Well before Vince McMahon changed the business, celebrities have always been a huge part of professional wrestling. Decades ago, it was fairly common for pro-football players to wrestle for regional territories during their off-season. Conversely, plenty of wrestlers have made friends with celebrities and brought them along to major shows, sometimes getting them involved in the action. Being the leaders in sports entertainment, WWE and their CEO McMahon have indeed utilized this concept better than any other company, but they’ve hardly been the only ones to dip into the celebrity well to promote a wrestling event.
Where exactly it happens and who the celebrity is working for doesn’t necessarily matter, though. The far more important factor is whether or not said entertainer has respect for wrestling, or at least understands the idea strongly enough they become a natural part of the program. While not all celebrities who have tried to do a great job have succeeded, wrestling fans will respect them if they give it their all. Unfortunately for the fans, the reason they’re so willing to appreciate the efforts of any celebrity wrestler willing to give a damn is that the business has been victim to countless celebrities who clearly had no interest in sports entertainment.
Does one blame the promoter for hiring the celebrity, the celeb’s agent for accepting the job, or the celebrities themselves for not ever trying? The answer is likely a combination of all three. All we know for sure is that an indifferent or uncaring celebrity can kill a wrestling program much faster than one who cares can save it, so maybe the practice should be given pause, in general. Then again, there were some good times, so if you need help weighing the good and the bad, keep reading to discover 8 wrestling celebrity guests who were happy to be there and 7 who just didn’t give a damn.
15 Happy To Be There: Stephen Amell
To many young wrestling fans, the superstars they see flying around the ring aren’t too different from superheroes, so it makes perfect sense Stephen Amell would fit right in with the WWE Universe. Best known for portraying Oliver Queen aka the Green Arrow on The CW hit show Arrow, Amell first appeared on an episode of Raw to confront WWE’s resident comic-book villain at the time, Stardust. Amell had reportedly been a huge wrestling fan since his childhood and was wildly excited to tell fans he would be wrestling a match against Stardust in the near future. Said encounter came at SummerSlam 2015, when Amell teamed with Neville against Stardust and King Barrett. Fans of wrestling and Amell alike were highly impressed with his abilities in the ring, which were definitely a step above those of the average celebrity with virtually no training. In fact, people were so invested in the storyline, there were, for a long time, rumors of a follow-up singles match between Amell and Stardust, although any chance of that seems to have disappeared when Cody Rhodes left WWE. Even so, Amell still looks back on his short stint in WWE as “one of the greatest experiences of [his] life.”
14 DGAF: Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb
Back in 1992, Kathie Lee Gifford wrote the following in her autobiography: “I have a problem with Reege’s wrestling thing… I think the wrestlers’ shtick lowers the quality of the show a notch or two. Some of them are pretty sleazy.” Accepting that the wrestling industry has changed over the next 22 years, it's still absolutely baffling that Vince McMahon would ask the woman who said that to host Monday Night Raw, which she did in 2014. Gifford was joined by her new talk show co-host Hoda Kotb, having become famous to a new generation with their daily routine of getting drunk on television extremely early in the morning. Again, she thought this was too highbrow an activity for wrestlers to engage in. Despite feeling wrestlers were too lowbrow for her, apparently, she thought there was nothing wrong with getting drunk in a wrestling ring, which she and Kotb did, smashing bottles on one another’s asses for no clear reason. The next morning, drunk on their talk show, they laughed it off and admitted they had no idea what the hell they were doing on the show. When even the performers can’t explain what they’re doing, it’s hard to blame them for doing it poorly, but at the same time, WWE never should have put these two in the ring.
