Wrestling Reality: The Life and Mind of Chris Kanyon Wrestling's Gay Superstarby Chris Kanyon, Ryan Clark
A rare glimpse not only into the life of a professional wrestler, but the life of a gay man in a straight world, this tragic memoir is told in Chris Kanyon’s own words, with the help of journalist Ryan Clark. One of the most popular wrestlers of the late 1990s, Kanyon kept his personal life private from his fans until finally revealing his biggest secret in… See more details below
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A rare glimpse not only into the life of a professional wrestler, but the life of a gay man in a straight world, this tragic memoir is told in Chris Kanyon’s own words, with the help of journalist Ryan Clark. One of the most popular wrestlers of the late 1990s, Kanyon kept his personal life private from his fans until finally revealing his biggest secret in 2004: he was gay. Going through the various roles that Kanyon played, both in the ring and out of it, as well as his battle with manic depression, this book explores the factors that led to his suicide in 2010. In his voice and the way he wanted it told, these are Kanyon’s last words about his experience rising through the ranks to the top of the professional wrestling world while keeping his sexuality hidden.
"Kanyon is brutally honest about the wrestlers he meets, his decision to take steroids, and exploring his sexuality." —www.unshelved.com (December 2011)
"[I]n-depth, honest and touching. It is not only the best biography that I have read on a wrestler, it is one of the best biographies I had read ever . . . period." —www.BookLegionDotCom.blogspot.com (December 2011)
"[T]he book is fascinating, both as a look at Kanyon personally and a trip through his wrestling career." —www.BleacherReport.com (November 2011)
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The Life and Mind of Chris Kanyon, Wrestling's Gay Superstar
By Chris Kanyon, Ryan Clark, Michael Holmes
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2011 Ryan Clark and Ken Klucsarits
All rights reserved.
GROWING UP IN SUNNYSIDE
I was shocked.
I didn't remember my dad ever doing things like this, and my six-year-old mind couldn't comprehend it. I was in my room, the one I shared with my eight-and-a-half-year-old brother in our apartment in Sunnyside, Queens. I spent a lot of time there, playing with my toys. On my own a lot, I knew how to occupy myself. Dad came home that day after working as an accountant in Manhattan. I left my cramped room, one of two bedrooms in the apartment, and met my older brother and mother at the dinner table.
We sat down, and immediately, Dad turned to us boys.
"I've got a surprise for you," he said.
I looked to my brother with wide eyes.
Dad produced three tickets from his pocket.
"They're for tonight," he said in his thick Queens accent. "At the Gardens."
They were wrestling tickets. Wrestling. Here, in my town. It never occurred to me that the same kind of wrestling I watched with my dad every Saturday night was being performed on a regular basis just four blocks from my house at the Sunnyside Gardens. And the concept that we were going was almost more than I could fathom.
After dinner, the three of us left the apartment and walked out into the cool evening air. We passed Tornsey Park, just across the street from the apartment complex, and the convenience store where, when we were older, all of us kids in the neighborhood would get beer from the Korean owner. But I wasn't focused on any of that.
We were going to see wrestling.
Dad had said something about how wrestling was regulating a lot of matches, not allowing young kids to see them in person because of the violence. I was just worried about getting in. But I knew Dad would find a way. He was going to sneak us into the Gardens.
* * *
The Sunnyside Gardens was an old building that served as a flea market during the day. But at night, it was transformed into a wrestling venue. It seemed like hundreds of people were waiting in line when we stepped up to the door. The man at the gate was busy taking tickets from the crowd, and when we were close to the door, my dad pulled some trickery.
He gave the man our three tickets, but he kept my brother and me hidden behind him. As the crowd kept moving forward, Dad leaned close to the usher.
"I think you may want to check that man's ticket," Dad said, pointing to the guy in front of us.
"Yeah?" the usher said.
"Yeah. I think he may have bought it outside from a scalper," Dad said. "I hope he didn't get ripped off. It may be fake."
The usher focused his attention on the man who'd just walked in. He called him over and checked his ticket to make sure it was the real thing. As they talked, we kids became lost in the faces, and Dad led us inside. As we walked past, I heard the usher say the other man's ticket was fine, and he let them go. More important to me, we were in.
What I saw in there, I'll never forget.
We sat far away, so far that it was difficult to see the wrestlers. And the cigarette smoke — I know it sounds cliché — was thick everywhere throughout the arena. That night, the tag team of Billy White Wolf and Chief Jay Strongbow took on the Executioners for the tag-team titles. Billy and the Chief used a gimmick that they were Native Americans, even though, unbeknownst to us at the time, Billy was Iraqi and Jay was really Italian. The two were favorites of mine and my brother's, and we loved when the Chief would do his war dance in the ring. The Executioners wore black masks and acted as cutthroat as their name.
Even at that age, I was always ready to go out on my own, to explore the arena. After we found our seats I walked around a bit — not too far, not out of sight of my dad — but far enough to see what this world was like. I saw grown men shouting in anger or elation. I saw the bright lights of the arena and the athletes preparing for their matches. But it was the wrestling that really got my attention. It was so different than on television. It looked and smelled and sounded so much more real, the moves amplified by streaming sweat and the smacks of man hitting man and crashing hard to the mat. I was amazed. I had tunnel vision, exploring my little area of the Gardens. I think some part of me knew that this was something special — that it meant more to me than others, even my dad and my brother. This meant more to me because someday, I would be the one in the ring.
Someday, little kids would be out in the crowd, watching me.
* * *
In the summer of 1976, Sunnyside, Queens, was exactly the opposite of what everyone thought of New York City.
Split between the elevated 7 subway and the honks and shouting on Queens Boulevard, the neighborhood had an urban environment but a suburban lifestyle with green parks and trees, two-story townhouses and multi-family homes. All in all, it was a perfect mix for a kid growing up — a five-minute subway ride to Manhattan, yet it still had a small-town feel. The town was filled primarily with Italians and Irish, though it was a mix of all cultures and nationalities, like our family — we were part Austrian, German, Yugoslavian and Czech.
We lived in a multi-story apartment complex just across the street from Tornsey Park, the center for the neighborhood's young crowd. There, kids would break up into groups, depending on their age, and play softball, street hockey or football depending on the time of year. The centerfield wall of the baseball park was actually the wall of the old Robbins clothes factory, and it was the northernmost part of town.
Any farther north and you'd wind up in Astoria, Queens. For that reason, we called the centerfield wall "Canada," because it was a northern border of sorts, and that's where we'd have our keg parties in our teens. The time and the neighborhood were very liberal. We'd all go hang out in Canada and drink beers, and for the most part, the cops and our parents looked the other way.
But it was a little tougher for me. We lived on the second floor of the apartment building, and the windows faced north — overlooking the exact spots where me and my friends would hang out and sometimes get into trouble. Not only did I have to watch out for the cops, I had to hide behind trees and benches because there was always the chance my mother might be looking out that window.
My parents, Jack and Barbara Klucsarits, were both accountants, and they moved from Manhattan to Sunnyside before I was born to live closer to my mother's folks, who lived on the first floor. Our apartment, 1,500 square feet, was all we needed, but there were times when I wished I had more room.
In the bedroom my brother and I shared, there was only room for a regular bed and a foldout bed, and the foldout was put away until we slept. At night my father would unfold it (my mother normally worked nights for a department store) and then we would go to sleep. Aside from my parents' room, we also had a small kitchen and a long, relatively narrow living room, complete with plastic-covered couch.
That was my world, and I loved it, even if there was part of me that would never belong there.
* * *
That summer, I was already practicing my wrestling moves.
Even at the age of seven, my friends and I were imitating what we were seeing on television. I was already loving "High Chief" Peter Maivia, the head of the famous Samoan wrestling family. The High Chief was a mountain of a man, with tattoos all over his body. He set up a royal family of wrestling, and passed his talents on to, among others, his nephew Afa and his grandson Rocky, who would go on to star in movies and develop a superstar following as the Rock. I loved the Samoans who were always good guys in their matches. Then I watched a match that made me rethink things. I saw the High Chief turn bad. He had aligned himself with the clean-cut champion, Bob Backlund, but in a shocking development, the High Chief turned bad and faced off against Backlund for the world title. I was conflicted, but I liked the way the crowd reacted to the High Chief. Something about it all made me like it, even though I didn't want to.
In my room, or at my grandma's house, my brother and my cousins and I would create our own storylines and try the moves: the sleeper hold, the airplane spin, head locks, splashes off the bed onto the floor and, of course, the pile driver. Sometimes we would take turns being good guys and bad guys, which we would later learn were called babyfaces and heels.
We practiced the moves so much that we learned how not to get hurt — and none of us ever did. Little did I know, someday I'd make it to the top of the wrestling world, performing in front of millions. But by then I learned I'd be more likely to get hurt outside the ring than in it.
* * *
"Come on, Ken!" my father yelled, encouraging my older brother as he walked up to the plate.
Even before the age of 10, my brother proved to be a top-notch athlete. He'd play hockey and basketball, but in the summer of 1976 he played baseball at the park, and we would go to watch him. My father seemed happy there. He was so proud of Ken; I wanted Dad to be proud of me too.
But I wasn't as concerned with that as I was with a young man from the neighborhood, whom I would rather not identify, so I will refer to him as "Mr. X." At nine years old, he was one of the best athletes in the neighborhood. I think we knew, even then, that he would go on to become a great athlete. He had blond hair and blue eyes, and even as a kid, he was so coordinated on the baseball field. I was fascinated with him, as were most of the kids in the neighborhood. But it was different for me, because he was one of my brother's best friends. He was always around. At that age, three years difference was an eternity, so I had no idea how to relate to Mr. X or how to communicate with him. Instead, I decided to always just give him hell.
I teased him, bugged him, threw rocks at him and tried to fight with him to get his attention. For the most part, he tolerated me, but my brother would tell me to quit it. I sat there in the park with my father as he came up to bat. The kid didn't move like a nine-year-old. He was sure of himself, so agile. He could do anything.
