Professional wrestling’s Golden Era is considered to have stretched from around the time of the first WrestleMania to 1993 or 1994, depending on who you ask. It was a time of unprecedented growth for the business and saw it stray further into entertainment territory than ever before. Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation finally established itself as the be all and end all of pro wrestling due, in large part, to Hulk Hogan, whose popularity during the 1980s has never been rivaled.
Like the Attitude Era or the Ruthless Aggression Era, the Golden Era saw its fair share of colorful characters battling for top spots in the WWF. Some of these performers soared while others floundered and disappeared forever. Some saw great success but disappeared anyway, often times choosing a quiet family life over the constant traveling and stress which come along with working for the McMahons.
The post-Golden Era lives of guys like The Ultimate Warrior, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and Hulk Hogan have all been well-document (perhaps even too well-documented), but what about the stars that nobody has heard from regularly in almost four decades? Occasionally they will pop up at a signing or the annual Hall of Fame ceremony, but for the most part they have vanished with the wind. Many now live a content, peaceful life, while others struggle to adjust to a world in which they are no longer a household name. In this article, we’re going to be looking at just a few of the names from the Golden Era who completely disappeared. Where are they now?
15. Harvey Wippleman
Harvey Wippleman was an odd, Woody Allen-esque manager who began appearing in the World Wrestling Federation toward the end of the Golden Era. During his time with the company, he managed the likes of Kamala, Giant González, and Sid Justice. Wippleman’s presence on WWF programming wained after the Golden Era came to an end and he left the company for a period shortly after.
Since his heyday as a manager of mid-card talents, Wippleman has made sporadic appearances for Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment juggernaut. These include a role in the WrestleMani X-7 Gimmick Battle Royal, managing The Brooklyn Brawler in a 2010 squash match, and a 2000 victory over The Kat which lead to him becoming the first ever male WWF Women’s Champion (he lost the title one day later).
These days, Harvey Wippleman – or, to use his real name, Bruno Lauer – works with WWE as a road agent. He considers his role to be similar to that of a caretaker, as it is his job to keep on top of food, hotels, and rental cars.
14. Danny Davis
When Danny Davis (real name Dan Marsh) arrived in the World Wrestling Federation in 1981, he assumed the role of a referee. By 1984, he was juggling his referee duties with a competitive career in the ring, wrestling under a mask as“Mr. X”. Davis was a rare ‘heel referee’ and would display blatant favoritism toward certain wrestlers, most notably The Hart Foundation.
After being removed from his post as an official, Davis embarked on an in-ring career which saw him feud with the likes of Koko B. Ware, George “The Animal” Steele, and Mr. T. After achieving minimal success, he was reinstated as a referee and the whole fiasco was pretty much forgotten about.
Davis left the WWF in 1995 but remained active on the independent circuit, wrestling primarily around Massachusetts. To this day, Davis is involved in the wrestling business and occasionally defies his 60 years by lacing up his boots and stepping into the ring. He made a brief appearance at WrestleMania XXX, reprising his crooked referee character for a backstage segment with Ricky Steamboat, Sgt. Slaughter, and Ted DiBiase.
13. B. Brian Blair
The Killer Bees were a mainstay of the WWF’s Tag Team Division during the Golden Era. Together, B. Brian Blair and Jim Brunzell won the 1987 Frank Tunney Sr. Memorial Tag TeamTournament, their greatest accomplishment while working for Vince McMahon.
Blair left the World Wrestling Federation at the end of the 1980s and hit the independent circuit, using his newfound fame to command higher fees and billing. There were a couple of Killer Bees reunions during the first half of the nineties, but as of 1994 Blair has been primarily competing as a singles superstar. Despite the fact he is now pushing 60, he remains active, frequently appearing at signings and competing at independent shows.
