At one point in his career, the great Angelo Mosca Sr. once told Ric Flair that if he lived to be 30, he would have lived too long. It may have been a paraphrase of sorts, but it spoke to the renegade lifestyle the “Nature Boy” lived while he was styling and profiling like no other wrestler in the business during the 1980s. Now, 30 something years later, Flair is still acting the part and living like he is the 16-time World Heavyweight Champion. It makes you stop and wonder about our heroes who have passed this year and the way they carried themselves in their careers and long after the fact.
Flair, for all that wrestling was and how it is today, is lucky he is still strutting and trying to live the glamorous life. Others, like Dusty Rhodes, lived his “dream” and then slipped into the back of the business, working as a booker and talent manager, still trying to get the best out of those he worked with until his passing two weeks ago.
I think many of us are still dealing with the notion that at 69 years old, Rhodes is not part of the wrestling landscape anymore and that his passing was one of those poignant moments we as fans will never forget.
We learned Monday that Buddy Landel passed away. According to various sources on the Internet and Dave Meltzer. Landel – whose real names was William Ansor – had been in a bad car accident this past weekend, but checked himself out of the hospital two days ago. Later in the day, he said he wasn’t feeling well when he went to bed. When his wife went to check on him this morning, he had already died. Landel was 53.
Landel started his career in 1979 in ICW. He made a name for himself in the Tennessee area promotions and went to the NWA’s Jim Crockett Promotions in 1985 and joined manager James J. Dillon’s stable. A wrestling card with a Landel-Ric Flair main event in July 1985 broke Elvis Presley’s attendance record in Dorton Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. He won the National heavyweight title from Terry Taylor at Starrcade ’85 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Landel was supposed to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from Ric Flair, but his plane arrived late at the December 1985 TV taping in which the storyline was to begin. Landel had a falling out with management and parted company with Crockett Promotions He went back to the Tennessee area in 1986. With Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantell and Jerry Lawler, he headlined the last sold-out show in the Mid-South Coliseum. He worked in the Alabama territories in 1987 and 1988.
He at one time was managed by Andy Kaufman, Jimmy Cornette, and Jimmy Hart.
He becomes another high profile wrestlers who has passed away this year with Rhodes and Verne Gagne, who died in April.
My friend and legendary wrestling columnist Mike Mooneyham wrote a story in the Charleston Post and Courier in 2011 about Landel and his impact on the business when he was headlining shows with Flair and other NWA superstars.
Like Flair, whom he emulated, the bleached blond Landel was dubbed the “Nature Boy,” and he was addicted to the big-city lights and the allure of the wrestling business.
The problem was that Landel was only 23 years old and, he admits now, completely unable to handle the fame and fortune that had come his way.
Landel didn’t realize it at the time, but his career was about to plummet into a drug-induced spiral that would take years to come out of.
“I was 23, cocky and had a hundred grand in the bank. I didn’t see that I had any problems,” says Landel, who turns 50 in August.
Unlike most performers from that era, who were just getting their feet wet at that age, Landel had peaked at 23 years old.
It’s sad, but in most cases, wrestlers of my generation lived that same kind of lifestyle and either dealt with the fame or crashed in more ways than one. The stories of Jake Roberts, Scott Hall, Terry Funk and to some extent, Flair and the great Roddy Piper, are outlined in documentaries and columns and testimonials or biographies. Like other sports and top-of-the-world professions, wrestlers are treated like rock stars and fans treat them like royalty. Landel lived in the lap of luxury of the business he helped thrive in for a short amount of time. The effects of his success were short-lived and the shortfalls may have been long inducing.
We are only into the first half of the year and I am sure we will be talking about this topic again. As sad as it is, there is a reality to it. The wrestlers I watched are in Hulk Hogan’s words, “breaking down” and when you get older, “you break down.” Hogan actually referred to his parents in that context in his biography, “Hollywood Hulk Hogan.” Other wrestlers will break down and we will eulogize them. Now, however, I wonder who will be next, and how will their passing impact the “sport” of the past and the business of today.
The loss of these legends proves more than ever that the business or “sport” that Gordon Solie used to refer to is lost and gone forever.