March 6, 2013
The fascinating story of Percy Pringle III / Paul Bearer
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
William Moody's is a story that almost writes itself -- out of the U.S. Air Force and into pro wrestling in his hometown; modest fame as manager/wrestler Percy Pringle III; licensed mortician becomes famous as Paul Bearer, manager to The Undertaker. That it ended on Tuesday at age 58 should not be a surprise, given all his health issues, but that he fit so much into a short timeframe is the truly amazing part.
He was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 10,1954, and attended Annunciation Catholic School in Bogalusa, Louisiana until the sixth grade. Up next, in Mobile, he went to St. Dominic’s Elementary School and then McGill Institute. After graduation, he would serve his country in the U.S. Air Force from 1972-76, and was in the reserves for another two years. For his entire stint, Moody was at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS.
Inspired by by the likes of Ken Lucas, Lee and Bobby Fields, and "Cowboy" Bob Kelly in the Gulf Coast wrestling promotion, Moody was always fascinated by pro wrestling.
In a post on the Kayfabe Memories website, Moody wrote about his four friends, who would all break into the pro wrestling business. There was his cousin, Marcel Pringle, in town, and across Mobile Bay in Pensacola, Florida, were Michael Hayes, John Tatum, and Robert Gibson.
"Although Robert was younger than all of us, we would all kiss his butt because his brother Ricky was already a wrestler," Moody wrote. "So, we were Ricky Gibson’s little brother’s buddies, which really made us special. It always seemed to be a contest to see which one of us would make it into the business first. Hayes used to hang out in the arena parking lot, and carry Mike Boyette’s bags in for him.
"Then that fateful night came that I’ll never forget, Cousin Marcel and myself were at The Pensacola Bayfront Auditorium, standing at the door that lead to the outside. The door opened, and who walked in? Michael Hayes! This time without Hippie Boyette’s bags, he came from home already dressed in a zebra referee’s outfit. Damn it, he got the first call. Needless to say, we were fit to be tied."
Moody continued to hang around the wrestlers, and acted as a photographer for the Gulf Coast territory
"Before the decade came to an end, we all eventually made it, in some fashion or another. Michael and myself ended up starting at the same time in Mississippi, working for George Culkin (Curtis) and his son Gil, in their company called International Championship Wrestling. Frankie 'The Great Mephisto' Cain was the booker. We had TV all over the state and ran shows 6 days a week. There was no better place to learn our trade."
On December 22, 1978, Moody wed Dianna McDole, and they had two sons, Michael (born in 1979) and Daniel (born in 1987). Having a family was a big reason for his decision to choose a stable career over pro wrestling.
But pro wrestling remained in his blood. Wherever he was, he attended the wrestling matches, including in San Antonio.
"I longed to return to the business that I loved so much," he confessed. "Don’t get me wrong, I loved the funeral profession too, and will return to that business again one day. My wife has always known that I have always had three wives, wrestling, mortuary science and her."
It was his old friend, Hayes, who brought him back into the wrestling fold. Hayes was booking in Florida and called Moody about a managing spot. Moody gave the funeral parlour his two-week notice, and started with Florida Championship Wrestling on January 15, 1985. His initial assignment was managing the Pretty Young Things (KoKo B. Ware and Norvell Austin). Rick Rude followed as probably his most famous charge, but others in Florida included Jack Hart and The Grappler.
"The first time I ever saw him, we were filming a vignette for our television show on a runway at The Tampa Airport," Moody recalled to Robertson's biographer, Meredith Renwick. "I became friends with Dewey and Gail almost immediately. It didn't take long for me to feel like part of their family, along with their two sons Mark and Jason. We had so much fun on the road together, with Gail (Sheena) driving Dewey's big Green Cadillac, and me and Dewey riding around like superstars."
The Percy Pringle III character was a flashy dresser and Moody's ability to over-project his persona was beneficial to his success. At ringside, he was a prototypical heel manager, cheating when necessary to help his guys win.
"Most managers were bad guys," Moody said in 2005. "And I never had to work at being a bad guy."
Again with Hayes' influence, Moody ended up in World Class Championship Wrestling, based in Dallas, Texas, where he managed for six years, and was a key figure behind the scenes, writing and publishing the programs for WCCW and later, when it merged with the Memphis promotion, the USWA.
Over the years, there were a number of "firsts" too, including managing Lex Luger in his first pro wrestling match in Florida and Mark Callaway's first match -- against Bruiser Brody -- at Dallas' Sportatorium.. He also managed colourful characters like Eric Embry, The Dingo Warrior (later the Ultimate Warrior) and "Sugar Bear" Harris, who would later become Kamala The Ugandan Giant.