Blair has had a couple of lucrative ventures outside the world of professional wrestling. For a period, he owned and operated a number of Gold’s Gyms, which he eventually sold for $2 million. He has also represented the Republican party in a number of elections, but has consistently lost by narrow margins.
12. Tito Santana
Tito Santana was one of the most talented performers in a time when in-ring skills did not necessarily guarantee you a main event spot. He managed to carve out a nice career in the mid-card, competing as both a singles and tag team competitor over the course of his stint with the World Wrestling Federation. During the company’s Golden Era, he held the WWF Intercontinental Championship on two occasions and was crowned the 1989 King of the Ring.
Santana left the WWF as the Golden Era came to a close and spent some time drifting from organization to organization, even enjoying a stint in an early incarnation of ECW. He returned to the WWF during the Attitude Era not as a competitor, but as a member of the Spanish announce team.
Perhaps enraged by his table constantly being destroyed, Santana left the WWF before the end of the millennium and entered the teaching business. After spending some time as a Physical Education teacher in an elementary school, Santana went on to teach middle school Spanish in New Jersey, where he remains to this day. Despite having a happy life outside of the wrestling business, Tito Santana remains in tremendous physical shape and likes to wrestle at least a dozen independent matches a year just to keep himself on his toes.
11. Don Muraco
Don Muraco made his WWF debut just prior to the beginning of the Golden Era and quickly became one of the company’s top heels. Perhaps the most memorable match of Muraco’s early years in the WWF – maybe even of his entire career – saw him square off against “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka in a Steel Cage match at Madison Square Garden. It is this bout that Mick Foley famously skipped school and hitchhiked to see in person.
During the Golden Era, Muraco was primarily used as a mid-card heel and aligned himself with the dastardly manager Mr. Fuji, which resulted in “Fuji Vice”, a series of sketches parodying the hit TV show Miami Vice.
Muraco retired from the ring in the mid-90s and returned to his beloved Hawaii where he founded his own wrestling promotion. The promotion saw minimal success and folded in 2008. He has made rare appearances on WWE television over the past decade or so, usually at the Hall of Fame ceremony (he was inducted in 2004). For a period, presumably when times were tough, Muraco spent his days working as a longshoreman.
10. Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake
Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake was one of the most loathed wrestlers of the Golden Era, and even today fans consider him a talentless hack whose time in the spotlight came as a result of his close friendship with Hulk Hogan.
During his time in the World Wrestling Federation, “The Barber” held the WWF World Tag Team Championships alongside the equally horrible Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and entered into a feud for the WWF Intercontinental Championship with The Honkey Tonk Man. He left the WWF around the same time as Hulk Hogan and began appearing in WCW shortly after The Hulkster started working for Ted Turner.
After retiring from regular competition, Beefcake continued to leech off Hulk Hogan, joining him on the ill-fated Hulkamaniatour and working as a coach on Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling.
Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake’s most notable accomplishment since leaving the wrestling business has been causing an anthrax scare at the MBTA station where he was working at the time. A bag of cocaine, which he had left openly lying in his booth, was mistaken by a paranoid passenger to be anthrax, which resulted in the building being evacuated.
9. Nikolai Volkoff
Nikolai Volkoff was one of Vince McMahon’s most hated heels of the Golden Era, for no other reason than the fact that he was foreign. Teaming with former WWF World Heavyweight Champion The Iron Sheik, Volkoff would capture the WWF World Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania I.
After splitting from The Iron Sheik, Volkoff was involved in a variety of storylines, including one which saw him become a West loving face, claiming he had been liberated by the fall of the Soviet Union. He also spent time as “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s assistant after kayfabe falling on hard times.
After leaving the WWF during the mid-90s, Volkoff entered semi-retirement and has appeared on television only sparingly since. He is a regular at the Hall of Fame ceremony and is usually one of the withered faces brought back for WWE’s ‘old school’ specials. He wrestles on the independent circuit on occasion, but for the most part, sticks to uneventful autograph signings.
