Today’s story isn’t one I would necessarily consider “funny” by any stretch of the word, dear riders. It is true, it’s wild, and one I’d be remiss if I didn’t try to do some justice. Today we’re going to look at the life of “Dr.” Jerry Graham.
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Graham started wrestling at the tender age of fourteen. Lauded for his skills on the microphone, he would get teamed up early in his career with a kid from Chattanooga named Eddie Gossett who would become Graham’s storyline brother, Eddie Graham.
The duo would become known as the “Golden Grahams” and ruled the Northeast tag team wrestling scene until Eddie left for Florida to become a big star. After Eddie left, a guy named James Grady Johnson became known as “Crazy Luke” Graham and the Golden Grahams were back in business again. By the end of the 1960s, Jerry found himself in Phoenix again with a promoter who teamed him up with a local bodybuilder named Wayne Coleman. Rechristened “Superstar” Billy Graham, this newest Graham “family member” would go on to inspire guys like Jesse “The Body” Ventura and “Hulk” Hogan.
A sadist with a wild streak, Dr. Jerry had a unique ability to provoke the most violent reactions in people. One notable incident of this sort happened on November 19, 1957 when Dr. Jerry and Dick The Bruiser wrestled Antonio Rocca and Edouard Carpentier at Madison Square Garden. Graham bloodied Rocca, a good guy beloved by the crowd, setting off a riot that would forever live in wrestling infamy.
At least eight police officers were injured trying to quell the riot. Limbs were allegedly broken and teeth found on the floor doing cleanup. Some fans even went as far as to light their chairs on fire and attempt to throw them in the ring!
The results of that riot weren’t pretty for the business. All four wrestlers were fined by the New York State Athletic Commission. Dick the Bruiser was banned from wrestling in New York for the rest of his life. And a prohibition on children under 14 attending wrestling events at the Garden would last for about twenty years.
Outside the ring, Dr. Jerry lived as flashy of a lifestyle as he could. He wore expensive suits, patent red leather shoes, and drove a blood red Cadillac around town, lighting cigars with $100 bills. He was known to chase women too—there’s more than one story of Dr. Jerry approaching a table where a beautiful woman sat and walking away from the table with her, even if she had a date!
No one really could tell if this was Dr. Jerry acting out his gimmick or if something deeper was causing Graham problems. He suffered from depression and medicated heavily with alcohol and illicit substances. This cost him more than one gig and drew the ire of many promoters who wanted the Dr. Jerry that drew crowds, but often got the Dr. Jerry that was too shithoused to show up for the matches that night.
The lowest point of Dr. Graham’s life would arguably come in 1969, when a doctor called him from a hospital in Phoenix. This actual doctor told Jerry his mother was extremely ill, and at the hospital, but promised they would do everything possible to help Graham’s mother get better.
Jerry responded by telling the doctor if anything happened to his mother while in his care, that doctor’s life would be in serious danger.
And then the worst possible thing happened to Dr. Jerry while at a low point in his life: his mother died in the hospital.
Graham stormed the hospital with a hunting knife and sawed off shotgun screaming to be taken to his mother. A security guard and nurse were tossed down a hallway by Graham as he dragged his mother’s lifeless body off a gurney and tossed it over his shoulder, telling his “momma” that they’d be alright as soon as they got home.
A second security guard tried to stop Dr. Jerry from leaving the hospital with his mother’s body. Graham knocked that guard down with one arm and dragged him across the floor while carrying his mother’s corpse with the other.
Eventually cops all over Phoenix were called to the hospital. Streets were cordoned off. Dr. Jerry was considered armed and dangerous. Graham got to the parking lot before being beaten down by a swarm of police officers, at which point he relented and finally released his mother’s body to the authorities.
Most folks would get quite the day in court over an incident like this, but cooler heads prevailed and Dr. Jerry Graham sought treatment at the Arizona State Mental Hospital for what he’d done.
Graham found himself the recipient of more bad news when finally released. He’d sent money for years to his mother, who kept it in safekeeping along with proceeds from the family land when oil was found on their property. What Graham didn’t know was that his mother left all this money in her will—half a million dollars—to the Baptist Church.
Dr. Jerry, the man who once lit cigars with $100 bills, was now destitute and harboring a severe hatred for organized religion.
He would stay on the fringes of wrestling for another 20 years. Drinking heavily, his weight often topped 400 pounds, but he kept getting bookings because of the legacy he’d left in his prime.
Graham died on January 24, 1997 due to complications from a stroke. He would be inducted into the legacy wing of the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017, in no small part due to the fact Vince McMahon idolized Dr. Jerry growing up and dyed his hair blonde to match his idol. In addition to inspiring the model followed by wrestlers in what became the WWF and paving the way for guys like Hulk Hogan, Graham was also inducted into the Georgia Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009.
Sorry for the morbid turn this week, but like I said at the top, it’s too wild of a true story not to share. Happy Friday, everybody, and I’ll try to come back with at least some passable dick jokes next week.
We’ll see you then!