June 7, 2013
The hardcore life of Mick Foley
By JOHN LAW - Niagara Falls Review
Mick Foley nearly killed himself for our approval.
Body slams onto tacks. Body slams onto metal steps. Body slams off of (and through) a 20-foot steel cage. But it wasn't until he became a New York Times best-selling author that the "Hardcore Legend" got mainstream respect outside the wrestling ring.
The book, 1999's Have a Nice Day, was a shock to anyone with preconceived notions of wrestlers. "Wait a minute," was the general reaction, "this guy can write?"
And act. And perform. And enthrall a crowd without getting a single chair shot to the head.
The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin were the undisputed stars of World Wresting Entertainment's Attitude Era, but Mick Foley was its spokesman -- an engaging, funny and unconventional personality who tapped into the new generation of wrestling fans' hunger for what went on behind the scenes. The book stunned everyone, including Foley, when it topped the Times' nonfiction bestseller list.
"In 1999 I was looking at the end of my career, having no idea what I might do after that, and the book opened a lot of doors," says Foley, who appears Saturday (noon to 4 p.m.) at this weekend's Niagara Falls Comic Con. "It brought a sense of closure to my career ... and it was a towering achievement just to sit down and do it by hand, and do it in a way people found enjoyable."
Foley's book wasn't just a personal milestone, it was a turning point for the wrestling industry. With precise, often hilarious detail, Foley took fans into the stories behind the stories -- the backstage drama, the real-life issues between wrestlers, the things that happened when the cameras turned off. Its huge success inspired other wrestlers to crank out their own books, though few could compare.
"And I apologize for that," cracks Foley. "Actually it's a good thing, because so many other wrestlers had stories to tell, and I'm sure all of them feel good just having it on the shelf, whether or not they made money."
Foley's bestseller days weren't over. The follow-ups Foley is Good and The Hardcore Diaries also did well, prompting Foley to write fiction (Tietam Brown, Scooter) and even children's books.
The books led to public speaking (not standup, Foley wants to clarify), where he discusses his life on the college circuit. Then, of course, there are fan conventions, where Foley signs everything from action figures to books to pictures of his bloody mug after any number of gruesome matches.
One match stands out, however. The one fans can't get enough of. Foley has talked plenty about that night in Pittsburgh in 1998 ... at least what he remembers. They don't call it the night that changed everything for nothing.
During a Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker, Foley was determined to make history. With the match barely underway, and the two rivals fighting on top of the cage, Foley was tossed 22 feet onto the announcer's table below. The crowd was stunned, the announcers terrified. "As God is my witness, he is broken in half," yelped Jim Ross.
What happened next secured Foley's place in the hearts of wrestling fans forever. As he was being stretchered up the ramp, Foley -- with a dislocated shoulder -- broke free and climbed the cage again to resume the match. Minutes later, in a spot he wasn't prepared for, Foley was chokeslammed through the steel cage onto the mat below, capped by a steel chair falling on his face. He blacked out for a moment, shook it off, then continued the match in a daze. Now with a dislocated jaw and loose tooth hanging beneath his nose, Foley's night ended when the Undertaker slammed him onto thousands of thumbtacks.
He lost, but it didn't matter. Foley became a legend overnight.
"I don't know what it was that got me to my feet," he says. "The logical conclusion would have been to call it a night, especially after that second time. No one would have thought less of me, but at the same time no one would be asking me about the match."
"WWE's changed (now), and the match would have been called immediately. But in that case I was the beneficiary of the circumstances that surrounded me."
Even Foley thought it went too far.
"It's really not a fun match," he says. "It's not something you gather your friends around (to watch). If the Hell in a Cell match turns people into fans, the I Quit match kinda turns people off from it. It's too barbaric."
"It didn't seem that excessive at the time. But geez, watching my family, it certainly was."
These type of matches are forbidden in today's more safety-conscious WWE, which has many fans clamouring for the Attitude Era (roughly 1997 to 2002) to return. But Foley says there's plenty to like about the new generation of wrestlers.
"The new era forces people to be more creative," he says. The Attitude era's biggest problem, he adds, were wrestlers trying to be shocking because everyone else was doing it.
"I'm glad I was part ot it, and it was a very creative time because you had so many guys hitting their stride at the same time. But memory is selective, and there was a lot of stuff that was unnecessary as well."
John Law has been The Niagara Falls Review's arts and entertainment writer since 1990.