Terry Funk Forever: Secret Journey of a Wrestling Icon

In the grand tapestry of professional wrestling, some figures etch themselves into our memories with indelible ink. Terry Funk, synonymous with passion, innovation, and sheer grit, is undoubtedly one of those luminaries.

With a career spanning decades and a swagger that could only come from the depths of Texas, Terry’s passion for the squared circle was palpable. We remember a man who forged a path few dared!

A wrestling great remembered: Terry Funk over the years.
A wrestling great remembered: Terry Funk over the years.

Early Days: A Family Tradition Beckons

Born Terrence Funk on June 30th, 1944, in Hammond, Indiana, Terry Funk was destined for a life in the spotlight.

After graduating high school, Funk went to West Texas State University (now known as West Texas A&M University). While there, he competed in football and amateur wrestling.

The legendary Funk family: Terry, Dory Sr., and Dory Jr.
The legendary Funk family: Terry, Dory Sr., and Dory Jr.

Wrestling wasn’t just a career for the Funks; it was a family tradition. Terry and his brother, Dory Funk Jr., were both mentored by their father, Dory Funk Sr., a former professional wrestler himself. This family lineage provided Terry Funk with a solid foundation and a deep respect for the art of grappling.

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Western State Sports: The Funk Family Amarillo Wrestling Territory

Following the end of WWII, the Funks relocated to Amarillo, Texas. Amarillo was more than just Terry Funk’s home; it was the epicenter of the Funk family’s wrestling territory, Western State Sports.

Under the guidance of Dory Funk Sr., the territory became a hotbed for wrestling action, attracting top talents from around the nation.

Terry Funk, alongside his brother Dory Jr., was groomed within this wrestling haven, learning the ropes and honing his skills in front of passionate audiences. The territory served as a breeding ground for stars, and Terry Funk emerged as a diamond in the rough, ready to shine on a grander stage.

The Western States Sports wrestling territory thrived under the helm of Dory Funk Sr., Dory Funk, Jr., and Terry Funk, and stars such as Mike DiBiase, Lord Alfred Hayes, Dick Murdoch, Ciclón Negro, The Von Brauners, Fritz Von Erich, Don "The Lawman" Slatton, Gory Guerrero, Ricky Romero, and a host of others.
The Western States Sports wrestling territory thrived under the helm of Dory Funk Sr., Dory Funk, Jr., and Terry Funk, and stars such as Mike DiBiase, Lord Alfred Hayes, Dick Murdoch, Ciclón Negro, The Von Brauners, Fritz Von Erich, Don “The Lawman” Slatton, Gory Guerrero, Ricky Romero, and a host of others.

Triumphs in the Squared Circle: Terry Funk’s Career Highlights

Terry Funk’s 52-year wrestling career was dotted with unforgettable moments that etched his name into wrestling lore.

His meteoric rise began in 1965, marked by his unrivaled tenacity and unorthodox approach to wrestling. Breaking away from the conventional babyface and heel dichotomy, Funk introduced a unique persona – the “hardcore” style that would later revolutionize the industry.

Who could forget the iconic battles with Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes? Those clashes weren’t mere matches but symphonies of sweat, resolve, and unbridled showmanship. Funk’s ability to transcend the script and touch the very soul of wrestling was a gift that only a few possessed.

Ric Flair and Terry Funk in 1989, had the unenviable task to try to top the legendary Flair versus Steamboat trilogy of matches.
Ric Flair and Terry Funk, in 1989, had the unenviable task of trying to top the legendary Flair versus Steamboat trilogy of matches.

In 1975, Funk’s talent and dedication paid off as he captured the NWA World Heavyweight Championship against Jack Brisco. His victory was a testament to his skill and determination, solidifying his status as a top-tier competitor.

Funk’s contributions to the industry extended beyond championships. He pioneered hardcore wrestling and innovative match concepts that pushed boundaries and captivated audiences. His “Empty Arena Match” against Jerry Lawler and the infamous “I Quit” match against Ric Flair are still talked about today.

