Ric Flair: Nature Boy, Wrestling Icon, A Legend In His Own Right
Left: Ric Flair in a publicity photo. Right: Flair talking smack on 'World Championship Wrestling.' Source: facebook.com/RicFlairNatureBoy
Ric Flair is an icon of pro wrestling. Whether he was working with the NWA, WCW, All-Japan, or the WWE the “Nature Boy” was a superstar. His entire life has been about turning audiences on one match and one promo at a time. After shedding the real life skin of Richard Morgan Fliehr to become the larger than life sequined robe- and alligator shoe-wearing Ric Flair he stopped being human. Like Bowie and Jagger before him, when Flair was at the top of his game he was like god descended from Mount Olympus.
Flair’s life hasn’t been lacking in drama outside of the ring. He’s as well known for his Dionysian pursuits as he is for his prowess in the ring. He once claimed that he was drunk every day for years, and that he’s slept with thousands of women in his decades long commitment to the bit. He’s lived through tragedy and triumph to become one of the most well respected wrestlers in the business. He has five "keys to the city" in the U.S. and four holidays named after him, and if you shout “WHOO” in any crowded area you’ll hear at least one response calling back as if from a game of ‘Naitch branded Marco Polo.
Before He Was Ric Flair He Was Richard Fliehr
Born on February 25, 1949, in Memphis, Tennessee, Fliehr was put up for adoption in the same Tennessee Children's Home Society that was a part of Georgia Tann’s infamous infant-kidnapping syndicate. After his adoption Fliehr’s family settled in Minnesota, but young Richard was bounced around the Midwest for a few years while taking part in pretty much every high school sport that could be used to mold an interscholastic athlete (wrestling, football, you name it).
When was 21, Fliehr dropped out of college and began training with wrestling impresario Verne Gagne in a winter camp in 1971. A year later, on December 10, 1972, Ric Flair made his wrestling debut in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, against George “Scrap Iron” Gadaski. By 1974, Flair was wrestling for Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic arm of the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) and on February 9, 1975 he won his first strap - the Mid-Atlantic TV championship.
A Plane Crash Nearly Ended His Career And His Life
By 1975, Flair was a bulked up mass of man who was known for being a brawler in the ring. That all came to an end on October 4, 1975, following a plane crash in Wilmington, North Carolina. The plane held numerous members of the wrestling community: Johnny Valentine, “Mr. Wrestling” Tim Woods, Bob Bruggers, and promoter David Crockett. When the plane went down the pilot died, Valentine was permanently paralyzed, and Flair was told that he would never wrestle again due to a broken back. At the wrestling convention Starcast IV David Crockett discussed what he remembers from the crash:
The engine on the left side, they feathered it around Lumberton/Florence, South Carolina. To me, I still don’t understand why we didn’t land. Do I remember it or was I told it? That’s the question. I sort of remember the other engine was starting to go. I was bending over. My son was two-weeks old, so I was trying to do the Lamaze and control my breathing, so I wouldn’t get knocked out. Then, I saw a light go off and that’s it. Come to find out my seat was the only seat in that plane that did not break loose, and that probably saved me.
Following the horrible accident, Flair refused to believe his doctors. He rehabbed and made a comeback, but he had to change from his barbaric wrestling style to something sustainable. He dropped from 255 pounds to 180 and became the “Nature Boy,” a man who didn’t just flaunt his wealth and good looks, but reveled in the excess that success brought his way. This single incident, a plane crash, plays more into Flair’s life and career than anything else. If he hadn’t been in the accident it’s likely he never would have taken on the persona that made him so popular.
Nature Boy, Meet Nature
Of course Ric Flair was struck by lightning. Why wouldn’t he be? Pretty much everything you can imagine has happened to this guy so it’s somehow no surprise that he was not only hit by lightning but that the umbrella he was carrying killed a guy after it was knocked out of his hands. While he was appearing on the Dan Le Batard Show on ESPN Radio he explained how a bout of terrible weather at an airport in Richmond, Virginia in the 1970s put him face to face with death for the second time:
I got off the plane and was walking. I didn't go 10, 15 feet when all of a sudden I felt this pressure boom, and man, my umbrella shot 50 feet in the air. I thought, 'What the hell?' Lightning hit the top of my umbrella, bounced off and hit the guy in the eye five feet behind me and killed him. Right there. I just stood there looking at the guy and froze, it scared me to death. People were running out the door to get the guy. I've always wondered what kind of a lawsuit that was, because it was really a big deal, hence probably the steel tips coming off umbrellas at that point.
