Barry Orton never got quite comfortable in the world of pro wrestling in which his more well-known family members thrived.
Success only came in spurts. He never found his voice as a performer, and scandal threw a shadow over what he did accomplish in the ring.
Eventually, after wading through the fog of drug use, he left the squared circle altogether and sought to express himself instead as an actor.
Despite the years he spent wrestling for the World Wrestling Federation (where he wrestled as Barry O), few fans remember the blond mullet that hung on his neck, his broad shoulders and the DDTs he issued out to his opponents. Many of those who know his name only do because of his role as a whistle-blower in a controversy over allegations of sexual misconduct within the company.
Unlike his nephew, Randy Orton, nothing Barry did in the ring could be described as eye-catching. He was a solid, dependable performer, but no star.
On the Orton family tree, Bob was the least famous, less prosperous branch.
His father, Bob Orton, wore championship gold with the American Wrestling Association, in Florida and in St. Louis. Bob Sr., who sometimes wrestled as Rocky Fitzpatrick, challenged Buddy Rogers; he headlined Madison Square Garden opposite Bruno Sammartino.
Barry's brother, Bob Orton Jr., cleaned up in terms of regional championships as well.
He is remembered more for his stint with what is now WWE, where he bashed many a babyface over the head with a cast on his forearm and was a key figure in the main event of the first WrestleMania. Bob Jr. now enjoys a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.
His son Randy will undoubtedly join him there.
Randy has been one of the company's biggest stars beginning in the mid-'00s. A world champ several times over, a centerpiece of the franchise, The Viper's legacy is already well-established at just 35 years old.
Barry, on the other hand, played the prey more often than not during his career. He was midcard-filler, a guy who provided roster depth.
Despite a good build and size, Barry wasn't built for the business. His heart was never in it, for one. Looking back at his career, he told Jamie Kreiser of Slam! Sports, "I was always struggling because I wanted to be a musician. I never saw myself as a professional wrestler."
Still, that's the business he found himself entangled in for decades.
Like many wrestlers, Barry's career path was a meandering one. The industry is a migratory one anyway, but for those who don't break out as stars, there is an added need to move from promotion to promotion.
Barry's journey began in the late '70s after training with Tito Santana.
He started off at the bottom of the card. Working for Central States Wrestling, he competed in St. Joseph, Missouri, about an hour outside of Kansas City. In Texas, Hall of Famer Tully Blanchard awaited him, and he did not take it easy on the rookie in the least.
And Barry didn't once come out of the rough battles on top. As listed on Mid-Atlantic Wrestling.net, Blanchard beat him three straight times in 1978.
Barry opened shows for Pacific Northwest Wrestling in Portland soon after which included a few clashes against Matt Borne, who would later become WWE's Doink the Clown.
It was at this stage in Barry's career that he tasted the most gold. In 1979, he won the Los Angeles version of the NWA Americas tag title with Hector Guerrero. With International Championship Wrestling, alongside his brother Bob Jr., Barry earned the Southeastern Tag Team Championship, a title that went defunct in 1980.
That bit of championship glory aside, Barry's career was mostly filled with losses. He was the springboard for stars. He was the villager whom the monster gobbled up before facing off against the knight.
One can see that at play in a tag match from the early '80s, with Billy Starr at his side going up against Killer Karl Kox and Buddy Wolfe.
Back then Barry was a thin, young man with a mess of hair atop his head. The crowd treated him like a true babyface, giving him a rousing reaction to a flurry of forearms. But in the end, a familiar scenario played out: The other guy whipped him, and Barry ended the bout on his back.
He must have been doing something right, though. In 1985, WWE came calling.
The company inserted him toward the bottom of the roster. He was not on TV often, and if he was, it was mostly to propel the likes of men such as muscular former football player George Wells or goateed powerhouse Jim Neidhart.
Paul Orndorff pounded on him in '85 to the delight of the crowd.
Barry found himself paired with a succession of new tag team partners. He tagged with The Moondogs, The Gladiator, Hercules Hernandez and Steve Lombardi. These weren't the kind of pairings that evolved into anything. They were simply teams lined up to fall.
And it looked as if Barry was going to make a long career out of doing just that.
WWE kept him busy, taking him along for its traveling circus. His list of opponents was impressive, but not his record.
Seeking Refuge in Canada
Perhaps Barry could have worked his way up the roster from jobber to contender. He performed well between the ropes and was a good athlete. With the right gimmick, who knows, maybe there was some more spotlight to be had.
In 1986, though, an event prevented any of that from happening. In the interview with Slam!, Barry explained, "I was in a car wreck and I had been drinking, and someone died."
He said that WWE wanted him to wait until his legal troubles cleared up before he made his way back to work for them. That's when he traveled north to Calgary to work for Stampede Wrestling.
This is where he morphed from nondescript grappler to noteworthy character. This is where his love of the movies and acting helped him blossom.
He became The Zodiac, an occult-inspired mysterious figure in a black mask. In this new role, Barry delivered wild, loopy interviews. They sounded like Satanic sermons at times, a madman's rants at others.
