Home > Uncategorized > The man who would be King of Memphis

The man who would be King of Memphis

February 18th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
Print Friendly

I was nearing the end of my first Memphis managerial run in February 1995 when I received the call. Eddie Gilbert, the man who orchestrated my turn from mild-mannered referee to dastardly heel, was dead of a heart attack at the age of 33. In what would become a morbid tradition for the next 13 years, Kevin Lawler broke the bad news to me. (To this day, whenever Kevin and I call each other, the one receiving the call answers, “Oh, no. Who died?” Sad, really.) Even though Eddie was in bad shape the last time I saw him, nearly falling asleep as we spoke backstage at the Mid-South Coliseum just two months earlier, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

The All-American Boy: Although he looked like the boy next door, Gilbert longed to be the King of Memphis.

The All-American Boy: Although he looked like the boy next door, Gilbert longed to be the King of Memphis.


I’d watched over the years as Eddie developed from an 18-year-old nervous babyface rookie into one of the best heels—and minds—in the business. Like Eddie, I grew up idolizing Jerry Lawler, dreaming of the day we’d conduct heel interviews together side by side. Eddie enabled me to live that dream.

This is how I first met Eddie Gilbert in 1989…and how I was forced to say goodbye less than six years later.

Despite the fact that nearly the same crew was working two nights later in Memphis at the Mid-South Coliseum in July 1989, a friend and I made the drive to Jackson, Tennessee, for an NWA/WCW card, headlined by an injured Terry Funk vs. Sting, and an old Memphis gimmick that Eddie had seen many times as a young man—the two-ring, triple-chance battle royal. I was an 18-year-old mark, fresh out of high school, and I fully believed that my destiny was to be a booker. Like Eddie, I played fantasy booker as a youngster, developing long-running story lines involving my make-believe wrestling friends. Now Eddie was living a dream of his own, as one of the bookers for the revamped, Ted Turner-owned WCW.

This WCW card in Jackson was to be a homecoming for Eddie, the nearby-Lexington, Tenn.-native. Gilbert’s Memphis influence was already creeping into WCW, with the addition of longtime Jarrett-announcer Lance Russell. The strong push of Funk as a deranged heel, including his crazed attack on NWA World champion Ric Flair months earlier at Wrestle War ’89 riled up memories of the Funker’s feud of years ago with the King of Memphis. I don’t mean to slight Eddie, but I’m sure he also was behind the ill-fated blonde-babyface tag-team of Johnny Ace (Laurinaitis) and Shane Douglas, who were originally billed as “The New Generation,” a moniker used in Memphis years earlier by Bart Batten and Johnny Wilhoit. (The latter team was doomed in Memphis after a music video aired on TV of them frolicking around Jerry Jarrett’s estate like two young lovers to the tune of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.”) Somehow, Ace and Douglas were later renamed with an even worse moniker: The Dynamic Dudes.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.34.58 AM

A Heel Mentor: A young Scott Bowden listens attentively as “Hot Stuff” gives Lance Russell an earful.

Although JCP/NWA/WCW had been a hot promotion from ’85 to ’87, the company fell on hard times, as booker Dusty Rhodes might say, a result of stale booking, frustrating screw-job finishes (e.g., the “hometown” Road Warriors being disqualified at Starrcade ’87 in Chicago vs. Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson) and low morale when it become apparent to all the boys that owner Jim Crockett was in over his head. Crockett’s ill-fated “balloon-payment” contracts were the final nails in the coffin.

But 1989 offered promise, with Turner buying the promotion to keep rasslin’ on the SuperStation, and the arrivals of new stars like Ricky Steamboat, who was immediately programmed into a feud with Flair. The two old rivals from Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling produced some of the greatest matches in the history of the business, although it didn’t exactly translate into box-office success, mostly because of Steamboat’s outdated family-man routine.

As it turned out, Steamboat’s arrival signaled the beginning of the end for Gilbert as a major player—at least as a wrestler—in the company. Although he had developed a successful heel persona over the years, Gilbert arrived in WCW in the latter part of 1988 as a babyface. Gilbert appeared to be in the best shape of his life, as he had supposedly loaded up on steroids to pack muscle onto his small frame. The promotion was in a transition phase, so Gilbert, the new kid in town, was able to position himself into a program with Horsemen Flair and Barry Windham. Undoubtedly, Gilbert was ecstatic. Steamboat was brought in as Mr. X, Eddie’s secret weapon against the Horsemen. Almost immediately after Steamboat’s debut, the last TV taping at the legendary WTBS Studio, Gilbert was dropped from the angle, supposedly at the request of Flair.

