Day 31: Jerry “The King” Lawler

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Dear King:

You threw fire burning opponents to a crisp. Labeled wrestling’s greatest announcer, “Banana Nose.” You caused innocent women to get their heads shaved and laughed when their husbands would wake up the next morning to a “shiny cue ball.” You even called us, your greatest fans, “stupid, lazy, buck-toothed rednecks who just rode in on the tractor.”

And we LOVED every minute of it.

Then we counted the days until next Saturday.

Long live the King!

My lord, where to begin?

In the King's Palace, otherwise known as the Mid-South Coliseum on Monday nights.

In the King’s Palace, otherwise known as the Mid-South Coliseum on Monday nights.

I can’t think of a single person in 51 years who’s provided me with more thrilling entertainment than you, King. I mean that. Just thinking about all the great moments makes me feel like a kid again.

Saturdays 11 to 12:30. You know exactly what I’m about to say. The television was mine. Do NOT interrupt my Saturday morning TV5 Championship Wrestling.

Pile drivers, fire, chains, folding metal chairs over the head, putting tar and feather to Jimmy Hart, the Mouth of the South … and of course the signature moves when the shoulder strap comes down it’s about to be all over. A final ascent to the top turnbuckle, the King goes airborne across the ring and a carefully placed fist right in the challenger’s stinking mouth ends it. One. Two. Three. Another one bites the dust. The King owns Memphis. This is Jerry Lawler Country.

This is good stuff right here:

Oh the great battles you fought: Superstar Bill Dundee, Handsome Jimmy Valiant, The Universal Heart Throb Austin Idol, Canadian Lumberjack Joe LeDuc, Kimala the Ugandan Giant, Terry Funk, Eddie “Hot Stuff” Gilbert, Dirty Dutch Mantell, Terry Funk, and that sorry little miserable man Andy Kaufman. You were victorious against all comers.

In fact, let’s hear from Andy Kaufman for just a brief moment:

And let’s not forget the most beautiful jewel in that royal crown of wrestling May 9, 1988, when the world (my world, anyway) stood still for 24 minutes and 27 seconds.

Let’s go back in time and relive those final two and a half holy minutes. It’ll be special referee Fabulous Jackie Fargo, and Lance Russell and Dave Brown at ringside with the call:

A NEW. WORLD. HEAVYWEIGHT. CHAMPION!

Oh, how sweet it is. Finally. Finally. World Heavyweight Champion. Oh, the splendid glory!

I recall a summer day in 1996 answering the phone working at our daily newspaper, The Jonesboro Sun.

“Jonesboro Sun,” I gave the standard reporter’s phone greeting.

“Who’s speaking, please?” You asked.

“Steve Watkins.”

“Steve, this is Jerry Lawler, how you doing today.”

I was a 26-year-old professional journalist, months away from having my first child and found myself completely tongue-tied and starry-eyed at the sound of your voice. “I’m talking to Jerry Lawler on the phone? Oh, my gosh, don’t say anything stupid. Sound cool. Don’t slobber all over the phone.” A million thoughts went through my brain.

Me and The King, two years ago in Memphis.

Me and The King, two years ago in Memphis.

At 67, Jerry Lawler still throws a pretty good left. Here, he rattles Dangerous Doug Gilbert's cage at a Beale Street exhibition in Memphis.

At 67, Jerry Lawler still throws a pretty good left. Here, he rattles Dangerous Doug Gilbert’s cage at a Beale Street exhibition in Memphis.

And I still feel that way, too, King. We’re all a little older now. The punches have a little less punch, the dropkicks are a little lower, and I’m not even sure if you’re allowed to throw fire any more. Stupid pencil-necked lawyers.

But the strap still comes down a few times a year, and when it does, my heart still races. It was great to see you in Jonesboro just a few months ago.

Thank you, King, for so many thrills.

Long live the King!

Your #1 Fan,

Steve Watkins

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