It is often said that the Attitude Era was the greatest period for Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment and professional wrestling in general. It is definitely true that the Attitude Era finally provided McMahon with the audience he needed to establish himself as the be all and end all in pro wrestling. But whether you were around to watch it or not, it is clear to many that the Golden Era was the most important period in the history of the business.
The Golden Era, for those who don’t know, is generally considered to have stretched from 1983 to 1992. It is often referred to by wrestling fans as the “Hogan Era”, as Hulk Hogan was featured prominently on WWE television during the time and the product revolved almost solely around him. As well as seemingly endless Hulk Hogan championship reigns, the Golden Era is defined by the party lifestyle the majority of WWE employees subscribed to. Golden Era stars consumed copious amounts of alcohol and drugs on an almost nightly basis, with many of them allowing their addictions to ruin them both professionally and personally.
Because of the various vices that they were exposed to during their prime, there is no shortage of Golden Era professional wrestlers who aged badly. Six packs have been replaced by beer bellies. Bleached blonde hair has been replaced by bald heads. And any trace of dignity has been replaced by charging fans for autographs at independent wrestling shows. It’s actually quite sad to see, but it’s equally hard not to look.
Here are 15 WWE Golden Era supers you wouldn’t recognize today, and just to really hammer home how much they’ve changed, we also tracked down every single one of them in their prime!
15. Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake
Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake is one of the earliest examples of Hulk Hogan using his backstage pull to help his talentless friends score jobs with major wrestling promotions. The Barber was not well-liked by fans. Children hated him because he was a bad guy and adults hated him because he was a bad wrestler. While he was unable to keep up with many of his co-workers in terms of in-ring work, he was more than able to hold his own when it came to partying. Beefcake was one of many Golden Era wrestlers to indulge in alcohol, powder, and whatever other damaging substances he could get his hands on after a show.
Beefcake remains active on the independent scene to this day, though years of drug and alcohol addiction have left him virtually unrecognizable. He frequently appears at signings and conventions, wrinkled, prodding, and several pounds overweight. If it were not for the trademark shears which he refuses to put down, many fans would fail to connect him to the colorful hack they had booed during childhood.
14. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Jake “The Snake” Roberts is one of the great tragedies of professional wrestling. The guy was so talented both in the ring and on the mic that it is almost too heartbreaking to think of the waste of talent he became during the 90s. By the end of the Golden Era, Roberts was unable to function without a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, which cost him his job with pretty much every promotion he signed a contract with.
Over the past couple of years, Diamond Dallas Page has worked extensively with Roberts to return him to his former glory. Thanks to DDP’s famous yoga system, Roberts has shed pounds of excess weight and has managed to get his demons under control. He is unrecognizable to wrestling fans today not because his body has decayed to such an unbelievable extent, but because he has become such a drastically different character to the pitiful, obese alcoholic we had become used to seeing at indie events.
13. Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
Greg “The Hammer” Valentine was never much in the ring and he was even less to look at. Therefore, it is almost a testament to his substance abuse that he has managed to make himself look even worse than he did during the Golden Era.
The former WWE Superstar remains active on the independent scene to this day, squeezing his rotting carcass into spandex which is three sizes too small and hobbling out to the ring to compete in front of 20 people who may or may not know who he is. The Hammer’s weight problems are worse than ever and his long blonde hair seems to be in a constant battle with gravity to remain upon his head. At this point, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine resembles more closely a Cabbage Patch Kid which was left out in the sun than a pro wrestling legend.
When Kamala first appeared in the then World Wrestling Federation in the early 80s, he was definitely a unique character. His African wild man gimmick was terrifying and if handled right he could have been the biggest heel of the Golden Era. However, he wasn’t handled right. Whether it was the fault of WWE officials or his kayfabe handler Kim Chee, interest in Kamala decreased and he fell down the card until there was no place for him in professional wrestling.
Jim Harris, the man behind the Kamala character wrestled long beyond his prime on the independents and stopped only when health complications forced doctors to amputate his leg. Not long after this, Harris lost his second leg and is today confined to a wheelchair. Having lost his ability to earn a living, Kamala struggles to get by, relying on what little money he earns from his disability allowance and minor crafts business. Unable to care for himself, he lives with his niece. A far cry from the Ugandan Giant of the Golden Era.
