He was the patron of one of the most talented and popular, yet tragic, families in the history of professional wrestling. He was also a heralded athlete and a champion many times over.
Fritz Von Erich
Real Name: Jack Adkisson
Stats: 6′ 4″ 260 lbs.
Fritz Von Erich should have been remembered as a giant in the history of professional wrestling. Instead his name is synonymous tragedy in the sport.
Fritz Von Erich grew up in Dallas, Texas and became a legendary athlete. A great track athlete ( he still holds the Dallas record for the high jump) he was recruited by Southern Methodist University, the recipient of two scholarships – one for football and one for music. After a successful collegiate career, he played football professionally for the Dallas Texans of the American Football League. Eventually he pondered his next career and turned his sights to professional wrestling.
In the post-World War II 1950’s, Americans held Nazi Germany in very low regard. Adkisson struck on the idea of provoking a rage in the wrestling fans by portraying a goose-stepping, Iron Cross weaRing Nazi. He adopted the name Fritz Von Erich (Fritz being a family name and Erich being his mothers maiden name) and set out to become one of the most hated heels in the sport – his success was immediate. Wrestling within the NWA promotions, Fritz held the NWA U.S. Heavyweight title three times, the NWA Texas Heavyweight title three times, the NWA American Heavyweight title 13 times and the NWA World Heavyweight title two times. He also won participated as a tag team wrestler teaming with the likes of Hans Hermann, Killer Karl Kox, Waldo Von Erich, and Grizzly Smith to hold to hold the NWA World Tag Team and NWA American Tag Team belts. He also held the AWA World Heavyweight Heavyweight title belt, and the Texas Brass Knuckles title. With all of his success, Von Erich’s real contributions to the sport were as a promoter, marketer and father.
After a dispute arose among NWA promoters, Fritz established World Class Championship Wrestling which he headquartered in Dallas. His choice for featured performers were easy to find – he used his own family. Fritz and his wife Doris has six children, all boys. The oldest son Jack died at age seven when he was electrocuted by an electric fence on the family farm – this would seem to be a shadow of things to come. All of his other sons would eventually make their way into the wrestling Ring, winning championships across the United States and in Japan, packing arenas everywhere they went including drawing 40,000 people to Texas stadium. In the midst of this success, the Von Erich curse arose.
David Von Erich, the best wrestler among the sons died in on February 2, 1984 while touRing in Japan from an acute inflammation of the intestines. The next year, Mike Von Erich almost died after suffeRing from a toxic shock syndrome accident. This reprieve from death would not last long as he died from an overdose of tranquilizers on April 11, 1987. Four years later, Chris, the smallest of the Von Erich boys grew despondent over his chronic asthma and lack of Ring success and shot himself and died on the family’s farm on September 12, 1991. Finally, Kerry Von Erich, good looking and poised for long-term success, suffered severe injuries to his foot in a motorcycle accident, requiRing it to be amputated. Although he wrestled for a number of years with a prosthetic foot (and enjoyed great success) he could not rid himself of his dependency upon painkillers. Facing a possible prison term for illegal possession of narcotics and for forging a prescription, Kerry suffered a fatal self-inflicted gunshot would on the family ranch on February 18, 1993. Fritz and Doris were left with only son Kevin as their children were all gone. The anguish was too much for Fritz and his wife as they divorced shortly thereafter.
The unfortunate tragedies that surrounded his family will overshadow the great contributions he made and the great successes he enjoyed. In addition to being a great performer and promoter, he was also a great businessman. In addition to booking sold out arenas consistently, he also syndicated the WCCW television show in more than 60 US markets and in Latin America, Japan and the Middle East. He was also very committed to his family and struggled to find answers to the tragedies through which his family suffered. Often blamed for the demise of his sons, Fritz spent the remainder of his life in sadness. He died on September 10, 1997.