Dark Side of the Ring Review — “The Last of the Von Erichs”

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Hello! Today, I bring to you the 5th edition of a series looking at the TV show Dark Side of the Ring. This time, I shall review the fourth episode of the first season, which is labelled the sixth episode on Vice in the UK. If you have yet to watch “The Last of the Von Erichs”, you can see it in the 44-minute video below. And in case you have yet to read any of the previous entries in the series, here’s the list of links:

  1. “The Killing Of Bruiser Brody”
  2. “The Match Made In Heaven”
  3. “The Montreal Screwjob”
  4. “The Mysterious Death of Gorgeous Gino”


“The Last of the Von Erichs”

I already had an idea about the travesties the Von Erichs went through, but I’d never heard it from the mouth of a family member. In this episode, Kevin Von Erich takes center stage as he reflects on the numerous tragedies tearing his family away. And I can’t blame him for wanting to get as far away from wrestling as possible. Living on the island Kauai, Hawaii looks like bliss, and Kevin looks at peace with himself. Knowing what happened to his family, you wouldn’t blame him for feeling depressed or bitter about what transpired, but he considers himself the luckiest man in the world. Kevin appreciates all of his experiences, good and bad, as they made him in to the person he is today.

Introduction

His father Fritz Von Erich had to be brave to take on a Nazi gimmick so soon after World War II. A wrestler would get massive heat for it now, but back then it was the worst thing imaginable. I bet he was always looking over his shoulder on the way out of venues. Unlike some other episodes, I appreciate Jim Cornette’s comments more here, because we know he has a passion for researching the old days of professional wrestling. This topic is right up his alley, and there’s nothing straying him from it because it’s all about telling the story of one of the most famous families in wrestling. There’s only three key talkers here, including Kevin Von Erich, David Manning and Jim Cornette. Dave Meltzer chimes in too, which is understandable considering he’s covered many things since 1980.


Even by today’s standards, I think the Von Erichs would do really well. They’ve all got their selling points, and it’s hard to deny their passion and chemistry. The comic book strips may seem funny now, but back then it was a solid way to draw the younger audience. I love how Kevin & Jim describe their strengths and wrestling style. The fact they grew up on television is a lot of pressure, but I don’t think the brothers realized it til later in life. And they certainly didn’t see what would hit them. It was one unbelievable blow after another. It’s hard to imagine going through what Kevin has been through.


David Von Erich

Outside of Fritz, I believe David was the leader of the brothers. He was most likely to succeed as World Champion, and he was setting the standard for the legacy they were planning to leave. So when he became ill, it broke the family dynamic. What is important to note, is that Fritz had already suffered with losing a son, when his eldest died at 7-years-old of accidental electrocution and drowning. David & Kevin initially believed it was a heart attack which took David’s life. However, there are several other accounts from wrestlers. Ric Flair believes it was an overdose, with Bruiser Brody hiding the evidence.

“Wild” Bill Irwin (AKA The Goon) believes it was bulimia. The documented cause of death was ruptured intestines resulting from acute enteritis. To Fritz, it wouldn’t have mattered what happened, because all he knew was he’d lost another son. David’s brothers looked up to him, so no longer did they have his example to adhere too. But not only did the family lose him, but it devastated fans around the world. He was only 25-years-old and had plenty more life to live. We’ll never know how far David would have got as a wrestling superstar.

But it didn’t hurt business for the Von Erichs, as it gave them the sympathy factor to encourage the NWA to book Kerry Von Erich to go over Ric Flair for the NWA World Championship. And doing so in David’s name, the title change happened, and the reaction was amazing. They did it for David because he wasn’t able to. It helped World Class Championship Wrestling’s business, but they had lost their leading act.


The Fake & The Pressure

Introducing Lance Von Erich, a fictional member of the family, reeks of desperation from Fritz. What I don’t understand is, if you don’t have enough Von Erichs, why not focus on building new stars in the meantime? It’s like when WCW kept beating the dead horse of the nWo. Sometimes you have to move on, because the fans will soon clock on if you’re not being genuine, or if you’re plugging cheap copies in the hope they will get over like the original.


So when Lance didn’t get over, they had to shoehorn Mike in to the role of David, despite not having the size, skills, or experience. He had the heart and motivation, but he wasn’t physically built up enough to withstand the demands. Mentally, he was severely under prepared for the levels of expectation. After picking up a shoulder injury, he sustained toxic shock syndrome following a surgical procedure in Israel. Mike recovered after battling for his life. He left the hospital too soon, apparently because he wanted it. Seeing the press conference of Mike plugging his return to action is hard to watch. You can tell he’s nowhere near ready, and the pressure must have been immense.

