July 16, 2008
Bill Anderson Part 2: Taking the road less traveled
By KENAI ANDREWS - SLAM! Wrestling
1993 would mark the 19th year of wrestling for Flying Bill Anderson. He had achieved his goals, set into motion by the vicious act of the Monsel's powder perpetrated 22 years earlier. However 1993 would also mark the beginning of several periods of adversity, some of which would take Anderson to his limit.
Ironically, it would start with the most blissful of events in 1987.
Anderson found the time to tie the knot with fiancťe Penny Young whom he met at the Northridge California training sessions in 1985 via an introduction by Bastien. Four years later, Anderson's son Audie was born, named after Audie Murphy, the most decorated combat soldier in World War II. It was perhaps the peak for Anderson, who remained busy with his training school, wrestling, and announcing.
How high could Flying Billy Anderson keep flying?
All the way to Hollywood.
In between the trips to Japan and through the Godfather of Grappling "Judo" Gene LeBell -- Mike LeBell's brother whom Anderson had worked for years earlier -- he started to dabble into film.
"Gene had a knack for looking after the boys in the business. If he was in charge of being like the stunt coordinator on movies and he needed three or four guys to take some falls, if at all possible he would bring in wrestlers because he knew we could do the job," explained Anderson.
Gene LeBell had high praise for Anderson. "Anderson is not only a great wrestler -- a lot of things he does well -- but heís also a great actor and a lot of people donít know that. Years ago, he was as good as there is in interviews and being a movie star and a stuntman and all that stuff. He is a class act."
Anderson ended up doing over ten movies, including the Roddy Piper movie Tag Team, the TV sitcom Body Slam, which featured Piper and Jesse "The Body" Ventura, and the Johnny Depp hit Ed Wood which was directed by Tim Burton and won two Oscars. He played a referee, officiating a George "The Animal" Steele wrestling match.
It was inevitable that reality would eventually knock Anderson back down to Earth.
"After my son was born, and I was traveling so much, working for different promoters, and doing so much and I was gone so much that in '93 my wife had kind of had enough of it and she asked me to get out of the business. She said, 'Itís either wrestling or me,'" Anderson recalled. "And then you know you look back -- 'How could you think like this?' on my part? I just said, 'Well, I've got to do this wrestling. Iím still young and healthy and what Iíve been doing for all of 20 years. I just canít give this up.'
"Sheís like, 'Get a regular job,' and I said, 'Get a regular job, work 40 hours, and make what I make in two hours of being in wrestling shows and doing stuff? I love this stuff,'" he said.
The wrestling lifestyle and its temptations hovered over the relationship and eventually push would come to shove.
"You know, I didnít know. I didnít really learn," he reflected. "She left me. We got divorced in í93. I never remarried. Had a couple girlfriends, close calls on getting married, but never did. I remained very close with my son. Spent a lot of time with him out in California. I finished paying my child support. I did all my legal obligations and my moral obligations."
It was the one choice that Anderson regrets to this day.
"It was some decisions when you're young, where you think you know it all, and you really don't but at the time nobody can tell you anything."
"The one thing I preach to my son to this day is college education and not following in my footsteps and luckily he never had a thought of ever wrestling. It never occured to him once. Never one time in his life did I put a wrestling hold on him or fool around with him, wrestling or jumping around with him in a ring or anything. I wanted never ever ever to give him that thought. I wanted him to do something completely different. I told him always, 'Use your brain, not your body,'" he said.
"I never understood at the time the simple mistakes I made."
Andersonís mother also passed away in 1993, compounding the situation. He would rediscover religion in 1996, becoming a Born-Again Christian, which would mark another pivotal chapter in his life.
Meanwhile professional wrestling was rediscovering itself. The WWF had introduced Monday Night Raw, with a different format than the old Superstars and Challenge programs.
"About '96, the WWF stopped calling," Anderson said. "I stopped getting work from them for nothing. No reason. The phone just stops ringing all of a sudden. There were kind of going in a different direction. They weren't using that many job guys for the TV tapings; they were trying to make more competitive matches. Then they were taking road announcers like their TV announcers, they wanted some of them to be on the road because they were already under contract. So they stopped using some local announcers. So work dried up for me, I lost that revenue."
Andersonís school became his primary source of income and soon enough he found himself forced to make a similar choice with his girlfriend Linda who, like Penny before her, was not amused playing second fiddle to his career.
It is the choice every wrestler has to eventually make.
This time he chose Linda.
He closed his school in 2001, and worked a regular job. He was living the regular life again for the most part, just like the impromptu sabbatical of 1975.
But he couldn't walk away completely.
"I was training guys then. There were guys like Frankie Kazarian, Rocky Romero, that are wrestling now. T.J. Perkins, these are guys that came out of my school.
"I used to run shows in California. Samoa Joe used to work for me. Chris Daniels, The Fallen Angel, just so many different guys would wrestle for me. I finally closed things down in 2001 and kind of said, 'Enough is enough.' I was 44 years old and my body was starting to give out a little bit."
Another tour after the September 11th terrorist attack on the United States included the countries of Kuwait, Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Bahrain.
