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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

Still pumped up

Hulkamania continues to run wild ... with the help of a little bran

By THANE BURNETT -- Toronto SUN

  Even superheroes reach middle age. And then they have to reach for something more to keep their alter ego a regular guy.

 While once Hulk Hogan -- not only the most famous pro-wrestler ever to wear tights, but also one of the most recognizable images on the planet next to Coke and a Big Mac -- preached to fans about saying daily prayers and taking vitamins, after 25 years as the king of the ring, there's now a need for a little extra.

 Fibre, that is.

 "My third bran muffin of the morning," the moustached mammoth mauler said as he sat down for a one-on-one conversation with The Toronto Sun yesterday before a downtown book signing for his self-titled autobiography. "And plenty of coffee. My third cup this morning. Any more and I'll be running out screaming."

 That is not an unusual image for the flamboyant fighter, whose red-and-yellow, furry-boa wrapped antics -- marketed in and out of wrestling halls from Japan to Toronto since the 1970s -- have created a generation of die-hard Hulkamaniacs.

 Even my mother knows who Hollywood Hulk Hogan is, and she doesn't know a skull-crushing piledriver from a flathead screwdriver.

 After the fibre, and coffee, and a breakfast of egg-whites, which feed his car-grill-sized arms and 275-pound frame yesterday packed into a black T-shirt and jeans, a surprisingly articulate and soft-spoken Hogan talked about things you wouldn't expect.

 Like life as Terry Bollea -- his real name -- trying to buy tools at Sears a few days ago.

 "It should have taken 10 minutes -- in and out -- but the next thing I know I'm surrounded by people who bought the book in the mall and wanted me to sign it ... or leave a message on their answering machine ... or a million other things."

 And he talked about the true super-human patience of his wife, Linda, with whom he celebrated 20 years of marriage the day before.

 Today, he'll be at her company Christmas party.

 "She has her doubts about me as an old man running around in yellow boots," he said as he leaned back into a chair which seemed to sink into the concrete floor with every shift.

 "Maybe one day she will grab the (bandanna) off my bald head and say 'enough'. But not yet. Not now."

 His next wrestling match will take place days from now. At the Christmas dinner table.

 "My wife makes the best turkey of either family," he boasted. "So there will be some wrestling for the last drum stick.

 "It's a good Christmas. My kids still swear they believe in Santa."

 He has two children, Brooke, 14, and a 12-year-old-son, Nicholas, who has discovered athletics may run in his veins. Living in Florida, he wants to be both a hockey player and a wrestler.

 The latter has his father -- whose own introduction to the sports-entertainment business was having his leg purposefully broken by heavyweight champ Hiro Matsuda -- a little nervous.

 "I'd like to see him get his education, so he has the option to become a doctor or lawyer or lawn care guy," said Hogan, as hundreds of fans waited in another part of the building to greet him like a Roman champion.

 In fact, as Hogan later stood before the crowd, someone in the front row yelled: "You are a god."

 Not nearly true enough for the man whose favourite line to dying children is that he will wrestle them in heaven.

 His son and the rest of his family have seen what the years of body slams and smackdowns have done to the man who was once on his way to becoming a bank teller while playing covers of Iron Butterfly's In A Gadda Da Vida in Florida bars at night.

 "I can still run in the ring ... a short distance," he explained. "But at 49 years old, I can't run a mile."

 His badly damaged legs, hips and back -- his tanned and polished physique is a road map of fights that were more pain than orchestrated fame -- mean he can now only fall asleep in just one position.

 An arm here -- a leg turned over here.

 He knows if he takes a misplaced hit from an inexperienced fighter who yearns to be the next Hulk Hogan, he could even lose that coveted sleeping position.

 "Everything I do is a calculated risk," he acknowledged.

 Because, after so many years, he loves what being Hulk Hogan can still give him.

 Every interview he does starts with the same question -- when will you stop wrestling?

 "I haven't fought my last match," he said. "I'm addicted to it. I'm still a junkie for it.

 "I can't turn it off."

 A pop icon, Hulk Hogan gets himself -- the shtick -- even as society goofs on his profession.

 I remind him that there's a guy in a Third World country today wearing a Hulk Hogan T-shirt.

 "There's a bond ... a connection with fans," he said. "That guy made the decision whether to spend his money on milk, or my shirt. I find that amazing."

 Outside, fans waited all night in downtown Toronto. More than devoted -- they are wed to the image.

 Cale Baird, a 23-year-old university student, lost many of his motor-functions when a flu bug caused complications in 1995. His body shut down and doctors told his mom Charlotte he had no chance of living.

 "But he made it, and watching wrestling gave him strength," said Charlotte, waiting to meet their hero.

 "He was my inspiration," Cale, a quadriplegic, said of Hogan.

 Nearby, 25-year-old fan Tom Fatsis arrived with full Hogan attire -- T-shirt, bandanna and sweat bands.

 "He's a good guy," Fatsis explained. "He would come out and say, 'Drink your milk, say your prayers and eat your vitamins.' And we listened."

 That devotion, said Hogan as he prepared to meet his legion, still is what gets him through life as a middle-aged super hero. That, and a little bran.

RELATED LINKS
  • Hulk Hogan bio and story archive


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