My Weekend with The Iron Sheik
Nearly twenty years ago, I embarked on a most memorable misadventure. Asked to help the legendary Iron Sheik write his autobiography, the game plan was to spend a weekend at his house and get the proposed project off the ground. As the adage goes, "The best-laid plans of mice and men do often go astray!"
This is the good, bad, and ugly of a shocking and surreal weekend that I’ll never forget!
The Cast of Characters
Wrestling agent "Tony Tickets" was a jovial, rotund, former ticket broker with a clean-shaven dome who resembled a much smaller version of King Kong Bundy.
Like so many of us, he loved old-school wrestling, and like countless before and after him, he leaped in headfirst and took a ride on the wild side in the whirlwind that is "the business."
He loved his "boys"- and the ever-growing crew on any given occasion included The Iron Sheik, Jimmy and Johnny Valiant, Lanny Poffo, Jimmy Snuka, Greg Valentine, Nikolai Volkoff, and his shoot manager Nikita Breznikov, Captain Lou Albano, King Kong Bundy himself and in a "What’s wrong with this picture?"- the stunning "Platinum Princess of Porn"- Seka.
Yes, it was quite a collection of legendary characters.
He had brought me on board as his publicist, and we crisscrossed the country from New York City to the Hollywood Collector’s Show at various parties, promotional appearances, and conventions.
And soon, it would also take me to the Iron Sheik’s abode.
On The Road With The Iron Sheik
In our numerous gigs together, I noted that the Iron Sheik- as good-hearted as he was- could be, shall we say, a handful.
At the Hollywood Collector’s Show, our crew of wrestlers with the unique plus one of Seka was having a slow day moving merch. We were a square peg in a round hole at a film convention featuring actors ranging from legendary to obscure, and there was even an ancient silent film queen in attendance.
But a crew of old-school wrestling fans did manage to find us and, soon after, started egging Sheik on about his famed targets.
When they brought up B Brian Blair, Sheik was off to the races with a string of slurs and his ever-present threat to "humble him."
I uncomfortably looked about at the subdued crowd, who didn’t know what to make of the blaring, raging wrestler whose eyes were ablaze as his small entourage chuckled heartily at his outburst.
Sending a Woman Fan Running
Leaving the convention with far less money than we had hoped, we got on a shuttle bus back to the airport.
An attractive, middle-aged woman across from us was staring at Nikolai and suddenly summoned the courage to talk to him.
"You’re Nikolai Volkoff!"
"Yes, I am. Nice to meet you," the ever-affable Nikolai responded.
She did the old "I watched you as a kid" schtick, and a flattered Nikolai suddenly chimed in, "I’d like to introduce you to my partner, The Iron Sheik."
The woman went mute, staring up and down at the slouching, exhausted, and much older than she remembered Sheik, and blurted out the worst possible thing she could say.
"You’re not the Iron Sheik!"
We cringed and braced ourselves for his reaction.
Suddenly seated upright and re-energized, the proud Sheik shrieked, "Get out of here, you stupid jabroni!" as the shaken woman broke long-standing Olympic running records, fleeing to the front of the bus.
Out of the blue, I got a call from Tony inviting me to Georgia.
The Iron Sheik had wanted to do his autobiography for the longest time, and I was flattered that Tony felt I was up to the task.
Now I had seen how volatile the Sheik could be. And I also knew the man partied hard. For that reason, Nikolai always asked me to room with him.
Unlike his partner, The Iron Sheik, Volkoff was an early-to-bed, early-to-rise, clean-living "health nut."
So, sure, I had a bit of trepidation working with the fearsome legend.
But I had also seen Sheik’s good side on so many occasions. The Champ would graciously sign autographs at airports, pose for photos, and greet virtually everyone with a broad smile, handshake, or hug. He was a beloved elder in "the wrestling community."
"Yes, let’s do it," I decided.
Simple as that.
We’d get in on a Friday evening, be on the return flight Sunday night, and as a then Adult Education English Second Language teacher, I’d be standing in front of my classroom Monday morning.
Only I had absolutely no idea the scenario I would be walking into.
The hospitable Iron Sheik was waiting for us at the airport and, on the short drive back to his home, informed us that his neighbors in the Atlanta area included Evander Holyfield, Abdullah the Butcher, and Paul Orndorff.
Well, that was quite the crew of my all-time favorites right there.
His Fayetteville house was modest, attractive, and well-kept. Upon entering, I noticed that dead center was a huge, framed picture of one of his daughters.
She was young and beautiful, and he stared at her in the most tender yet sorrowful way.
"This is my daughter," he told us as if he were introducing us to her.
Then, out of nowhere, tears started pouring down his face.
"Her boyfriend murdered her!" he furiously exclaimed.
There was the most awkward pause as he stood there crying.
It was just heart-wrenching to witness this once world-class athlete broken.
A pall hung over the room as he ended the silence.
"I’m going to kill him when he gets out of jail," he stated almost nonchalantly.
I fully believed him; Tony and I just looked at each other, not knowing what to say.
We hadn’t even put our bags down yet.
Yes, this was going to be quite the weekend.
Further reading: Iron Sheik: A Daughter’s Murder, a Father’s Vengeance
The Interview with The Iron Sheik
Tired from the flight, we slept in The Iron Sheik’s house, and upon waking refreshed, I was ready to jump in and begin interviewing the legend for the book.
Sheik fed us a hearty breakfast and followed up with, "Mr. Evan, would you like a cookie?" It’s not every day that a powerhouse who can kill you with his bare hands offers you a tasty treat. I found his gentle offer amusing.
