Being David... The Von Erich Legacy and Tragedy

Alberto CortezCorrespondent IJuly 21, 2009

This legendary family of wrestling is notable not because of any brother rivalry, but because of the tragedies these five brothers endured under the pressure of being great. Kevin, David, Kerry, Mike, and Chris Von Erich, second generation stars and sons of Fritz Von Erich, all endured their share of heartache.

Kevin, the oldest, is the last remaining member of the Von Erich family and had to endure loss after loss. He was the first to make his debut in World Class Championship Wrestling in 1976 as “The Golden Haired Warrior”—he wrestled barefoot and was a crowd favorite.

Soon after he was joined in June of 1977 by his younger brother, David, who was considered by many fans as the “breakout star” (much like Jeff Hardy). David was known as “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” and was a rising star who main-evented among the ranks of Harley Race and Ric Flair.

Kerry started his career in 1979 in NWA Texas before joining his brothers in WCCW. He was introduced as “The Modern Day Warrior” and was probably the most athletically-tuned of all the Von Erichs—and the only one to win a major title (the NWA Heavyweight title in 1984).

Mike had a rather short career, starting off in 1984 and ending in 1987.  He was the only Von Erich who truly did not want to wrestle or be in the limelight.  He actually started off working in his fathers' WCCW promotion as a cameraman, until he was forced into the ring in 1984.

Chris was the youngest, smallest, and least athletic Von Erich; he grew up idolizing his father and brothers and yearned for the same success and popularity that had made his family synonymous with wrestling in Texas. He debuted in 1990 after doing various odd jobs for his fathers' WCCW promotion.

Tragedy struck on February 10, 1984, when David—the star of the family who was touring in Japan, and considered to be next in line to win the NWA Heavyweight Title—was found dead from mysterious causes. 

The family claims it was a heart attack caused by intestinal complications.  Others like Ric Flair claim it was a drug overdose, and other wrestlers covered up by destroying evidence at the scene of his death.

Following David’s death, Kerry won the NWA Heavyweight Title from Ric Flair on May 6, 1984 at The David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions show.  Later on, younger brother Mike was forced into the ring by his father, Fritz to replace David in the Von Erichs feud with the Fabulous Freebirds.

Mike, bearing a striking resemblance to David, felt the pressure of being David and filling his shoes.

Mike suffered a shoulder injury during a match in 1985, and underwent surgery to repair the injury.  Several days after his release from the hospital, he suffered Toxic Shock Syndrome, due to a staph infection suffered because of  his surgery.

Because of his bout with TSS, Mike lost a significant amount of weight, and was reported to have even suffered some brain damage.

Due to this, he was not the same physically and was unable to perform on the same level as before, and due to the minor brain damage, his promos were often slurred or incoherent.

Due to his depression with his condition, and the constant pressure and stress of living in David’s shadow, Mike started abusing drugs and alcohol, leading to erratic behavior according to friends and family.

He had his last match in 1987 against Brian Adias, but shortly after he was arrested on a driving while intoxicated charge. 

On April 12, 1987, he left a suicide note at his family’s estate, and was found dead four days later; it was an overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol.

Chris was the scrappy, young Von Erich, eager to succeed, but with limited athletic ability and training (and according to family and various sources, he suffered from asthma and a degenerative bone condition which made him extremely fragile and prone to injury).

Chris never garnered as much success as his older brothers, and due to his small stature (5'5", 150lbs.), there was little he could accomplish in the ring. He was like his older brothers before him, David, Kerry, and Mike, and abused alcohol and drugs.

After the deaths of David, and especially Mike, he became depressed and frustrated over his lack of success.  It finally caused him to take his life on September 12, 1991, as a result of a gun shot to the head.

Kerry was still a success after his short lived stint as NWA Champion that lasted only 18 days (it is reported NWA officials only allowed Kerry a brief stint as an honor to David Von Erich, and did not want to keep the strap on Kerry due to his well-documented history of drug abuse).

But Kerry became rather reckless and furthered his addiction to drugs, causing him to lose his right foot by amputation in 1986 due to a motorcycle accident in which he was under the influence of narcotics.

Despite his personal problems, he continued wrestling for various promotions before finally arriving in the WWE in 1990, as a highly popular, mid-card babyface. 

He won the WWE Intercontinental Championship from "Mr. Perfect" on August 27, 1990 at Summerslam. He held the title for three months before losing the title back to "Mr. Perfect." He continued his run as a successful mid-carder until his eventual release in the summer of 1992.

He ended his career in GWF and had his last match on February 12, 1993. Six days later he shot himself in the chest after being indicted on a drug charge.

The day before Wrestlemania XXV, The Von Erichs were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.  The honor was accepted by Kevin Von Erich, the oldest brother and last survivor of the Von Erich wrestling legacy.

A great wrestling family destroyed by their own fame—and the pressure to succeed—that led them down very dark paths of self-destruction. Who knows where they all would be if David hadn’t died—if the grief and pressure to live in his shadow wasn’t too much for the others to overcome.

Drugs and sorrow filled their lives where instead there should have been success and happiness. It goes to show that although these men constantly put their bodies on the line to entertain us, they are flawed, and not superhuman—merely entertainers, men, brothers, sons, and fathers.