One knock on Flair is that he can be two-faced—as bad as Hulk Hogan when it comes to working the boys. Apparently, Flair didn’t care for Gilbert, quietly voicing behind his back that fans didn’t buy him as a headliner, especially against the Horsemen. Gilbert later felt betrayed by Flair, whom he claimed even promised him a spot in the Horsemen when the heel “Hot Stuff” would finally emerge. Knowing Gilbert and Flair, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

Years before, I would have agreed with Flair. I’ve read some accounts of Gilbert’s life in which the writer claims that he was a natural for the business. To me, that short-changes Eddie, because he wasn’t. He worked at it. Sure, his father was a great worker, but even Tommy Gilbert looked more like your average Joe–or perhaps, in his prime, movie-star Burt Reynolds–than a wrestler.

Eddie’s interview skills were spotty for years, with a promo he conducted as part of the New Fabulous One (a gimmick even worse than the one Laurinaitis and Douglas were saddled with) coming to mind. He and Rich stormed the WMC-TV studio to get revenge on Koko Ware and Norvell Austin, the PYT Express, who had bloodied Fargo’s replacement Fabs in a brawl the previous week. In a fit of rage, Rich ripped off his shirt a la Hogan (sans muscles) and went into his usual incomprehensible tirade…while Eddie carefully unbuttoned his shirt before sputtering: “I don’t care where it is. A mall. Downtown. At a service station. We’re after you.” Oooh…downtown, eh? Brother, look out! Even his first heel interview was lame by his eventual standards, despite the spot-on Lawler facial imitation, as Eddie resorted to insulting Michael Jackson (then still a hot performer) to get heat. (Jackson fans were probably already in an uproar over the PYTs’ gimmick infringement.)

Eddie was a dedicated performer who worked at the art of the wrestling interview. Hot Stuff picked up steam when he unceremoniously dumped Rich as his partner–despite the duo winning the prestigious (cough) WFIA Tag-Team of the Year Award. (In the eyes of Memphis fans, this was like attacking your teammate after winning the Super Bowl.) This was the beginning of Eddie as a crazed heel in the mold of another idol, Terry Funk.

With his nickname lifted from the Donna Summers song of the same name, Hot Stuff really hit his stride as a heel in January 1985, when he orchestrated a memorable “This Is Your Life” skit mocking the career of Lawler. Eddie was living his dream of headlining vs. Jerry Lawler with the Southern heavyweight title in the balance.

By July 1989, although working toward the bottom of the cards, Gilbert’s place on the booking committee was solid. Still, as creative as he could be, Gilbert had a tendency to book every promotion he worked for Memphis-style, hence his stable, “The First Family,” the name of Jimmy Hart’s old legion of heels.

In the weeks leading up to that Mid-South Coliseum card in 1989, Gilbert even tried to arrange for his hero Jerry Lawler, who was still clinging onto his Memphis throne despite the WWF and WCW expanding into his backyard, to work the main event against Funk. I believe there was also talk that Memphis would become a part of WCW, serving as a training ground of sorts in exchange for the occasional top-name appearance to help keep the promotion alive, much like the WWF would do with Memphis years later. (The term “developmental territory” hadn’t been coined yet.) That would have been a dream scenario for Gilbert, but the timing just wasn’t right, as Lawler and Jarrett were still doing OK business, surviving after the other territories crumbled at the hands of McMahon.

Besides, they probably knew that Memphis fans would eventually catch on that many of the local stars weren’t in the same league as the NWA guys. Jarrett and Lawler had learned that in the mid-’80s, co-hosting some Great American Bash-type cards in the area with Jim Crockett. Featuring stars like Flair, Magnum T.A., Tully Blanchard and Dusty Rhodes, the Crockett/Jarrett shows drew well, but I believe houses suffered in the weeks just prior and after those “super cards,” which had inflated ticket prices. Memphis also hosted an ill-advised Pro Wrestling USA (the mismanaged collective opposition to McMahon’s expansion) card at the Mid-South Coliseum, with the local talent (Dutch Mantel, the Dirty White Boys, the Nightmares, Lanny Poffo, Phil Hickerson and Spoiler, etc.) working as jobbers for the established AWA and NWA stars. Eddie even did a couple of jobs that night, just after he had been elevated as a main-event heel in Memphis.

