The debut episode of NWA Presents, featuring NWA President Billy Corgan interviewing ‘The Universal Hearthrob’ Austin Idol, was an interesting hour of chat, with Austin Idol proving to be a quiet, well-spoken, knowledgable guest – the complete opposite of his TV personal! I was entertained throughout, even if there were a few times I wished Billy wouldn’t interrupt Idol and would just let the man speak! It’s a minor quibble though, and I’m looking forward to next week’s episode.
One thing that struck me was that it was clear that there was mutual respect and affection between the two men – the shared smiles and laughter were heartwarming in their way, and it was almost like watching two friends just having a good old chat – warm and intimate. That definitely helped me to connect to the conversation, and it certainly helped that Austin was a compelling guest.
Here are 3 things that I learned about Austin Idol on NWA Presents:
1. Mike Graham Got Austin Idol into Wrestling
Eddie Graham is a legend of Florida wrestling (and professional wrestling in general), booking the territory during a highly successful time. But it was actually Eddie’s son Mike who got Austin Idol into wrestling.
Back in the early 70s, Austin Idol was a powerlifter (still is) but found himself without a gym for a period of time. He met Mike Graham at a nightclub, who told Idol he could use the gym in his father Eddie’s double garage. ‘The Universal Hearthrob’ took Mike up on his offer and would work out in the garage, but it was only later during a chance trip through the house to get water that the idea of getting into wrestling occurred to him:
“As we walked behind Eddie to go to the kitchen, I heard Eddie say ‘so you’ll pay him a thousand dollars a week and all expenses?’ I’ve been working in construction in the hot Tampa sun…I said, ‘Mike, who’s your dad talking to?’ He said, ‘oh, he was talking to the promoter in Australia Jim Barnett.’ I said, ‘yeah, he said something about a thousand dollars a week?’ He says, ‘yeah, Mr Barnett, he wants dad to send him over a wrestler and he’ll pay him a thousand dollars a week.’ I’m thinking, ‘huh’. I’m thinking to myself, ‘a thousand dollars a week. Nobody makes a thousand dollars a week. And the guy’s gonna go to Australia! And they’re gonna pay his taxes!’ That’s when…” (Austin Idol taps his head…a seed has been sown.
It’s a great story in that there’s a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time involved. If Austin Idol’s gym hadn’t asked him to leave, if Idol hadn’t been at that club that night or even met Mike Graham, if he hadn’t chosen that day and that time to go into the Graham house and get water, he may never have joined the business.
2. A Plane Crash Nearly Caused Idol to Throw in The Towel
When people talk about wrestling plane crashes, they usually talk about the famous crash that Ric Flair was in during 1975 and that nearly ended his career before he’d hit his stride. That was on October 24th, 1975, but there was another plane crash in 1975, on February 20th to be precise and this one involved Austin Idol.
I wasn’t actually aware of Idol having been in a plane crash, although I appreciate a lot of NWA and pro wrestling fans will be. Somehow the story had escaped me and as such, it was genuinely shocking to see Idol talk about it here on NWA Presents. For those who don’t know, Idol was travelling with legendary manager Gary Hart, Buddy Colt and Bobby Shane, having flown from Tampa to Miami, a relatively short flight, on Colt’s plane to make a show. They were on their way back to Tampa when the plane, being piloted by Colt, hit a cloud bank which reduced visibility to zero. An excerpt from Gary Hart’s book goes into spine chilling detail (read it here) but ultimately, Idol, Hart and Colt, though severely hurt, made it out alive. Bobby Shane, sadly, did not.
Idol suffered two broken ankles, broken ribs and cuts and lacerations to his feet. According to Idol on the show, he was almost out for a year, tending to himself both physically and mentally, and for a period considered himself finished with the wrestling business. It was only the need to earn money and wrestling being the only thing he knew that brought him back to the squared circle.
3. Austin Idol is a Clean Liver
Truth be told, I didn’t really know a lot about Austin Idol before NWA Presents. Sure, I could tell you famous things like his well-known feud with Jerry Lawler in Memphis, but I knew nothing about the man himself. So I was fascinated to learn that Austin Idol puts his health, physical and mental, first and foremost in his life. He stated that in the era of big physiques, his was natural and that he never took steroids. He was also a bit of a loner and while sociable, wouldn’t tend to socialize outside of the ring, meaning that he did not get involved with the hard-drinking and pill-popping that was such a prevalent part of the locker room culture back in the day.
His most notable comment was in regard to steroids though, and he is quite rightly proud of his natural physique. He made the fair point that once you come off the juice, as has to eventually happen, you shrink like a balloon. I’ll leave this line here for you, because it really did make me laugh out loud: “You want to go to your grave with 22-inch arms? Not me! No thank you. Pass on that one.”
No-one said the man wasn’t vain as well as sensible…