I would first like to take this opportunity to express my condolences to the family and friends of William “Paul Bearer” Moody. He was a great talent and did a lot for the business. He will be missed by us all.
As everybody knows by now, this past Monday’s episode of Raw featured C.M. Punk interrupting The Undertaker’s tribute to his late manager, Paul Bearer. This is a segment that has caused a lot of debate, causing many to cry foul and say the WWE went too far, while others feel it was done the right way (for a look at why it was done right, read Richard’s article about it here). With this, WWE has added the death of Paul Bearer into the build of their match at Wrestlemania. This is not the first time that the WWE has used a death to add drama to a storyline, whether the death is real or not. Sometimes the death is used in a respectful manner, while other times it pushes the envelope too far and leaves a bad taste in the fans’ mouths. Here are some examples of when death has been used and how it played out.
In 1999, The Big Show was engaged in a rivalry with The Big Bossman when it was announced that Show’s father had cancer (In reality, his father had passed away years earlier, but it was now being used as a storyline). Bossman would go on to use this to torment Big Show over the next few weeks, even going as far as to have fake police officers tell Show that his father had died just to see his reaction. His father eventually “passed away”, prompting Bossman to interrupt his tribute to read an offensive poem he had written about the occasion. He would follow this up with disrupting the funeral, chaining up the coffin and pulling it away from the grave as Big Show rode on top, screaming at his adversary. Their rivalry would come to a head at Survivor Series, where Big Show would defeat Big Bossman’s team, consisting of Albert, Viscera, and Mideon, and silence his enemy once and for all. This was a situation where the WWE did not go too far, as Big Show’s father had been dead for several years and was not just thrown into a story for the sake of shock right after his passing.
This is a storyline the WWE must wish it can erase from their history. The year was 2002, and Triple H was in the midst of a heated rivalry with Kane. They were set to face each other at No Mercy in a match to unify the World Heavyweight Championship and the Intercontinental Championship. To get inside the head of Kane, Triple H brought up some “ugly memories” from the past that Kane had hoped were behind him, but were all in fact kayfabe. When Kane was a young man, he had been driving a drunken friend, Katie Vick, home when they got into an accident and she was killed as a result. This began to torture Kane, causing him to lose his focus in a time when he needed it more than ever. The story took an ugly turn when Triple H released a video of himself, dressed as Kane, “crashing” her wake and violating her body, going as far as to literally “screw her brains out”. Many people were disgusted by this, and for good reason. The idea behind the story worked, but making a graphic video for cheap heat was a terrible decision. Triple H went on to go over Kane in their match, with the storyline becoming a running joke in the WWE to this day.
The current storyline between C.M. Punk and The Undertaker is not the first time the death of Paul Bearer has caused some controversy. After coming back as “The Deadman” at Wrestlemania XX, The Undertaker once again had Paul Bearer at his side and began to battle with Paul Heyman, the General Manager of Smackdown. Heyman would have The Dudleys kidnap Paul Bearer and hold him hostage. In a match at The Great American Bash, Taker faced The Dudleys for the fate of Paul Bearer, who was enclosed in a clear crypt filled with cement up to his chest. Heyman told The Undertaker that if he did not throw the match, that the crypt would fill completely with cement, trapping Paul Bearer inside. The Undertaker would end up winning the match, but still pull the lever to drown Paul Bearer in cement. Many were disturbed by this, as The Undertaker had just “killed” a person on live television. This would result in WWE twisting the story to say that Bearer was not dead, having only been injured in the crypt.
After his passing in the fall of 2005, Eddie Guerrero became a big part of the summer 2006 feud between Rey Mysterio and Chavo Guerrero, the nephew of Eddie Guerrero. Mysterio dedicated his 2006 Road to Wrestlemania to the memory of his late friend, and would go on to win his first World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania 22. A few months later, at The Great American Bash, Chavo Guerrero would cost Mysterio the title, claiming that he was living off Guerrero name, most notably, Eddie’s. Vickie Guerrero, his wife, would soon be entered into the equation, taking the side of Chavo. Rey and Guerrero exchanged victories at the following PPV’s, and culminated the feud with Chavo defeating Rey in a match that forced him to leave Smackdown. This story never went too far with how they used the memory of Eddie Guerrero, and was even more meaningful because it strictly involved his family and friends in its development.
One storyline involving death that we never got to see fully played out was when Mr. McMahon blew up in his limousine at the end of Raw on June 11, 2007. The next two weeks would be played out as a ‘whodunit’, trying to figure out what caused the explosion. On June 25, there was supposed to be a special tribute episode of Raw in honor of Mr. McMahon, but this ended up not coming to pass. Instead, the show opened with Vince standing in the center of the ring in an empty area. He informed the audience watching at home that Chris Benoit had passed away, and that they would not continue to play out the storyline death of his character, but instead have a tribute show to the memory of Benoit. Once the details came out about the death of Benoit, any reference to him was taken down and the show went on as normal. Mr. McMahon would eventually return to Raw in August, claiming that he staged his death to see how people would react to it. This was the easiest way for WWE to sweep the story under the rug, and we will never know where they really wanted to go with the story.
In the midst of the feud between Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole, Lawler’s mother unfortunately passed away. Within weeks of this happening, Michael Cole made several disparaging remarks about her. The most notable comment was how Cole spoke of spending Mother’s Day with his mom and asking what Jerry did with his before correcting himself. The whole segment seemed to make The King very upset. Whether this was legitimate or a very good performance on Jerry’s part, there was no doubting that Cole’s comments took things too far. He had been able to get real heat from the crowd with no issue before this, but soon resorted to cheap heat to get over. The segment had to have been approved of by Lawler beforehand, but that does not mean that it was necessarily the right thing to do.
As history has shown, there is a right way to handle death, and a wrong way. While WWE has shown poor judgment in the past when integrating a death into a storyline, they have also done a good job respecting the memory of stars that have passed away. Given his love for the business, William Moody would be honored to be such a big part of one of this year’s Wrestlemania main events. With the current story that they are doing not even a week old, it is unknown where they will take it from here. With the WWE now focusing more on family friendly entertainment, the fans can rest easy knowing they will not have to suffer through another Katie Vick; but we can only hope that they learned their lesson with Cole’s comments and learn to not show any disrespect to the deceased.