Although everything wasn’t quite working out like he envisioned, Gilbert was in good spirits this night in Lexington in ’89. As he signed autographs backstage afterward, I nudged my way next to him and dropped some inside terms I’d learned from The Wrestling Observer to let him know I was “smart.” (Looking back now, I realize how dumb I must’ve sounded.) I think it was something like: “Man, Eddie, you and the booking committee are really turning things around. I’m glad you guys fired Bob Orton for not doing that job on TV. I mean, if he’s not gonna do what y’all say, then, well…y’know.” Gilbert kept signing programs and the like, looking at me only briefly before saying, “Thank you very much. It’s a slow process.” Needless to say, I was thrilled. I just knew that Eddie and I would have a great discussion about the business if only these stupid marks weren’t around.

Solution: My friend and I waited in my beat-up Camaro (dear God, the humiliation) until Eddie and his then wife, Missy Hyatt, left the building. We followed them for a few miles, and I was quite certain that he wouldn’t be speeding up to lose us if he knew it was me, the smart fan. Finally, he pulled over to a convenience store to pick up a 12-pack of beer. He leered at me cautiously before saying, “Oh, shit, I didn’t recognize you. What’s up, guys?” We stood in the parking lot for 10 minutes, with him and Missy tolerating our questions. I mentioned that my girlfriend at the time, Julie, and I had tickets to the matches in Memphis, and he invited me to a pre-match pizza party with the wrestlers, which was sponsored by the local TV station that aired one of the NWA/WCW syndicated TV shows.

The next night, Julie, who looked a lot like Jessica Simpson, and I had our pics taken with Eddie, the Road Warriors and Steve Williams. Funny: Doc and the Warriors were cordial enough…for about 10 minutes. Then they abruptly left, stacking 10 Domino’s Pizzas and taking them back to the dressing room, leaving us marks to fend for ourselves with the remaining four pies. Eddie hung around talking to me…but paying special attention to Julie. Afterward, Julie confessed that she thought that maybe Eddie had grabbed her ass not once but twice while we posed for pictures. Being naïve, I assured her that she must have been mistaken. I mean, yeah, right. Hot Stuff? The man who goes to bed with Missy every night? No way. Years later, after I got to know Eddie, who had a reputation as being a notorious flirt/ladies man within the biz, I thought back to that night. And I couldn’t help but laugh. I’d bet anything that he fondled my girlfriend that night.

It’s strange. The only time I get emotional about Eddie is when I look at old pictures from his first couple of years in the business. He looks like such a good kid—so happy just to be in the business. I wasn’t a fan of Eddie, initially billed as Tommy Gilbert Jr., in those early days; that is, until his infamous Tupleo, Mississippi, concession stand brawl in 1981. Two years earlier, Lawler and Bill Dundee engaged in an incredible brawl in the Tupelo Sports Arena with Blonde Bombers Wayne Ferris and Larry Latham that spilled over into the concessions area, with blood and mustard flying everywhere. The sequel, starring Gilbert and Ricky Morton vs. Mr. Onita and Masa Fuchi (with the evil Tojo Yamamoto in their corner) was just as wonderfully insane, The Godfather Pt. II of concession-stand brawls. I was quoted in Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson’s The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels as saying Gilbert and Morton “went into that bout pretty boys—they left as men who were fighting for America against the evil Japanese who had invaded their backyard.” After kicking the Japanese contingent’s asses, Gilbert and Morton were no longer second-generation daddies’ boys in my book.

Duke boys: As a team, Tommy and Eddie were quick to put up their fists and fight Memphis heels like the father/son duo of Buddy and Ken Wayne.

Duke boys: As a team, Tommy and Eddie were quick to put up their fists and fight Memphis heels like the father/son duo of Buddy and Ken Wayne.