11. Gene Okerlund
“Mean” Gene Okerlund was one of the most famous faces of WWE’s Golden Era and appeared in close to every backstage promo of the decade. His interactions with Hulk Hogan propelled him into the spotlight and made him a favorite of wrestling fans the world over.
Okerlund has appeared on WWE television only sparingly since the end of the Golden Age and it isn’t hard to see why. Despite the fact the company is more than willing to have guys like The Undertaker and Triple H in main event positions, it is notoriously fickle when it comes to the age of its broadcasters. Okerlund looked old in the 80s and he hasn’t exactly youthened up in the years which have gone by. Defeated by time, Okerlund has ballooned in weight and his face looks as though it is about to crumble in on itself, making him look more like a piece of rotten fruit than the legend he is.
10. “Superstar” Billy Graham
Few superstars were more aptly named than “Superstar” Billy Graham, who is probably the earliest example of what we would today consider a sports entertainer. The precursor to Hulk Hogan, Graham was a colorful, larger than life character who wrapped the WWE World Championship around his massive waist on one occasion.
Towards the end of the Golden Era, Graham began to suffer the effects of years of steroid abuse and his condition only worsened as time went on. Due to a combination of steroids, injuries, and drug use, Graham is no stranger to Death’s door and owes his life to an organ donor who was killed in a road collision.
Today, Graham’s health problems have left him as a shadow of the man he once was. His bleach blonde hair has long vanished and his six pack lies dormant under layers of fat. His mobility has also drastically decreased, making it more and more difficult for him to attend signings and conventions.
9. Don Muraco
Don Muraco was one of the most physically impressive stars of the Golden Era of wrestling and his gargantuan body justifiably earned him the nickname of “The Rock”. Despite his massive size, Muraco never really made it to the main event in WWE, although he did compete against Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in a Steel Cage encounter which inspired WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley to become a professional wrestler.
After leaving the world of pro wrestling, Muraco embarked on a career as a longshoreman. With no motivation to remain in shape, Muraco let his figure slip. Muscles were replaced by fat and his once mighty head of hair turned to gray. Occasionally, Ol’ Donny pops up at a signing or for a shoot interview, looking increasingly unrecognizable. At this point, it seems the only thing modern day Don Muraco shares with the Don Muraco of old is near breathtaking body mass.
8. The Brooklyn Brawler
Steve Lombardi – best known as perpetual jobber The Brooklyn Brawler – was never the most imposing man in the wrestling industry. Despite a lack of on-screen success, he became one of the most important backstage figures in WWE and a trusted friend of Vince McMahon. However, as history has proven many times in the past, even friends are expendable to the McMahons. Lombardi was released from WWE in 2016 after three decades of service.
Since his release, Lombardi has been appearing at indie events under the Brooklyn Brawler gimmick, looking like a caricature of the already cartoonish character he played on television so many years ago. Any mobility he had has decreased significantly, as have his hair as muscles. His face, which fans have not seen regularly since the 90s, looks like a baseball mitt which has been used as an ashtray. Perhaps the most unrecognizable thing about The Brooklyn Brawler on the independent circuit is the fact that he has actually won a couple of matches.
7. One Man Gang
One Man Gang was one of the most fearsome competitors of the 1980s. Or, at least, that’s what he was billed as. In reality, many fans were unimpressed by his character, which is why he was repackaged as Akeem, an incredibly offensive portrayal of an African man by a white man.
If you were to encounter George Gray on the street today, or even at some sort of legends of wrestling event, you would likely experience some trouble connecting him to the monster heel who tore through WWE faces during the Golden Era. While he remains as heavy as ever, perhaps even heavier, he has no other resemblance to the characters he portrayed (though this doesn’t stop him from attempting to keep portraying them). Gang has suffered financially in recent years and saw his house damaged by flood water in 2016, destroying years of family photos and wrestling memorabilia.
At the time of this writing, The New Day are just on the verge of becoming the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions in history. As a result of this, many new WWE fans are hearing, for the first time, about Ax and Smash, the record-setting champions who competed as Demolition during the final years of the Golden Era.
The character of Smash was portrayed by one Barry Darsow, who also played the dastardly Repo Man. Darsow remains active on the independent scene to this day, despite the fact he celebrated his 57th birthday this year. Darsow’s mobility has, obviously, diminished over the past couple of decades, as have his in-ring skills and looks. Even though he has lost his hair and gained significant weight since his last WWE run, Darsow continues to wear his Demolition gear, making him look like a politician in a leaked S&M tape.
