Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1 & 2
Animal’s Abridged Prehistory
I’m no dummy. There’s no question that everyone who picks up this book wants to jump right into the story of Animal and Hawk and read the tales of the Road Warriors through the good, the bad, and the unbelievably ugly. So I’ve smashed my early years down to size for you here.
I was born Joseph Michael Laurinaitis to proud Lithuanian parents Joseph Anthony and Lorna Ann in Philadelphia on September 12, 1960. Following not too far behind me were my two brothers, John (1962) and Marc (1965).
As I grew up, I had memorable times learning how to play street hockey and football, squashing everyone who got in my way, including my poor brothers, and girls, too. I also developed a monstrous taste for fighting anyone who messed with us, whether they were coming from rival streets to take our toys or making fun of my last name (you can imagine). I also went to Catholic school, where the nuns’ rulers brutalized my knuckles. My offense? Being my good ol’ charming self.
When I was thirteen, we moved from Pennsylvania to Tampa, Florida, where I perfected my baseball skills, was voted best-looking guy in school, and discovered the world of weightlifting. The last discovery changed my life forever.
But as I was settling in, not even two years later, I had to trade my flip flops for snow boots as my dad was transferred again, this time from Florida to Minnesota. It was like moving to Mars. I hated it . . . at first.
Everything started making sense when I quickly proved myself at Irondale High School in Minnesota. At sixteen years old, I bench-pressed 300 pounds, beat out the baseball team’s captain for his catcher’s position during tryouts, and on the football team went from tight end to starting fullback my senior year. I was also still beating the hell out of anyone who messed with me and my brothers. Ask the poor sap who thought it would be funny to egg John’s prized ’66 Mustang.
In 1978, after being offered a partial scholarship to the football program, I entered Golden Valley Lutheran College in Golden Valley, Minnesota. By now I was six feet one and 225 pounds. As offensive guard, I was slamming the defense, helping our team go 60 my first year. By the end of my second and final year, I was twice named First-Team Junior College All American guard and a Second Team linebacker.
While at Golden Valley, I also met a guy named Scott Simpson, my cocaptain, my best friend, and the future National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) professional wrestling star “The Russian Nightmare,” Nikita Koloff.
But everything changed before I was to begin my junior year at Brigham Young University. My serious girlfriend from Golden Valley, Nancy, was pregnant. I dropped out, got a dead-end job, married Nancy, and on February 22, 1981, welcomed my first son, Joey, into the world.
I quickly realized it wasn’t the right time in my life to be married, and I divorced Nancy six months after Joey’s birth. We shared equal custody.
At twenty-two years old, I was making a name for myself as a potential powerlifter. I weighed around 250 pounds and was benching 500 pounds. A couple of guys at The Gym, the most popular facility in the area, introduced me to the anabolic steroid Dianabol. Soon my strength and size skyrocketed even further.
At this point, my life really picked up steam, so hold on tight and prepare yourself for a hell of a ride . . .
Bouncing Around and Taking a Chance
One night I had finished repping out a set on the incline bench press with 365 pounds and was sitting up to stretch, when I felt an open-handed whack in the chest. Crack! That got my attention really fast. I looked up and saw this guy with the curliest mop of orange hair and a funny-looking goatee. He was staring at me and smiling, and it took me a second to figure out who he was.
Then I heard his booming, grizzly voice. “Hey, Laurinaitis, how you doin’?”
I started laughing. I knew this guy. It was Mike Hegstrand, the future Road Warrior Hawk. Although we didn’t really know each other that well, we were both bouncers on the local scene with reputations of not taking any crap. Back then, guys like us were always aware of each other.
Mike told me he’d heard how big and strong I’d been getting, but when he actually saw me, he couldn’t believe it. “You’re not right,” he said. “You ain’t supposed to be doin’ 100 pounds more than me.”
I might have been stronger than him, but Mike had been growing, too, and he looked great. He had these traps practically growing out of his ears, these big, ripped arms, and that orange hair. At six feet two and about 240 pounds, Mike was a sight to be seen.
After talking for a while, we exchanged numbers and agreed to get together soon for a workout. The next time we met in the gym, we talked about getting even bigger and stronger and decided to see what a regular steroid regimen could do for us. Mike suggested we talk with a doctor friend of his first to make sure we knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into. We took a very cautious approach to steroids, working our asses off in the gym between cycles to maintain our gains.
