Kerry Von Erich | Battling Demons: The Final Days of the Texas Tornado

The life of Kerry Von Erich reached a turning point in the worst possible way. Von Erich — a former NWA World Heavyweight Champion — was already battling drug and alcohol addiction when he took his motorcycle out for a spin in Argyle, Texas, on June 4, 1986. It should have been a happy time in his life. His wife was due to have their second child later that summer, and Von Erich was one of the top stars in the world of professional wrestling. He was a hero to thousands of fans across the country.

Instead, tragedy struck.

Kerry Von Erich | Battling Demons: The Final Days of the Texas Tornado
Kerry Von Erich was one of a kind.

The Accident that Changed the Life of Kerry Von Erich

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

Kerry Von Erich on Wrestling after his Foot was Amputated

Kerry Von Erich’s wrestling career should have been over. But the amputation was kept under strict secrecy, and 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 in order 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 in order 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.

Iceman King Parsons and Kerry Von Erich looking out of breath during a televised show broadcast from the Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas.
Iceman King Parsons and Kerry Von Erich during a televised show broadcast from the Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas

The Death of Kerry Von Erich

By this time, 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, he committed suicide, firing a single bullet into his heart while at his father’s ranch in Denton County, Texas.

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. He died on February 18, 1993.

Hart poignantly wrote:

“Kerry and I talked on and on about our brothers and 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 committed suicide—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. had played with Smith and Bruce back in the late 1950s when Fritz worked for Stu 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 a drug overdose.

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

“On February 22, 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.'”

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.