OK. Let's get this out of the way. Pat Patterson is gay. Until recently it was probably the worst-kept secret in professional wrestling.
But now Patterson has written a book about his career, and it's aptly titled “Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE.”
The former wrestling star-turned-WWE creative genius candidly discusses his life inside and outside the squared circle in a book co-written by fellow Quebec native Bertrand Hébert and published by Toronto-based ECW Press. It should come as no surprise that Patterson's penchant for telling a good story in the ring translates to his storytelling ability within the confines of a book.
How does a gay man survive in a super-macho sport such as professional wrestling? The 75-year-old Patterson lays it all out in a 260-page autobiography that is candid and honest — warts and all.
While Patterson “officially” came out during the finale of the WWE-produced reality show “Legends' House” in 2014, one would have been hard-pressed to find someone in the industry who didn't know of Patterson's sexual orientation.
“I survived all this being gay,” Patterson told former WWE colleagues on the “Big Brother”-style series. “I've lived with that for 50-some years ... I survived the business. I did, I'm so proud of me. It's tough guys, it was tough,” he added, “breaking” news that had been common knowledge for several decades.
Coming out with a book, though, was something very personal and cathartic for the creative savant who left his native Montreal for the United States more than 50 years ago, barely knowing a word of English but with dreams of making a name in the wrestling business.
It was a dream he accomplished, and then some.
Patterson, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996, has been a major figure behind the scenes since retiring from the ring in 1984 after an illustrious 26-year career. During that run he held an assortment of titles too numerous to mention, but including the infamous inaugural Intercontinental championship in 1979, which he allegedly won in a phantom tournament in Rio de Janeiro.
But it was as part of a tag team with Ray “The Crippler” Stevens during the mid-'60s that helped establish the young Quebecer as a bona fide star in the business. First as partners, and later as rivals, Patterson and Stevens drew sellout crowds at San Francisco's Cow Palace as the team rose to prominence.
No less than former NWA world champion Dory Funk Jr. called the “Blond Bombers” the greatest team of the '60s.
When “Pretty Pat” Patterson arrived in San Francisco in 1965, promoter Roy Shire suggested that he dye his hair and form a tag team with the platinum-locked Stevens. It was lightning in a bottle, two great performers on their way up, paired together in the right place at the right time.
The combo would enjoy two reigns as NWA world tag-team champs out of San Francisco, and another title run in the AWA.
Stevens, despite a far-from-imposing 5-8, 230-pound beer-belly physique, during his prime was regarded as one of the best workers in the business. He was already a star by the time the two began teaming, but he readily accepted Patterson as an equal, inside and outside the ring.
In the beginning Patterson had tried to conceal his sexuality, although some wrestlers, like fellow Montreal native Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, realized Patterson was gay and not only accepted his friend's sexuality, but embraced Patterson and his companion.
Like Vachon, Ray Stevens was a larger-than-life character who was instrumental in Patterson's development as an all-around talent.
Patterson notes that had Stevens objected to teaming up with a gay man, it most likely would have ended his run in the Bay Area, but jokes that his late partner probably thought “teaming with a gay man meant all the more women for him.”
Whether it was teaming or battling one another in grudge matches throughout the territory, “People just loved seeing us in the ring together, no matter what we were doing,” says Patterson.
Stevens, writes Patterson, was a prodigy, a talent comparable to Shawn Michaels in a later generation. “He got it right, and got it right all the time. And it seemed like everything came to him naturally, that he never had to struggle to learn anything.”
The two shared not only great wrestling matches, but great times on the road as well, and Patterson devotes a full chapter to his tough-talking, bar-brawling mat partner, who passed away in 1996 at the age of 60.
Patterson dedicates the book to his late companion, Louie Dondero, and much of the narrative is peppered with stories about his soulmate of 40 years. Dondero's passing of a heart attack left Patterson feeling hopeless and despondent.
Ironically, Patterson notes, it was during a humorous exchange several years ago when he finally experienced closure.
