December 29th, 2009. For most people, it’s a date that probably doesn’t hold much meaning. It’s a few days after Christmas and a few days before the new year and that’s about it.
For those of you that fall into this category, you’re lucky. I’d be glad to switch places with you, Unfortunately though, when it comes to my life, 12/29/09 is far more memorable. It’s a date I wish I didn’t have to remember, yet will never forget for as long as I live.
On that day, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams passed away after a five-year battle with throat cancer. He was 49 years old.
I’m getting choked up as I write this, so I apologize in advance if things tend to ramble on or don’t make much sense. While it’s always sad when a wrestler passes away-especially far too soon, but in this case, it will forever be far more emotional than seeing a hero taken before his or her time. On that fateful day, not only did I lose a hero, I lost the kindest man I have ever met, and a man I was proud to call my friend.
I met Doc purely by chance one day while at work. He came into my store, and I had to do a double-take because I thought it was him, but wasn’t completely sure. As he was looking around, I politely asked him if he was in fact “Dr. Death”. He said he was, and I proceeded to gush like an idiot fan boy. This was one of the first time I had ever met a famous pro wrestler, and the first time I had ever met one purely by accident. Now, Doc could have easily gotten annoyed at me for acting goofy, and I wouldn’t blame him for a second for doing so. Instead, he proceeded to get the hugest smile you ever saw on his face, and immediately thanked me for being such a fan.
A couple months later, at the aforementioned show, I walked over to his table where he was signing autographs, taking pictures and selling merchandise. I wasn’t sure if he would remember me or not, and again, it would have been understandable if he hadn’t. Instead, he remembered exactly who I was and where we had met before. I couldn’t believe it. Not only did I get to meet a hero of mine, but he remembered who I was the next time around. It was an amazing feeling. I know I sound kind of silly saying that, but there really is nothing like a person you look up to and idolize knowing who you are.
That was just the kind of guy Doc was, though. Every person he talked to, he made sure to make them feel like the most important person in the world at the time, whether he knew you for twenty years or twenty seconds. From that point on, I made sure to say hi to Doc at every show, as he was working them nearly monthly, and he always made time to shoot the breeze and catch up with how things were going in my life. I knew that I now had a new friend, and hopefully someone I would be friends with for a very, very long time.
Okay, things are getting really hard at this point, so please bear with me. Ahem. Anyway, I had the pleasure of getting to be around Doc many times during the last year and a half of his life, but there will be one moment that will forever stand out in my mind, and it’s the absolute best memory I have of him. About 3 months after my only daughter was born, my wife and I decided to take her to a show since we didn’t have a babysitter available. Fortunately, she was still very little and was used to being moved around, and she slept like a rock as well, so the noise of the show didn’t disturb her at all. At the show, Doc was in his usual spot, interacting with the fans and having a good time.
My wife and I walked up with our daughter. Doc saw us, turned away for a second, then did a double-take with an even bigger grin on his face than I thought was possible. He asked me, “Well! What do we have here?” I told him that this was our new daughter, and he was just beaming. Now, before I go further, I should point out that, no matter how many times I was around Doc, I still gushed a little and got a little nervous. Not sure why; that’s just how I was. Perhaps it never truly sunk in that I was friends with a former world champion?
The reason I mention that is because I immediately asked him if it would be okay if we could take a picture of him holding our daughter. Before I could even finish, he extended both hands out as far as he could to hold her. He cradled her in his arms, absolutely beaming as he gave us a thumb’s up for the picture. It is my all-time favorite picture, and something I will forever cherish.
Less than six months after that picture was taken, Doc announced that he was retiring from wrestling. Not because he wanted to; because his throat cancer had come back more aggressive than ever. For those that don’t know, Doc was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004, causing severe damage to his throat and forcing him to speak using a stoma (a hole in the throat that you have to plug with your finger in order to communicate). He had defeated the cancer and, in late 2009, was just a few months away from being cancer-free for five years when it came back. It was heartbreaking to see. Here was my idol being forced to retire, not through injury or simply because he was tired of wrestling and wanted to move on.
I was there live for Doc’s last match in the United States, wrestling Booker T trainee Franco D’Angelo in a match for the ACW (Asylum Championship Wrestling) Heavyweight Championship, ACW being one of the local promotions here in Colorado. All of the proceeds from the show went to helping Doc with his medical bills that he had incurred thanks to being back on chemotherapy, and former ECW/WWE diva Dawn Marie, who had been trying to raise money for Doc to get a hands-free communication device for the past several months, was flown in for no money to finally meet him in person, as a way to say thank you. Video messages from wrestling legends and friends like Demolition and Jerry Lawler were sent into the show, wishing Doc to get well soon and share some funny stories. Doc came out for his match, and I hugged him as he made his way around the ring to engage the fans. A few minutes later the match started, and thanks to a schoolboy, Doc defeated D’Angelo to win the title and celebrate with the rest of the locker room, winning the final championship of his career. He thanked the crowd and told us that he was bound and determined to beat cancer one more time. Knowing how strong he was, whether it was possible or not, everyone believed he could do it, including himself.
That night would be the last time I ever got to see him.
Just a couple months later, Doc posted on his MySpace page that the chemotherapy was tough, but he felt good and was getting stronger by the day. While this no doubt gave me and many others hope, the cancer was just too strong. A week or so later, I received a text message from a friend of mine letting me know that Doc had just passed away. I was in total shock. Nothing felt real to me that day. I had to go on the internet and try to find out what happened. I just hoped and hoped that somehow, the information was wrong or at the very least premature, and that he was still alive. Unfortunately, it was all true, and the kindest man I have ever met had been taken away from me and the rest of the world.
I had to miss the memorial service due to work, despite the fact that I was just a few blocks down the street. For months after his death and the memorial, I had dreams that it had in fact all been a dream and that Doc was still alive. In the dreams, he was the same jovial guy he ever was, thanking everyone for their support and being glad he beat cancer one more time. I don’t recall how long these dreams went on, but it felt like an eternity. One day, while trading tweets with Tommy Dreamer (no, I don’t know him, although I wish I did; he’s just better about replying to fans than some wrestlers on Twitter), he put my mind at ease, telling me stories of how Doc had to miss the birth of his son due to work, and that if there was an afterlife, Doc understood me missing the service and wasn’t upset or disappointed. To this day, I still regret not being able to go, but those few words from Tommy really helped put my mind at ease.
Earlier this year, to show how much he meant to me, I had Doc’s name and birth/death years tattooed on my shoulder, in the colors of his wrestling gear. It’s in a place where I can always see it and it helps me remember all of the good moments I got to share with Doc during the end of his life. I even received a message from his son Windham, thanking me for honoring his dad’s memory with my tattoo. That meant a lot to me. Windham, if you are reading this, I loved your father very much, and I am so proud that I got to know him and become his friend, even if only for a little while. He was a great, great man, and I miss him every day.
As I wrap this up while trying to fight back tears, I will leave it at this: Doc, you were taken from us far too soon, and not a day goes by where I don’t think about and cherish our friendship. I love you.
“Dr. Death” Steve Williams
May 14th, 1960-December 29th, 2009
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