Unlike his former tag team partner, Nikolai Volkoff shuns the spotlight, reserving his classic character for scheduled appearances. He lives on a Maryland farm with his wife of three decades and their 100 cats.
8. King Kong Bundy
King Kong Bundy main evented a WrestleMania, taking on Hulk Hogan in a Steel Cage match, but has been forgotten by the majority of wrestling fans. In fact, I myself thought he was dead until I began research for this article.
Thankfully, King Kong Bundy is far from dead. After being relegated to jobber status for much of the 90s, Bundy left the world Wrestling Federation and embarked on a career on the independent circuit. Wrestling for various promotions around the world, Bundy feuded with a variety of former WWF superstars including Doink the Clown and Jimmy Snuka.
Nowadays, King Kong Bundy is rarely active in the professional wrestling world, but he has been working hard to establish himself as a mainstream entertainer. He has been writing and performing standup comedy with minimal success for a number of years and has used his pro wrestling fame to land roles on a number of television shows. In 2008, he appeared on the Norwegian TV program Golden GOAL! and in 2011 starred in an independent film entitled Flight the Panda Syndicate.
7. One Man Gang
George Gray competed in the World Wrestling Federation from 1987 to 1990 as two notable characters. He is best remembered for his original gimmick, One Man Gang, a violent biker who used his massive size to destroy anybody he was put in the ring with. After scores of squash matches, One Man Gang entered into a feud with Hulk Hogan but was handily defeated, as was the style at the time. Gray spent the latter portion of his WWF career performing as “Akeem”, an incredibly offensive caricature of an African man who for some reason spoke with a Jamaican accent.
After his wrestling career came to an end, Gray began working as a prison officer. This allowed him to earn a consistent and comfortable living without the need to travel endless hours every day. However, a back injury forced him to leave the job as he could not perform to the standard required.
Nowadays, George Gray is a regular on the independent scene, appearing at autograph signings and putting his signature on both Akeem and One Man Gang merchandise. Earlier this year, he lost decades of valuable wrestling memorabilia and most of his other possessions when his house was destroyed by flooding, despite the fact it was not located in a designated flood zone.
6. Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
I mentioned Greg Valentine a littler earlier on while discussing his former tag team partner, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. Now its time to take a look at what “The Hammer” himself has been up to since leaving the spotlight.
Like most performers who didn’t save their money during the Golden Era, Valentine remains active on the independent scene. While he mostly sticks to signings, he has been known to squeeze his 66-year-old carcass into some spandex and show off his moves (which are even more limited than they were during his prime).
Recently, Valentine has come under fire for his controversial opinions on female athletes and women in general. Appearing on a podcast in August of last year, Valentine said that women “Need to realize their place,” as they are not made to be wrestlers, MMA fighters, or boxers. Fans of Valentine have tried to defend him, claiming he was merely playing his heel character, but this has done little to change the public’s perception of him.
5. Rockin’ Robin
Some may recognize Rockin’ Robin as the daughter of former professional wrestling Grizzly Smith and the half-sister of WWE Hall of Famer Jake “The Snake” Roberts. However, Robin Denise Smith had quite an impressive career in her own right.
Rockin’ Robin was one of several women brought on board during the Golden Era when Vince McMahon decided to revamp the company’s Women’s division. With women not yet relegated to the degrading role they would play on WWF/E programming in the following decade, Robin had many chances to showcase her skill and to remove any doubt about her ability to hang with the men. She held the WWF Women’s Championship from 1988 to 1990, when it was then retired and the Women’s division put on hold.
Much like her half-brother Jake, Rockin’ Robin battled problems with alcohol, which increased tenfold after she left the wrestling business. Although she managed to get herself cleaned up without any lasting damage, Robin’s personal issues did not disappear. Her husband was jailed for false tax returns and a divorce was deemed the best way to go. Shortly after this, her house was destroyed by hurricane Katrina.
4. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
Bobby “The Brain” Heenan is widely considered to be one of the greatest managers of all time. Of course, this comes after the fact. During the Golden Era, when he would guide André the Giant in his pursuit of the World Wrestling Federation Championship, Heenan was one of the most loathed men on WWF television.
Heenan also spent time as an announcer, becoming one of the most recognizable voices of the Golden Era. He managed to maintain his heel persona even when behind the booth, frequently cheering for the bad guys and doing his best to justify their despicable actions. He left the World Wrestling Federation in the early 90s as the hectic travel schedule was proving too much for him to take. He went on to have a memorable stint in WCW, which lasted until 2000.
Heenan has been plagued with health issues over the past decade or so. He battled and defeated throat cancer shortly after leaving WCW, but that was only the beginning of his problems. For a while, he made sporadic appearances on WWE television, with each one leading to more discussion about his failing health. A battle with tongue cancer has left Heenan almost unrecognizable, robbing him of his ability to talk, something which he did far better than most.
3. Dynamite Kid
Tom Billington, otherwise known as “Dynamite Kid”, was one of the most naturally gifted athletes of his time. After learning the ropes in his home country of England, he traveled to Canada to wrestle for Stu Hart and Stampede Wrestling. During his time there, he got to know Bret “The Hitman” Hart, who to this day regards Billington as one of the finest wrestlers of all time.
Alongside his cousin, Davey Boy Smith, Dynamite Kid made his WWF debut in 1984. Collectively known as “The British Bulldog”, Smith and Billington received a massive push in the company’s Tag Team division. However, Billington’s steroid use and inability to control his temper created endless problems backstage and he left the company in 1988.
Injuries forced Billington out of the ring in 1996. Divorced, friendless, and unable to earn a living, he returned to the Untied Kingdom, where he has lived ever since. Kid is now confined to a wheelchair and struggles to string a coherent sentence together, the result of multiple strokes. Despite his issues, he has stated that had he known the dangers of steroids during his early years in the wrestling business and that he would not have done anything different.
2. Harley Race
Harley Race is without a doubt one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. Perhaps the toughest SOB to ever lace up a pair of boots, the man is the platonic ideal of a heavyweight champion and is synonymous with the NWA Championship.
Despite having problems with Vince McMahon’s style of booking and Hulk Hogan’s style of wrestling, Race did spend some time in the WWF during the Golden Era. Because McMahon didn’t like to acknowledge the success of wrestlers outside of his company, the King of the Ring tournament was created and given to Race in order to establish him as the wrestling royalty he was. The relationship between Race and the World Wrestling Federation was not meant to work out and he left the company towards the end of the 80s.
Much like Tom Billington, Harley Race is today confined to a wheelchair, though his condition is the result of decades of putting his body on the line and not steroid use. However, Race remains as tough as ever and has been involved in the running of various pro wrestling events around America.
Is there anything that sums up professional wrestling in the 1980s more than the horrible cult-classic No Holds Barred? Probably not, unfortunately. The movie, which was released in 1989, was intended to launch Hulk Hogan’s Hollywood career, although it ultimately set filmmaking back a century or two.
In the movie, Hulk Hogan’s character does battle against fictional bad guy, Zeus. As always in 80s WWF, the bad guy is vanquished and the good guy celebrates before millions of adoring fans. For whatever reason, Vince McMahon decided it would be a good idea for Hogan to enter into a feud with Zeus – who again, was a fictional character – on WWF programming.
Zeus, portrayed by actor Tiny Lister, failed to catch on and was set free after a series of underwhelming appearances on WWF television.
Today, Lister is a born again Christian and has used his faith to wrangle a decent living. He frequently appears on Christian-themed programs and is a member of The Light of the World church.
In 2012, Lister pled guilty to mortgage fraud. He admitted to fraudulently obtaining homes in order to withdraw over $1 million in home equity loans.
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