Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Legend of Andy Kaufman

It has now been 30 years since Andy Kaufman walked into the wrestling world and grabbed it by throat. Over the last three decades, Kaufman's legend has only continued to grow. Whether it was him challenging women to matches for his prestigious 'Inter-gender World Championship,' or getting the crap smacked out of him by Jerry 'The King' Lawler on the David Letterman show, Kaufman was in your face.

Andy Kaufman was a life long wrestling fan, who had a deep respect and understanding of the art of professional wrestling. The Taxi star wasn't simply a celebrity looking for a payday that is all too prevalent in this day and age. Kaufman fit into the wrestling world like a glove. He was known for creating a character for himself and being true to it. Like a 1980's Borat, Kaufman stepped into the 'sport' of wrestling and had you believing that he was the annoying jerk that he portrayed Its amazing how he had people in the palm of his hand, just begging to kick his ass. This was back in the day of kayfabe, when it was damn near criminal to let on that wrestling was fake. "I'm from Hollywood, I have Brains" He would declare to the Memphis crowds, before ripping into them for being southern hicks who should worship him for the simple fact that he was a TV star.

Kaufman first approached Vince McMahon Sr., father of current WWE head honcho Vince McMahon Jr. about coming in and working a program with one of their stars. McMahon Sr. declined his offer, but told him he might have better luck in the Memphis Territory. As it turned out, McMahon made a huge mistake by letting Kaufman slip through his fingers.

He began to challenge women out of the crowd for his 'Inter-gender Title', offering up $1000 to anyone who could beat him. But before long he was embroiled in a feud with Memphis hero Jerry Lawler. This led to one of the most famous wrestling angles of all time, Lawler vs Kaufman. The two agreed to settle their differences in the ring, no gimmick titles on the line, only pride was at stake.  During the match Lawler gave Kaufman two piledrivers (Which was a banned move in Memphis at the time) sending him to a local hospital, and getting himself disqualified.

After this Kaufman began wearing a neck brace everywhere he went so as to keep the storyline as real as possible. In fact, it was more than a decade after Kaufman's death that it came to light that his rivalry with Lawler was staged and they were friends the entire time.

Lawler and Kaufman were both guests on Late Night with David Letterman on April 28, 1982. Kaufman spent the entire interview mocking Lawler. The point came when Lawler took all he could take till he couldn't take anymore, and slapped Kaufman on national television. This was long before McMahon Jr. took to the air and let the world in on wrestling's biggest kept secret, so you can imagine that this act sent shock waves through the entire entertainment world.  

After 'The slap heard round the world', Kaufman went into a tirade on air full of profanity. NBC threatened to never have him on the air again, and in turn he said he would sue them and turn NBC into a 24 hour wrestling network. And now exactly 30 years later, we are getting a channel in the form of The WWE Network. Andy Kaufman was indeed ahead of his time.

Kaufman then teamed with manager Jimmy Hart and put up a $5000 bounty to the first wrestler to piledrive Lawler. After nobody took him up on his offer, he had a falling out with Hart. With no one on his side to turn to, he went begging to his enemy, Jerry Lawler. Lawler agreed, but Kaufman had to leave wrestling after they were finished. But it was all a swerve, Kaufman threw powder in Lawler's eyes, leading to The Assassins giving him a piledriver of his own.

On May 16th 1984 Andy Kaufman died of Cancer. Although he left us too soon, his legend lives on. The documentary "I'm from Hollywood" and the film "Man on the Moon" staring Jim Carey tell the tale of one of the greatest characters in and out of the ring. He was the kind of annoying heel that guys like The Miz can only dream to be, and had the crowds inside the Mid-South Coliseum whipped into a ravenous fury, which was a very scary prospect when you take into account the fact that wrestlers had been stabbed by the Memphis fans after 'Heeling it up' a tad too much. Kaufman would become the standard bearer for celebrity involvement in Pro Wrestling and should be held in high regard for opening up doors for the industry in Hollyweird, then again he is to blame for making us suffer through Snookie wrestling in short shorts. Gag.

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