Mike and I had very different goals in the gym and, therefore, very different approaches to training. I liked to go extra heavy and spend a few hours in the gym. Mike would be in and out within an hour. He called it “fast and furious” training and was interested in getting ripped. I wanted to get as massive and strong as possible. My workouts were intense. If I didn’t throw up on any given night, I didn’t accomplish my goal and would be disappointed with myself.
In a short amount of time, I developed a real respect for Mike and we became good friends. Mike’s reputation had preceded him. I’d heard he was an absolute wild man with a mean streak. The rumor went that it didn’t take much to make Mike lose his temper and start swinging for the fences. He’d freak out, hit like a mule, and get in anyone’s face that got too close. He was the perfect guy to bounce with.
When I first met him, Mike was working at this real dive strip joint called Roaring ’20s. It was a tough, dingy old dump. It was the kind of place where when people would come in and sit down, you’d go over with a bat, tap the table, and say, “Okay, you’ve got three choices. Buy your booze here now, over at the bar now, or get the hell out now.” Seriously, that’s the kind of place it was and why they had people like Mike working there. He was in his glory in that kind of environment.
While Mike was laying down the law there, I was at a place called Thumper’s. This is where I had my most memorable run-in with a bar patron. It was happy hour, maybe about five in the evening, and a group of girls came in. Before you knew it, this sloppy, drunk creep made his way over to their table and made himself known.
By the looks on the girls’ faces, it was more than obvious that they weren’t interested. Eventually he started becoming loud and belligerent, so I walked over and asked him if there was a problem. He said no and walked away. Fine. I returned to the front door and resumed a conversation with a cop who’d stopped by. Less than a minute later, I saw the guy walk back over to the table.
I charged right over there. “Hey, buddy,” I calmly said, “I asked you before to leave these girls alone. I’m not going to ask you again.”
No sooner had the words left my mouth than this guy was reaching up and putting his cigarette out on my forehead.
I saw red! I grabbed him by the throat, lifted him off the ground, and ran him across the floor like a rag doll. Thumper’s had these long rows of picnic tables, and I swear that guy’s head slammed against most of them on his way to the door.
As I was about to toss my new friend out on the sidewalk, the officer I had been talking with earlier decided to cuff him and take him away instead. To top it all off, after the guy was thrown into the back of the cop car, he thought it would be a great idea to kick out the back windshield. As a reward, he got a nice beating with a police baton before being taken away.
Eventually things took an interesting turn when Mike and I both wound up working regularly at a place called Gramma B’s. What a cool place Gramma B’s was! It was a pretty good-sized space, with two levels, and although it was only licensed to hold 3,000 people, there’d easily be close to 4,000 jammed in there on a good night.
During the day, they would put plywood on the pool tables so they could run a strip club, but then at night it was an all-out bar atmosphere. Usually upstairs they’d have a rock band, and downstairs they’d have country. But at all times you could count on it being rowdy. Gramma B’s was smoke-filled and booze-packed, and anything went, which is why Mike and I were there: we kept a lid on things.
And we had help. There was a literal wrecking crew of us at Gramma B’s that you wouldn’t believe. It was like all the local badasses decided to get together and work under the same roof. At one point in time, there was me, Mike, and guys like Rick Rood, Barry Darsow, John Nord, and Scott Norton all keeping an eye on things. Each one of us was a notorious powerhouse and future professional wrestling superstar.
Rick Rood was from Robbinsdale and actually went to high school there with Barry Darsow as well as my Golden Valley football buddy Scott Simpson (Nikita Koloff). Without a doubt, Rood was a chick magnet. Girls flocked to him like he was the first man they’d ever seen. He would later flaunt his machismo as Ravishing Rick “Rude,” a one-of-a-kind heel who became not only the WWF Intercontinental champion but the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) International World Heavyweight champion as well.
Barry Darsow was someone I’d seen around at The Gym from time to time, and we got along great. We were both powerhouses near 300 pounds and respected each other without having to say a word. It was like that among big guys in the gym sometimes. Barry is best known today for having been Smash, half of the very successful WWF tag team Demolition. Demolition went on to win the WWF World Tag Team Championships. They were also one of the teams considered to be clones of the Road Warriors.