His mentality changed, as stated by his brother Kevin. After being arrested for suspicion of drink driving and possession of marijuana, it soon becomes clear what was happening. Under the severe pressure to perform on the level of his brothers, for his Father and the fans, he must have entered a deep depression and decided to commit suicide. This should have been a wake up call. It hurt the brothers, but Fritz was beginning to accept this as normality. Understandably, Kevin cracks telling this story, and needs time away from the camera to recover.

Chris Von Erich

5’4″ with asthma? If this person showed up to any wrestling school, they would not be accepted. And I have asthma, so I know what it’s like. There’s no chance of wrestling regularly with it. Much like Mike, Chris had the passion, but he didn’t have the physical attributes. With business plummeting due to fans realizing the family isn’t as Christian outside the ring as they were being portrayed, Chris stepped in to the ring with an exceptional load of pressure to get the Von Erichs back on track.

The issue though, is that he could only look good wrestling guys like Percy Pringle (AKA Paul Bearer). He was the weak link, but in his heart he didn’t feel that way. Fritz shouldn’t have allowed it, but his push was encouraged. Chris broke his arm and went the same way as Mike. Kevin had seen this before, and should have known that he would do something crazy, but he believed his brother when he said he wouldn’t. He was heartbroken over the loss of Mike and probably missed David too.

Kerry Von Erich’s Secret

Following a motorcycle incident, Kerry stood on his foot too soon and it needed to be amputated. How can you work on WWF TV and not give away the fact you have lost your right foot? Kerry worked with a prosthetic for the rest of his life and made his family swear to keep it a secret from everyone; even the WWF. He’d go as far to shower with his boots on. Roddy Piper told us later that he knew, because they were great friends and Kerry felt comfortable enough to talk to him with his prosthetic off.


There would have only been a handful of people who knew about this while he was alive, and the pressure to keep it a secret, especially after his divorce, the name change to Texas Tornado, losing the Iron Claw, and other life-changing events got on top of him. He let Bret Hart know that he could hear his dead brothers calling him in 1992, and it was only a matter of time til he joined them. He was also struggling with drug issues, compounding his poor mental health. In ’93, on the same day Kerry knew he was going to be arrested, he shot himself in the head; making him the fifth brother the family had lost. Their father Fritz, died in ’97 from lung cancer.

Kevin Von Erich

When his father’s lung cancer spread to his brain, he started acting irrationally. One day, he pointed a gun at Kevin and asked him why he was scared to go the same way as his brothers. This is one of the darkest parts of the episode for me, because you have the Father who outlived almost all of his sons, dying from cancer, mentally breaking down in front of his only remaining son. Kevin remained strong and was brutally honest when he shared how happy he was to see his Dad die; because he had suffered for far too long.

He doesn’t believe there is a curse on the family. Kevin was mad by what happened, and he thought about committing suicide, but prison would be an easier alternative. He tried getting arrested, but an old wrestling fan showed him what’s important. Despite everything, the Von Erich name was still important to Texas, and fans still had love for everything they did for the state. It was tragic what happened to the family, but their legacy will live on. At least Kevin has peace and tranquility, with a new family who will never need to feel what he went through. The new Von Erich family is a mirror image, and they give Kevin the love he lost after all the tragic events taking his brothers away far too soon.


Conclusion

This is a very emotional episode. To put yourself in Kevin’s shoes is nigh impossible, and you feel all kinds of positive & negative feelings about Fritz. Kevin will always say his father was a good man, but the pressure he put on to his sons is unforgivable. I don’t know how to feel about Fritz, but the main thing is that the Von Erich’s helped the business. They were only around for a short time compared to other legends, but they left their mark.

I’m happy there’s no filler here, it’s all about the story, the feelings, and it ends with Kevin telling us how family values make a man rich. No amount of fame or money matters in the long run, it’s all about spending time with your family. Being a good man, a respectful father, teaching your children how to live a healthy life. These positive messages from Kevin is the Von Erich legacy, as they not only showed us not what to do, but also that we need to be there for our family.

Sometimes giving up is an option, and no one should feel pressured in to doing anything that will make them break inside. And with that said, I thank you for taking the time to read this review! It’s well up there in my top three favourite episodes so far. Dark Side of the Ring is a pleasurable experience, and a highly recommended watch. See you again for the next edition.


Von Erichs
From left to right: David, Mike, Kevin, Kerry

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