13 DGAF: Susan St. James
Uh-oh. WrestleMania 2 was sports entertainment’s tribute to the phrase “too much of a good thing,” overreaching in its attempts at one-upping the original event in virtually every way possible. Arguably, the disaster to do the most damage was hiring actress Susan St. James as the color commentator for part of the show, despite the fact she clearly had zero interest or knowledge of wrestling whatsoever. Having no clue who anyone was or what they were doing, St. James was mostly relegated to telling Vince McMahon he made good points and saying “uh-oh” at seemingly random intervals. In her defense, there was absolutely no reason McMahon should've thought one of the co-stars of Kate & Allie would have anything insightful to say regarding sports entertainment, so she never should've been hired in the first place. That said, there’s a solid chance neither of the other celebrity commentators, Cathy Lee Crosby and Elvira, had any idea what they were doing, either, but at least they had Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura as their co-hosts to help them through the rough patches. McMahon had absolutely no idea how to handle St. James, and the result was the owner of the company sitting next to someone who didn’t care about his show at all.
12 Happy To Be There: Mr. T
Mr. T was one of the most important celebrity wrestlers in WWE history. Thus, it should probably go without saying that Mr. T enjoyed the sport considering how long he was involved with it. Mr. T first entered the wrestling business while also starring as B.A. Baracus on The A-Team. He teamed up with Hulk Hogan to wrestle Paul Orndorff and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at WrestleMania I. The match went well enough that Mr. T appeared again at WrestleMania II in a singles boxing match against Piper, followed by a number of additional spots in WCW, WCCW, and again WWE. Other wrestlers hesitated to accept Mr. T due to his status as an untrained athlete suddenly thrust into the main event, but fans responded right away and never looked back on treating him like a superstar. Years later, Mr. T became one of the few celebrity entrants to the WWE Hall of Fame who actually deserved it, solidifying he appreciated his time in sports entertainment with a rousing and emotional acceptance speech.
11 DGAF: Pamela Anderson
Most years, WWE builds the Royal Rumble around the fact the winner gets to challenge for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. In 1995, however, virtually all of the marketing was based on Pamela Anderson walking the winner down the aisle, which didn’t even actually end up happening. Anderson did show up at the event, albeit perhaps begrudgingly, at least based on her facial expressions when celebrating with Shawn Michaels after his victory. Simply based on how fake her smile was when she looked at the camera, it was obvious Anderson had no interest in posing with Michaels, and yet she was supposed to do it again months later at Mania. Proving Michaels wasn’t the problem, WWE switched things up and had Anderson accompany Diesel to the ring instead, although she still looked anything but excited to do so. This was the same era Anderson was starring in Baywatch, which to put it lightly, meant she wasn’t exactly a critical darling degrading herself by participating in wrestling, so there’s no clear explanation why she looked so miserable.
10 Happy To Be There: Mike Tyson
During Mike Tyson's first WWE appearance, WWE fans had good reason to worry he wasn’t going to take sports entertainment seriously, especially after he called Steve Austin “Cold Stone,” i.e. the ice cream restaurant. That was at the 1998 Royal Rumble, and yet it was the very next night on Raw where Tyson managed to avert all expectations and save the program with one of the most talked about segments in WWE history. In the immortal words of JR, Tyson hit Austin, Austin hit Tyson, and wrestling suddenly became mainstream because the highest-profile boxer in the world was in a wrestling ring. Despite his faux pas about Austin’s name, Tyson had actually been a wrestling fan his entire life and continues to follow the sport decades after his brief involvement ended. Tyson re-entered the WWE Universe in 2010, this time even competing against Shawn Michaels and Triple H with Chris Jericho as his partner, followed by an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012. There’s also always a chance Tyson could show up again, as his violent mystique has hardly faded despite his advanced age.
9 Happy To Be There: Jon Stewart
In the immediate wake of Jon Stewart retiring from The Daily Show in August of 2015, media speculation ran rampant about what he would do next. Stewart had taken an extended hiatus from his show to direct a film the year earlier, so most people thought he was going to take that route. However, it turned out Stewart himself had something different in mind. The same month his final Daily Show aired, Stewart entered the WWE Universe to host SummerSlam and continue a rivalry with Seth Rollins. Said feud was birthed out of Stewart’s lifelong status as a wrestling fan, which he would occasionally make joking references to during the satirical news. The wrestling references amped up as Stewart’s time behind the desk was winding down, and it wasn’t long before Rollins appeared and called Jon out, telling Stewart if he had a problem with himself or any other wrestlers, he knew where to find them. Once Stewart went to the ring and answered the challenge, he enjoyed it so much he made several more appearances, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to show up and host another special event in the future.
