Learn how William Moody became Paul Bearer. - Photo by shstrng of Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
In the first of a two part series, we look at the life and times of William Moody, better known as Percival Pringle III in World Class Championship Wrestling and Paul Bearer in WWE, who passed away earlier this week from a blood clot. Here, we discuss his pre-WWE days and how he landed the role he was born to play.
One of the real shames with high profile wrestling deaths like William Moody's, better known as WCCW's Percival Pringle III and WWE's Paul Bearer, is that it's only with their sad parting from the world that us wrestling pundits take time out of our busy schedules to properly reflect on their career and give them their due credit.
Moody will be remembered as one of the last of a dying breed, a wily manager who knew all the tricks of the trade and was able to pull off the difficult task of carving out not one, but two, memorable characters who perfectly added to his charge's act, without taking away their aura or putting the spotlight solely on himself.
If it weren't for his failing health, then he'd likely have been on our television screens to this very day, still managing Kane, or The Undertaker, at the top of the WWE card and playing a key role in their storylines, much like his peer Paul Heyman does for his protégés, CM Punk and Brock Lesnar.
Like many managers of his era, such as the aforementioned Heyman and his good friend Jim Cornette, Moody was a lifelong fan growing up, thanks to his parents taking him every week to the local arena show since he was a wee nipper, and got his start in the business as a teenager by travelling the circuit and becoming a freelance photographer.
As fate would have it, two of his close buddies who he went to the matches with also became big names in the wrestling business, namely Michael "P.S." Hayes, of The Fabulous Freebirds, and "Hollywood" John Tatum, who he'd later work alongside of in the Dallas territory.
The picture taking stopped when he enlisted for the United States Air Force, but by that point he had already been bitten by the wrestling bug, which led him to soon start moonlighting as a green wrestler on the nearby indy scene when he was off duty.
However, Moody quickly realised that being inside the squared circle wasn't the best place for his unique talents. He didn't have the requisite size, or athleticism, to make it much higher than a curtain-jerker as a wrestler, so he eventually made the decision in 1979 to start managing instead, on the Southeast independent loop, under the name he would first find national fame under, Percival Pringle, III. (There were actually people within wrestling that had used the Pringle name before he did, but they have long since been forgotten about, perhaps in part due to Moody's greater success with the pseudonym.)
That didn't last for long though. Realising the inherent instability of trying to hold down a full time wrestling job, all the travel that it takes, and that it thus wasn't the best environment to raise a family in, when his first son was born he cut down his dates to concentrate on getting a degree in mortuary science, which enabled him to work as a funeral director and embalmer later on in life.
But Moody was well and truly addicted to the wrestling drug, and soon came back for more once he had obtained his academic qualifications.
His big break came in late 1984, when he became the manager of rising star "Ravishing" Rick Rude in Florida. Despite getting a championship level push there, they are probably more fondly remembered for their run in World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) due to its greater national exposure, where the duo were shot straight to the top and feuded with The Von Erichs (of course), Chris Adams and Iceman King Parsons.
Pringle was the perfect contrast to the cool, suave and sophisticated poser, being a slovenly Southern loudmouth braggart. To get extra heat, like most managers of the time, they subtly hinted that the relationship between the two was more than just a business one, at least on Percival's end.
The partnership unfortunately ended prematurely, when Rude jumped to Jim Crockett Promotions in September 1986, without his mouthpiece; leaving Pringle without a clearly defined role in the Dallas territory.
He spent a long while working in the office, and later on only being used on TV as a babyface ring announcer, which was strange given how effective he had been managing Rude in two different territories.
It wasn't until Memphis wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett gained controlling interest of the dying WCCW, in a far too late attempt to go national, that Pringle saw himself being used in a prominent position once again.
The short, pudgy, Flamboyant Eric Embry was given the book, pushed himself to the moon in a crazy feud with Skandor Akbar's Devastation, Inc. and made Percy his babyface manager, an angle memorably kickstarted by Pringle running a letter-writing campaign to bring Embry back to World Class after he was screwed in a Loser Leaves Town match.
It was another role Pringle excelled in, showing previously unseen charming exuberance and spunk, which gelled well with Embry's charismatic flair.
Together, they got the Sportatorium well and truly rocking again for its best run of business since the end of the Von Erich heyday. They even managed to turn the WCCW promotion heel and get fans cheering to see its onscreen takeover by Jarrett's United States Wrestling Alliance (USWA)... that's how over they were.
It wasn't long before Pringle's inevitable turn to heel again.
This time, he was paired up with a young "Stunning" Steve Austin in 1990, and played a supporting part in the pre-Stone Cold's breakout feud with trainer Chris Adams. But his main focus at this time was wrestling for a change, against Chris Von Erich, as he was the only guy on the roster that was believable for the asthmatic, brittle-boned runt of the Von Erich litter to be able to beat cleanly.
Tragically, Chris would commit suicide a year later, over depression stemming from the deaths of his brothers (David and Mike), and also the realisation that he would never make it as a wrestler, due to his poor health and lack of size. A kind, sensitive man, Moody took the tragedy hard, like he did with all the far too many premature deaths of his colleagues and friends over the years which he had to face.
Towards the end of 1990, it looked like Moody's wrestling career was in jeopardy. The Dallas area wrestling scene was in a mess, as Kerry and Kevin Von Erich, who still owned 40% of the territory, had a revenue dispute with Jarrett, which led to the USWA pulling out of the market in September. Kevin tried resurrecting the World Class promotion, but without television and his brother Kerry onboard, he didn't draw and had to close up shop after two months. This meant Moody was out of a steady job and he was looking at going back into the mortuary business.
But one favour from a friend changed his life forever.
His old buddy Rick Rude, when hearing that his friend was in need of help, put in a good word for him with Vince McMahon and gave Moody Vince's home phone number to call. What's remarkable about this story, is that at the same time Rude had just left the company. His departure was due to a financial dispute with the WWF over falsely advertising him while injured and not paying him for those missed dates; as The Ravishing One felt that as he helped draw the gate, he should still get his money.
They say that timing is everything in life and that proved to be true for Moody here.
McMahon was on the search for a new manager for his latest creation, Kane the Undertaker (Brother Love mustn't have been working out in the position), whose first name was quickly dropped... and was later ironically used as the moniker for his long lost, presumed dead brother.
When Vince heard in their first meeting together at Titan Towers that Moody was a real life mortician, he knew he had found the right man for the job. Better yet, Moody had even been The Undertaker's manager years earlier when he had briefly worked in Dallas under a mask as Texas Red, so the two already had chemistry together and would be able to get out of the blocks sprinting.
Thus, the character Paul Bearer was quickly developed, the role that Moody was born to play -- and the rest as they say, is history.
But we'll get to that story in part two, Cagesiders.