I regret that Eddie and I didn’t have more time to work together. Two weeks after my heel turn, on May 27, 1994, Eddie and I conducted only our second promo together, building up his match with Lawler on Memorial Day at the Coliseum. As a stipulation of the bout, I would be forced into the ring with Jerry Lawler for five minutes should he defeat Hot Stuff. The previous Saturday, during a TV main event between Lawler and Gilbert, I had thrown powder into the King’s eyes right after his introduction, enabling “my new best friend” to steal the win in about six seconds. The King was hot on my trail. During our promo, Lance played it up as if I were at death’s door, insinuating I wouldn’t survive the encounter if Jerry Lawler got his hands on me, which I shrugged off with a line I had lifted from Apter-mag heel columnist Dan Shocket, “The only reason Lawler’s not over the hill is because he never climbed it in the first place.” I didn’t realize then how sensitive Lawler was about his age—I’m sure he winced backstage at that one. But the worst was yet to come.

Prior to the interview, Eddie had confided in me backstage that he was livid his bout with Lawler wasn’t the main event. As part of their working relationship with the WWF, Bam Bam Bigelow was heading back in to team with the Dream Machine to work with Jerry and Brian in the last match. Eddie felt he should be in the tag main event with Bigelow—not wrestling a singles bout with Lawler, especially since Lawler wasn’t putting the Unified World title up. Gilbert desperately wanted that strap back so he could “get his heat back.” It sounded so petty, so off-base, that I initially thought he had to be ribbing me.

Two months earlier, on March 25, Lawler had tricked Eddie into giving up the title at a Friday night spot show in Senatobia, Mississippi, claiming that he only wanted to pop the crowd that night and that he’d drop the belt back in short order. The next day at TV, he stripped Eddie of his booking duties, handing the reins to Randy Hales. It was clear that Lawler had wanted the belt back before he dismissed Eddie as booker, knowing Gilbert’s history for suddenly leaving territories in a huff with their championships. Hot Stuff often lived up to his name, as he had a sketchy pattern of burning bridges. The booking switch didn’t reflect that Randy was more creative than Eddie—far from it. I think Lawler simply didn’t trust the increasingly paranoid Gilbert, who seemed to be legitimately jealous of Brian Christopher Lawler’s mega-push as the next big thing in the USWA. This was also around the time that Jeff Jarrett, who was finally receiving national acclaim as Double J in the WWF, had returned to the area for a few shots.

Hair apparent: As part of his quest to be like Lawler, Gilbert frequently used two of the King''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''s favorite maneuvers...hair-pulling and punching.

Hair apparent: As part of his quest to be like Lawler, Gilbert frequently used two of the  favorite maneuvers of the King…hair-pulling and punching.

Perhaps the most agonizing part for Gilbert in May 1994: Lawler was showing no signs of slowing down, or abdicating the Memphis Rasslin’ throne any time soon. And to make matters worse, Lawler’s kingdom had expanded to the WWF, where he was firmly entrenched not only as a heel color commentator alongside Vince McMahon but also a wrestler fresh off a high-profile feud with Bret Hart and still receiving nice PPV paydays.

It was likely that unless Gilbert cleaned himself up and got his head on straight, WWF and WCW were not going to take a chance on him as a booker at that time. (I have to think, though, that had Gilbert lived, Vince might’ve turned to him when the Former Fed was looking for an edge in 1996/early 1997.) Gilbert was also facing a rapidly receding hairline and body that was beginning to break down after about 15 years of bumps, not to mention the car accident in which he nearly broke his neck in 1983. Unless he got back on massive amounts of steroids or radically changed his gimmick, he would never have the right look for WCW or WWF as a top wrestler.

So as I stood by Gilbert’s side on May 27, he was a powder keg waiting to explode—and on live TV, no less. In a classic example of art imitating life, he questioned why Jerry Lawler wasn’t putting the title up and that he was sick of Brian Christopher being “Lawler’s handpicked successor.” He also bemoaned the backstage politics and that he wouldn’t be around much longer, comparing himself to Emmit Smith, the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise player who sat out the first two games of the 1993 NFL season until he got a new contract. I was thinking to myself, “Oh, shit. This is a shoot. Lawler’s gonna kill us when we get backstage.” I just knew any minute that Gilbert was going to reveal that Brian was Jerry’s son, which was already one of the worst-kept secrets in town, but he didn’t. Gilbert was dressed to wrestle in the show later, but instead he made a beeline for the exit, leaving me to explain things to Lawler. With a concerned look on his face, Lawler asked me, “You think that was a shoot?” Gulp. I muttered, “I…I think so.” Then Lawler asked me if I thought Eddie would show up Monday night for the match. To that one, I had no answer. Gilbert probably didn’t even know—it all depended on how he felt 48 hours later.

Hours before the show Monday, Lawler called me to ask if I’d heard from Gilbert. After I explained that I hadn’t, Lawler asked if I could round up the crutches, leg brace and wheelchair he’d seen me use in an outlaw-show performance on one of Brian’s videotapes. Lawler was hatching a contingency plan in case Gilbert didn’t make it. In the event of the no-show, the Dream Machine would wheel me down to ringside, and I’d claim that Eddie and I were seriously injured in a car accident when a drunkard ran my car off the road. Alas, Gilbert did arrive at the building shortly before the 8 o’clock bell time, so instead Eddie wheeled me down wearing a neckbrace and delivered the spiel as Lance held the microphone. Eddie turned things over to me, and as I noted the irony of being stuck in a wheelchair along with all the war veterans on Memorial Day, Hot Stuff sneaked up behind the preoccupied Lawler and attacked him to start the match. The scenario was illogical since Lawler had pulled nearly the exact same attack months earlier on Bret at SummerSlam ’93.

During the bout, Gilbert kept feeding Lawler to me, unselfishly putting even more heat on his young, cocky manager. At different points, I ran over Lawler in the wheelchair, gouged his eyes and choked him. And the ref, Lawler’s other son, Kevin Christian Lawler, never saw a damned thing. After the patented Lawler ref bump out of a headlock, I made my move out of the wheelchair. I stood on the ring apron, and tossed my thick, heavy leg brace to Eddie, who clotheslined Lawler with it, seemingly knocking him out for the pin.

Little did we all know that was to be Eddie’s last match ever in Memphis. Eddie walked out on the promotion later that week.

He bounced around after that, working briefly for Jim Cornette’s Knoxville-based Smoky Mountain Wrestling before landing in just about the only territory left that would trust him with the book: Puerto Rico. On February 17, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Eddie booked himself into a classic Southern rasslin’ angle in which he was“forced to wrestle” a live bear.

The next day, Gilbert was found dead in his apartment in Isla Verde by his booking assistant, wrestler Ken Wayne. Eddie had broken into the business around the same time as Ken in Memphis, working a memorable father-son feud with their respective fathers, Tommy and Buddy. Their road together in the business ended in tragedy with Eddie dead at 33, apparently of a drug overdose.

Thomas Edward Gilbert Aug. 14, 1961 – Feb. 18, 1995

Eddie’s funeral was held February 24 near his hometown. On that crisp winter morning, Kevin Lawler and I declined to make the ride from Memphis to Lexington with Jerry and Brian in a borrowed limo to the service. I thought it was inappropriate, and Kevin was offended because Jerry wanted him to drive.

As Elvis Presley gospel tunes played in the background, I made my way to his open casket, which was decorated with Tennessee Volunteers Big Orange merchandise. I smiled a bit because any indication of Eddie’s love for Elvis and the Vols would disappear when he was a heel in Memphis; however, the moment he turned babyface, he was cutting promos wearing T-shirts with either Elvis or the Vols logo, and wrestling in orange tights.He was a Tennessee boy through and through. It was difficult seeing this energetic, charismatic young man with a passion for the wrestling business lying so still. A small, sick part of me hoped he would pop up out of the casket and attack Lawler in the ultimate swerve. After all, he had once asked me, “Where do you go after running somebody over with a car?” (As part of a memorable angle in 1990, Eddie mowed over Lawler with his vehicle in the WMC-TV parking lot. Despite the fact that Lawler was wearing kneepads and elbow pads underneath his street clothes, he took a wicked bump. For a moment, Gilbert thought he’d killed the King.)

The eulogy was delivered by a man who sounded like he knew nothing about Eddie, struggling to make analogies to ‘rasslin’ in the ring and rasslin’ with life’s tragedies. Later, walking past the gravesite, I paid my respects to his father, Tommy, and his Eddie’s brother, Doug, as his mother, Peggy, cried over the death of her oldest son. Eddie was buried with his wrestling boots.

To me, Gilbert’s is one of the saddest stories in the business. Yes, he made choices that led to his undoing; however, the business—the one he loved—shaped those choices. I guess I just miss him.

  1. February 20th, 2009 at 09:17 | #1

    Great column, Scott.

