Kerry Von Erich: Devastating Final Days of ‘The Texas Tornado’

It should have been a happy time in the life of Kerry Von Erich. His wife was due to have their second child later that summer, and he was one of the top stars in professional wrestling. Instead, tragedy struck.

"The Texas Tornado" Kerry Von Erich.
“The Texas Tornado” Kerry Von Erich.

Kerry Von Erich and the Accident that Changed His Life

“The Texas Tornado” Kerry Von Erich — a former NWA World Heavyweight Champion — was battling addiction when he took his motorcycle out for a spin in Argyle, Texas, on June 4, 1986.

While attempting to pass a truck on a two-lane road, Von Erich crashed into the back of a police car. The resulting wreck crushed his right foot and dislocated his hip.

Matters were made worse sometime later when Von Erich attempted to walk on his already damaged foot well before it healed.

As a result, his foot was amputated.

During the recovery process, Von Erich’s wife, Catherine, gave birth to their second daughter, Lacey, on July 17th.

Lacey would have her own notable wrestling career before starting an advertising agency in southern California.

Kerry Von Erich kept his amputated foot under strict secrecy.
Kerry Von Erich kept his amputated foot under strict secrecy.

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The Secrecy of Von Erich’s Amputated Foot

Kerry Von Erich’s wrestling career should have been over. But the amputation was kept under strict secrecy, and Kerry Von Erich worked himself back into tremendous condition and re-entered the ring.

People forget how athletic the Von Erich boys were — even a diminished Kerry Von Erich was still an incredibly gifted athlete

. In the latter days of World Class Championship Wrestling, Von Erich would enter the dressing room with his boots already on to keep his disability hidden from his co-workers.

The story was that his ankle had been broken and “fused” into a position where it could not move.

(Sidenote: “Fusing” an ankle joint is a legitimate medical procedure, which lent Von Erich’s story some credibility. Historically, patients with problems such as polio or club foot might have this done to help them walk more normally.)

Of course, this secrecy also led to one of the more embarrassing moments in Kerry’s career, when Ed Wiskoski (then working as Col. DeBeers) accidentally yanked off Kerry’s boot during a live AWA event, exposing the amputated stump during a match at the Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Von Erich was also part of a rare legitimate title unification match, dropping the WCWA ‘world’ title to the then-AWA World Champion, Jerry “The King” Lawler, at SuperClash III – again, after his injury.

But even after that, Von Erich went on to the WWE, debuting as the Texas Tornado and getting into high-profile feuds with other gifted grapplers, such as ‘Mr. Perfect’ Curt Hennig.

He even won the Intercontinental title from Hennig, holding that championship for nearly three months before dropping the title back to him.

But by this time, Von Erich was dealing with a painkiller addiction, and he found himself falling down the card for the WWE.

After finally being released, he worked in Texas again — this time for the Global Wrestling Federation.

The Tragic Death of Kerry Von Erich

By this time, Kerry Von Erich’s demons had gotten the better of him.

He was arrested once on a drug charge and received a probationary sentence.

After a second drug arrest, he was looking at potentially spending a significant amount of time in prison.

Instead, on February 18th, 1993, he took his own life, firing a single bullet into his heart while at his father’s ranch in Denton County, Texas.

Bret Hart opened up about the tragic passing of his friend Kerry Von Erich, and the conversation he had with him not long before he died.
Bret Hart opened up about the tragic passing of his friend Kerry Von Erich, and the conversation he had with him not long before he died.

In his autobiography, former WWE Champion and Hall-of-Famer Bret Hart wrote that Kerry had told him months before about his plans, that he had wanted to follow his three late brothers, and that they were calling him.

Hart wrote:

“Kerry and I talked on and on about our brothers and the good times that we’d both had as famous families in such a strange business.

“Kerry confided that he’d made up his mind to join his brothers in heaven. He was only waiting for God to tell him when.

“I said, ‘Kerry, your children will always need you, even more than your brothers do. You have to think of your children.’

“He allowed me to think I’d made him change his mind, but I feared it was only lip service.

“On February 18, I heard that Kerry Von Erich had shot himself in the heart. Left a note that said he was joining his brothers in heaven.

“Owen and I were deeply saddened, but who could be surprised?

“As the son of a wrestling promoter, Kerry never found it easy living up to the hopes and expectations put before him.

“I’ve always thought that despite the Von Erich boys’ closeness, they were still so competitive that they thought topping one another with this final exit was the ultimate act of bravado.

“I remembered my mom telling me about the first Von Erich son who’d died.

“Little Jackie Jr. played with [my brothers] Smith and Bruce in the late 1950s when Fritz [Von Erich, Kerry’s father] worked for [my father] Stu [Hart] under his born name, Jack Adkisson.

“A few weeks later, the Adkissons were living in Buffalo, where Fritz was wrestling, and Jackie was electrocuted by a power line at a trailer park.

“I also couldn’t forget that cold day in February 1984, when Dynamite, Davey, and I were working over in Japan and heard that Kerry’s older brother, David, who was in Japan working for Baba’s promotion, had just died of an overdose.

“The same thing took Mike Von Erich on April 12, 1987. He was high when he zipped himself inside a sleeping bag filled with rocks, rolled himself out of a small boat, and drowned.

“And the youngest brother, Chris, had shot himself on September 12, 1991.

“I just wished there had been something I could have done to help Kerry. We all did.”

Bret Hart continued:

“On February 22nd, Owen and I flew to Texas for Kerry’s funeral, held in the local Baptist church. Fritz and Doris had recently divorced, but they put on a unified front, stoic in their acceptance.

“Of their six sons, only Kevin remained. I could see that it meant a lot to Fritz that two of Stu’s boys were there.

“When they lowered Kerry’s casket into the earth, I couldn’t help but think, ‘We’ll see you at the gates, brother.'”

His tragic death in 1993 left the wrestling world stunned, and those who had watched him perform still remember his impact on their lives.

Despite his premature passing, Kerry Von Erich will forever be remembered as a remarkable athlete. His story serves as an important reminder of the fragility of life and that we should take every opportunity to cherish it.

Kerry Von Erich was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.

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Bobby Mathews is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories as well as a veteran journalist whose byline has appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Birmingham News, The Denver Post, as well as other newspapers around the country. He's won multiple awards for reporting and opinion writing, and his sports journalism has garnered several Associated Press Managing Editors Awards. He has covered Division I college athletics and professional sports including MLB and NFL games. He has won awards from press associations in several states, including a General Excellence award from the Georgia Press Association while sports editor at The Statesboro Herald. He currently lives in suburban Birmingham, Alabama and can be reached on Twitter @bamawriter.