Drugs And Alcohol Were A Normal Part Of His Diet
It’s not that there was no one to say no to Flair during his his ascent to wrestling stardom, it’s that one wanted to say no. He was the life of the party everywhere he went. By Flair’s own admission he was drunk for years. Years. YEARS. It’s one thing to party after a show or a match, but to be loaded out of your mind while you’re working with someone’s body is irresponsible to your partner and to yourself. Filmmaker Rory Karpf who directed ESPN’s 30 For 30 on Flair said:
Everyone has a Ric Flair story. Most of them are when Flair comes out naked under a robe or is dancing on a bar. For that person, it’s as crazy as their life would ever get on that night. But he was doing it every night.
His bacchanalian lifestyle included ten beers and five cocktails a day to even out the daily incoherence of traveling from town to town and living kayfabe. Even high on a concoction of booze and pills worthy of a science project there was no one in the industry who could touch Flair at his peak.
Flair Wrestled In North Korea In Front Of 190,000 People
In 1995, Ric Flair joined Muhammad Ali and a slew of undercard WCW wrestlers in Pyongyang, North Korea to put on a two-day show that was a part of the International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. The wrestling portion, known as the “Collision in Korea,” was one of the biggest professional wrestling events of the ‘90s and no one in the arena knew who Flair was. He explained:
It was huge — it was a two-day event, I didn’t wrestle the first day. I watched the show with Ali up in the sports minister’s press box. They had a card show, did you see that? It was like synchronized swimming — the cards showed a couple of missiles taking off from Korea, one going to Japan and one going to America.
He continued, saying that after the program the American athletes were kept in the country for three days and asked to make inflammatory statements against the United States. Naturally, Flair declined:
They kept us three days after the event — we were supposed to leave right after but they kept us three days longer. The thing that really disturbed me the most was that they wanted me to make a public statement…. that after my time in North Korea, I saw that they could dominate the United States of America if they wanted to. I couldn’t say that, you know what I mean? I can’t remember how I angled my way around that one but I did not say that. I just said that I was thrilled and honored to be there and appreciated their hospitality.
His Son Reid Died Of A Heroin Overdose In 2013
Much of Flair’s life since the ’90s has been a series of massive highs and low lows. His daughter Ashley wrestles under the name Charlotte Flair in the WWE and she’s one of the most prominent figures in the company. On the other hand, his son Reid, who also followed in his footsteps in the ring fell into a cycle of addiction, arrest, and hospitalization that ended in his death in 2013 after he mixed heroin with a variety of other drugs. After’s Reid’s death Flair and his fourth wife divorced. He told USA Today:
No marriage could survive that. When you can’t find your son for three or four days at a time and you’re having undercover policemen looking for him all over — I mean, it’s not going to work. He was on life support four different times.
Reid’s death led Flair back to the bottle in a terrible way, and it took a nearly life ending stint in the hospital to get him sober.
Naitch Finally Stopped Drinking In 2017
According to Flair he was downing “like 20 drinks a day” following the death of his son Reid. Anyone who’s dealt with a loss of this magnitude understands the desire to self medicate and shut out the world, but after nearly 40 years of being the life of the party Flair’s body couldn’t take it anymore. On August 11, 2017 his then-fiancée took him to the hospital after prolonged stomach pain, three days later he was in a medically induced coma and on life support. His body had shut down – his kidneys were shot, he had congestive heart failure, and doctors thought he was on his way out. Even though he was in a coma Flair says that he remembers his time in the coma as one of the scariest times of his life:
What I remember was that I couldn't talk, but I could hear people talking about me. Which is even scarier... My daughters told me that (the doctor) said to go in and say goodbye to your daddy, he's not going to make it.
As he faced the ultimate three count Flair picked a shoulder up off the mat and now lives thanks to a pacemaker and a physical therapist. His days with the bottle are behind him and he’s still the man.
Tags: Rare Facts And Stories About History | Ric Flair | Wrestling In The 1970s | Wrestling In The 1980s
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