"Love Machine" Art Barr: A Cult Tribute
Alright gang, time for a somewhat depressing column. I know, I know, I'm supposed to be the guy that brings you the memes, a few jokes and maybe the occasional shot at the delusional British reader or too (take that Mazza!). Alas, today is not the day. As it turns out, today is the anniversary one a death in the wrestling family, one that particularly strikes close to the hearts of the lucha libre community. For that, I felt it only necessary to write a Cult Tribute in honor of this man. This here was an individual who was at times controversial, at more times troubled but always interesting, and someone who I feel could've been a huge star in this industry. So without further introduction, let's dive into a Cult Tribute for the brilliant, the flawed, the "Love Machine" himself, Art Barr.
What You Already Know
If nothing else, Art Barr will forever be remembered for his brief, but excellent run with wrestling legend Eddie Guerrero as the tag team Los Gringos Locos. Conceived as AAA's Four Horsemen (though Guerrero would later compare the group to D-Generation X), Los Gringos Locos is fondly remembered as one of the most hated, yet popular groups in lucha libre history, as well as being part of the greatest tag team matches of all time between themselves, Octagon and El Hijo del Santo at When Worlds Collide. Yes, I'm bringing that damn match up again. Hey, it's not my fault it's pretty much the greatest lucha libre match of all time!
What You Didn't Know
Most people believe that Barr was strictly a lucha libre talent. Not so fast my friends! As it turns out, the Portland, Oregon native comes from a wrestling family (then again, who doesn't?). His father, Sandy, was a Pacific Northwest wrestling legend and was even the promoter/booker for Pacific Northwest Wrestling from 1992-2001, while his brother Jesse famously worked for WWE as Jimmy Jack Funk, the storyline brother of Terry and Dory. His family ties, coupled with a friendship with "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (who worked PNW years before joining WWE) and a successful run as a collegiate amateur wrestler, led Barr to joining the family business himself on April 2nd, 1987. After a year wrestling as himself, Barr (at the suggestion of Piper) took on the gimmick "Beetlejuice", which yes, was a complete rip off of the terrific Tim Burton movie of the same name. A testament to Barr's charisma and ability, the character got over as a fan favorite, and eventually even earned him a contract with WCW (where the renamed him "The Juicer"). You know someone is great when they make a Tim Burton character work as a wrestling gimmick. Honestly, I'm not sure what I'm more surprised by; that we haven't seen more Burton characters made into gimmicks (how Vince had the strength to not do an Edward Scissorhands character is one of life's great mysteries) or that Piper actually thought this gimmick was good for Barr. More evidence that the Hot Rod is one of the best.
You may be thinking, damn, looks like Barr was on his way to great things. The problem is that his personal demons caught up with him. Barr, a noted partier for most of his teenage and adult life, was convicted of possession of cocaine charges as a teenager, a conviction that lost him his license to wrestle in Oregon in 1989 and led to him heading to WCW. And that's the least of his troubles; the worst came from an incident (also in 1989) with a 19 year old girl following a PNW show in Pendleton, Oregon. The details are sketchy, but the bottom line is that Barr was ultimately charged with rape, and though he would eventually claim he could've beaten the case in court, did confess during a polygraph test to having sex with the girl even though she didn't consent (he claimed she would've consented if they had been elsewhere). Barr would accept a plea bargain that would include probation, a whole lot of community service, but no jail time, which is somewhat frightening considering what he was charged with. The rape conviction (coupled with complaints about Barr's size from good old Ole Anderson) ultimately derailed his WCW career, forcing him to Mexico. It's really hard to blame WCW for letting him go under the circumstances, nor is it hard to blame companies like WWE and ECW passing him over as well at the time. That said, while there can never be an excuse for what Barr did, it at least appears like he learned from that night and became a better man. It's a shame he just wasn't on that night.
After arriving in Mexico, Barr's life took a turn for the better. Beginning with a run in CMLL (yes, Barr started for them, not AAA as some may believe), Barr quickly became a top rudo as the masked "American Love Machine". He would memorably have a feud with Blue Panther, which culminated in a massive mask vs. mask match on April 3rd, 1992 (five years and a day since Barr's wrestling debut) at a soled out Arena Mexico. Though he lost the match and his mask by disqualification after piledriving Panther (a move that Panther ironically would use on Barr in the famous When Worlds Collide match), Barr rode his heat from that match all the way to AAA and Los Gringos Locos. Ironically enough, Barr and Eddie Guerrero didn't get a long at first (they agreed to team because it made sense business wise), but the two eventually became best friends, part of a huge Kliq of non Mexican luchadors that included Chris Jericho, Norman Smiley and Vampiro. Despite being surrounded by friends and having the greatest success of his professional career, Barr often found himself homesick (his wife and young son were both back in Oregon) and took to drugs and alcohol to cope. His hard lifestyle would ultimately be his ruin, as Barr would die back in Oregon on November 23rd, 1994, twenty one years ago today and only seventeen days after the greatest moment of his career at When Worlds Collide (to this day, the official cause of death is unknown). Barr was only 28 years old, and at the time, rumors were that ECW, WCW and WWE were all interested in bringing Barr and Guerrero in as a tag team, making his death even more tragic. A heartbroken Guerrero would pay tribute to his friend for the rest of his career by using the Frog Splash, Barr's favorite move, as his finisher.
I mean, do you really have to ask? As predictable as it may be, the greatest moment of Barr's wrestling career was also his last; Los Gringos Locos vs. El Hijo del Santo and Octagon, hair vs. mask at When Worlds Collide. I won't go into heavy detail on the match (mainly because I already have about 9,000 times), but I will once again implore you to find this match and watch it. It's terrific, and a huge reason is Barr, who's charisma, wrestling ability and unbelievable rudo/heel work (seriously, it's some of the best ever) are the highlight of the contest. That match aside however, I'd also ask that you take some time to try and find some of Art's other work on Youtube and the works. His matches with Blue Panther are available (and all very good) and you can even find some of his work as "Beetlejuice" or the "The Juicer" if you're up for it. Just check the dude out. You won't regret; alright, maybe the Beetlejuice stuff, but otherwise you won't!
In many ways, Art Barr was a Shakespearian character in the wrestling world. Outside of the ring, he was greatly troubled, lonely, with the ability to be both a loving husband, father and friend while also being capable of things that turn heroes into villains. Inside the ring, he was a force of nature, a five tool player and a budding superstar in every sense of the words. Is it possible to honor that aspect while ignoring the terrible things he did outside of the ring, or is that section of his life too much to overlook? Honestly, that's probably a question better answered for wiser folk than I. At the end of the day, the only thing I know is that Art Barr was a troubled man with a brilliant gift, a gift that I do believe would've ultimately made him a star if he hadn't passed away so suddenly. Would he have been a top star? I don't know, but his natural ability, his charisma, his psychology and his presence would've been so powerful that I think he would've eventually gotten a shot as a World Champion in AAA, WWE, WCW, ECW and maybe beyond. Perhaps more importantly, he would've gotten to see him find the same sort of redemption his partner and best friend found in the later years of his life. That we never got to find out either makes his death even more tragic.
There you have it girls and boys. I'm out for now, though I'll definitely be back soon. Till next time.
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