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The man who would be King of Memphis

February 18th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
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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.

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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.

  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