamboat match,” Lanny says. “He was bored with announcing and thought Shawn Michaels could have that kind of match with him. Randy wanted to do a two-year program building up to a match with Shawn at WrestleMania. Randy would lose, retire and go back to the announcer’s table.”

Randy was just short of 42 when he presented his proposal but still felt capable of using his physicality to enrapture a crowd. But, his brother claims, the Macho Man was informed that the World Wrestling Federation was in the midst of a “youth movement.” “So he said, ‘I think I’ll get a second opinion,’” Lanny says. “He went to WCW (World Championship Wrestling, the company’s primary rival at the time), and he took Slim Jim with him.”

Subsidized by Ted Turner, WCW had become as aggressive as the World Wrestling Federation a decade earlier, recruiting not only Randy, but Hogan, Flair, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Lex Luger and other top names. The World Wrestling Federation fought back with vignettes depicting Savage as “Nacho Man,” a geriatric has-been.

After their departure to WCW, WWE satirized Savage and Hulk Hogan as “Huckster” and “NachoMan.”

“He didn’t find any humor in his bald spot or his divorce from Elizabeth,” Lanny says. “He saw those as deliberate attempts to tarnish his brand.”

Randy held the WCW championship four times, and—despite his 1992 split with Elizabeth—brought his ex-wife in as his valet. As part of the storyline, she turned on him and boasted about taking his money in their divorce settlement. In real life, Elizabeth eventually moved in with Luger. In 2003, her fans were shocked to learn that she’d been found dead in the Marietta, Ga., home they shared. Cause of death: a toxic mixture of painkillers and vodka.

By then, WCW was defunct, having been purchased and absorbed into WWE in 2001. With the exception of a brief series of appearances with TNA (Total Nonstop Action)—the closest American rival to WWE today—in 2005, Randy was finished with the wrestling business.

 

Injured on the Spider-Man Set

Interestingly, the ailment that distressed Randy the most in retirement was incurred not in a wrestling ring, but a movie set. He’d insisted on doing his own stunts while playing Bonesaw McGraw, a wrestler who battles protagonist Peter Parker in the 2002 movie Spider-Man. Toward the end of the cinematic match, Randy’s character was monkey-flipped on his head. According to Lanny, the stunt took numerous takes. “He needed a lot of physical therapy,” Lanny says. “But he was never the same. Instead of turning his neck to see you, he turned his torso.”

Randy’s family says he sustained a permanent neck injury from this scene in the movie Spider-Man.

Randy could have maintained his ties with the wrestling community by attending autograph signings and fan conventions. But he preferred limiting his interactions. Bret Hart attempted to contact Randy several times, but Lanny wasn’t allowed to give out his brother’s phone number. “Even if I had it,” Bret says, “I knew he wouldn’t call me back.”

“He chose to isolate himself. And I understand that because I went through it myself. When you leave the business, all your friends are scattered all over the world. Some are wrestling. Some aren’t. On the road, you love them as brothers. But when you walk away from the business, it’s not the same kind of friendship. You’re used to seeing these guys every day. Then, you never see them at all.”

One day, Randy walked into his parents’ house and noticed that Lanny was wearing a suit.

“Where are you going?” Randy asked.

“Jack Brisco’s funeral.” Brisco, the first Native American to win an NCAA national wrestling championship, was a two-time National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) titlist and a WWE Hall of Famer. “Want to go with me?”

Randy nodded. “Maybe I would.”

“Well, come on. Let’s go.”

Randy’s eyes sparkled and a grin crept across his face. “Just kidding.”

Explains Lanny, “Randy didn’t like funerals. He didn’t even want anyone to attend his funeral.”

Although Angelo had appeared on many of the same cards as Brisco in the early 1970s, the elder Poffo’s dementia had progressed to the point that he was unaware of the latest fatality in the wrestling fraternity. Randy monitored his father’s disintegration, shuttling Angelo to virtually every doctor’s appointment.