8 DGAF: Clara Peller
For any readers who happen to be under the age of 30, referring to Clara Peller as a “celebrity” probably sounds suspect. Back in the ‘80s, however, Peller was the face of Wendy’s wildly popular “Where The Beef?” ad campaign, involving dozens of commercials. Nowadays, this could make her a meme, but before the Internet, it apparently was enough to make her a special guest at WrestleMania 2. Obviously, there isn’t much an 80-year-old woman known for saying three words can do aside from saying those three words, so that was pretty much all WWE asked her to do. Perhaps a bit miffed at Gene Okerlund mispronouncing her name, instead of saying the sentence that made her famous, she looked off-camera and noticeably asked, “Now?” When they finally got it through to her that, yes, she was supposed to say her line, she instead stood up and waved the microphone around wildly, as though she didn’t know what it was for. Honestly, with Clara Peller, the problem might not have been that she didn’t care… at her advanced age, she may not have even known where she was.
7 Happy To Be There: Aaron Paul
Before he was starring in Breaking Bad as an underachieving drug dealer, Aaron Paul was an enterprising contestant on The Price Is Right. From the looks of it, spinning the big wheel typically looks like the peak happiness a person can experience, yet neither meeting Bob Barker nor winning three Emmy Awards made Paul quite as excited as when he entered the WWE Universe with his friend Dolph Ziggler. While all appearances made it look like Paul was the usual celebrity stopping by to promote his newest movie, he went far above the role of token guest with his passionate commentary and incredible crowd work. Appearing less than a year after Breaking Bad ended, the crowd quickly warmed to Paul with a “Jesse Pinkman” chant, which in turn got his adrenaline flowing and invigorating him to play the crowd even more. Unlike most of the other celebrities who enjoyed their time in WWE, it seemed like Paul didn’t know that much about the company, but he was also quoted as saying he had a great time and definitely looked like he got into the role as it went on.
6 DGAF: Mary Tyler Moore
With all due respect to one of TV’s greatest legends, whoever decided to put Mary Tyler Moore on screen during WrestleMania VI probably should have second guessed the idea. Honestly, the problem with MTM’s brief interview with Sean Mooney wasn’t that she didn’t care; it was that she clearly had no idea it was about to happen, leaving her extremely confused by all of Mooney’s questions. The interview took place shortly after Akeem and The Big Bossman wrestled and mostly consisted of Moore looking utterly confused about what Mooney was saying and giving only the most cursory reactions to his questions. The most embarrassing part was when Mooney asked for Moore’s thoughts on Rhythm & Blues, the new heel tag team of Greg Valentine and the Honky Tonk Man, and she could barely put together an answer because she obviously didn’t know who they were. On the plus side, Mary Tyler Moore was always one of television’s most energetic and warm figures, so it might have been enough for some fans that she smiled through the awkwardness.
5 Happy To Be There: Cyndi Lauper
More so than even Mr. T, no celebrity did more for the Rock and Wrestling Connection than Cyndi Lauper. Technically, the real wrestling fan and person responsible for getting Lauper involved in the business was her boyfriend and manager David Wolff, who had been a wrestling fan his entire life. It was also Wolff who came up with the idea for Lauper to be front and center in a battle of the sexes against Captain Lou Albano, which set the tone for The Brawl To End It All, WWE’s first special broadcast on MTV. A second special called "The War to Settle the Score" came the next year, with Lauper again participating by accompanying Hulk Hogan to the ring. Despite their conflicts in the ring, Lauper was always highly positive when speaking about her relationships with Captain Lou and also “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who likewise played an integral part in her various wrestling roles. Amazingly, WWE has yet to offer her an induction into the Hall of Fame even after she made an appearance in 2012 to reminisce her feud with Albano. Of course, this hasn’t hurt her passion for the business, and one has to assume she’d still accept if offered.