With an old school recorder in hand and Tony looking on, we soon sat in his living room and were thoroughly unprepared for what was about to happen.
No matter my question, there was a total disconnect on his end. Sheik responded as if he was reciting his go-to promo over and over and over again.
It was like a loop—a record skipping, if you will.
Mantra-like, he also angrily stated that Hogan wouldn’t bring him into WCW.
And there was a blurry mix of real, imagined, and exaggerated Olympic accomplishments. It was more a monologue than anything faintly resembling an interview.
Trying to Make an Escape, Daughter Steps In
About 45 minutes into this exercise in frustration, The Iron Sheik asked, "Mr. Evan, can Sheik take a break?"
"Of course," I responded.
The next thing we knew, Sheik was hurrying to his car.
Out of left field, his other daughter ran towards the vehicle and stood in front of it with both arms outstretched, blocking him from driving.
Sheik bellowed at her, "I brought you into this world; I’ll take you out!"
She reluctantly stepped away, and he drove off to God knows where.
His frustrated daughter stormed back into the house, concern etched on her face, with Tony and I fully aware that mid-interview, Sheik was off to party.
Waiting for The Iron Sheik to Return
We sat in his living room the rest of the day, frantically calling but never hearing a word from our troubled host.
To kill the endless time, we scoured his photos and memorabilia for a book that would never happen.
Eight or nine hours later, Sheik staggered home looking like something the cat dragged in.
There was nothing we could do but gawk.
"Mr. Evan, Sheik’s tired. We work on book tomorrow."
So much for that productive day.
Things grew even more bizarre the following.
We couldn’t so much as find The Iron Sheik in his own home.
But Tony and I heard some commotion and realized the hard-to-pin-down champ was with someone in a smoke-filled room. Opening the door, smoke billowed everywhere. I couldn’t see a single soul.
"Sheik, are you in here?" I asked, hoping to work on the book once more.
With an idea of what the gents were smoking, Sheik sure wasn’t coming out any time soon.
And, absurdly, it wasn’t until our ride back to the airport to go home that Sheik was back in "work mode."
He demanded we continue the interview, so I stuck the recorder in his face, and once again, he was on redial.
I "learned" yet again about Verne’s brutal one hundred-thousand-dollar offer, Sheik’s disdain for Hogan, and his Olympic glory.
It felt like a rerun.
Sheik dropped us at the airport and gave us a warm goodbye like it was somehow all a productive experience.
Boarding the plane, I had the most uncomfortable, "Did THAT just really happen?" kick to the gut feeling.
It was an easy flight from Georgia back to New York, but maybe halfway home, I looked at the weary and frustrated Tony and stated the obvious.
"We’re not getting a book out of this guy."
The likable and generous Tony was also taking a hit in the agent game, having his good days and bad but ultimately losing money. He was also graciously paying some of "his boys" even when they weren’t booked and, not long after, left the business for good.
One day Nikolai happily informed me that the Sheik had "cleaned up." Years ago, I would have taken a bet that squeaky-clean Nikolai would outlive his tag partner, but ironically this was not the case.
He and so many of "Tony’s crew" are now gone.
Sadly, the inimitable Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri has left us, too.
The Unreleased Iron Sheik Autobiography
And the ill-fated Iron Sheik autobiography?
Prolific writer Keith Elliot Greenberg had his go at it as well.
In an interview with The Fight Game, Greenberg stated, "I think by the time the book was completed, the company (WWE) was PG."
After rewriting the book years later, Greenberg was rejected yet again. "It’s not good for our brand. All these crazy stories don’t benefit our business," a higher-up informed him.
Remembering The Iron Sheik
I will always cherish seeing the all-time great heel and heat magnet blow the roof off Madison Square Garden. He was one magnificent athlete, whether against champ Bob Backlund or Sergeant Slaughter in brutal Boot Camp matches or tagging with Nikolai.
Today I feel blessed to have been on the road with the kind, funny, colorful, tormented, larger-than-life Sheik who left an indelible impression on everyone he met.
And, of course, there was my unforgettable weekend at the Iron Sheik’s house.
Rest easy, Champ.
The Iron Sheik: A Daughter’s Murder, a Father’s Vengeance
"He would cry in the dressing room."
Outside the public persona of former WWE Champion The Iron Sheik lies a dark and unimaginable tragedy: the murder of his eldest daughter. And while dealing with what no parent should ever have to, he devised a plan to seek vengeance: he was going to kill his daughter’s murderer.
The Late-Great Iron Sheik’s 10 Greatest Tweets
The Iron Sheik generated a legendary amount of heat throughout his career and deservedly has his place in the WWE Hall of Fame. And although he is sadly no longer with us, he certainly stirred up much controversy and drama along the way!
Iron Sheik A&E Biography
Who would be more fitting a subject for a WWE Legends documentary than “Iran’s number one”? But did the Iron Sheik A&E Biography capture the story of one of wrestling’s most legendary heat magnets?
The Iron Sheik-Hulk Hogan Match That Changed Wrestling Forever
In 1984, a homegrown hero rose to defeat a despised foreign foe. This plot fed America’s growing national pride, and the phenomenon known as Hulkamania was soon born in WWE. They had the perfect setup, but it almost didn’t happen!
The Secret History of WWE’s Dusty Rhodes
Dusty Rhodes never had the physique of a wrestling god, but his charisma and innate ability on the microphone more than made up for that. When his name is mentioned, words of kindness and a lispy impression always ensue.
But what was the American Dream like when the cameras weren’t around?
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