We all[1] know the wrestling we see on television is scripted: the punches are pulled, and the in-ring heroes and villains[2] don’t carry on backstage wearing those pants or calling forth the dead.

Hamlet, too, is scripted. And in the theatre, like in wrestling, the actor playing the Prince or the Ghost (almost certainly) doesn’t carry on wearing those pants when the curtain falls either.

But wrestling and theatre also have their differences. Or, if you like, wrestling is a category of theatre more directly and literally impactful than the more traditional forms of drama. The blood can seep beneath the curtain, become real, and follow a wrestler home. The wounds of a narrative – both physical and psychological – on a character are often both tangible and visceral on the person playing that character. The most well-known wrestling sports entertainment company, the WWE, runs commercials requesting of viewers “please don’t try this at home”[3]. Things can go rather wrong: the dangers loom larger than a botched line of dialogue or a missed cue.

And they do go wrong.

This piece is a look at the life of a wrestler for whom things have gone wrong and continue to go wrong. It, too, is an appeal: a clarion for the attention of wrestling fans (and also non-wrestling fans), and, yes, a finger-wagging at the WWE. The main thrust is not overtly or broadly political or legal: I can leave this to the ongoing lawsuit being brought by over 50 wrestlers and their estates against the WWE in connection with brain injuries likely sustained as a consequence of their time with the company[4]. The piece is a personal one: a piece about an individual, even if some of what I say may apply in general terms to other wrestlers. I do not speak on behalf of Perry Saturn, but I do want to speak for him. This being said, my finger wags enough that the WWE – and the industry as a whole – should openly recognise it is more real, and its potential negative impact on its stars is less scripted, than any performance of Hamlet. Perhaps Perry’s story can remind them of this.

Part I: Perry Saturn – the wrestler.

At the time of his wrestling fame in the 90s and early 00s, Perry Saturn was a convincing brawler character. Quite short by wrestling standards, he was compact, muscular, bald, fake-bronzed, and heavily inked and pierced. He also wore the too-long and too-vacant gaze of a man who wasn’t registering much beyond his line of sight, as if he were arriving at the televised fight without time to recover from a recent unscripted one. In the same way that the tattoos were very much owned by the man and not the character, one always felt the gaze was his property too: there seemed little room to cleave between Perry Saturn the wrestling character and Perry Arthur Satullo the man.

Perry wrestled in the World Wrestling Federation (following a lawsuit with the World Wide Fund for Nature, the company swapped the F for an E) during the so-called “Attitude Era”, a time often lauded as the pinnacle of wrestling television entertainment because increased violence, sexual innuendo and political incorrectness drew huge television audiences . Household names like The Rock, Steve Austin, The Undertaker and Triple H all wrestled with Perry. Trained by legendary wrestling coach Walter “Killer” Kowalski (a wonderfully literary nom de guerre but one chosen without conscious allusion to Tennessee Williams’ Stanley), Perry was known to his peers as a great technical wrestler.  He won a second-tier title or two, but he was never all too successful during his time at the WWE: a mid-card, a bridesmaid’s boyfriend.

Perhaps evidence for why he wasn’t that successful can be found in the following tale. In a match with a jobber[5] called Mike Bell, Bell botched the same simple move twice, landing Perry awkwardly on his head and neck both times. Perry visibly loses his cool, and rounded out the match by doing his near best to legitimately hurt Bell, at one point throwing him out of the ring with sincere violence[6].

Following the incident, likely as a direct punishment, the WWE writers decided to give brawler Perry an unusual storyline and gimmick. He began an infatuation with a mop – what would become his “Moppy”. Moppy was eventually to be “killed” in a woodchipper by Perry’s on-screen nemesis. The fans warmed to Perry during this time and the gimmick increased his popularity: Perry, ever the brawler, hated it. A matter of months after the storyline ended, he was released by the WWE and, following in the trodden footsteps of many wrestlers, Perry worked for independent wrestling productions in Japan and North America before retiring through injury in 2004.

