On February 4th, 1986, the wrestling world and the real world came to a tragic crossroads after the body of "Gorgeous" Gino Hernandez was found dead in his condominium. He was only 29 years old.
Several days had passed before WCCW referee Rick Hazzard discovered him. Shocked family members scrambled for answers, and fans mourned the loss of a heel performer they loved to hate. More than 30 years later, questions and theories still abound over what happened to Gino Hernandez on his final fateful night.
Luis Hernandez was a professional wrestler who also went by the ring names Rito Carreon and El Medico. He was the stepfather of Charles Eugene Wolfe Jr., who would later be known as Gino Hernandez. Gino’s mother, Patrice Aguirre, worked as a professional model for a time but mostly dedicated a good portion of her adult years as a homemaker. As we will later learn, Patrice is the main person pushing for answers after her son’s death, even when it seemed like all doors had permanently been closed, and hope was all but lost on discovering the truth.
During a tour of Japan, Luis died when Gino was only 12 years old. From an early age, Gino was proud of his stepfather being a professional wrestler and was chomping at the bit to become one as well. The youngster’s drive proved fortuitous, and he turned pro right out of high school at age 17 under the tutelage of trainer Jose Lothario, as well as some guidance from promoter Paul Boesch out of Houston, Texas. Lothario broke Shawn Michaels into the business later on. Gino wore his stepfather’s boots during his first few matches and credited Luis for how easily wrestling came to him, saying, "My dad did it for me. I was wearing his [boots]. He did everything for me."
Early Beginnings and Success
Joe Blanchard’s Southwest Championship Wrestling (SCW) was one of the first places Gino Hernandez worked. He started off partnering with his trainer Jose Lothario though it wasn’t long before Gino surprisingly turned on his mentor and aligned himself with heel manager Gary Hart. To the fans’ delight, the feud between Lothario and Hernandez culminated in Gino getting his head shaved after being on the losing end of a hair versus hair match. Early in his career, Gino had blond hair in a style similar to a man by the name of Ric Flair. In SCW, he also formed a successful team with Tully Blanchard.
Gino became quite close to promoter Paul Boesch and got his true big break working for him in Houston in the late ’70s to early ‘80s, where he won the NWA Junior Heavyweight Championship over Chavo Guerrero. Both battled in multiple territories, and Gino was quickly becoming one of the most obnoxious, cocky, and reviled heels the sport had ever seen.
Watch: "Gorgeous" Gino Hernandez coming into his own in Houston.
In his first appearance for WCCW (World Class Championship Wrestling), which was known as Big Time Wrestling when affiliated with the NWA until 1982, Gino entered a feud with David Von Erich, where he ultimately won and later lost the NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship. When he later returned to WCCW, he teamed with future legend Jake Roberts who readily admits that Gino had the "it factor" that separates everyday talent from the true stars. Roberts explains in the highly recommended documentary, Dark Side of the Ring – The Mysterious Death of Gorgeous Gino, "You can’t buy it, you can’t steal it, you can’t borrow it. You either got it, or you don’t. It’s called charisma, and he had charisma, man."
Roberts continues, "He could talk. It’s easy to hate somebody that is good looking, has money, or whatever. Got a pretty girl on the side… must be nice! Full head of hair, he’s got all the shit!"
While already a successful regional star, Gino would later team with Chris Adams in WCCW, forming The Dynamic Duo. Their feud with the Von Erichs was red-hot and generated high TV ratings and revenue for the promotion. The Cotton Bowl Extravaganza pitted him and Chris Adams against Kevin and Kerry Von Erich, where the Von Erichs won, and The Dynamic Duo got their locks shaved. This just added more fuel to the already intense rivalry, elevating it to new heights.
Watch: Gino Hernandez and Chris Adams get their heads shaved by the Von Erichs.
Incredible Mic Skills and Living the Gimmick
Former referee, promoter, and booker for WCCW David Manning highlighted Gino Hernandez’s incredible skills on the mic and compared his work to Ric Flair, Jim Cornette, and Michael P.S. Hayes. "People you’d just hand them the mic, and they’d do it." When he met Gino, Manning was in a referee capacity and had been in the business for about 5 years.
