Sad news, children of the ’80s: wrestler Randy “Macho Man” Savage died this morning after suffering a heart attack behind the wheel of his car. He was 58. According to TMZ, Savage, who was wearing his seatbelt at the time, was driving his “2009 Jeep Wrangler when he veered across a concrete median … through oncoming traffic … and collided head-on with a tree.”
Without exaggeration, The Macho Man was one of my biggest childhood heroes. For a kid who read comic books, when he and Hulk Hogan teamed up to form the Mega Powers it was like tangible proof that super-heroes really did exist. When Macho and the Hulkster broke up (over a woman!), it was like learning Santa Claus didn’t exist. I quickly got over my emotional devastation when I remembered what a great villain Macho Man made. Nobody could piss off a crowd, or cheat when the ref wasn’t looking, like the Macho Man. After he beat “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, the current “King of the Ring,” he finally earned the title he so richly deserved: “The Macho King.” Later, he played a great professional wrestler in Sam Raimi’s first “Spider-Man” film.
In his prime, Macho Man’s work in the ring was so good it invalidated the whole “wrestling is fake” argument. Yes, the matches’ outcomes are predetermined. But Savage’s athleticism was 100% real. His feud with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III is still considered one of the greatest of all time, or so I’m told by Wikipedia. All I knew at the time was it was awesome.
Speaking of the Hulk Hogan Macho Man breakup, back in the ’80s, that was as clear a battle of good versus evil as World War II. Looking back, though, I wonder if we all sided with the wrong guy. The crux of the Hogan/Macho feud was Macho’s onscreen girlfriend (and then real life wife) Miss Elizabeth. Essentially, Macho became jealous of Hogan’s success and was convinced that he was trying to steal his girl. In anger and frustration, he lashed out. Here’s the thing: Macho Man was exactly right. Hogan was kinda horning in on his girl, and Hogan was getting more attention even though Savage could wrestle circles around him. That’s not a cartoon wrestling feud: that’s classic Greek tragedy.
Of course, Savage will be best remembered for his years of outlandish commercials for Slim Jims, which all involved his trademark “OOOOO YEEEEAAAAH!” and his ferocious interpretation of the company’s slogan (“SNAP INTO A SLIM JIM!”). Without question, any person born in America between the years 1980 and 1989 has done their impression of Macho Man selling Slim Jims at least six thousand times. Savage’s commercials were fantastic: anarchic, manic, and hilarious. Pump the Kool-Aid Man full of methamphetamine, sprinkle in a dash of Carrie White’s telekinetic powers, and you start to get a sense of Savage’s pungent pitchman persona: pure, insane adrenaline. Here’s a prime example of his work to snap into.
I haven’t watched wrestling in more than fifteen years, but I still look back fondly at all those childhood Saturday mornings spent with “Superstars of Wrestling” and “Wrestling Challenge.” Unfortunately, it does feel like the story told by Darren Aronofsky in his beautiful and sad film “The Wrestler” has become far too common. Too many wrestlers die young and broke (the aforementioned Miss Elizabeth tragically died in 2003 of a drug overdose). The toll that lifestyle takes on your body, and the price these guys paid — and continue to pay — for our entertainment, is far too high. But I hope the Macho Man knew how much pleasure he gave the kids of my generation.
The Macho King is dead. Long live the Macho King. Oh yeah.