This week’s episode of Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring focused on Herb Abrams and his addiction to cocaine.
Abrams burst onto the wrestling scene around 1990 with the Universal Wrestling Federation and a television deal. He had a lofty vision of putting WWF out of business. This included using WWF and WCW’s past stars like Bruno Sammartino, Andre the Giant, Paul Orndorff, Bob Orton, and Dr. Death.
Mick Foley described Abrams’ enthusiasm as so overwhelming that he instantly sold you on his vision for wrestling and made you believe that anything was possible, even though the guy had no previous experience in wrestling. Most wrestlers had no clue what the real story was behind the guy’s background. But they knew he had a ton of charisma and was throwing crazy amounts of money around, so it was easy to get on board with his plan.
But we’ll never really know what could have been, because Abrams was addicted to a Hollywood party lifestyle full of cocaine and prostitutes.
One of the UWF managers, Marty Yesberg, described his first meeting with Abrams:
“He flew us all out to California. He set me up in this two bedroom estate, hotel, Beverly Hills. And it was all that and a bag of chips. And we weren’t working for him, we were just going to meet him. I’m like, wow!
That night he knocks on the door, and he has two high end call girls. We’re not talking about South Carolina snaggletooth call girls. We’re talking about Hollywood honeys. He brings these girls into my suite, that I thought was my suite. And I’m drooling all over myself, because I don’t even get to see women like this, much less have this delivered to my room. And in the process, he broke out a little mirror, and he had his nose candy with him. The only thing I could think of is, SWAT teams are going to be knocking down the door here in a minute, and we got two high priced hookers and cocaine everywhere. I didn’t know how to get out of the room. I really and truly wanted out of that room. I’m in California, I’m on his dime. I can’t call the police. Hell the room’s in my name. So I just sat over in the corner, and it was like a live pornography session. And it was a very long night.”
Abrams’ lack of experience in pro wrestling and his cocaine addiction combined to make for some very bad business decisions, including booking large venues that the UWF had no prayer of selling out, and even trying to sell a pay-per-view that turned out to be a financial disaster.
That event took place on Florida. Florida’s night life got the better of Abrams, and he was coked up during the show even though he had a significant on-camera role in the storylines.
UWF’s general manager Lenny Duge, who had a very close friendship with Abrams, warned him that he was going to die if he kept it up, and he needed to go to rehab.
Checks for the talent started to bounce. Wrestler B. Brian Blair detailed a meeting with Abrams where he was looking to get his money:
“I go knock on his hotel door so I can get my money. And the door opens and there’s these two naked girls...and I see Herb on the bed. He’s naked and he’s laughing, and I look over and he’s got two big ol’ piles of cocaine on each nightstand. It’s a picture that’s forever etched in my mind. So he tells those girls to leave, and as they’re getting dressed, Herb writes them a check for two thousand dollars each. I thought, golly two thousand dollars, this guy is crazy, blowing money on cocaine and hookers. How long is this promotion going to last?”
As Abrams’ party lifestyle grew more intense, his grasp on reality slipped and he became paranoid. He always felt that he was being recorded and bugged, and knew that “they” were watching him. He tore through all the furniture and cushions looking for hidden microphones or cameras.
Abrams then screwed up when he tried to pay a prostitute with a check, and she wanted cash. Wrestler Steve Ray gives this account:
“She’s not falling for it, boom, door breaks down, thugs are there. Herb’s eyes pop out. He goes and throws himself through the window. So then I get a phone call from him, in California, he’s running through a neighborhood naked, and he’s like ‘What do I do? What do I do?’”
It all tragically caught up with Abrams in July 1996. The accounts of the night vary, but it appears that Abrams died of a heart attack while in police custody.
Here are some of the descriptions on what may have happened in his office that night:
B. Brian Blair:
“The night that I guess he passed away, he was partying, drinking, he had a couple escorts up there with him. And I heard that he had done so much cocaine that he was whacked. And he found a baseball bat and started tearing up the room that he was in, and just went absolutely berserk...He had baby oil all over him, and I guess somebody called the police...Chasing hookers around, all greased up, and died in the back of a police car.”
John Arezzi, wrestling historian:
“I heard that he was covered in either oil or vasoline and cocaine. It’s crazy. And he was chasing around hookers with this baseball bat...When the police showed up, I heard he had a massive coronary and died.”
Rick Allen, wrestler:
“Somebody told me that escorts tried to rob him too and that’s why he grabbed the bat. That’s a sight to see, I’m sure...I guess one of the girls ran out of the office and just shut the door behind him, and I think he ran into it. I think that’s how he passed away.”
“And what I’m told is that he took his clothes off in the jail, and he had a seizure and it killed him.”
“There were rumors like he got sodomized by police, with their batons. I mean I heard that, I’m going, what the hell?”
Blair appropriately sums it up as follows:
“The one thing I know is that Herb Abrams left this world doing what he loved: cocaine and hookers.”
As you can tell from these accounts, Abrams has become something of an urban legend due to all these stories circulating around about his crazy cocaine incidents. But it’s clear from the documentary that Abrams formed a strong personal connection with many of these men, because most of them felt like they lost a great friend who always believed in them.
Would Abrams’ UWF have been able to compete with Vince McMahon’s WWF if he could have kept his vices under control? It doesn’t seem likely, but I guess it’s a pointless question to consider, because in many ways Abrams’ life and personality were defined by those inescapable addictions.
There are many details that I left out, so you can check out the full episode of Dark Side of the Ring (subscription required) here.
What impression did you walk away with after hearing the story of Herb Abrams?