"Go home!" I screamed. "You can't hit!"
My father paid no attention to me, just like the players.
I tried louder, but no one cared.
On top of being a great athlete, he was just a great person. I admired him, the way everyone looked up to him. I thought about him a lot, and when he wasn't around, I wanted him to be.
Later that night, I was in my room, thinking about Mr. X and looking at the trophies that lined my brother's dresser. I wanted trophies like that, too. My thoughts were interrupted by my brother.
"Hey," Ken said, walking into the room.
"Hey," I said.
"What are you looking at?" he said as he sat on the bed and took off his cleats.
"Nothing," I said. "I wasn't looking at nothing."
"Really? Hey, let me ask you something."
"Have we fought yet today?"
I couldn't speak. "What?" I finally managed.
"Have we fought yet today?"
My mind thought back through the last 12 hours. There was breakfast, playing in my room, going to the park with Dad to watch Ken's game (but really watching Mr. X), coming home. I shook my head no. "No, we haven't fought."
With no warning, Ken punched me in the face. Hard.
That was how my brother wanted to end the day.
* * *
We never got along, my brother and I.
Maybe it was because every day, he beat me up. Not just once in a while — every single day. But that was our relationship, and it would not get better until years later.
Around the time I was eight, I started playing sports too — roller hockey, baseball and basketball, like my brother. We each had our own groups of friends, though sometimes the groups would intermingle in the park. And when we had time, my friends and I would go down to the swing sets, where some intelligent park person had placed large black mats so children would not get hurt if they fell off the swings.
We did not use them for that purpose. Instead, these mats became the place to perfect our wrestling moves. It was there me and my friends Tommy Clarke, Tommy Moran, Danny O'Sullivan and others would wrestle. We'd taken our matches from my room and my grandmother's house to the mats, where, after a few hours of headlocks and sleeper holds, we'd go back to our homes, covered in the black that had rubbed off on to us. Our mothers always knew where we'd been the second we opened the front door.
After one day where countless hours were spent on the mats, I walked home with my good friend Tommy Clarke. We had black smudges all over our faces and hands, elbows and legs. Something was on my mind.
"Tom, do you know of any other kid whose brother beats him up every day?" I asked. "Do you know any kid whose brother punches him in the face?"
Tom thought for a second. He shook his head. "I don't think so. Me and my brothers fight. But they're pretty even. I don't think you'd ever catch us punching each other in the face."
I nodded. I didn't think so either. I thought about that as we parted and I went back to the apartment.
* * *
In the middle of the hot summer sun, I put on my helmet, grabbed the bat and trudged up to the plate.
"He's no hitter!" one kid called out.
"He's no good!" said another.
This must be what it was like when I teased Mr. X, I thought. But he always came through — it seemed like he always got a base hit.
My father sat in the stands. Now he was watching my games, as well as my brother's. By the time I was nine, I was ready to try my hand at baseball.
The pitcher, who was a year older than me, delivered a perfect strike down the middle. I didn't swing. Coach had told me to take the first pitch.
"He's not swinging!" a boy yelled from the opponent's dugout.
I got flustered. I wanted to hit. Throw it again, I thought.
The second pitch was, again, right down the middle. But I was late.
"Strike two!" the umpire called.
I felt like I was letting everyone down. Everyone's eyes were on me and I couldn't do it. The spotlight was too bright. I didn't like it.
The kid on the mound smiled. He was bigger than me, and he could throw hard. His last pitch was too fast for me, and I was late with my swing again.
Three pitches. I was out. It was not a good way to start my athletic career.CHAPTER 2
WAITING FOR FIREWORKS
The best thing about being an altar boy was the annual trip. My family was Catholic, and I grew up as an altar boy, which meant I was doing just work in the eyes of God. But it also meant I would get to take the annual trip to the Great Adventure Six Flags Theme Park in New Jersey, which, at the time, seemed better than any heavenly reward.
While my family also took vacations, we had to schedule them around my brother and me going to summer camp. That summer, it was the Marist Brothers Camp, held in upstate New York. We took a bus up there for two weeks of track and field, swimming, movies, arts and crafts. My brother and I were split up into different age groups. In my group, 25 kids were packed into one cabin, and there was one community shower for all of us. I felt a little strange about that.
By the time the two weeks were over, I'd feel even worse.
* * *
I was fascinated with one kid at the camp — Tommy. Even at nine years old, he was more mature than the rest of us. He was good-looking and even had some muscle definition in his arms. I didn't know what I was feeling, but I wanted his attention, in the same way I wanted Mr. X's attention.
I watched him as we ran around the track — Tommy could really run. After a long day of running events, we came back to the cabin, all of us in need of a shower. I was already nervous about that; I didn't want to shower in front of anyone else. But I wasn't necessarily afraid of being naked in front of others. I was scared because the thought of being in the shower with that boy made me nervous, but I was overwhelmingly excited in a way I didn't understand.
Excerpted from Wrestling Reality by Chris Kanyon, Ryan Clark, Michael Holmes. Copyright © 2011 Ryan Clark and Ken Klucsarits. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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