"Getting to see the pyramids, something that you see in history books as a kid, oh my gosh, it was unbelievable," he said.
Meeting the troops profoundly affected Anderson and his perspective. He admired their dedication and felt a sense of accomplishment making their days a little brighter. It was a little thing perhaps, but it was good and he was honored and thrilled to be a part of it.
The year 2003 would prove to one of adversity, starting with the death of his father.
"I was just in pain," he recalled. "I was taking so many pain pills I probably should have been dead. I would have been another statistic just like every one of those other guys are. Just like Heath Ledger, the actor. Same thing, exactly.
"It felt like somebody was taking a razor blade and starting at my ankle at my right side and then just slowly going all the way up to my hip. The pain was just slicing me. Thatís how intense the pain was and I could only deal with it by taking handfuls of pills.
"Audie kept me alive during my back problems and he was my inspiration to stay alive or I probably would have checked out because I was in so much pain. I felt like I was really dying there."
Fortunately, the surgery was a success and after healing up, Anderson decided to move back to Phoenix. Audie, who was enrolled in college, remained in California.
Today, Bill Anderson is working on his book -- currently titled I Carry the Scars -- which he says pulls no punches regarding his life and wrestling career. It's dedicated to the four people who impacted his life the most: his mother and father, his son Audie and best friend Louis Mucciolo.
"Louis was really my big confidante and everything. I had friends I was on the road with more than him but he was the guy I could always turn to even though he was so much younger than me, we felt a special closeness to each other and it was a great relationship," he said. "I got that call at 6 a.m. the next morning while the paramedics were working on him in the room. He was definitely already dead and Iíll never forget it. It was numbing to hear that story. Ten years later, itís just so weird that itís been ten years."
Muccioloís sister Tina said that her brother and Anderson were always close. "The relationship may have started out as student and teacher, but I think my brother quickly proved himself to be extremely talented in and out of the ring and Bill was smart enough to know how lucky he was to have someone like Lou working with him and for him.
"I just knew they were always together, training or traveling to shows," she continued. "I know Bill was very well connected in the business and Lou learned a lot from him not only in the ring, but about the business in general."
"I was around when Louis started training," said Patterson. "They were really close. They were best friends. Not just a trainer and trainee. They were best friends. They spent a lot of time together."
"Those guys were just tight; I don't know, they were like brothers. That would be the best explanation," Peters echoed. He recently married Tina June 21 and the couple are expecting their first child this December.
Anderson has been an active member of the Cauliflower Alley Club since 1985 and was honored in 2000. He is also inducted in the Southern California Pro Wrestling and Western States Halls of Fame.
"He said, 'Billy, I want you to know something. In 1985, you gave me and Jim the greatest advice you could have given us and it was for no profit, no reason other than you were being straight and honest with us and you told us to go to Tennessee and get our experience, and not go up to Canada and be out in the snow up there and plus get a good percentage of your pay taken back by Red Bastien.'"
The demand for a percentage of earnings from proteges was common among older wrestlers. "I loved Red, heís my dearest friend but they didnít want to have a percentage of their money given back to Red. If they went to Tennessee, they could get 100% of their money," Anderson continued. "And I just said, 'Guys out of my clear conscience, go to Tennessee, go to the south and get your experience. I did it as a kid and you guys can do it too.'"
Anderson recalled more of the conversation with Borden. "And Steve said, 'Without Billy Anderson, there never would have been a Sting.' And that was a pretty heavy thing for him to say. And he said, 'You know the way it all worked out Billy, Iíve got a wife and children now. I might not ever have met them if I wouldnít have gone the direction I went. So you are responsible for me being the man I am today.' Thatís pretty heavy stuff for a guy to lay that on you. I felt very honored for him that he would say that.
"It was like the old Jimmy Stewart movie Itís a Wonderful Life. If you were never born, how much would people have been better off?"
Anderson said he hasn't completely thrown out the idea of reopening his school in the future. "Never say never," he laughed when asked.
He credited the basic principles of dealing with people as one of the secrets of his success. "What I believed was I was given a chance when I was a skinny 17-year-old kid how to wrestle. I was a skinny kid. I didnít look like a wrestler. You know what, I had the heart for it, I just didnít have the body for it at the time; I grew into my body. I felt like 'I donít care.' I didnít take people for their money. I had a firm and fast rule that 17-and-under kids, I charged them $15 a class. If you were 18 and over, I charged you $25 a class. And thatís just the way it was," he said earnestly.
"I never got rich off of them. I never took percentages of their money at the end of shows or anything else; I just taught them how to wrestle and I treated them with dignity and respect and I felt that was worth more than anything else."
"So many trainers would beat people up and break legs, discourage people from wrestling. Thatís an old school thought back in the '50s and '60s. I didnít believe in that. I felt like just the opposite. I lived life by the golden rule: Do unto others as you have them do unto you. And I firmly believed that.
"I had simple dreams and I achieved every single one of them as a wrestler that I wanted to do and more.
"It was a good life. It was good for what it was, and I made the best of it."
-- with files from Greg Oliver