According to famed WCCW play-by-play announcer Bill Mercer, “Gorgeous” Gino (also calling himself the Handsome Halfbreed in previous territories) started to become the person he portrayed at the arenas and on television, becoming almost indistinguishable from his in-ring persona. "I think the Gino Hernandez you saw in the ring was very much like the Gino Hernandez outside of the ring," Mercer said. "He was one who typically did everything his way."
In an interview with Devon Nicholson for TheHannibalTV, "Cowboy" Scott Casey remembers how Gino would always act like his wrestling character. Still, Casey wasn’t falling for it and would often tell Gino to "just act like a normal person."
Bruce Prichard offers, "He was all about the finest suits, the finest custom made shirts, the rings, the watches… you name it, that was Gino. And it wasn’t a gimmick; that was him. If he wanted to, he could take that room and have everybody in that room hating his guts and wanting to kill him in REAL life."
"I’m more handsome than Sylvester Stallone and Erik Estrada combined! More gorgeous than Bo Derek!"
The Downward Spiral of Gino Hernandez
"It wasn’t like it was a secret that Gino Hernandez did drugs,” shares Bruce Prichard. “He smoked dope, did cocaine, uppers, and downers… it was the ‘70s and ‘80s, we all did."
There was a nightclub in Houston called Judges, where "Gino was front and center and frequented a lot, especially Fridays after the matches.” He continues, "I never saw Gino out of control on drugs, but he liked to party and have a good time." There are also stories of Gino dating and tripping on acid with Jeanie Clarke, then known as manager Lady Blossom. Younger fans will know her as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin’s former wife and author of her revealing autobiography, With Healing In My Heart.
While Jake Roberts had a lot of respect for Gino’s ability on the mic and as a talent in the ring, he had no qualms about admitting that Gino and himself had drug addiction problems.
When asked, "Did you know or come to know at any point that Gino had an issue with drugs?" Roberts candidly responded, "Yeah, ‘cuz I was doing them with him. (snickers) Duh!" He adds, "I was no saint, man. I knew Gino was doing coke. I didn’t know how much he was doing… It wasn’t no 8 ball (3.5 grams), that’s damn for sure."
David Manning recalls a time in Las Vegas where some unsavory characters accompanied Gino, and he believes this was the point of no return for the wrestling star. "Gino once had a friend with him who owned a plane. They had rented the top penthouse suite of a Las Vegas hotel and were just partying for three days. From that time, it was just a slow progression."
Manning added, "Gino ran with a pretty tough crowd in Houston. If you hang around trouble, you’re going to get trouble. Getting into wrestling, it’s like getting into the mob. You have to watch out who you hang out with." Jake Roberts agrees and said, "I heard that there were people you didn’t mess with and had power in the city of Houston and Dallas. These were strong, powerful people within the city that might not have liked certain things getting out."
Gino’s ex-wife Janice Gillespie remembers feeling very unsafe at times. "It didn’t feel so safe with some of the people he might be hanging out with, things I was hearing. There was just a side of him and people he ran with; it felt dangerous."
An Angle That Was All Too Real
By 1986, after defeating many teams and using their "Golded Scissors" to cut their fallen opponent’s hair (years before Brutus Beefcake adopted a similar gimmick), The Dynamic Duo began feuding and turning on each other. Chris Adams and Gino Hernandez later had a match where the stipulation called for the loser to get "Freebird Hair Cream" rubbed into their scalp (a variation of a hair versus hair match). This "cream" was, in actuality, supposedly a hair removal product. Gino, always the opportunist, "blinded" Adams by deciding to take advantage of him while arguing with the referee. The cream, which looked more like a black liquid gel, was sprayed into Adams’ eyes in an angle that caught all the wrestling magazines’ attention at the time.
Watch The implosion of the very successful team of Gino Hernandez and Chris Adams.
It was a brilliant angle, and when in public, Adams’ eyes would be bandaged. He would be guided by his girlfriend to convince the fans of his blindness further. It is said that this angle was used to give Adams time off to visit relatives in England. He would later return to Texas and continue his feud with Gino. Unfortunately, Gino Hernandez was found dead shortly afterward.
Last Days of Gino Hernandez
Super Bowl Sunday 1986 is the last day Gino’s mom Patrice Aguirre claims to have seen her son. She and Gino’s ex-wife Janice believe that he seemed to be acting fidgety and nervous as if he was worried something might happen to him. She also believes he hid something in her house. Commenting on the last day she saw him, Gino’s mother said, "He was in a hurry, always in a hurry. Gino seemed very nervous, and he wasn’t afraid of anything, but there are certain things you can’t dodge. If someone wants to get you, they’ll get you."