4 DGAF: Jeremy Piven and Ken Jeong
Look, most wrestling fans understand that people who don’t watch the show generally don’t make any effort to understand it. They don’t have to. There’s no cause to judge someone for not liking wrestling, at least until they start getting involved with wrestling. Because of this, no one should blame Jeremy Piven for not knowing that the second biggest WWE event of the year is called SummerSlam, and not, as he called it in August 2009, SummerFest. At the same time, however, WWE probably shouldn’t have hired him to lead a lengthy segment where his sole job was to promote the event. The company also probably shouldn’t have let Ken Jeong get in the mix, apparently as some mixture of himself and his Hangover character Mr. Chow, evidenced both by the horrible bump he took and more so his comments afterward. It would be bad enough had Jeong injured himself because he didn’t know what he was doing, but the good doctor compounded his mistake by later mocking John Cena for being “weak” on Conan O’Brien’s talk show, because “it didn’t hurt.” This would be fine were Jeong some mean wrestling heel, but as a normal guy, it mocked the entire concept of wrestling, making it clear he had as little an understanding of wrestling as his co-host.
3 Happy To Be There: David Arquette
Without any question, wrestling fans have shown more hostility towards David Arquette than any other celebrity to enter the business, albeit through no fault of his own. In fact, Arquette was a long-time wrestling fan with incredible respect for the business, going so far as to donate all the money he made during his run in WCW to the families of Brian Pillman, Droz, and Owen Hart. Despite this, it might be inaccurate to say Arquette was entirely happy with everything that happened during his stint as a wrestler, most notably his much-maligned run as WCW World Champion. Believe it or not, high atop the list of people who felt Arquette shouldn’t be champion was Arquette himself, who thought the idea made no sense and would ruin the lineage of the title. Turns out he was entirely correct, as WCW closed its doors less than a year after Arquette was champion. All that said, we still believe Arquette deserves some credit for actually caring about wrestling and doing the best he could in an unfortunate situation, especially considering how many celebrities on this list phoned it in when given cushy jobs almost anyone could have managed.
2 DGAF: Art Donovan
To most people who recognize the name, Art Donovan was a truly legendary former player for the Baltimore Colts, helping the team win back-to-back NFL Championships in 1958 and 1959. Nearly three and a half entire decades later, Donovan introduced himself to the New Generation of wrestling fans by providing commentary on the 1994 King of the Ring with Gorilla Monsoon and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Seated next to two future WWE Hall of Famers, no one had ever been more out of their element than Art Donovan on this night, made apparent by him repeatedly asking the same irrelevant question about every single goddamn wrestler the whole night: “How much does this fella weigh?” Sure, some wrestlers are huge, and their weight can be impressive, but his inability to drop the subject even had the kind-hearted Monsoon blatantly ignoring Donovan and subtly telling him to stop talking before the King was even crowned. Even worse than his oft-repeated question was another gem Donovan dropped during the program when he dismissively asked Randy and Gorilla, “Do you guys like doing this?” Anyone who saw the show could guess Donovan’s own answer to that question, and it would've been the same answer for whether or not he wanted to be there -- hell no.
1 Happy To Be There: Andy Kaufman
Truth be told, most people will never be 100% sure how everyone on this list got involved with wrestling. However, we do know the story of how Andy Kaufman entered the squared circle and became the Intergender Wrestling Champion of the World; it started with a call to sports entertainment journalist Bill Apter. Chances are, even the other celebs on this list may not be aware of Apter’s role in the industry both as a reporter and photographer for Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine, making him a key contact to many wrestling executives. Kaufman asked Apter to take his idea about wrestling women to Vince McMahon, Sr.’s WWE, but surprisingly McMahon passed. Next up, they tried Jerry Lawler’s territory down in Memphis, and the rest was history. As can often be the case in wrestling, the bitter hatred Kaufman exhibited as a heel made it obvious he loved what he was doing, to the extent that even people who weren’t wrestling fans started to think it was real. Indirectly, wrestling women got Kaufman banned from Saturday Night Live, and yet he still never looked back or toned down the act. It might not even be a stretch to say that Andy, never a huge fan of sitcoms or the usual Hollywood fare, enjoyed wrestling more than his day job, which explains why he was basically willing to give it away for love of the sport.
Sources: WWE, Talk Sport
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