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RIP, Mr. Guy Coffey, longtime fixture on Memphis wrestling scene

January 10th, 2011 6 comments

The late Guy Coffey with Andy Kaufman and Jimmy Hart backstage at the Mid-South Coliseum in 1983.

Over the weekend, I was saddened to hear about the suicide death of Mr. Guy Coffey, a longtime fixture of the Memphis wrestling territory for decades. Apparently, Coffey had been in poor health and distraught over family problems for some time now. He was found  dead Saturday morning with a handgun nearby, with the apparent cause of death a gunshot to the head. He was 86.

Most Memphis stars recall Mr. Coffey being around for as long as they can remember. He sat alongside Lance Russell many Monday nights at the Mid-South Coliseum as the timekeeper and bell ringer as well as handling the backstage payoffs to the boys. His chain-smoking late wife was a fixture at the gimmick table, with the best-sellers being color 5″ x 7″ photos for a buck apiece–a booming business in the early ’80s with heartthrobs like the Fabulous Ones, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and Austin Idol in the area.

I believe Coffey, in his younger days, worked as an employee for the City of Memphis and helped run the Cook Convention Center Ellis Auditorium, the former home of Memphis wrestling prior to the move the larger Coliseum. Legend has it that he used to employ a young Elvis Presley, who sold Cokes during the matches. Years later, after Elvis hit it big, Mr. Coffey sneaked the entertainer through the book door so he could watch the matches. A young Jimmy Hart also sold Cokes at the matches at the Ellis Auditorium.

My earliest memory of Mr. Coffey was during a Lawler vs. Dundee hair match at the Coliseum on Aug. 22, 1977. The Lawler-Dundee feud had captured my imagination as a young man over that summer, with a series of bouts that had the most bizarre stipulations in the business to that point. Dundee had risked his long, flowing black locks against the hair of Lawler’s stooge Mickey Poole and the NWA Southern title. Throughout the bout, Lawler pummeled his challenger with a vicious series of rights to the point of exhaustion. (Promoter Jerry Jarrett years later recalled that Lawler and Dundee worked very stiff with one another–seemingly testing the resolve of one another.) In a brilliant false finish, Russell rang the bell signifying the end of the match. Over the house PA, Lance announced that “NWA representative” Mr. Guy Coffey had decreed that Dundee could not defend himself: the Superstar’s head would be shaved. In a dramatic moment, Dundee crawled over to Coffey and begged for the match to continue, with Lance exclaiming, “‘It’ my hair, it’ my hair. Please.'” Coffey paused for a moment and then whispered in Lance’s ear. The match would continue, but the “NWA would not assume responsibility” for Dundee’s injuries. Of course, Dundee rallied to win, and Poole’s head was shaved. Years later, in hindsight, I was amused over Coffey’s distinction as a so-called representative of the National Wrestling Alliance.

Mr. Coffey was a nice man, especially for this business–many of the boys would remember him mostly for his soft-spoken, kind demeanor and, later, his obvious toupee and burgundy sports coats that appeared to be at least one size too big. Still, whatever backstage ribbing he might have endured as a result was all lighthearted–after all, he was a Memphis wrestling institution. I remember him for his laugh when something funny would happen on the backstage monitor during a live TV taping–he could get very tickled when the unexpected happen, which often did on those Saturday mornings.  The referees knew to watch for Coffey or promoter Eddie Marlin to walk through the curtain to signify that it was time to whisper to the boys in the ring to take the match home.

Lawler, who attended his his own dad’s funeral on his 19th birthday, looked to Jackie Fargo and Mr. Coffey as father figures, according to Jerry’s son Kevin. When Lawler resurrected Memphis wrestling last year, he brought in Mr. Coffey as co-commissioner along with Buddy Wayne. Lawler always took care of the folks who’d been by his side for years. Mr. Coffey thought the world of Jerry, and I can assure you, the feeling was indeed mutual.

More than anything, Mr. Coffey loved the wrestling business. He will be missed.

(In the clip below, Mr. Coffey announces Lawler as the new World champion over the PA after the King seemingly defeated Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA World title. Notice how when he hands Lawler the belt, he shakes his fist approvingly, almost like a proud father–a nice little moment.)