"That match still stands the test of time," Jim Ross said of Funk’s “I Quit” match against Flair. "One of my all-time favorites in my near 50 years in pro wrestling. Terry was special.”

A Second Act and Beyond

While many wrestlers fade into obscurity with age, Terry Funk continued to reinvent himself in the twilight of his career.

His spirit reached its zenith in the 1990s when he helped shape the genre now known as hardcore wrestling.

Terry Funk blows fire at Mick Foley.
Terry Funk blows fire at Mick Foley. Photo Credit: WWE.

Funk’s alliance with Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) breathed new life into his career. He engaged in fierce rivalries with the likes of Sabu, elevating ECW’s hardcore style to unprecedented heights.

His brutal encounters with Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) in the infamous “King of the Deathmatch” tournament showcased an unprecedented level of brutality. The iconic image of Funk, bloodied and battered, pushing himself beyond limits, became an enduring symbol of his commitment to the craft.

Terry Funk’s journey also led him to WWE, initially from 1985 to 1986, and again from 1997 to ’98, where he, as Chainsaw Charlie, engaged in memorable matches alongside Mick Foley, 2 Cold Scorpio, and Justin Bradshaw (JBL). He’d later return in 2006, 2009, 2013, and 2016.

In 2006, at the age of 62, Funk engaged in a harrowing rivalry with Edge and Foley, proving that his spirit remained unbreakable. His tenacious spirit endeared him to a new generation of fans.

He was a master storyteller, an artist who painted narratives with his words and his actions. His fervor for the business seeped through every pore, inspiring generations of wrestlers to lace up their boots and embrace the magic of the squared circle.

But Terry Funk’s influence extended far beyond the confines of the ring.

Terry Funk: From the Squared Circle to the Silver Screen

A true icon in the business, Terry Funk’s contributions to the squared circle are well-documented and celebrated. Yet, his influence extends beyond the wrestling ring, as he made a memorable foray into the realm of film, leaving an indelible mark on both industries.

With his rugged charisma and unapologetic demeanor, Funk was a natural fit for the silver screen.

His first notable appearance came in the form of the 1978 film “Paradise Alley,” directed and written by Sylvester Stallone. Set against the backdrop of the boxing scene in the 1940s, the film featured Funk as the menacing competitor Frankie the Thumper, showcasing his ability to seamlessly transition from the ring to the screen.

Terry Funk as Frankie the Thumper in the 1978 film Paradise Alley.
Terry Funk as Frankie the Thumper in the 1978 film Paradise Alley. Photo Credit: Universal Studios.

However, it was his portrayal of Morgan in the cult classic “Road House” (1989) that truly solidified Funk’s status as a crossover star.

Starring alongside Patrick Swayze, Funk portrayed a menacing henchman, bringing his signature intensity to the role. Wrestling fans and moviegoers alike were captivated by his performance, which served as a testament to his versatile talents.

Funk’s involvement in film wasn’t limited to acting alone.

In 1999, he starred in the documentary “Beyond the Mat,” a candid exploration of the world of professional wrestling. The film provided an unfiltered look into the physical and emotional toll that the industry takes on its performers, offering a perspective that resonated deeply with both fans and outsiders.

Funk’s willingness to open up about his experiences added an authentic and poignant layer to the documentary.

It’s worth noting that Funk’s appearances in movies were more than just cameo roles. He approached each project with the same dedication and commitment he brought to his wrestling career. This level of professionalism earned him the respect of his colleagues in the film industry, mirroring the reverence he garnered from fellow wrestlers.

A Legacy Carved in Steel

Terry Funk wrestled in his final match on September 23rd, 2017, where he teamed with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express against Jerry Lawler, Brian Christopher, and Doug Gilbert. Thus ended an impressive career spanning six decades.

Terry Funk’s retirement from active wrestling did not signal the end of his influence. He became a revered elder statesman, offering insights into the industry’s evolution through interviews, podcasts (including a memorable appearance on Pro Wrestling Stories’ The Genius Cast with Lanny Poffo), and speaking engagements.

His authenticity and candor endeared him to fans and peers alike, cementing his legacy as an icon whose impact will be felt for generations to come.