As long as we’re on the demolition of Demolition, let’s take a look at Bill Eadie, who tagged and continues to tag with Barry Darsow. Competing as Ax, Eadie achieved his greatest success but was evidently not successful enough to retire. Eadie is active on the independent scene today and also appears at signings and on podcasts.
Like his tag team partner, Ax has not come out on the winning end of his battle with aging. His obviously died hair seems to retreat a little further with every appearance while his belly seems to protrude a little more.Eadie continues to wrestle under the Ax gimmick, donning his trademark face paint and ring gear. However, these days he looks more like somebody’s dad dressing up as Ax for Halloween than Ax himself. We just hope new wrestling fans stick to the WWE Network to experience Demolition and don’t have to see them in some high school gym somewhere in North Dakota.
4. Dan Spivey
Dan Spivey had an odd career in professional wrestling. During the Golden Era, he was hired by Vince McMahon to replace Barry Windham in the US Express. However, Spivey’s pairing with Mike Rotunda, Windham’s former tag team partner, proved unsuccessful. Spivey later went out on his own and had a bit of a makeover, which resulted in him looking almost like an exact replica of Hulk Hogan. After a period of time away, Spivey returned to WWE in 1995 as Waylon Mercy, a twisted, Cape Fear-esque competitor with an apparent personality disorder.
Spivey retired from pro wrestling shortly after his final run with WWE and disappeared from the public eye, not that he was ever really in it. For many years, he was remembered by only the most loyal of wrestling fans. However, even they were shocked when a 2007 mugshot of Spivey appeared online. The former WWE golden boy had morphed into the farmer from American Gothic. He was bald, slouched, and significantly skinnier than he had been the last he was seen on television (a rare occurrence with former WWE Superstars). On top of this, fans noted that Spivey appeared bewildered and looked as though he wasn’t exactly sure what was going on.
3. Bobby Heenan
Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was one of the most colorful and charismatic performers of his day, despite the fact he was not an in-ring competitor. The Brain earned his nickname through the multiple superstars he guided to gold in the then World Wrestling Federation. He was the Platonic ideal of a heel manager and to this day is considered to be the greatest of all time.
Unfortunately, all the praise and accolades will come as little consolation to Heenan these days. The Brain has suffered serious health issues over the past decade or so which have gradually worn his body down, leaving him underweight and shockingly frail. Infection led to the removal of Heenan’s jaw at the end of the noughties, leaving one of the greatest talkers in pro wrestling history unable to speak.
2. Jimmy Snuka
I mentioned Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka a little earlier on while discussing Don Muraco. Snuka was one of the most popular performers in the wrestling world as the World Wrestling Federation marched into the Golden Era. With high flying moves and an incredible physique, he wowed every crowd he competed in front of.
Of course, this is not why fans recognize the Snuka name today. Most fans who are new to pro wrestling know him only as the guy who probably killed his girlfriend in the 80s and was never brought to justice. There was an attempt in 2015 to find Snuka guilty of the slaughtering of Nancy Aregentino but he was deemed unfit to stand trial due to serious mental health issues. While a lot of people believe this was just an act put on by the performer to get out of trouble, it’s hard to deny that he does not look like the same man who climbed to the top of a steel cage to dive onto a bloodied Don Muraco. Modern day Jimmy Snuka is a frail old man who is incapable of caring for himself. If his attorneys are to be believed, he requires 24/7 care and is not aware of most of what is going on around him.
1. Dynamite Kid
Tom Billington, who competed professionally as Dynamite Kid, was one of the most impressive performers of his time. In fact, the notoriously hard to please Bret Hart, who was quite close to Billington for a number of years, has described him as the single greatest pro wrestler of all time. While Dynamite Kid was undoubtedly a talented performer inside the ring, he was a terrible human being outside of it and his self-destructive tendencies forced him into an early retirement.
Today, Billington is confined to a wheelchair, the result of years of steroid abuse and returning from injury too early. His body has deflated like a balloon three days after a party and multiple strokes have left him incoherent, as exhibited in shoot interviews. Billington requires round the clock care and is unlikely to live much longer, a horrible end to what could have been a great life.
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