Tim Lawler never did shy away from a good fight. And he didn’t back down from his last one either.
“Terrific Tim,” whose mat moniker reflected a gregarious personality and oversized heart, fought with courage and dignity until reaching the end on Thursday. He was only 53 years old, but would tell you that he was never cheated by death.
He looked upon life as an adventure, living each moment to the fullest.
Known alternately as “Mr. Terrific,” “Terrific Tim” and “Col. Tim” Lawler, he had far exceeded the predictions of doctors who forecast his demise more than a year ago. But Tim refused to go quietly into that good night, staying active on social media until being placed in hospice care a week ago.
The North Carolina native also would reminisce about the day Jerry “The King” Lawler joked that they would probably both die in the ring.
Noting a slew of serious injuries he had suffered during his wrestling career, including loss of memory after taking a steel chair shot to the head in a heated Georgia brawl, Tim wisely announced at the time that he was going to retire.
“Hell, you can’t retire,” Jerry Lawler told his friend. “You’ve got Lawler in your blood. You’ll probably die in the ring.”
“The King,” of course, meant it as a compliment.
“Because we love what we do so much,” explained Tim. “I started telling everyone that my blood type was canvas.”
Death in the ring, as noble as that might sound, wasn’t in the cards for Tim Lawler. Serious health conditions would later plague him instead, prompting a premature end to his wrestling career.
More than a year and a half ago, Terrific Tim knew his outlook was dire. He was facing a death sentence, with doctors giving him only two to three months to live. He was beset with a litany of medical problems including cirrhosis of the liver associated with obesity and diabetes, an enlarged spleen, thickening of the gall bladder and pulmonary hypertension. His kidneys and liver were failing. There was no medicine or anything that could be done.
Even then, Lawler faced his mortality just as he had other major issues in his life. “I guess the big man has other plans,” he’d say matter-of-factly.
Lawler, who began his pro career in 1985, was quick to point out, though, that he didn’t get cirrhosis of the liver because he was an alcoholic. “Sadly I got it from 26 years of eating fast foods while touring and grabbing quick meals and junk food,” he would admit.
Lawler, who weighed 340 pounds for his final match in 2010, would later balloon to 400 pounds. He didn’t qualify for a liver transplant because his size made him a risk.
Rather than harp on the stark reality that confronted him, Lawler preferred to look back on his wrestling career as a journey he would gladly make again. “I’ve lived a blessed life,” he’d say.
Born in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Tim was a talented entertainer who seemed a natural for pro wrestling. There really wasn’t much he hadn’t done in the business. He wrestled, served as referee and ring announcer, and ran his own promotion (Coastal Wrestling Association) for 25 years before he had to stop for medical reasons.
Lawler traveled 48 states, working for scores of independents and federations, and wrestled in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. He locked horns with Andre The Giant, worked with the late great Bruiser Brody and Terry Funk in barbed wire matches, defeated the legendary Ivan Koloff in a Russian chain match (with some help, he added, from Jimmy Valiant), and had the honor of being part of “Bad Street” when he and Terry Gordy did battle with The Missing Link and Killer Khan in a street fight.
He was a three-time hardcore champion, two-time Florida tag-team champion and a two-time WWA heavyweight champion. The last part of his career was managing such stars as Kamala, Greg Valentine and Demolition Ax.
Lawler’s ring career took him to a number of different territories, working mostly for smaller independent promotions, where he wrestled under various names.
Like many of his colleagues, the wrestling business took a toll on Lawler, both physically and emotionally. He was married seven times. “The road was always calling,” he said, admitting his shortcomings as a husband and father. But he faced his fate with as much courage as he could muster.
“Sure, sometimes it hits me and I get scared and cry, but most of the time I just think about how lucky I am to have lived the life that I lived,” he said.
The side most of us knew was a jovial storyteller who loved putting smiles on the faces of everyone he met.
“He’s one of the loveliest people I know,” said longtime wrestling magazine editor Bill Apter. “His entire heart and soul were dedicated to wrestling.”
And he would never have had it any other way.
“Professional wrestling has been my life. I have had the honor of working with some of the greatest legends in the ring, great referees and managers, and I have made some true friends that are like family to me. I have enjoyed every single fan that I got to meet. I consider myself very lucky.”
Gangrel returns ‘home’
David Heath, better known in mat circles as “Vampire Warrior” Gangrel, will be a featured performer on Old School Championship Wrestling’s show July 15 at the Hanahan Rec Center. It also happens to be one of the former WWE star’s favorite stops on his busy schedule.
“In all my years of wrestling around the world, I’ve never felt more like being part of a family than I have at Old School Championship Wrestling,” says Heath. “They’re amazing people and it’s an amazing place.
“I've highly recommended it to others, and wrestlers have even tried to get on the shows. I always look forward to it. It’s one of my favorite places to go wrestle. I look forward to seeing Joe (Blumenfeld) and Mary Sue (O’Donnell) and all the people they’re associated with. They're surrounded by amazing people.”
The admiration is mutual.
“It's no secret that Gangrel is one of my favorite people in the wrestling business,” says Blumenfeld. “We have had many former WWE stars and special guests at OSCW over the years, but he is in a class of his own. I respect what he has done in the world of wrestling, of course, but even more so as a person. He is one of the most humble and kind people I know.”
Blumenfeld, who recently celebrated his 12th year as owner of the company, says Heath is extremely generous with his time, always willing to mentor younger performers, and calls him “a teacher at heart.”
“He is never too busy to share his wisdom and give advice to me, or the guys in the back. It is an absolute honor to have him on our roster, and he has truly become an important part of the OSCW family.”
Blumenfeld recalls Heath’s match last year with John Skyler as one of his favorites.
“One of my favorite memories with Gangrel is when it was him vs John Skyler for Skyler’s 1,000th match. At the end of their stellar match, when Skyler showed Gangrel such respect and gratefulness, with no prompting by myself or our management, I was reminded that is not only me that feels this way, but our guys as well. That was and will always be one of my favorite OSCW moments. Our relationship with David Heath, professionally and personally, is one of the big blessings that OSCW has given to me and the wrestlers that have had the privilege to work with him here.”
In addition to Gangrel, Sunday’s lineup features some news additions as well as some returns. OSCW champion Tracer X will defend his title in a five-way elimination match. “America's Sweetheart” Rebecca Reese will make her OSCW debut as she challenges OSCW ladies’ champ Stormie Lee.
Newcomer Jason Radatz will make his OSCW debut, while The Ugly Ducklings will be joined for the first time at OSCW by their manager Coach Mikey as The Ducklings face off against The Beautiful Bald Besties. OSCW tag-team champs Logan Creed and Drew Adler will defend their belts. John Skyler will again be issuing his open challenge.
Also on the card will be E.N.D., Francisco Ciatso, Hoss Haygood, Boomer Payne, Brandon Paradise and Dean Richards.
Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Action gets under way at 5.
Adult admission is $12 (cash only at the door); kids under 12 $7.
For more information, visit www.oscwonline.com or call 843-743-4800.