“Mick Foley was the one who finally mustered enough guts to ask me about that day,” writes Patterson, who received the news of his partner's passing on the night of June 28, 1998. He was working in Pittsburgh at the King of the Ring pay-per-view. It was the event where Foley and The Undertaker had their bar-raising Hell in a Cell match that endures as one of the most memorable bouts in WWE history.
Dondero's passing, writes Patterson, was one of the few things Foley remembered from that evening. “He hugged me while his tooth still hung by his nose,” Patterson recalls, alluding to the after-effects of Foley (then known as Mankind) being tossed off the top of the 16-foot-high roof of the cage.
Many years later, Foley would ask Patterson, “When Louie died ... he had his heart attack during King of the Ring ... Did Louie die during my match?”
Patterson assured Foley that Louie had passed three hours before the show, and that Foley didn't “kill” him.
The exchange was more than just Foley's attempt at comic relief. “He'd harbored that guilt for 13 years. That day I laughed for the first time while speaking about Louie. I needed that. Mick, thank you, my friend.”
As talented as Patterson was inside a wrestling ring, perhaps his biggest contributions came during the second half of his career as an executive and creative consultant with WWE. Known as a master ring psychologist and one of the best big-match finish men in the business, Patterson had a knack for recognizing talent and putting them in a position to succeed.
Patterson's glowing tributes come from some of the biggest movers and shakers in the industry. Many attribute their success to Patterson.
“Pat is one of the greatest mentors I've ever had in the world of sports entertainment,” wrote Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whom Patterson helped secure a WWE contract. “He has been instrumental in some of the greatest story lines and matches in my entire career, and I am forever grateful for his guidance and knowledge.”
“Pat Patterson is considered a genius in our business — his wisdom and dedication are simply unmatched,” wrote Paul “Triple H” Levesque. “Like so many WWE Superstars, I'm lucky to have learned from him and my career wouldn't have been the same without him. Pat has played an integral part in my professional and personal life and I'm proud to say that he'll always be a close friend and confidant.”
“Pat Patterson is a wrestling Jedi,” wrote Chris Jericho. “He's the Yoda of WWE. He taught me 90 percent of what I know about how to put together a match. I had no idea how little I really knew about the psychology of the business until I met him.”
Patterson had no greater friend in the wrestling business, however, than the owner of WWE, who wrote the foreword to the book.
“If not for the magnificent mind of Pat Patterson, I can honestly say the WWE would not be anywhere near where it is today,” declares Vince McMahon. “Pat Patterson will always have my undying respect and admiration.”
McMahon displayed his loyalty to Patterson during the early '90s when Patterson was accused of sexual harassment by a ring announcer, a charge that was later dropped and one that Patterson vehemently denied. While Patterson voluntarily resigned to spare the company any potential embarrassment, McMahon stuck by his side, ordering an internal investigation by an outside agency that exonerated Patterson, who was immediately rehired.
It's a testament to Patterson's character that he succeeded in a homophobic world and an even more homophobic business as an openly gay athlete.
“I am gay, and because of that I became an easy target,” Patterson wrote. But in the end, he added, “Being gay didn't really matter as far as my career was concerned. But it did, I think, change some people's perception about what being gay meant.”
Patterson, whose real name is Pierre Clermont, reveals many interesting tidbits in the book, including the fact that he wanted to become a priest after serving as an altar boy for years but was dissuaded from pursuing his dream after being told he was “too adventurous.”
In hindsight, that appraisal might have been putting it a tad mildly.
For Pat Patterson, wrestling was his life and the greatest thing that ever happened to him. He and co-author Hébert do a sterling job of bringing that out through the pages of a story that's been long overdue.
For more information about the book, visit ECWPress.com.
Jean Antone, one of the top stars of women's wrestling during the '60s and '70s, passed away Thursday at the age of 73.
At only 4-11 and nicknamed “Litttle Miss Dynamite,” Antone made up for her diminutive size with speed and athletic ability.
A native of Mississippi but based out of Kansas City, Mo., throughout most of her ring career, Antone held the WWWA singles and tag-team titles in Japan during the '70s, as well as a number of regional championships.
Two of her favorite opponents during her career, which spanned from 1961 to the early '80s, were Kay Noble and Betty Nicoli, the latter with whom she engaged in hundreds of matches.