Tim Lawler still remembers the day Jerry “The King” Lawler joked that they would probably both die in the ring.
Noting a slew of serious injuries he has suffered during his wrestling career, including loss of memory after taking a steel chair to the head in a heated Georgia brawl, the performer known alternately as “Mr. Terrific,” “Terrific Tim” and “Col. Tim” Lawler 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,” says Tim Lawler. “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 Lawler. Serious health conditions would later plague him instead, prompting a premature end to his wrestling career.
“Sadly, at the time, we didn't know that my current health situation was going to happen and force me to retire,” he laments.
Tim Lawler won’t die in the ring. But his outlook is dire. The 51-year-old wrestler is facing a death sentence.
“I guess the big man has other plans,” he says matter-of-factly.
Lawler, who began his pro career in 1985, is 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 are slowly failing.
Contrary to popular social media gossip, Lawler is quick to point out 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 admits.
Lawler’s doctors have told him that his liver is no longer functioning and there's no treatment or cure.
“No, sadly I do not qualify for a liver transplant because my size makes me a risk,” says the 5-10 Lawler, who weighed 340 pounds for his final match in 2010. He currently weights 373. “According to everyone that I have talked to, I honestly shouldn't even still be active at this point. Doctors have given me two to three months to live.”
Rather than harp on the stark reality confronting him, Lawler looks back on his wrestling career as a journey he would gladly make again. He’s proud of his accomplishments.
“I’ve lived a blessed life,” he says. “And I’ll tell you something – all of my wrestlers got paid before they laced up their boots and they got fed. I respected my workers. Also with my Night of the Legends, I put on the very first and to this day the only live professional wrestling event at The Jacksonville Landing.”
There isn’t much he hasn’t done in the business. He has wrestled, served as referee and ring announcer, and ran his own promotion (Coastal Wrestling Association) for the past 25 years before he had to stop for medical reasons.
Lawler has traveled 48 states, working for scores of independents and federations, and has wrestled in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
He has wrestled 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 adds, 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 is 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, Demolition Ax and The Barbarian.
“I actually managed some wrestlers beginning in 1985 in Hawaii including Jerry Lawler,” he says. “I really got into managing around 2004, but what most of the fans don't know even though I was managing, I had already wrestled or managed earlier that night under a hood. And I was a good manager. I had to give the wrestlers in the ring signals and I had to let the referee know things, and my timing had to be perfect. Most times as a manager I would end up being thrown in as the tag-team partner for whoever I was managing, so I still ended up wrestling.”
Born in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Lawler moved to Hawaii in 1985 to work for the Polynesian Pacific Pro Wrestling promotion that was run by Liv Maivia (grandmother of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Lars Anderson.
“I had actually done some wrestling for Chief Jay Eagle and Doug Frady before I left the Carolinas, so Lia said that they would try me out in a training session,” says Lawler. “Mind you, I weighed like 183 pounds at this time and was in good shape.
“A bunch of us piled in the back of a truck and went to a ring set up in Neff Maiava’s backyard in Waipahu, and I got in the ring with guys like Kini Popo, Super Samoan Sakalia, Siva Afi, Farmer Boy Ipo, Leroy Brown and the late Ritchie Magnett. They said that I was a natural.”
For three months, Lawler says, he took daily beatings from the locals to toughen him up. He also worked as a ring boy at the shows until his trainers said he was ready for a match.
“Being a Haole (a Hawaiian word for a person who is not native to the Hawaiian Islands), I got lucky and actually got put over in some matches just to make the locals mad. I would always cheat of course. Later I left Lia and went with Rocky Johnson and Jimmy Snuka to work for Hawaii International Promotions.”
Lawler’s ring career took him to a number of different territories, working mostly for smaller independent promotions, where he wrestled under various names.
“When I went to work for Afa and Chief Jules Strongbow, they wanted me to be a babyface so they changed my name to Terrific Tim Starr. In 2001 when I went to Florida, I changed back to heel and went by ‘Mr. Terrific’ just for the fun of the gimmick. I became Col. Tim when I was made a Kentucky colonel for my years of charity work. I started using Col. Tim when I began working with reality TV stars.”
Lawler credits a number of performers with helping him along the way.
“Terry Gordy taught me more about working heel. Adrian Street and Dusty Rhodes taught me showmanship. The great wrestlers in Hawaii taught me my wrestling skills.
“I would just watch everyone and try to soak everything in as much as possible. As far as admire and respect, I respect every man and woman that steps into the ring and wrestles – not entertains, but wrestles. I admire all the legends that actually had to work and didn’t have all of the padding and everything like that.”
And Jerry Lawler, he adds, taught him mic skills. As to whether the two are actually related, Tim Lawler says, “All that I will say is that I am a very proud Lawler and from what I understand we are all related.”
Like many of his colleagues, the wrestling business took a toll on Lawler, both physically and emotionally. He has been married seven times and has two sons ages 25 and 19.
“The road was always calling me, but I also made a couple of bad choices or maybe I just wasn't a good enough husband,” he says. Neither does he have a close relationship with his sons. Sadly, he says, “I’m definitely not ‘Father of the Year.’”
Lawler is still hoping that a collaboration he is involved in will come to fruition. The work is a graphic novel and autobiography titled “Life in a Chokehold.”
“Tony Newton is a filmmaker, screenwriter, producer and writer for movies in London. He is also a huge professional wrestling fan and I am lucky enough where he was a fan of mine. He knew that I had been working on my autobiography and he offered by splitting a graphic novel with me featuring how wrestling influences the movies that he writes, and then my side as an actual professional wrestler.”
For now, the Mountain Home, N.C., resident is facing his fate with as much courage as he can 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. Plus there are a lot of people out there who are in bad shape also. Because of my condition I have to live with my brother-in-law and sister, and they are taking care of me and trying to keep me as comfortable as possible. Plus I get a lot of support on Facebook from my friends.”
“He’s one of the loveliest people I know,” said longtime wrestling magazine editor Bill Apter. “His entire heart and soul have been dedicated to wrestling. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a great thing.”
“Professional wrestling has been my life,” says Lawler. “I have had the honor with 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.”
Tim Lawler’s Twitter account is @RealMrTerrific and his Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/TheRealMrTerrific.