The Ballad Of That Other Gary Hart

I just got done reading Gary Hart’s book, My Life In Wrestling. One of the posters on the Championship Wrestling from Florida Facebook group had it up as a PDF file, as it’s one of the hardest books to get a hold of when it comes to the grappling world.

My interest in Hart’s book (not the 80’s politician who got caught with Donna Rice, mind you) is that he was one of the four wrestlers on board a Cessna 182 plane that crashed into Tampa Bay in 1975 due to bad weather. They were all heels, or “bad guys”, because there was something that existed in the business known as “kayfabe” back then.

To keep from exposing the inner sanctum of the profession, any wrestling circuit would usually, but not always, travel in two factions. The good guys would usually travel as a unit, as would the villains, there to get “heat” (negative attention) to make the heroes look viable. It was generally feared in that era that if a good guy and bad guy were seen together, it would expose the business and keep fans from attending if their secrets were known. It would be like a magician explaining one of his tricks: it’s honest, but once you tell the secret, the fan has no interesting in seeing the tricks again.

On that plane were Buddy Colt (Ron Reed), Dennis McCord (later known as Austin Idol), Hart (Gary Williams), and Bobby Shane (Robert Schoenberger). Colt, McCord, and Hart walked away from the wreck with significant injuries (with Buddy never wrestling again, serving as a referee and announcer in Florida mainly), but Shane was killed. Fans actually cheered when they heard about the plane crash on radio or TV later, but that was just a sign of how “over” (good they were) as bad guys.

Gary was also heavily involved in the old World Class wrestling circuit run out of Dallas in the 1980’s, home to the Von Erich clan. When Fritz Von Erich (Jack Adkisson) retired in 1981, his five sons became the stars. Four of them passed away as young adults in the prime of their careers, with three of those four by suicide. Two other stars of the circuit would also perish too soon: Gino Hernandez (Charles Wolfe, Jr.) to drugs, and Bruiser Brody (Frank Goodish) by murder at the hands of another wrestler who successfully claimed self-defense.

As many books about rasslin’ do these days, Hart (who died in 2008) tells all the inside stories throughout his career as a wrestler, manager, booker (writer/producer), and promoter. It’s a pretty good read if you can find it.

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