Moody went up to Stamford, CT, to interview for a manager job with the World Wrestling Federation in late 1990. He often told the story of being in the room with Vince McMahon, Pat Patterson and JJ Dillon, when McMahon starting laughing.
"Do y'all know that he's a real mortician?" said McMahon.
"Vince is laughing like, "Ho ho ho ho!" -- you know, that trademark Vince McMahon laugh," Moody told THQ.com in October 2012 in an interview to promote the WWE '13 video game. "So that moment there when we all realized that they were looking for a manager for Taker and that I was a real mortician ... It was a moment in time that I will never forget and I will take to my grave with me.
Renamed Paul Bearer, Moody would be forever associated with The Undertaker (Mark Callaway, who he had briefly managed back in Texas), but he would also manage Kane, Vader, The Executioner (Terry Gordy), and Mankind (Mick Foley).
It is often forgotten that The Undertaker's first manager was Brother Love (Bruce Prichard), not Paul Bearer.
"Percy was fabulous in the role. Again, who else could you put in the role to make it a perfect fit?" said former WWE referee Jim Korderas. "It started with Bruce Pritchard, Brother Love, and although both characters were way over the top, Bruce's was more over the top in a comedic sense, whereas Percy brought a different kind of take on being the handler or the manager of The Undertaker. I think it worked because at the time, he rarely said anything other than Rest in Peace. So for him to have someone speak for him and keep that mystery alive, that's the biggest part."
"With jet black hair and ghoulish make-up, Moody was the perfect mouthpiece and mascot for the Undertaker during the heyday of Taker's undead persona, leading the way to the ring while carrying the mystical urn that held the power of the Undertaker," wrote Mike Johnson in a tribute to Moody on PWInsider.com.
In the THQ interview, Moody was reflective about his time in the WWE with Undertaker and, to a lesser extent, Kane.
"They are such great performers, such great athletes. Such great men, gentlemen in general," he said. "I am truly humbled that I have been allowed to be associated with them for all these years. When me and Taker first started, his first WrestleMania was my first WrestleMania, so we’ve really been together all that time. I get asked, would you have thought then, that he’d be still going in 2012? Hell no, I wouldn’t then and I’m sure that he wouldn’t have either. In the early years, me and Taker were together so much, I mean all the time. We had a very special relationship and a very special bond. It was such a perfect chemistry, a perfect meant-to-be thing. We were meant to be for each other, but we had no idea it would last this long."
When he wasn't on television, Moody served behind the scenes in WWE as a road agent and in the talent development department, looking for fresh new faces for the roster.
Health issues for his wife and himself limited him from the active WWE schedule beginning in the fall of 2002. In November 2003, he underwent gastric bypass surgery, and in May 2004, he had emergency gallbladder surgery. His wife died on January 31, 2009, after 30 years of marriage and three separate battles against cancer. She was 47. "My life took some major turns following that tragic life changing event," Moody wrote on his website.
Moody would bounce in and out of WWE storylines.
Through it all, Moody kept strong in his faith, a side of him that Dewey Robertson noted in an unpublished interview with his biographer.
"Percy Pringle had taught me a lot about keeping the faith and believing in God," said Robertson about some of his battles with drugs and alcohol. "I must have said the Lord’s Prayer 25 times a day repeatedly. That actually kept my sanity. In Texas, Percy taught me that. Actually, I say he taught me that, but what Percy was famous for saying was 'Praise the Lord, thank you Jesus.' He said that all day long, anything that happened, he would say that. He was a very spiritual individual."
A well-liked individual in professional wrestling, Moody never stopped being a fan, and actively participated in discussions on message boards, Twitter, Facebook, and through his website, which has been online since 2002.
He attended this past weekend's Gulf Coast Wrestling Reunion in Mobile, though it was in a wheelchair. He entered the hospital on Sunday night, and passed away on the evening of Tuesday, March 5.
Pringle will be honoured for his lifetime in pro wrestling in April at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion, which is presenting him with its Lou Thesz Award. He was honoured by the CAC in 2003 with a Men's Wrestler award.
Wake: Friday - 4-5PM for family members only. 5-8PM for everyone including fans.
Funeral: Saturday - 10AM at St. Vincent's.
Serenity Funeral Home, 8691 Old Pascagoula Road, Mobile, AL 36619
Greg Oliver has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985, and is the author of six books: The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes & Icons (with Steven Johnson and Mike Mooneyham); SLAM! Wrestling: Shocking Stories from the Squared Circle; Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport (with Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy and Irv Muchnick); The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels (with Steven Johnson); The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams (also with Johnson) and The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians. Order them all from the SLAM! Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.