According to David Manning, Gino had become obsessed with wanting to have a gun and believed that someone had been in his car and was trying to kill him. He was convinced people were also following him and trying to harm him. That was the last night Manning says he ever saw Gino alive.
Death of A Star
After no-showing two shows and not being able to be reached, there was a concern over Gino Hernandez’s well-being. David Manning asked referee Rick Hazzard to check on him. Hazzard was able to climb up over the wall to peek through the window, where he saw Gino’s body hanging out from where the bed ended. Gino’s manager Walter Aymen was called to open the door because he was the only person other than Gino to have a set of keys. The police arrived not long after, and a loaded gun was found at the scene, but drugs and paraphernalia were not. Manning claims that "a good source" told him that Rick, perhaps out of instinct, dumped a large bowl full of cocaine without the police finding out. Was he trying to protect someone by doing this? Was the scene cleaned up like Jeanie Clarke said she was told? She admits that she was surprised the police found no cocaine at the scene. The question on many people’s minds, according to her, was, "Where is he getting so much cocaine from?"
According to Manning, the police said that the body had been dead for approximately 4-5 days and was so decomposed the cause of death could not be determined at the time. The amount of time that passed from when he died and when he was found is still debatable.
Gino’s manager called Patrice to inform her about her son. When she was told Gino had finally been discovered but found lifeless, Patrice put the phone down and started screaming.
Watch Sad announcement of the death of Gino Hernandez.
According to Patrice, a man Gino would hang out with knocked on her door while she was grieving and told her that he would like to discuss Gino’s funeral. He told her, "Gino owed me a lot of money, but don’t you worry about it ‘cause I’m going to pay for his funeral." She says she perceived no empathy or remorse in the man and felt like what he said was a threat. It was later revealed that his man’s name was John Royal.
Gary Hart comments, "I took him under my wing. He was just a lost soul I couldn’t bring back. He was just everything you could want, but he had demons. And demons just wouldn’t let him go. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t chase them away. I loved him to death. He died way too soon, and I feel responsible in many ways."
Hart saw that Gino was having problems with cocaine addiction and tried to get him to leave Texas and work in the Carolinas with Jim Crockett. Unfortunately, to Hart’s dismay, Gino refused to leave Texas, and five days later, Hart’s wife informed him that Gino had died. Hart went into shock and cried for an hour, while wrestler Tim Brooks was there when Hart received the awful phone call and just started cursing endlessly.
Tully Blanchard, speaking on Gino’s death, said, "He was a tremendous talent. There are many great matches that he would have ended up having that was cut short when his life ended. Gino’s not here with us, but it’s just as tragic as when Magnum [TA]’s career came to an end."
At the funeral, Bruce Prichard remembers a platinum casket. He also remembers a group of men attending who took care of all the needed expenses. Prichard claims that the men toasted with champagne glasses and would say, "To you, Gino!" He relates it to a surreal out-of-body experience. The person doing the eulogy and re-telling stories about Gino Hernandez seemed "very off and weird" to Prichard and "didn’t feel right." Most people at the funeral didn’t seem to know who the person giving the eulogy was, but Patrice did recognize him and said that it was once again, John Royal. The only thing she knew about him was that he was a drug dealer, or so she had heard.
Rumors and Theories Surrounding the Death of Gino Hernandez
Rumors about Gino Hernandez after his death began to swirl. It seemed like everybody had their theory on what had happened to Gino on that fateful February night in 1986. Bruce Prichard recalled that Andre The Giant told him that "he knew for sure that Gino was shot in the head." Other stories include Gino owing gambling money from a football game or that he would take flights down to Houston several times a week for unspecified reasons. No family members were allowed to see the corpse. According to ex-wife Janice, one of the people not allowing family members to see Gino was his manager.
One interesting thing to note was that Gino’s condominium was not locked from the inside when they found his body. David Manning shares that Gino was "super paranoid and that he’d always lock the door with a deadbolt." Manning was also of the opinion that it did look like Gino had been murdered at the time. The autopsy ultimately said that Gino had died from Acute Cocaine Intoxication. Janice Gillespie claims that she was told that Gino "had enough cocaine in his system that it could’ve killed an elephant." His mother was told, "five-times the amount." Gino had well above the lethal amount of cocaine in his system. Bruce Prichard comments, "The medical examiner didn’t understand how much cocaine could get into someone being ingested."