If this were the more interesting part of Perry’s story it would be an unremarkable one for a wrestler. Wrestlers retiring through injury is no more remarkable or unusual a career conclusion than a long-standing office worker retiring with their gold watch.

Part II: Perry Arthur Satullo – the man.

It is 2010, six years after his retirement, and Perry is being interviewed by old-school wrestling journalist (and Larry David lookalike[7]) Bill Apter, in a short segment being made for Apter’s wrestling news website[8].

The interview[9] begins with Apter being playfully barged from the right-hand side of the screen by a figure initially out of sight. Apter, clearly not an actor, exclaims “Oh my god, Perry Saturn – you are alive.” “Barely” the ex-wrestler replies as he steps in view. The tone, at this point, is akin to that of a PG-soap opera, as if Perry has just returned from meeting his mother-in-law or surviving a molar extraction. Apter then asks why Perry decided to “drop out of sight”, explaining that he has not seen him on the wrestling circuit for nearly four years:

I didn’t decide to drop out, I got shot … twice … and it kinda screwed me up for a long time.

Perry then elaborates for a few minutes, explaining that he was shot in Atlanta, Georgia, and after being shot he “started doing meth … and starting doing meth by the tonne”. He was homeless for two years, found a place to live in Minnesota and went cold turkey for a while but then relapsed and found himself on the streets again for a further six months. Now he’s clean, he says. This is a short interview with little time given for detailing the chronology of events, and Perry’s self-drawn portrait – or rather sketch – of his miserable few years is markedly undramatized. Before Perry resurfaced, it was believed by the wrestling community that Perry was likely dead.  Several of his close friends had passed away (including Killer Kowalski) and Perry had not attended their funerals.  As Apter puts it in the interview: “seven months or so ago you turned up at a WWE show and word spread around that you weren’t dead”. People had stopped worrying he was alive.

In a significantly longer 2014 video interview[10], Perry reveals a little more. His first wife died of a drug overdose the same week he was shot. His homeless days were spent in Georgia, Iowa and Minnesota: the Midwest he says knowingly is the “meth capital of the world”.

In both the interviews mentioned above, Perry is asked whether he was recognised by fans during these homeless years. He replies that he would deny he was Perry because he couldn’t face up to the polarity between who he was and who he should be. If “he had an ounce of pride” remaining it was there in the fact that he couldn’t let people see him like that, he suggests to the interviewer. He consistently returns to this same theme of pride. Apter presents him the opportunity for a concluding remark to the fans, and Perry shuns a warming, didactic epigram. He says simply: “I screwed up”. He’s extremely sorry not for but to himself.  He turns towards the 2014 interviewer and proudly tells that a Japanese wrestling promoter once likened his skillset to that of the Dynamite Kid (a wrestling hall-of-famer). Then he explains that the drugs destroyed those sharp abilities and that half-empty gaze towards the no-man’s land behind the camera immediately returns once again. His sadness is visible and solemn and brooding, but uninterested in pity.

A Youtube search will return you a total of a handful of interviews. Most of these interviews take place after Perry returned from his Midwest wilderness. In a 2012 interview[11] (which, as an aside, is truly painful to watch. Not because of Perry, but because of the interviewer. I have never seen an interview conducted in such a faltering manner. It is bizarre.), Perry is asked why he became a wrestler. He explains he was beaten as a kid by his father, saw these tough guy wrestlers on television, and found solace in the notion that if he was one of them he would be immune from domestic violence. This is a sad logic indeed. And Perry also sits there with a tattoo covering over a quarter of his face. Asked why he had it inked, he can’t remember – “I was high” he responds, not as a quip or a brag of his prior madness, just as a matter of fact; it is, again, the raw, undramatized, solipsistic truth of his narrative.