Terry Funk in 2020.
Terry Funk in 2020. Original photographer: @HARUEGAWA.

A Sad Farewell: Terry Funk Passes Away

On August 23, 2023, the wrestling world received heartbreaking news: Terry Funk had passed away at the age of 79. Although his cause of death is not immediately known, he had been living in assisted living for a few years prior, grappling with multiple health issues, including dementia and Parkinson’s Disease.

Fans, fellow wrestlers, and industry insiders shared their tributes, celebrating the man who brought them joy, excitement, and an unwavering love for the sport.

Ric Flair shared, “In my entire life, I’ve never met a guy who worked harder. Terry Funk was a great wrestler, entertainer, unbelievably fearless, and a great friend! Rest in peace. my friend, Terry Funk. No one will ever replace you in the world of professional wrestling!”

Mick Foley and Terry Funk during a BBQ meet-up in 2022.
Mick Foley and Terry Funk during a BBQ meet-up in 2022. Photo Credit: Mick Foley.

Longtime friend Mick Foley wrote, “Terry Funk is gone. I just talked to Terry’s daughter, Brandee, who gave me the awful news. He was my mentor, my idol, one of the closest friends. He was the greatest wrestler I ever saw.

“If you get the chance, look up a Terry Funk match or a Terry Funk promo, and give thanks that this incredible man gave so much, for so long, to so many.

“There will never be another like him. May God bless Terry, his friends, family and all who loved him. RIP my dear friend – it was an honor to know you.”

Dustin Rhodes poignantly added, “Just heard that Terry Funk is gone. Truly heartbroken over this. He has known me since I was a child. He was an incredible mentor and friend. Love him so much and sad to see him go. I know he is no longer in pain and has probably rekindled his war with Pops in heaven. Rest easy TF.”

Terry Funk was preceded in death by his wife of 53 years, Vicky Ann, who sadly passed away in 2019. They had two daughters together, Stacy and Brandee.

Remembering a Legend

Terry Funk’s journey through the world of professional wrestling was one of determination, innovation, and unwavering passion.

From his roots in the “Double Cross Ranch” in the Funk family’s Western States wrestling territory in Amarillo to his trailblazing feats in the ring, he embodied the spirit of a true wrestling icon. His legacy extends far beyond championships, as his influence on the industry and pop culture at large is immeasurable.

He had a successful wrestling career in Texas, Florida, Memphis, Jim Crocket Promotions, All Japan, FMW, WWE, WCW, ECW, and XPW. He was also known for delivering one of the greatest promos in the sport.

As we bid farewell to Terry Funk, we remember not only the wrestler but also the man who left an indelible mark on the hearts of fans worldwide. His legacy lives on through the countless careers he influenced, the innovations he championed, and the unwavering spirit he embodied.

RIP, Terry Funk (1944-2023).
RIP, Terry Funk (1944-2023). Photo Credit: WWE.

In the annals of professional wrestling, Terry Funk’s name shines brightly as a beacon of passion, creativity, and authenticity. His journey from a family of wrestlers to becoming a larger-than-life icon is a testament to his dedication and unyielding love for the sport.

As the wrestling world continues to evolve, the memory of Terry Funk will forever remind us of the power of pushing boundaries and leaving an enduring legacy.

Rest in power, Terry Funk. The squared circle will never be the same without you, but your spirit will forever echo in the cheers of the crowd and the battles waged in your name.

TERRY FUNK FOREVER.

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JP Zarka founded Pro Wrestling Stories in 2015 and is the creative force behind the website as editor-in-chief. From 2018-19, he was the podcast host and producer for The Genius Cast with Lanny Poffo, brother of WWE legend Macho Man Randy Savage. His diverse career includes work as an elementary school teacher, assistant principal, and musician, notably as a singer-songwriter with the London-based band Sterling Avenue. Zarka has appeared on TV programs like “Autopsy: The Last Hours of” on Reelz (U.S.) and Channel 5 (U.K.) and has contributed research for programming on ITV and BBC.