Kreiser wrote, "The character originally came on the heels of the Zodiac Killer out in California. Barry would read all the astrology books he could get his hands on to make the character authentic."
The character helped him net opportunities against Stampede's biggest names, including Owen Hart, whom he twice challenged for the North American Heavyweight Championship in October of 1987.
His most notable rival, though, was Jason the Terrible. While Barry's gimmick was adapted from the headlines, this one was stolen outright from the movies. Karl Moffat was Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, hockey mask and all.
Zodiac helped make Jason an even bigger heel by offering him a rival just as strange and outside the normal realm of wrestling as him. It all culminated in a mask-versus-mask match that ended with Jason ripping the black mask from Barry's face.
A diving headbutt did The Zodiac in. Then in a line that summed up Barry's place in wrestling lore, the announcer eyed the unmasked man and said with a tinge of disappointment, "I don't know him."
Enhancement Talent Again
Barry came back to WWE in 1990, resuming his role as resident doormat. He was on TV more than his first go-round with WWE, but the company called upon him to make sure wrestlers like Jake Roberts and Jim Duggan came out of their battles looking good.
A 1991 showdown on WWF Superstars against Bret Hart was indicative of his career as a whole.
Barry made The Hitman work for his victory, but it took less than three minutes to get to that point. Despite Barry's getting in a bit of offense, the commentators didn't discuss him much. The narrative was centered on Bret, not him.
Even when facing a perennial loser like The Brooklyn Brawler, Barry was the underdog. He lost to the gruff, cigar-smoking grappler on more than one occasion.
In August of 1990, WWE offered him his only title shot, a chance at the Intercontinental Championship that Kerry Von Erich wore around his waist. Unfortunately, that match, or any other for that matter, is not what fans know Barry for.
His name is instead associated with a flood of allegations aimed at WWE in the early '90s.
A media firestorm erupted when a former ring boy named Tom Cole accused a WWE employee of sexual misconduct.
Similar stories soon emerged. At the center of many of these was Terry Garvin, a former wrestler who had later become a road agent for the company. Young men claimed that Garvin tried to get them to perform sexual acts on him, promising upward movement in the company.
Barry was one of those brave enough to speak up at the risk of ruining his own career.
Along with a former WWE announcer and a retired wrestler, Barry sat at a roundtable on an episode of Donahue. Vince McMahon glared at him and his fellow accusers from just a few feet away.
When it was his turn to speak, Barry discussed an incident in 1978 where Garvin grabbed him inappropriately in a car. About the harassment in general, he told Phil Donahue and the audience, "I endured it for as long as I could."
Speaking with Larry King and appearing on Geraldo, Barry told his story several times over. He talked about young men coming to him for advice and repeatedly pointed the finger at Garvin.
Barry's WWE career ended in 1991. Call it coincidence or a part of a cover-up, but the result was the same: He was forced to seek work elsewhere.
He moved on to World Organized Wrestling, a little-known outfit with a minimal budget. Here, he slipped on an oversized leather jacket and played an S&M-themed character.
His nephew Randy actually began his career with WOW as a referee.
But it wasn't Randy's future or his own work at WOW that took precedent. Personal issues overtook business aspirations.
Barry drank. He did drugs. He fell victim to depression.
Barry said that he did coke with Hulk Hogan during his referee days years before, as Mark Madden noted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. After his WWE stint, though, he took to crystal meth, and the drug robbed him of joy.
He told Kreiser about that time in his life, "I laugh at everything. I didn't laugh for eight years."
These issues with drugs, an unmemorable in-ring career and the stress born from the sex scandal be damned, he still had growth ahead of him. Going by Barrymore Barlow now, he taught acting classes. He produced and wrote movies.
Barry traded in a minor role in the squared circle for minor roles in movies. His IMDB page shows that he was in the films Timecollapse, Killer's Mind and Mission Idiot, playing characters like Patron on Stairs and Flex the Doorman.
Recalling his work as The Zodiac and the flair he showed under that mask, it makes sense that this is where he landed.
Even though he found his calling, the pull of the ring didn't quite die. In 2011, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla invited him to a Legends Battle Royal.
Barry battled in a ring filled with names like Chavo Guerrero Sr., Roddy Piper, Terry Funk and The Warlord at Kurt RussellReunion 2: The Reunioning. His brother Bob entered the field as well (warning: Video contains brief NSFW language):
And much like the rest of his career, Barry was not the star here. Funk and Piper ended up creating the most noteworthy moments including the former bleeding from his brow and the latter whipping the crowd into a frenzy as he marched to victory.
Barry's part was less substantial. A report for the event from ProWrestling.net said that his elimination came "while no one was looking."
That's a metaphor for his wrestling career. Despite the fame attached to his last name, Barry spent many of his years in the ring well outside of the spotlight, with the audience's attention pointed elsewhere.
This is the second article in an ongoing series. Check out "Forgotten Members of Wrestling Families: Brett DiBiase" here.