But that’s a story for a much later chapter.
Then there was Scott Norton, who attended Patrick Henry High School with Mike and was a 330-pound super-heavyweight arm wrestling world champion, whose victory in a match with Cleve Dean earned him a slot in the Sylvester Stallone movie Over the Top. In the wrestling business, Norton caught on big in Japan, becoming one of only five Americans to hold the biggest honor in New Japan Pro Wrestling: the International Wrestling Grand Prix (IWGP) Heavyweight Championship.
Last but not least was big John Nord, a 300-pound giant, another product of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, who towered above everyone at six feet five. Nord broke into the business first as Nord the Barbarian in the AWA before finding most of his notoriety as the Berzerker in the WWF.
Although we each had a different approach to bouncing, as a group we complemented the hell out of each other. As soon as we’d walk in for a night of work with our Gramma B’s T-shirts on, it was time to punch in to see if there was anyone whose lights needed to be punched out.
When it came to bouncing, the six of us ran the place. We didn’t care who you were. Whether you were a Hells Angel who didn’t want to take off your colors before coming in or a drunken patron with a big mouth, we took care of business.
Once, a guy didn’t want to take his colors off, so we took his ass upstairs and proceeded to grab him by the ankles, turn him upside down, and shake him up and down until he agreed. You had to see it. Some of us wore biker colors, too, and in some cases even knew the guys we had to corner. But at Gramma B’s, we were the enforcers and tended to be very hands-on. Hey, we had a job to do, and that was that.
Of all the guys, though, my chemistry with Mike was particularly strong. I remember hearing stories about him long before we actually met. One was about Mike getting rowdy at high school football games. “Hey, did you hear last night? Patrick Henry High was getting killed 420, but Hegstrand was 50 under the stands knocking heads!”
Working with Mike made me realize I wasn’t the only tough guy in town, or the most charismatic. He had personality off the charts and was always on the microphone yelling something crazy. When Mike used to host the wet T-shirt contests, he’d be on the mic rambling all night long, making the whole place roar with laughter. He was never at a loss for words. Ever.
Behind all of this great madness at Gramma B’s was a bartender named Eddie Sharkey. Eddie had trained wrestlers back in the ’60s and even wrestled for a brief time himself. He had two big claims to fame he’d talk about all the time. The first was that he’d wrestled Harley Race for the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Heavyweight Championship. The other was that he once shot up Verne Gagne’s office. That one was my favorite.
Verne Gagne was the owner and promoter of the AWA, and I guess one time after a few drinks, Verne hit on Eddie’s wife. Later that night, Eddie responded by driving past Verne’s office and unloading both barrels of his 12-gauge shotgun into it. We laughed our asses off when he’d tell that one.
Eddie was quite the character: a real wheeler and dealer. He was this little guy with a big mouth always talking about the new stuff he had that “fell off the truck.” Whatever it was you were looking for, he’d have it the next day for you in the trunk of his car. Need a TV? It was in the trunk of his car. A ratchet set? Look no further. Steak knives? A Walkman? Some designer jeans? You guessed it. Eddie’s trunk was better than a retail chain.
With his glory days behind him, Eddie had long since gravitated out of the wrestling business and made himself at home behind the bar at Gramma B’s. Night after night, Eddie watched as we sent bodies flying over the bar, out the back door, or through the front. I guess he found us pretty entertaining because he was always saying something to us like, “Jeez, Laurinaitis, you’re a monster,” or “Norton, I’m glad you’re on my side.”
After work one night Eddie introduced his latest big idea. “Hey, guys, I’m thinking about getting another wrestling camp together. You guys interested?”
We weren’t sure about it. In fact, I think the first time he brought it up, I turned and walked away. Another time, I said, “Gee, Eddie, I don’t know.”
But Eddie was persistent. He kept calling Rood, insisting we let him train us. We all discussed it and figured we’d give it a try. There was nothing to lose. We knew that at one time Eddie had a training school, where Jesse Ventura, among others, had trained. Ultimately, the decision was easy. If guys like Ole Anderson, Ric Flair, and Jesse Ventura could each make it out of Minnesota as professional wrestlers, we could too.