Paul Bearer was unquestionably one of the greatest managers in the history of professional wrestling. He helped the likes of The Undertaker, Kane and Mankind immensely, and there are many people in the business who owe a lot to him. The unfortunate thing is that it takes an untimely passing for us to reflect back on what he accomplished.
According to WWE.com, Bearer passed away on Tuesday. Although he hadn't been a regular character on WWE programming for quite some time, Bearer would make guest appearances from time to time as a manager for Kane or Taker. As great as it was to see The Undertaker make his WWE return on Monday, it is even sadder to learn of the loss of a legendary manager and a fine person.
Most wrestling fans obviously know Bearer from his time in WWE, but he accomplished a lot before ever stepping foot inside a WWE ring. Bearer began his wrestling career as a ringside photographer. Later he became an in-ring performer and eventually found his niche in a managerial role in promotions such as Florida Championship Wrestling and World Class Championship Wrestling.
Bearer worked under the name Percy Pringle and managed many rising stars who would go on to great success in the WWE, WCW and other top companies. I was lucky enough to interview Bearer on an episode of Ring Rust Radio a couple of months ago, and he spoke fondly of his time in WCCW in particular. It was there that the groundwork was laid for what would become a legendary combination in professional wrestling.
In 1984, Bearer managed a masked wrestler named Texas Red in his first career match. Texas Red took on the great Bruiser Brody in a losing effort. Without context that match may not seem very noteworthy, but it just so happens that the Texas Red character was played my Mark Calaway, who would of course go on to be The Undertaker in WWE.
The fact that Bearer managed The Undertaker in his first-ever televised wrestling match came as a big surprise to me, but it was certainly fitting, as the two men would become synonymous with each other for years to come. The Undertaker got his big break in the WWE in 1990, and Bearer followed soon after.
Taker was immediately an intriguing character, as he was billed as supernatural and impervious to pain. He was initially managed by Brother Love, though, and the pairing simply didn't make sense. According to Bearer in his Ring Rust Radio interview, "Ravishing" Rick Rude convinced Vince McMahon to bring Bearer in as a manager for The Undertaker.
It was truly a match made in heaven, because Bearer just so happened to be a real-life mortician. I can't imagine that there are many people in the history of Earth with both professional wrestling and funeral director backgrounds, but Bearer fit the bill. When he took over the reins as The Undertaker's manager, Taker truly skyrocketed to superstardom.
Perhaps The Undertaker was always destined to be a star, but there is no denying the fact that Bearer was instrumental in getting him over. Due mostly to the character he was portraying, The Undertaker wasn't called upon to talk very much. He was dependent on a mouthpiece, and Bearer was the ideal complement. His eerie voice, over-the-top personality and the mysterious urn drew people in, and Taker rewarded them with fantastic matches.
Bearer and The Undertaker were so good together that they turned face before long and became two of the most popular characters in the entire company. Bearer will always be remembered by wrestling fans as The Undertaker's manager and the guy who was greatly responsible for Taker's ascent, but perhaps equally as important was his introduction of Kane.
Bearer turned heel on The Undertaker in 1996 and aligned himself with Mankind. Bearer definitely played a role in Mankind breaking through as a star, but he helped make Kane an instant success. Bearer blackmailed The Undertaker into taking him back as a manager by saying that he would reveal a deep, dark secret from Taker's past.
The Undertaker eventually couldn't take Bearer's micromanaging anymore, so Bearer made it known that he was the father of The Undertaker's half brother. Taker thought his half brother was dead due to a funeral home fire many years earlier, however, Bearer revealed that Kane was still alive. This led to Bearer introducing Kane at Badd Blood in 1997. Kane ripped the door off the cell and attacked his brother, allowing Shawn Michaels to pick up the victory.
Bearer would continue to manage Kane and then eventually went back to managing The Undertaker when he turned heel and formed the Ministry of Darkness. Bearer left the company in 2000, spent a year with TNA and eventually returned to the WWE in 2003. Bearer still played a role as a manager during this time, but his true value was backstage as a booker. With so much experience in the business, Bearer was a great asset for the WWE to have.
He once again left the company in 2005, and while he never had another full-time run in the WWE, he made several guest appearances and continued to get involved with both The Undertaker and Kane. Bearer also enjoyed working independent shows, as it allowed him to pass on his knowledge to young stars who were looking to make it big in the wrestling business.
At the time of Bearer's unfortunate death, he was still under a legends contract with WWE, so there was always a possibility that we might see him on WWE programming once again. Unfortunately, that possibility no longer exists. Bearer had an impact on so many people in the wrestling business. He obviously played a big role in the careers of The Undertaker and Kane, but so many people considered him to be a friend, and I haven't heard a bad thing about him since the awful news of his passing broke.
During my Ring Rust Radio interview with Bearer, the topic of the WWE Hall of Fame came up. Bearer said that he knew that his induction would come at some point, but he was content to wait. Perhaps the worst part about this entire situation is that Bearer won't get to experience the honor that he so richly deserved.
Even so, there is no doubt that Bearer will one day be enshrined alongside wrestling's all-time greats. He won't be there in person, but he'll certainly be there in spirit. Bearer was a great manager, but more importantly, he seemed like a genuinely great person. He is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the term.
Listen to Ring Rust Radio's interview with Paul Bearer here.