clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

This Day in Wrestling History (Feb. 18): Kerry Von Erich Passes Away

Today’s TDIPWH is presented in two parts. The first focused on the events of the day, including The War To Settle The Score, the next-to-last WCW PPV, and WWE introducing a new championship belt. This part will focus on the career and life of “The Texas Tornado” Kerry Von Erich, who took his own life 24 years ago today.

Online World of Wrestling

24 years ago today, Kerry Adkisson, best known to wrestling fans as Kerry Von Erich, shot himself to death on his father's ranch in Denton, Texas. He was 33.

Born February 3, 1960 in Niagara Falls, New York, Kerry was a standout in high school track and field and broke the high school record in the discus throw. In May 1979, Kerry made his professional debut for his father Fritz's Big Time Wrestling (aka NWA Texas).

Championships came quickly for "The Modern Day Warrior", even when he went to World Class Championship Wrestling. He twice won the NWA American Heavyweight Championship in a six-month span (he would win the championship five times total) and won the NWA American Tag Team Championship with Terry Orndorff. He would have a standout win over then-NWA world champion Harley Race in June 1982.

Two months later, he got his first shot at that championship against Ric Flair, but failed to win it in a best of three falls match. On Christmas Day 1982, he got another shot at the title and was on his way to winning it, but his honor got the best of him. Not wanting a tainted victory, Terry Gordy slammed the cage door on Kerry's head, allowing Flair to retain the title. The act would set off a long feud between the Freebirds and the Von Erichs.

Kerry and Bruiser Brody would take the NWA American tag titles from the Freebirds in June 1983. Two and a half weeks later, the Von Erichs (Kerry, Kevin, and David) would take the Freebirds' Texas six-man title. The trio would trade the titles back and forth for the remainder of the year.

In May 1984, three months after the death of his brother David, Kerry would defeat Ric Flair to win the NWA world title for the first and only time. He would lose the title just 18 days later back to Flair in Yokosuka, Japan. His reign would be among the shortest in the history of the championship. One reason for his short reign is his substance abuse issues; something that would follow him for the remainder of his life.

In June 1986, Kerry was involved in a motorcycle accident. He would suffer a dislocated hip and injured right leg. The injury was so bad, doctors were forced to amputate his right foot; according to his brother Kevin, this was due to Kerry walking on it right after surgery. Kerry would wrestle with a prosthetic in his right leg for the remainder of his life, something many wrestlers and fans did not know about.

In the dying days of WCCW, he feuded with Jerry Lawler over who would be the undisputed WCWA/AWA champion. The championships were unified at Superclash III. Prior to the match, Kerry cut his arm. During the match, Kerry got a cut on his head. When he had Lawler in the famous Von Erich Clawhold, the referee saw the blood on Kerry's head and stopped the bout. Thought to have won the bout by submission, Kerry instead lost the bout due to excessive blood loss, awarding the victory to Jerry Lawler.

After wrestling for a year under the USWA banner following their acquisition of World Class, Kerry left for the WWF. He debuted as "The Texas Tornado" in July 1990 on Saturday Night's Main Event, defeating Playboy Buddy Rose, Kerry's opponent in his professional debut. A month later, Kerry, subbing for an injured Brutus Beefcake, won the WWF Intercontinental Championship at Summerslam from Mr. Perfect. He would lose the title back to Mr. Perfect by the end of the year.

Kerry would have moderate success over the next year, but would never reach championship status again in the WWF. In the 1992 Royal Rumble, Kerry's last PPV appearance, he would be eliminated by the eventual winner Ric Flair, the man he defeated for the NWA world title eight years earlier. Kerry would serve as a "jobber to the stars" for the remainder of his WWF run, leaving the company in August 1992.

Kerry's last championship would come for Texas-based independent United States Wrestling Federation in the fall on 1992. His final match came for the Global Wrestling Federation where he and one-time arch rival Chris Adams lost to Johnny Mantell and Black Bart via disqualification at the Sportatorium, a building he and his family made famous.

After Kerry's foot was amputated, he would develop a drug abuse problem. The problem would play a part in driving a wedge between he and his wife Catherine. In February 1992, just five days after his 32nd birthday, Kerry was arrested for falsifying drug prescriptions. Two months later, Kerry and Catherine divorced. In October, two months after leaving the WWF, he pled no contest to six felony counts of prescription forgery. Kerry's sentenced to ten years probation and fined $6,000. In the new year, Kerry is arrested on cocaine possession charges. As he was on probation, Kerry was looking at a long jail sentence.

On the morning of his arraignment, Kerry drove to the family ranch, took a .44 caliber Magnum to his heart, and pulled the trigger. Tragedy unfortunately was nothing new for the Von Erichs; he would be the third Von Erich brother to commit suicide (Michael overdosed in 1987; Chris shot himself in 1991). Including David's death in 1984, four of the five Von Erich brothers had died, leaving Kevin as the only survivor. At the time of his death, he left behind his wife Catherine, and two children, Hollie and Lacey (who would briefly have a wrestling career of her own).

In 2009, the Von Erich family would be (mostly posthumously) inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats