April 24, 2007
Million Dollar Man has no regrets
By IAN GILLESPIE - London Free Press
You might not recognize the name Ted DiBiase. And depending on your taste for low-brow hijinks, you might not recognize the other title he once carried: Million Dollar Man.
But when he was grappling with the World Wrestling Federation during the late 1980s, DiBiase was just about as famous as any rotten, no-good, low-down heel could be.
He wore a gold-studded suit covered with dollar signs. He had a black assistant named Virgil, who he treated like a slave.
His trademark phrase -- which he invariably followed with a demonic laugh -- was "Everybody's got a price!"
As the Million Dollar Man, DiBiase would invite fans to perform humiliating acts -- like kissing his feet -- for cash. One of his more infamous skits involved offering a young boy $500 to bounce a ball 15 times in a row.
The little kid gave it a try. And after the 14th bounce, DiBiase kicked the ball away.
"Everyone's got to pay!" he'd yell and then laugh like a madman.
These days, DiBiase is talking a different tune. The big man is now a Christian minister. And last week he spoke at several London high schools -- including a stop Wednesday at Sir Wilfrid Laurier secondary school -- spreading his motivational message.
When I get him on the phone, my first thought is that DiBiase might renounce his former career and its materialistic, high-on-the-hog lifestyle.
"Wrestling is a soap opera," he says. "And my character was (a villain) like Snidely Whiplash or Ebenezer Scrooge. And in the end, I always got beat.
So no, he says, he doesn't regret those days.
Although he says some people -- if they were alive today, that is -- most likely would.
"In professional wrestling over the past 20 years, there have been 40 or 50 wrestlers -- not all of them superstars, but wrestlers nonetheless -- who have died from one or a combination of three reasons: Steroid abuse, drug abuse and alcohol," he says.
DiBiase knows a thing or two about how booze and drugs can derail a life. And how the decisions we make in our youth can affect our entire life.
His stepdad, a wrestler known as "Iron Mike" DiBiase, died in the ring from a heart attack when Ted was 15 years old. That incident changed the young DiBiase's life.
"My dad was my hero, I wanted to be like him," he says.
"And then all of a sudden my dad is dead, my mom is drinking and my whole world had turned upside down.
"I'd go home and hear my mother saying, 'I wish I were dead. I have nothing to live for anymore,'" he recalls. "I had nothing to do with those circumstances. But how I responded to those circumstances was totally my choice."
That, he says, is the gist of his message to students: You can't control the circumstances of your life. But you can -- and must -- control how you react to them.
DiBiase's youthful response was to dedicate himself to a goal. And that goal was to pay for his education by earning a college football scholarship.
It was a dream, he says, that his friends derided.
"I wasn't a natural athlete," he recalls.
"I had to work my rear end off to get there. And I did.
"While all my buddies were out in the (Arizona) desert every Friday and Saturday night getting drunk, getting high and having a grand old time, I was working out, pumping weights and doing whatever I had to do to pursue that goal."
DiBiase says too many kids are happy to do as little as they can.
"If all you ever do is just enough to get by, that's all you'll ever do," he says. "If you start quitting now, you're going to be a quitter (all your life).
"So don't quit," he says. "Don't ever quit. Commit to something and follow through."