Remembering Randy "Macho Man" Savage
A Personal Tribute From a Lifelong Fan
The line seemed to go on forever. On a sunny late Spring afternoon, after what seemed like eons, I had finally found my happy young self at the Fort Wayne War Memorial Coliseum with my parents and the older of my two younger sisters. Fort Wayne was roughly half an hour's drive from our house in Bluffton, Indiana, and this was a trip we'd made many times over. But this one had seemed to take a million years.
At the Coliseum, an endless serpentine line of people wound around a large room that reminded me more of my elementary school's cafeteria than a place where a kid could meet one of his favorite TV personalities. To be sure, there was little in the way of pomp and circumstance for this meet and greet with one of professional wrestling's biggest stars in the late '80s. None of that seemed to matter, however, when at long last I found myself at the end of the line, dwarfed by a giant of a man (by my tiny self's standards) standing behind a long table.
Clad in a t-shirt, jeans, over-sized sunglasses and a bandana, the man extended a massive hand across the table, swallowing my own in his grip. "Nice to meet ya," he said with a smile. My sister was next, also greeted with a smile and a shake. "You have pretty hair," the man remarked in a deep, rumbling voice that sounded exactly as it had so many times on our television screen.
We had just shaken hands with the one and only "Macho Man" Randy Savage, former WWF Intercontinental Champion and one of pro wrestling's most infamous "bad guys." This was the same man who, about a year prior, had draped the throat of fan-favorite Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat over a guardrail and crushed the hero's larynx with a vicious behind-the-back assault. This had culminated in a rivalry between the two that would continue this evening in a steel cage match. Despite all that, my family and I had agreed that the man we'd just met was anything but a villain in the real world. He was a hero to myself and to untold millions of other '80s kids who grew up watching him fly across the wrestling ring, dropping an elbow on his prone, defeated opponent for the pinfall victory.
Meeting Randy Savage had made him "real" to me in a sense. He was no longer just another colorful character in the overtly silly professional "wrasslin'" shows my family tuned into weekly. My sister and I now had a personal investment in this man, which only made us appreciate him and his ahead-of-their-time, show-stopping wrestling performances even more. It was a short brush with greatness, but long enough to leave us with cherished memories that have lasted a lifetime.
Our story is probably no different from that of many other children in the late 1980s. The various shows of the World Wrestling Federation were some of the most popular programs on television. My friends and I would discuss the soap opera-esque events of the previous night's shows, only occasionally stopping to wonder whether it was real or scripted. Wrestling has always required a nearly complete suspension of disbelief in order to be enjoyed to its fullest. The colorful characters were acting out a play that was as much an athletic event as it was theatre: good guys vs. bad guys, the lines clearly drawn on one side or the other.
But there was one performer who stood out from the rest, no matter which side of morality his character fell on. It was Randy Savage. And you would remember what he had done on any given episode, simply because he stood out the most. If Hulk Hogan was the Babe Ruth of wrestling, Randy Savage was its Ty Cobb; a polarizing figure who was just as talented as his peer, one whose abilities were a match for anyone, though his fame and status would always remain less than that of his rival.
As was the case with so many other kids, Hogan was and always will be my favorite wrestling hero. But Savage was an extremely close runner-up, perhaps buoyed by his on-screen rivalry both with and against the Hulkster. It was a case of having your cake and eating it too, in the so-called "Golden Age" of wrestling in the late '80s. There will never be characters as enthralling as those to ever again grace a wrestling program. We were lucky.
And I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to meet this man in his prime. News of his passing in an auto accident on May 20, 2011 was met with great sadness on my part, a sentiment doubtlessly echoed by fellow members of my generation who revered Randy Savage (real name Randy Poffo) as much as I. It's a tragedy that's hard to take. It's a reminder that the mythic heroes of our childhoods are anything but immortal. It's a not-so-gentle nod to the fact that we're getting older and that time stands still for no one. It's perhaps another sad commentary on the abuse a wrestler's body goes through, too often culminating in an early death. The long list of deceased wrestlers, gone well before their time, proves that the dangers of professional wrestling are infinitely more real than the scripted events we watch on tv each week. But that's a topic for another time.
For now, it's enough to give thanks to another great athlete and entertainer we lost far too soon. Randy Savage's contributions to my childhood are many and will always be appreciated. Just a picture of the man takes me back to some of my happiest childhood days when the world, it seemed, was little more than sunshine and smiles. I'll cherish the memories I have of a man I once met, but never knew -- a larger-than-life hero, bigger than any wrestling ring or tv screen.
Will others miss him just as much? There's only one way to appropriately answer that: