Duane Gill’s Transformation from Wrestling Dreamer to Gillberg, Wrestling’s Charismatic Cult Hero
The ever charismatic Duane Gill lived his childhood dream of becoming a professional wrestler and cult hero for legions of fans by just being himself. He not only survived but later thrived in the highly competitive and ever-changing wrestling landscape of the ‘90s. When the industry seemed to have left him behind, Gill reinvented himself as Gillberg, an entertaining parody of WCW’s Goldberg.
While it should have been something Goldberg was honored about, behind the scenes, he reacted violently. This is the story of Gill’s unlikely journey to glory.
"Wrestling is my life. It’s what I love, and I enjoy every minute of it. Performing for you means everything to me."– Duane Gill (Gillberg)
Gillberg Duane Gill – A Love For Wrestling
It is quite evident when hearing Duane Gill speak that he loves professional wrestling. This zeal started at a young age while growing up in Maryland.
"When I was a little kid, wrestling only came on once a week on 4 P.M. on Saturdays," Gill explained in a 2010 interview with Full Wrestling Shoot Interviews. "It was the WWF, and I could be up at the park playing baseball, up to bat, and if someone said, ‘Oh, it’s 3:45,’ I’d drop my bat and run home as fast as I could so I wouldn’t miss a moment!"
As a youth, Gill moved to Florida and remembered going with his father to the Eddie Graham Sports Arena in Orlando to watch the stars of the NWA each month.
A Tale of Friendship, Determination, and Success
As he got older, Duane Gill met Barry Hardy by happenstance when he and his wife moved into his apartment building. Being the naturally friendly and outgoing person that he is, Gill decided to give them a hand. Unbeknownst to him, Hardy would soon get him started down the road of becoming a professional wrestler.
"We became friends from that day forth. I always used to tell him, ‘C’mon man, wrestling is on. Come over and watch it.’
But he’d reply, ‘I ain’t watching that stuff; it’s so fake!’ And I’d quickly shoot back, ‘It ain’t fake, man!’
Soon both went on with their lives and moved away from the area. Neither knowing for two years what had happened to the other. Then Duane got the surprise of his life when he turned on the TV.
“One day, I’m watching wrestling, and I went, ‘Holy hell, that’s Barry! What’s going on here, man?!’
From Basement Training to Championship Glory
So I called his mom, and she offered me Barry’s number. It just happens that he was living a quarter of a mile away from me, in basically the same neighborhood. From that night on, I started training in his basement, on some cardboard and a real thin carpet, and that’s how I learned my bumps."
Barry Hardy went from not even watching wrestling to becoming a huge fan himself after a US congressman he knew had complimentary tickets to a live show but couldn’t attend, and so Hardy went instead. He instantly fell in love with everything about wrestling. According to Gill, Hardy was even a mainstay in TNT’s audience (Tuesday Night Titans), the WWF’s hit talk/variety show during the mid-’80s.
After several months of training, Duane Gill had almost immediate success in the Maryland indie circuit, teaming up with Barry Hardy as the Lords of Darkness (Pain and Agony) and capturing the MEWF (Mid-Eastern Wrestling Federation) championships.
This promotion had its fair share of former WWF talents such as Road Warrior Hawk, The Honkey Tonk Man, and Jim Neidhart, along with young upstarts from the future ECW such as Raven, Stevie Richards, and The Blue Meanie.
Duane Gill soon got his break in the big leagues and began working television tapings for the company he watched as a youngster. "Barry Hardy later introduced me to ‘Pretty Boy’ Larry Sharpe [former owner and co-founder of The Monster Factory Professional Wrestling School], and he sent us two to the then WWF (now WWE)."
Both Hardy and Gill worked against more established stars in mostly single and later tag team matches. To put it straight, they were perennial “jobbers” (more appropriately identified as “enhancement talent” or “journeymen”) for several years with the company where they never won a match.
If you were a fan watching at the time or have gone into the archives on the WWE Network, you more than likely saw them on WWF Superstars of Wrestling, WWF Wrestling Challenge, and later Monday Night Raw. They often wrestled as a masked tag team called The Executioners.
Duane Gill’s Memorable Travels and Wrestling Journey
Duane enjoyed traveling with his best friend all over the country and admits that he was lucky that he was able to work with such high-caliber talent early in his career, even though winning eluded him every time.
"It was such a privilege. Here I was, I watched these people on TV all these years, and now I was sitting in the locker room with them and then wrestling them."
Duane Gill had a training school in Baltimore affiliated with Larry Sharpe’s Monster Factory, but when his schedule got hectic, and he was "on the road for 25 days a month," he had to shut it down.
The Toxic Turtles!
In 1987, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles burst onto the pop culture scene with their animated series based on the Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird comic books. In 1990, TMNT hit box office gold with their live-action movie, raking in over $200 million.
In 1993, Duane Gill and Barry Hardy had one of the most interesting times in their career by becoming Tom and Terry, The Toxic Turtles!
“We had the outfits, and we took them to the shows but never brought them out because we were scared to,” said Duane Gill on the Two Man Power Trip of Wrestling Podcast. "But one day I told Barry, ‘The hell with it," and I put one on, started dancing all around the locker room out in front of everybody, and they were all laughing saying, ‘Who the heck is that?'”
When Duane Gill Met Vince McMahon: A Surprise Encounter
Gill continued, “I started break dancing, spinning on the floor on my shell. When I stopped, I laid on my side with my elbow on the ground and my hand on my face. Then I saw a pair of feet. I looked up, and it was Vince [McMahon]. I went, ‘Uh, oh!’
“When I stood up, he growled, ‘Who the hell is in there?!’ When I took the mask off, he said with a slight chuckle, ‘I should’ve known.’ He then asked if I had another one. I said, ‘Yes, sir!’ So he said, ‘You and you, you’re wrestling them in the next match.’ I then told Barry, ‘You better get dressed, brother!'”
Duane Gill enjoyed the very short-lived gimmick, and he described themselves as looking like "two British Bulldogs" because of the muscles the costume had. In case you were wondering, Duane Gill was the turtle with the orange headband.
The Toxic Turtles “Please the Crowd” in Their WWF Debut
As recounted on the Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard podcast, Prichard was working with the WWF at the time and takes credit for naming the duo The Toxic Turtles.
He remembers Duane Gill and Barry Hardy as "great guys that did anything and everything to get booked." Because the outfits were full bodysuits, it allowed them to work twice on the show; once as themselves and then as the Toxic Turtles, which also meant double pay.
Prichard believed the gimmick was "doomed from the start" because of the initials "TT," although during their entrance, the crowd seemed to respond very well to the wrestling reptiles, but grew dead silent as the match progressed and then peppered the arena with scattered boos.
In the back, the reaction was "like a fart in church," Prichard said, and so the Toxic Turtles didn’t make a reappearance. According to Prichard, Vince McMahon had a laugh riot watching the match and thought that the match had one of the funniest spots in all of wrestling history.
One of the turtles wound up belly up, unable to turn over until the other turtle came into the ring and flipped him back onto his feet. The match lasted less than three minutes and wasn’t released to the public until 2017 in the DVD WWE: Unreleased: 1986-1995. It was also the last time WWE used Max Moon’s theme for anything.
Duane Gill – Becoming WWF Light Heavyweight Champion
After not working in the WWF for four years, Duane Gill returned in 1998 for Survivor Series in a big way.
Announced as Mankind’s mystery opponent, a wheelchair-bound Vince McMahon built the suspense before Duane Gill walked down the aisle putting him over huge, but not before spoofing the mythical unbeaten streak Bill Goldberg was riding on over in rival WCW. Others say it was a spoof on Duane Gill’s record because he’d never won anything in WWE. He eventually got squashed in a matter of seconds, but WWE had planted the seeds for the repackaging of Duane Gill.
Shockingly on November 17th, 1998, Duane Gill, still considered an enhancement talent at this point, became the WWE Light Heavyweight Champion in a massive upset over Christian. Duane Gill’s dream was only to become a wrestler; now, he was a WWE champion.
Duane claims that there was no jealousy from the other boys and that they were all happy for him. He was part of the J.O.B. Squad faction (also nicknamed the Black and Blue Crew) with Al Snow, 2 Cold Scorpio, and Bob Holly.
The J.O.B. Squad’s Hilarious Journey
The J.O.B. acronym is said to have stood for “Just Over Broke,” referring to them being perennial enhancement talent usually in preliminary matches and thus the lower end of the pay scale. The titantron even had a subliminal message with a reversed flashing of a phrase that read “Help Me” if viewed in a mirror.
The fans had fun watching them always lose but occasionally sometimes beat a better team like The New Age Outlaws comprised of “Road Dogg” Jesse James and “Bad ***” Billy Gunn.
All in the name of a good time, they wore t-shirts with letters that read “1-2-3 4 Life,” parodying the nWo and other factions of the era.
In storyline, Marc Mero retired due to an upset loss to Duane Gill (with help from the J.O.B. Squad) on November 30th, 1998, in one of his most impressive WWE wins.
Duane Gill’s Historic Reign as WWE Light Heavyweight Champion
The charismatic Duane Gill with the J.O.B. Squad had managed to stay relevant when WCW rarely used enhancement talent anymore. WWE also departed from that model to continue keeping WCW at bay, which had beat them in the ratings for all of 1997.
The remarkable streak ended on April 13th, 1998 when Raw featured Vince McMahon vs Steve Austin and drew a 4.6 rating compared to Nitro’s 4.3.
Even though the WWE infrequently booked him to defend the title, Duane Gill, and later as Gillberg, held the Light Heavyweight Championship for almost 15 months. He remains the longest-reigning WWE Light Heavyweight Champion in company history in a list that includes Jeff Hardy, Dean Malenko, Taka Michinoku, and X-Pac.
His reign ended in a match on February 13th, 2000, when he dropped the reputable belt to the high-flying Essa Rios, accompanied by the fiery red-haired Lita. The belt has been retired since 2002.
Gillberg Arrives – Who’s First!?
To try delegitimize WCW homegrown megastar Bill Goldberg (and perhaps to anger the brass of WCW management), WWE transformed Duane Gill into Gillberg, a character most fans endearingly remember him by.
Meant as a parody of WCW’s wrecking ball and phenom Goldberg, the fans ate it up. It was lightning in a bottle. WWE had full confidence in Duane Gill’s ability to go over with the gimmick and gave him lots of creative freedom with the Gillberg character.
Gillberg Make a Quick Exit at the 1999 Royal Rumble
A much lighter and smaller Gillberg began cartoonishly parodying the mannerisms and ring entrance style of WCW World Heavyweight Champion Goldberg, who was at his peak career-wise.
Where Goldberg was exaggerated and theatrical, Gillberg was cartoony and ludicrous. His entrance had a pre-recording of a crowd chanting "Gillberg,” which alluded to Goldberg’s entrance accompanied by pre-recorded chants of his name.
Goldberg went to the ring with impressive pyrotechnics surrounding him; Gillberg had stagehands (sometimes the J.O.B. Squad) holding sparklers that burned him. Then they’d use fire extinguishers to put out the sparks!
Gillberg’s dotted line tattoo around his bicep was the answer to Goldberg’s famous tribal tattoo. And the catchphrase. “Who’s next?” snarled by the undefeated WCW Champion, became “Who’s first?” alluding to him losing to every opponent he faced, except Goldust, who he defeated with help from fellow J.O.B. squad member The Blue Meanie.
Gillberg’s Unforgettable Debut: The Birth of a Wrestling Icon
Duane Gill vividly remembers the first time he unleashed the Gillberg gimmick to the world.
"All the agents were there, Vince McMahon, everybody with tears [of laughter] rolling down their face telling me, ‘You’re one sick son of a *****!’"
Duane claims that Gillberg was only supposed to be "a one-time thing" and that he came up with the character while out one night on the indie circuit. He also came up with a character parodying Stone Cold aptly named Stone Old, and the Underfaker, where he’d wear a wig.
Inspiration Strikes and Genious Is Recognized By Paul Bearer
"When in the hallway at a WWE show, I was telling Paul Bearer and Kane about these gimmicks, and they were laughing. When I mentioned Gillberg, Paul Bearer stared at me and said, ‘Gillberg? You look just like him.’ And then, with his Paul Bearer voice, told me, ‘Ooooh, Dwayne Gill, I think you’ve come up with something!’
"I asked him what he was talking about, and he just said, ‘Nothing, nothing,’ and walked away. But the rest of the night, every time I walked by them, Kane and Paul Bearer would go, ‘Giiiiillberg! Giiiiillberg!’
"The next day for TV tapings, I went into the lunchroom, and everybody in the place starts chanting ‘Giiiiiillberg! Giiiiiillberg!’ also. So, I just jumped up on a table and started doing the Goldberg mannerisms, but just playing because I thought that was it. Then I get a call from Vince Russo at home telling me that I was now Gillberg."
The Nervous Moments Before Gillberg’s Debut
Duane Gill almost lost all the momentum to go on with the character after a somewhat uncomfortable talk with Vince McMahon the night before Gillberg’s planned debut.
"The night before I’m getting ready to do it, Vince walked up to me, grabbed me by the shoulder, almost massaging me, and looked me in the eyes and asked, ‘You ready for tomorrow?’ I answered, ‘Yes, sir, I’m ready. You know I’m ready.’ Vince replied, ‘I have no doubt, Duane. You’re one crazy son of a *****. Remember the world’s going to be watching, and I’m counting on you.’ And there went my heart. I died, man, right there when he said that."
Gill continued, "The next day came, and I’m pacing and walking back in forth in the locker room, and Triple H came up to me, and thank God for Triple H. He said, ‘Duane, what’s up?’ I answered, “Not much, Hunter. What the hell are you up to?’
"‘You look awful nervous, buddy.’ I told Triple H what Vince told me and Triple H answered reassuringly, "Man, you’re doing a spoof, Duane. If you fall down, jump up and act up like it’s real, as if you planned it. They don’t know."
Duane Gill went, "Wow, you’re right. They have no clue.” The pressure was off, and it was time to have fun with the gimmick.
Duane insisted that his first match was to be with Luna Vachon instead of Edge. Although Luna wasn’t too keen on the idea, she went with it after Duane said she could probably "kick his *** in real life." Gillberg got destroyed.
A blow under the belt that wasn’t in the script went over very well with everyone. Gillberg, in all his buffoonery, had arrived and was over big time with the fans. He considers this match with Luna Vachon, whom he speaks very highly of, a highlight of his career.
Why Gillberg Versus Goldberg Never Happened
In his conversation with Full Wrestling Shoot Interviews in 2010, Duane Gill claimed that when WWE revealed the Gillberg character, Goldberg “wanted to seriously whoop my *** and hates my guts to this day.”
He believes that the reason Vince McMahon never had a showdown between Gillberg and Goldberg was that when Goldberg arrived in WWE in 2003, “Goldberg would’ve probably ended my career and life. I’m a little guy, man. He told me right to my face that I had an ***-whoopin’ coming."
On April 21st, 2003, in a segment hosted by The Rock and Gillberg, Goldberg, after violently getting past the security forming a barricade outside of the ring, did get ahold of Gillberg and started choking him in the middle of the ring until The Rock took him down. Even during this planned segment, Gillberg seems to have potentially dodged a bullet.
In a 2018 interview with gamespot.com, Goldberg confirmed that he didn’t take too kindly the Gillberg parody.
"I wanted to cut his head off, and then I wanted to cut everyone else’s head off that came up with the idea," said Goldberg. "You can take it a number of ways. I took it violently at the beginning."
Over time, Goldberg has understood that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and that they wouldn’t have wasted time with the parody if Goldberg hadn’t reached the heights he had in wrestling.
"I should have been honored that they would think enough of me to copy, in a negative way, and try to poke fun at me," Goldberg now admits. "Because if I didn’t evoke a feeling in them, then they wouldn’t have done that. So, there was a reason for it. I hold nothing against the guy, and I’m greatly appreciative that one more person in the professional wrestling business got a job because I don’t know what he was doing prior to that. Hey man, good for him."
Gillberg – Life After WWE
After “Gillberg” Duane Gill departed from WWE, he continued working as Gillberg on the indie circuit. He has also made intermittent appearances with WWE, with the most recent taking place in 2017 when he got a beatdown courtesy of Kevin Owens.
On February 28th, 2020, against long-time friend James Ellsworth, Duane Gill may have wrestled his last match. On January 18th, 2021, he made a brief appearance on Raw when John Morrison and The Miz teased that Goldberg would be on their talk show segment “The Dirt Sheet,” instead, Gillberg came strutting out and had a short encounter with a fake Drew McIntyre. Gillberg was of course elated to be back on WWE albeit for a moment.
"Anybody can fall down. Anyone can take a bump, and I’d say 90% of people can learn how to wrestle, but wrestling and working are two very different things. Professionals who make it and last in the business are workers. They can make everything larger than life to you, and not just go out and run through a succession of moves," says Duane Gill.
Gillberg’s Pro Wrestling Academy: Nurturing Old-School Values
When he opened Gillberg’s Pro Wrestling Academy in Severn, Maryland 2010, his goal was to teach aspiring students the old-school way of working and the old-school way of respect, something he believes is missing in the business today. He wanted to rekindle the camaraderie and brotherhood he remembers from being an integral part of the locker room when he debuted in 1990.
"It’s so much better when there’s laughter. Wrestling has to get fun again," he said shortly after opening the academy.
Unfortunately, although his school seemed to be doing well, it is now permanently closed. It is unknown to us if the unfortunate death of student Quentin Latrell Washington, age 25, in January of 2012 was the cause.
Duane Gill Suffers a Heart Attack, How You Can Help
Sadly, the 61-year-old "Gillberg" Duane Gill recently suffered a heart attack. Although he is out of the ICU, he needs help covering medical and living expenses as he cannot work in the foreseeable future. Duane’s wife and his friend, former WWE wrestler James Ellsworth, have established a GoFundMe for fans to offer support. Every bit helps and is appreciated.
Rick Rude: A Ravishing Man with a Tragic End
“He refused to budge.”
Rick Rude was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime kind of wrestler. He went by the nickname “Ravishing” — and rightfully so. He had a solid moveset, great looks, and unbridled arrogance with the in-ring skill to back it up. He played hard in the ring but even harder out of it.
Mr Perfect Curt Hennig – A Great Life with an Unfortunate End
On camera, Curt Hennig was arrogant, and he backed up his Mr. Perfect persona brilliantly. However, outside of the ring, it was a different story.
Doink The Clown – A Troubled Life For the Man Behind the Paint
Doink the Clown found fame in early 1990s WWE, but there was, unfortunately, trouble along the way for Matt Borne, the man behind the paint.
Secret Life and Tragic Passing of WWE Wrestler “Crush” Brian Adams
Hailing from Kona, Hawaii, “Crush” Brian Adams was a dominant force who underwent many striking transformations over his 17-year career.
After retiring from the ring, he worked as a bodyguard for “Macho Man” Randy Savage and was excited about opening a fitness spa alongside Marc Mero in Florida. Instead, sadly, tragedy struck.
Owen Hart’s Death: What Really Happened, From Those There
VINCE McMAHON: “Earlier that day, I was shocked and surprised by what Owen said.”
On May 23rd, 1999, the wrestling world mourned the loss of Owen Hart. People behind the scenes on this unthinkable day reflect on the tragedy, answering the all-important questions.
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