    I”m still trying to find footage of the Gilbert-Superstar-Backlund angle from WWF in 1983. I also think, as ill-fated as the gimmick was, the New Fabs actually made a really good babyface tag team. They had some great matches with the PYTs, including a kick-ass Falls Count Anywhere Match.

  2. Darla T
    February 22nd, 2009 at 15:35 | #2

    Scott, enjoyed your column about my friend, Eddie. You are 100% correct when you say that Eddie looked like a good kid when he first started the business. I was lucky enough to meet Eddie in June 1979 at the WFIA Convention held in Memphis. Eddie was just starting out and we instantly became friends. In October of that year he moved to Kansas City. It was the first time he had been away from home and other friends and I made numberous trips to KC to spend time with Eddie. He was so young and innocent back then. As the years passed, we both married and lost touch. The last time I saw Eddie was in October 1990 in Memphis. I spent a little time with him after the matches and he was my same friend that I had met many years ago. The entire Gilbert Family are wonderful family and I feel they are part of my family. I keep in touch with Tommy and Peggy and I simply love them!!

  3. Old School Sammy
    February 20th, 2010 at 07:37 | #3

    Wow–just a great piece, Scott…

  4. Brenda
    March 3rd, 2010 at 16:28 | #4

    This might be the best article you have ever written, outstanding.

  5. Robert L. Miqueli
    February 20th, 2011 at 00:25 | #5


    Some help please, I was watching “WCW WorldWide” one saturday and on the wrap up, They said that “AWA Champion” Jerry Lawler would be on next week. Come next week no Jerry. I’ve heard some rumors about Eddie and Paul E., being involved on the angle never happening. Can you straight out the story,


  6. February 20th, 2011 at 10:15 | #6

    Bravo, sir. Excellent work.

  7. admin
    February 23rd, 2011 at 11:57 | #7

    First, thanks to everyone for the kind works. It’s times like this when I feel proud to continue this labor of love that is Kentucky Fried Rasslin.

    To answer your question, Robert, WCW was trying to arrange a talent deal with Jerry Jarrett and Lawler (in the same way that the WWF eventually did). WCW, which had been recognizing its “WCW” World champion (as opposed to the NWA name) recently had made amends with the Alliance and was to crown an NWA World champion during a tournament that would be held in Memphis. Lawler would issue a challenge to be allowed into the tournament and would win the Big Gold belt in the finals. Then, two months later, a “unification” match would happen, with Lawler losing the NWA title to Lex Luger, who would be the undisputed NWA/WCW champion. From what I understand, Lawler didn’t like the fact that he would be losing to Luger in the end, so when Paul E. and Eddie “leaked” the news to Dave Meltzer, the King insisted that Jerry Jarrett cancel the deal. At this point, though, I don’t think Lawler was still recognized as the AWA champion but was still defending the “Unified” title he’d won in his bout with Kerry Von Erich in Chicago. I’m sure there’s more to it, but that’s the story I heard.

  8. j,d, mckay
    August 22nd, 2011 at 16:23 | #8

    You know I thought I had read this before…and maybe I had. Scott, it was wonderful how you detailed things. I was there with Eddie in Senatobia the night Jerry prmoised him more of “the power” (the book) if he dropped the USWA title to him there. Eddie was thrilled. As you know, he and Doug stayed out at the Super8 motel that night and I when I showed up at TV5, Kevin Lawler told me what had happened (how you and I missed each other I will never understand)…and I went and got up with the Gilbert brothers. Eddie was still livid as he relayed what had happened at TV, –
    I made the trip with him and Glen Jacobs to SMW…and he called me with the news that Colon was giving him “the power” in Puerto Rico again. I tried to talk him into staying and giving SMW a chance but he wanted to book. Lynn (My then wife) and I made a trip to take Eddie his Sony Walkman to him in Lexington. He took us out to eat at a place called the Southside Grill (no longer exists)…we said our good-byes, and it was the last time I would see my friend alive.
    Like I you,…it’s been over a decade and a half, but I still miss him. Eddie Gilbert was a unique human being…one, that if you got to know him, you could not help but love.

  1. February 11th, 2010 at 12:17 | #1
  2. February 17th, 2010 at 15:02 | #2
  3. March 2nd, 2010 at 19:44 | #3
  4. August 15th, 2011 at 09:22 | #4