LOS ANGELES - FILE: Actor Randy Savage attends the 31st Annual American Music Awards at The Shrine Auditorium November 16, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. According to reports on May 20, 2011, Savage, real name Randy Poffo, died in a car accident this morning in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
A few days later, it still seems weird. Randy Savage is dead. In terms of star power, the biggest name to die since Andre the Giant's death in 1993. And the story has been everywhere.
As a kid, it was hard not to be enthralled by the Macho Man. My first wrestling memory that I can date (The Islander's dognapping Matilda from The British Bulldogs) was right after his babyface turn, so I had never see him as a heel until he turned on Hulk Hogan to make the Mega Powers EXPLODE. Wrestlemania V was my first PPV event, and I was excited.
Memories are weird. I can remember, not long after the show, NOT remembering anything on that show other than Rockin' Robin singing "America The Beautiful," Piper's Pit with Brother Love and Robert Downey Jr., Rick Rude winning the Intercontinental Title from the Ultimate Warrior, and Hogan beating Savage to regain the WWF Title. Whenever I found out a few years later that not only was it the show where Rick Martel turned on Tito Santana, splitting up Strike Force, but that the show had fourteen(!) matches (that was how they got everyone a payoff at WM for a few years, lots and of short segments), I was kinda shocked. It's not like I had any problem remembering what I saw of WCW's 8th Clash of the Champions special several months later. My brain must've developed a lot in those ensuing months. Or WCW in 1989 was a lot better that everything in the WWF not involving Randy Savage, Rick Rude, Roddy Piper, and a female wrestler who people within the company saw sing relatively well at a karaoke bar awkwardly waiting for her cue to sing badly.
When Savage defeated Duggan to become King of the WWF, it was weird because, for whatever reason, the match wasn't aired on TV. Only clips were shown in the WWF Update segments. At any rate, I remember enjoying following the Kingship and being disappointed that they didn't show the whole match, which hasn't surfaced anywhere since. Because I liked the King stuff, I was disappointed when it suddenly ceased being defended like a title. I loved Dusty Rhodes as a kid, so I really enjoyed Savage's feud with him throughout 1990.
At some point around this time I first went to the house of a friend who had a bunch of old LJN WWF action figures (the heavy rubber ones) and tapes of old WWF PPVs. We watched Wrestlemania III. When we got up to and watched Savage vs Ricky Steamboat, I was in awe. Meanwhile, my friend had, like many young fans, memorized the match, and he was re-enacting it with his Savage and Steamboat LJN figures in sync with the video as we watched it.
After Savage's perfect babyface turn at Wrestlemania VII, he and Bret Hart (whose singles push was about to get underway) were probably the favorites among me and my friends. My cousin's 9th birthday fell on the same day as Wrestlemania VIII, so his party was just a big PPV gathering. Among that group, the incredible Hart vs Roddy Piper and Savage vs Ric Flair matches were a blast to watch, as was Jake Roberts getting his comeuppance for terrorizing Savage and Liz when The Undertaker destroyed him. The whole room chanting "KILL THE SNAKE!" at the TV is something I will never forget. We had a feeling there would be no giant naked Elizabeth "centerfold" banner unveiled in the Hoosier Dome as Flair had promised, but were struck by how it was never, ever mentioned during the actual show.
When he and Elizabeth divorced, I was struck by how it was handled: She was gone from TV and he wrote a letter (I don't know if it's was ghostwritten, but whatever...) to the fans in WWF Magazine where he delicately told us that "the divorce was nobody's fault." I was subsequently shocked when Pro Wrestling Illustrated quoted it with attribution in their year-end issue, because they never mentioned WWF Magazine. That reminds me...the coverage of Wrestlemania VII and everything else that year in PWI was incredible, as for whatever reason, they switched to a full color, all slick paper format. As nostalgic as the traditional pulpy magazines make many wrestling fans, my best memories of PWI are from 1992 because of those striking color photos of Savage and company Wrestlemania VII, The Moondogs terrorizing the USWA (including the story about when they threw battery acid in Eric Embry's eyes!), etc. 1992 also featured the Mr. Perfect turn to join Savage, by necessity one of the most surprising (yet still effective) angles I've ever seen.
And then Savage stopped wrestling as much. 1993 did give us his "Speaking From The Heart" song (which my dad always found hilarious because the British session singers pronounced "Macho" as "Matcho") and his lacerated tongue at the hands of Crush at THE SAVAGE-CRUSH SUMMIT. And then that episode of Raw ended with Bobby Heenan mocking Savage by saying "I can't eat any more peanuts and pretzels." in a lisping mush-mouth voice followed by an evil laugh as Vince McMahon freaked out. 1994 saw him open the year by freaking out (pun not intended) and celebrating with The 1-2-3 Kid and Marty Jannetty when they won the tag titles from the Quebecers (with The Rockerplex!). And the Crush match at Wrestlemania. And not much else, except for the Bret Hart match in Japan, which I still haven't seen. Oh, and Savage making Vince really uncomfortable by making lots of references to the steroid trial ("NOT GUILTY! NOT GUILTY!" and "Shawn Michaels, not to be confused with [federal prosecutor] Sean O'Shea!" stick out as the memorable ones).
At some point during all this I finally got a VCR and my aunt and Uncle got me a bunch of those old "Missing Matches" tapes, which all had amazing airbrushed box art and included one tape featuring Savage in the form of his cage match with Jerry Lawler. That was the first time I saw that match, which I must have on a zillion different tapes and DVDs.
And then a shellshocked Vince McMahon told us Savage had left the WWF.
Even though WCW was quickly becoming unrecognizable in the wake of Hulk Hogan's arrival, it was still a fresh environment and I got to see the matches I wanted, like Savage vs Arn Anderson and Savage vs Steve Austin. The Elizabeth stuff when they got her to return ranged from fun to uncomfortable. On one hand, she quickly turned on Savage to join up with Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen, so it's not like they were stuck pretending to be a couple...at first. And then when the NWO came along and kidnapped her or whatever happened and Savage turned heel to join the NWO and save her after she had last been a heel...that was weird. The DDP feud was fun and he had a good match with Bret Hart that nobody remembers (and that I didn't see until it aired on WWE Classics on Demand), but otherwise I don't remember much about NWO Macho Man.
After he was injured and returned, it got kind of depressing to watch him, as he lost his way in and out of the ring. This was especially bad when he started using the shoot elbow drop to protect his knee and hip, injuring opponents. And then there was the weird segment where he starting beating up his valets. The Dennis Rodman match that some people like was in here but I've never seen it. Everything since then has been weird and depressing, aside from his voice acting and the more recent stuff like his awesome promo for the Mattel/WWE panel at San Diego Comic Con.
Meanwhile, I had amassed a bunch more Savage in Memphis footage, which I implore everyone to track down as some of it is his best work. The matches with and against Lawler, against Jerry Oski, etc. are brilliant.
I guess that's it. Rest in Peace. Or FREAK OUT, FREAK OUT, whichever is more fun.