He’s survived plane crashes, lightning strikes and personal tragedies. Over the past half century, no one has been more honored and revered by fans from all corners of the globe.
But “Nature Boy” Ric Flair is now fighting the battle of his life. Hospitalized for the past week in Atlanta, his condition has escalated from “routine monitoring” to critical, with social media reporting varying degrees of severity and often misinformation regarding the 16-time world champion.
His fiancée, Wendy Barlow, confirmed that Flair was rushed to the hospital last weekend with severe abdominal pain. He was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit where tests would soon reveal that his organs were failing.
Surgery to save his life was performed on Monday, and while the operation to repair an intestinal blockage was deemed a success, other serious problems surfaced. He was put on dialysis in hopes of restoring function to his kidneys, obviously a key for survival and future treatment of other organs.
To put this in a nutshell, a once-in-a-lifetime performer who has shed “blood, sweat and tears” for generations of fans is struggling for his life, and the odds aren’t good. But he’s a fighter who made a living out of beating the odds.
He’s also a friend to many, including one of my best, and one it would be hard to imagine the wrestling business – or the world – without.
His survival, of course, isn’t in our hands. He’s in need of a miracle.
My feelings about Naitch could fill volumes, and most likely have over the course of several decades. Not all of them involve his amazing exploits in the ring. They’re more about Ric Flair the person, and how he has influenced so many in his considerable orbit.
A week rarely goes by without at least one fan sharing a personal story or recollection regarding Ric. I’m never surprised when I run into fans talking about how he impacted their lives.
Now might be a good time to share a few.
Midst of greatness
“I saw him at a fundraising event for a local high school a few months ago,” wrote one fan. “There was a break in the line and I told him that I didn’t have the cash for an autograph but that he was a hero when I was young and that it was an honor just to talk to him. He winked and told me that a handshake only cost five fingers. Everything went a little blurry after that. So good to know there are good guys out there.”
Mark Crockett, son of David Crockett and grandson of Crockett Promotions founder Jim Crockett Sr., recalls how Ric miraculously recovered from a plane crash in 1975 near Wilmington, N.C., that took the life of the pilot and injured several other wrestlers, including Crockett’s dad. It occurred just weeks after Mark Crockett was born.
It was hard to explain, says Crockett, but there was a bond. Like scores of others, when you were around Ric Flair, you knew you were in the midst of greatness.
“I’d ride in Ric’s Corvettes, go to his house in River Hills and later Providence Plantation. I’ve seen Ric off and on over the years at restaurants and airports. Each time he knew my name and asked about my family, and I about his,” says Crockett.
Growing up in a wrestling family, he says, was very different than a “normal” family.
“My dad was gone a lot to make sure the business was successful, which I understood. I liked what my dad did and seeing him on TV was cool, but the main reason I watch wrestling to this day is to see Ric Flair. If you wanted to see the best there ever was, it was Ric. He could wrestle, he could talk, he could get the crowd involved in the matches. If you wanted to see what it took to be a wrestler, you had to look no further than Ric Flair. He laid out the playbook for all aspiring wrestlers to follow.
“I wanted to be with my dad all the time because I loved wrestling. I liked the atmosphere and the action. My dad on the other hand was there to work, so he needed to do something with me to keep me out of the way, so I carried the robes and held the belts for $5 a night. The most anticipated robe to carry was Ric’s. He’d take it off and drop it to me and say, ‘Don’t drop it Mark, that’s expensive.’ I’d hang the robe up, walk back down the aisle, and sit by Klondike Bill holding the 10 pounds of gold in awe of what he did in the ring. Whether he was beating someone up, selling for someone or yelling at the crowd, it was amazing.
“Ric would come outside of the ring and wink at me and say watch this. He’d get back in the ring and chop his opponent, poke them in the eye, hit them below the belt, among many other moves. In the end he’d apply the figure four for the win, hold the opponent’s tights on a roll-up, or get leverage by putting his feet on the ropes for the win. Each time I handed the belt back he’d say, ‘I told you it was my belt.’
“I believe that it’s him being such a huge part of my childhood that could possibly be gone and I don’t want it to be. Nobody had more fun than when you were around Ric. He has this aura about him that made him special. Nobody wants to see their childhood hero in a hospital … especially me when that person is Ric Flair. I’ve ridden on jets with him, rode in limos and saw things I probably shouldn’t have, but hell, that was wrestling in the 80’s, they were rock stars.”
Fabric of our lives
A few years ago a fan felt compelled to write and relate how Ric had impacted him and his brother their entire lives.
His brother had been born blind, and Ric brought wrestling to life for him through his colorful character. But it was more than that. The Nature Boy had been a focal point that strengthened an already strong bond between the two brothers.
The fan recalled the two traveling to a small town in North Carolina for an appearance Ric was making at a local furniture store. Ric had signed a number of keepsakes the brothers had collected over the years, and they were hoping to add to that collection.
Lines wrapped around the building, but the fan says Ric didn’t rush them off despite the huge crowd on hand that day.
“Ric told the lady who was assisting him to move and let us come behind the desk with him, and he took a picture with us. My brother was so happy at that moment, but when we got back to the car, he started crying. He said his hero treated him with love, dignity and respect. He treated a blind man and his brother as if they were royalty.”
“Ric treated me and my brother first class,” the fan added. “He stood up and put his arms around us. He autographed everything of him we brought to have him autograph. He did so without us asking and even autographed two of the pictures he had of himself. He made one out to my brother and the other to me.”
And that fan will never forget the last time they saw “The Man” in the ring. Shortly after he would lose his younger brother at the age of 40 to a brain aneurysm.
“Ric brought wrestling to life for my brother,” he says. “He died happy in his sleep.”
Ric Flair brought wrestling to life for so many others over the years. He could transform any situation from a theater of sometimes absurdity to a feeling that is as real as it gets. He thrived because when the camera lights went on, performing transcended life and he was the ultimate showman. And when the camera lights went off, he was still that same ultimate showman.
For those who have followed the business over the past 40 years, especially those in what we reverently call “Flair country,” Ric has been part of the fabric of our lives. No single performer has captured the collective heart of wrestling the way he has. He walked the walk, talked the talk and truly lived the life he advertised.
Now is the time for the Nature Boy to pull out one more big comeback and prove why he’s always been the dirtiest player in the game.
Now is the time to pray.
On – 19 Aug, 2017 By Mike Mooneyham