Angelo Poffo was suffering from dementia when he posed with his sons. Photo Courtesy of the Poffo Family.

On March 4, 2010, at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, the family was told that Angelo had a heartbeat but no pulse. “I don’t want my dad to have a heartbeat with no pulse,” Randy said. “Let him go.”

“Randy prayed for Ang to die because he suffered so much,” Judy says. “But when he did die, Randy went home and punched holes in the walls. His wife’s still fixing up those holes. He was pretty good with his temper.”

Despite the sorrow, Lanny tried to find something positive to which the family could cling. “Dad lived a good life,” Lanny told his brother. “I hope I get to live to be one month shy of 85.”

“I don’t,” Randy shot back. “Do you think he enjoyed the last years of his life?”

Much of the hair above Randy’s ears had fallen out, but he’d been careful to hide it. When he walked into St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Downers Grove for Angelo’s funeral, though, Lanny noticed that his brother wasn’t wearing a hat. “After that,” Lanny says, “he started accepting his hair loss.”

Judy realized that Randy had also stopped coloring his beard: “What used to happen was he’d dye it and, a few hours later, the white would be coming out. It was hard to keep the beard dark.”

There was one other benefit to exposing his aging process. “He thought no one would recognize him with the white beard,” Judy says. “But they did.”

 

Tired of Being Angry

With Angelo gone, Randy made it a point to take Judy to breakfast four mornings a week, openly discussing the way his body hurt each day. “If you could do it again,” she asked, “would you still pick wrestling?”

Randy didn’t hesitate when he responded, “I have no regrets.”

One of the bright parts of his life was his marriage to Lynn. He’d been in the gym about a decade earlier when a stranger approached and mentioned that she knew his girlfriend from his minor league days. Randy and Lynn quickly rekindled their romance and moved in together. On May 10, 2010, the couple finally married—on the same spot of beach they’d first met in 1972.

Yet, even this decision was colored by Randy’s premonition that he wasn’t going to live long. “He was afraid that, when he died, we’d get everything, and Lynn wouldn’t even have a home,” Judy says. “He wanted to protect her financially.”

Notes Lanny, “He was getting closure for everything.”

For several years, Randy had not spoken to Hulk Hogan. “It was a series of misunderstandings,” Jimmy Hart says, “mountains being made out of molehills.” Hogan had mocked Randy on the radio. Following Angelo’s ICW tradition, Randy challenged Hogan to an actual fight.

Elizabeth stands between Randy and Hulk Hogan as their team, the Mega Powers, dissolves.

The tension showed no sign of dissipating when Randy took his mother for an electrocardiogram exam one day, and a nurse informed him that Hogan was also in the office. Randy rushed out of the room. “He came up and grabbed Hulk from behind,” Judy says. “Hulk turned around and he was so happy. Randy wasn’t angry anymore.”

Adds Lanny, “He was tired of being mad all the time.”

In fact, Randy was planning a rare public appearance. In 1989, he’d been a guest announcer on a Cincinnati Reds radio broadcast and remembered the experience fondly—especially the moment when he stood up and did a muscle shot for the crowd and center fielder Eric Davis stepped out of the dugout and gave the Macho Man the same pose. When Lanny met Reds first baseman Joey Votto at a charity event, the incident came up, and the 2010 National League MVP invited Randy to a June 2011 game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Among the incentives: VIP batting practice privileges.

Randy agreed to go. But he died five weeks before the game.

 

Never Yielding

The night before he died, Randy invited his brother over the house. Randy wanted beer—Miller Lite—and Lanny stopped at a Publix along the route. The store was out of Miller Lite, so Lanny settled for Miller Genuine Draft. At the house, Randy grabbed the beer and examined the label.

“Son of a bitch,” he grumbled. “I send you for Miller Lite, and you can’t even get that right. Jesus Christ.” He looked at his brother and smiled.

Observes Lanny, “If he didn’t screw with you, he didn’t love you.”