Chris Adams Did It! Or Not?
The hatred amongst the former Dynamic Duo members before Gino died and the blinding of his former tag partner Chris Adams felt so real to the fans that they demanded authorities investigate Adams as a possible suspect in Gino’s death. This is a reflection of how effective that angle was to fans, but also a clear example of wrestling presented as "real." As shown above, the magazines went with the angle and milked it for all it was worth. For all intents and purposes, Gino Hernandez did indeed blind Chris Adams, according to many fans. David Manning added, "That goes to show how believable WCCW was," referring to the fans actually believing that someone, in this case, Adams, might go to the extremes of murdering Gino because he had blinded him.
Gino Hernandez Autopsy Report and the Possibility of Murder
The death certificate of Gino Hernandez had anomalies where it described him as obese, Mexican, and uncircumcised. All untrue. His ex-wife Janice even had doubts if the person they found was Gino or if he may have faked his own death. She claims that they would watch a program where the protagonist faked his own death, leaving a wife and a child behind but reappearing like 7 years later. According to her, Gino would say, "I’m gonna do that someday. That’s what I would do." Gino’s mother, Patrice, sees it another way. "Well, I wish it wasn’t him in there. But I know in my heart that if he is alive, I would’ve heard from him." Janice does feel inside that Gino was murdered, though.
People close to Gino saw him in his last days, fearful of something or someone. Multiple sources corroborate with Danny Manning’s story of Gino seemingly being very concerned about someone trying to harm or even kill him. On one occasion at Gino’s condominium, Jeanie Clarke claims to have seen him take out a big bowl that was full of cocaine and, about 30-40 minutes afterward, insist on her not making noise. Gino proceeded to clog the kitchen sink with a towel and let the water run. It seemed that he believed that this might muffle sounds from people trying to listen in on their conversation. "He would go into the windows and just stare outside into the darkness, over and over again." She continues, "You could see that he was afraid, it seemed, of the dark in his mind."
Jake Roberts added, “I can certainly see that happening with Gino (him being murdered). Some of the people he hung with were powerful people. He may have pissed somebody off."
And according to Patrice, Gino’s mother, “It’s too much secrecy. Too much lying. Too much deceit. I truly believe he’s not here today because of the people he chose to be around."
Enter John Royal
After recently serving a 30-year prison term for trafficking cocaine, Gino’s former close friend and the person who did the eulogy at his funeral was contacted. In the phone conversation shown in the documentary "Dark Side of the Ring," he denies that Gino owed him money as Patrice said he had told her, but he does admit to having paid for the funeral.
He seems shocked to hear that there were rumors of Gino’s death being anything other than an accidental overdose. He said that he was at a club with Gino until about 1 a.m. the night Gino died. "He was in a good mood and drinking a lot, and I assume he was doing some drugs."
Royal says that Gino left with some airline stewardesses, which was the last time he saw him alive. He also mentions that he had a trial where it was fabricated that he had given Gino "bad dope."
A former drug trafficker also came forward with the condition of remaining anonymous and gave his version of the events. He says that Gino was involved in selling drugs, and he probably died because of a combination of alcohol and drugs, saying that drugs "took hold of him."
He reassured Gino’s mother that their family has nothing to worry about with anything that happened. Gino’s death was, unfortunately, "a situation of his own doing."
Even with the above information that surfaced three decades after Gino Hernandez tragically succumbed to his demons, doubts remain over what really happened, and conspiracy theories still abound amongst fans and wrestling historians alike. Do we want it not to be as easy as saying that he "overdosed on a combination of drugs and alcohol?" Through it all, we hope his family has found peace. Maybe it is time to focus on the talent Gino Hernandez possessed rather than on the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the way he died.
"He was a good son and a good father,” says Gino’s mother, Patrice. “I just want everybody to remember him as a good man."
Watch: Remembering Gino Hernandez and his Greatness on the Mic
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Unless noted, quotes are from the highly recommended documentary, “Dark Side of the Ring – The Mysterious Death of Gorgeous Gino."
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