Randy and brother, Lanny, as children. Photo Courtesy of Poffo Family.

Randy hadn’t talked about Angelo’s exclusion from the 1987 battle royal for several years. But recently, the subject had come up again. In Randy’s fantasy, he’d taken a hard stand on behalf of his father. Now, as he sipped on his beer, Randy told Lanny, “I handled it like Martin Luther King, and I should have handled it like Malcolm X. By any means necessary.”

Lanny could anticipate the next topic of conversation: the WWE Hall of Fame. He’d never go in by himself, Randy reiterated. It was the Poffo family, or nobody at all. Since Randy spoke about his mortality so often, Lanny took this to mean that it would be his responsibility to reject the overture, if he managed to outlive the Macho Man.

“You understand what I’m talking about?” Randy emphasized.

Lanny all but rolled his eyes. “Got it the first time.”

Two years later, Lanny admits the possibility of a Hall of Fame offer causes him stress: “On the one hand, I’m so appreciative of Vince McMahon for everything he did for me. I mean, when I was The Genius, managing Mr. Perfect, I was in main events and on the Regis show—me, a career jabroni. That’s because of Vince. And the fans deserve to see Randy in the Hall of Fame. But I have to support my brother. I just think it’s absolutely insane that I’m stuck in the middle. This is the quandary I’m in.”

“So here’s the way I feel about WWE. If you think the Von Erichs were better than the Poffos, that’s your prerogative. If you want Randy in against his wishes, you have my permission to do it without my permission. But don’t invite me because I won’t attend. I don’t need the 30 pieces of silver.”

Behind the security walls of Randy’s property, a feeling of melancholy pervaded the room. Randy grew pensive but appreciative of the people with whom he’d chosen to surround himself over the last several months. “The best thing about you, Lanny,” he said, “was you always took care of Mom, and I know you always will.”

After dad’s death, Randy and Lanny remained close to mother, Judy. Photo Courtesy of Tim Boyles Photography, Poffo Family.

He contemplated his brother, and the irony that Lanny—who spent much of his time in the World Wrestling Federation staring up at the arena lights—seemed to have maintained his health: “I can’t believe how you survived the business and I didn’t. Every inch of me aches.”

According to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s office, Randy “Macho Man” Savage died of heart disease—an enlarged heart with severe atherosclerosis of his coronary arteries—rather than the car accident at State Road 694 and 113th Street North. He was simply unfortunate to be driving when he suffered some type of arrhythmia that caused his heart to stop beating.

To find the site where his car came to a halt, one can park on the grounds of the Bay Pines Evangelical Lutheran Church and cut across a sun-bleached patch of grass, toward 113th Street North. A stucco home overlooks a battered, aging tree lined with cloth flowers and affixed with plastic-wrapped signs. The lettering is starting to fade, but the messages are consistent. “Dear Poffo Family,” one notice reads. “Your Randy will be missed and remembered always.”

A memorial at the tree where Randy’s jeep crashed. Photo Courtesy of Poffo Family.

Lanny is asked if it feels strange to visit. “Not really,” he replies, as a crane lounges on the grass nearby. “Elvis died on the toilet.”

After his death, the family placed Randy in an open casket at a local funeral home. The only guests were Lynn and her two daughters, along with Lanny and Judy. “That’s the way Randy wanted it,” his brother says. After the Macho Man’s cremation, the same group converged on his property, and Lanny poured the ashes on the spot Randy had specified some two weeks before.

Because Randy only sustained mild abrasions in the accident, the family’s final memory of the Macho Man soothes rather than haunts. “He had a look,” Lanny says. “Even in the casket, he had that look. He looked like he was just resting until he could get up and kick your ass.”

“I’ll tell you what. He had his life. And he did not yield.”

Keith Elliot Greenberg, a New York Times bestselling author and television producer, wrote for WWE’s publications for more than 20 years.

WWE honored Randy “Macho Man” Savage with this tribute after his death.

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