Perry speaks reasonably slowly in these interviews, and with limited variation in his tone. Sometimes his answers are long and descriptive and insightful, and sometimes they are hesitant and accompanied by a vacant pause and stare. The less engaged he is the more he adds you know at the end of his sentences. His “you know” sounds a lot like a “y’all”, and sometimes I am not sure which it is. It becomes a tic I enjoy to hear, even if I know it signifies an absence of engagement, or, more worryingly, the difficulty of keeping within his chain of thought. Each muttered “you know”, then, feels to me like the postponed psychosomatic impact of yet another somatic syringe.

He has a black, dry humour. In the Apter interview, he is asked to elaborate on the shooting:

Bill: You got shot, what were the circumstances?

Perry: Somebody shot me with a gun.

And in the 2014 interview, Perry takes part in a running feature in which the interviewer reveals items from a sports bag one-by-one, and asks the interviewee the wrestler he associates with each item. The bag contains liquor, marijuana, tablets and syringes. Perry suggests bleakly at the end of the revealing: “that’s a pretty jaded bag”.

He also has a number of fantastically wild and creative sex stories. Wrestlers, typically unreserved characters shall we say, spend a long time on the road travelling from city to city, from hotel to hotel, so this is perhaps hardly a surprise. Perry is a willing storyteller, happy to begin many a debauchery tale with a this time….  One particular episode involves an inflatable water slide, numerous consenting adults and a dildo called “The Rhino” (Perry always refers to it with the definite article, which adds sincere reverence). There is another in which Perry admits to having used Moppy in sexual activities. He concludes this tale with the straight-faced remark that “[his friends] couldn’t understand why I put the condom on [Moppy] … but I have to hold it and carry that thing around with me”. There’s sense in nonsense.

Part III: Finding Perry.

When I was younger I’d always liked Perry: he was an undramatic brute in the ring, always teetering on the borderlines of sanity outside of it. I found the interviews in the summer of 2016 and watched them, both excited and worried by his stories. Then I checked his Twitter[12] and Facebook and saw both had been silent since 2015. Aware of his earlier disappearances, I began to wonder where he was.

As a writer, I also thought that in this age of glared spotlight, unvarnished granularity and, well, serialized nosiness, it was remarkable Perry’s story hadn’t been looked at in more detail. Even a large portion of wrestling fans were unaware of his post-retirement blues. His was a very human story, fake-tanned and muscled-up by the scrubbing out of the actual pain of an actual person. In reality, of course, catastrophe is not so bare-bones – flesh and brain and family and friends are all involved. And those bare bones are what I decided I would aim to brush aside – respectfully not with Moppy – in my quest to find Perry and write a bit more about his story.

I began looking for him that same summer through desktop-based research (also known as creepy internet stalking). I seemed to be able to find his wife on Facebook and messaged her[13]. Not without surprise, she did not respond. I found an article from 2011 in a Minnesota local newspaper, the Albert Lea Tribune, interviewing Perry. I telephoned the interviewer, the wonderfully named and wonderfully helpful Garrett Wampler, and he gave me some leads. Perry’s local gym back in 2011 confirmed they hadn’t seen him for a few years. The phone book was unhelpful and a girl I spoke to at the filling station at the end of the road on which he once resided had never even heard of him.

As I was about to take my research even deeper, Perry resurfaced.

On 10 October last year, Perry’s official Facebook became active again. This was the first sentence of a longer message:

It has been a quiet few years on the Perry Saturn front – out of respect for Perry and his family we haven’t shared something that we were [sic] instructed to now share with all of you: [f]or the last several years, Perry has been suffering from a debilitating traumatic brain injury.

The next day a GoFundMe webpage was set up to raise $100,000 to cover the costs of Perry’s healthcare. Perry’s social media pages – and the videos Perry puts on these pages – explain that Perry has CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a traumatic brain injury that is progressive and degenerative. It is found most often in those who have suffered repeated blows to the head and concussions. It is the same condition that is finally garnering greater attention in the NFL[14]. It is also a key part of the plaintiffs’ claim in the ongoing lawsuit against the WWE mentioned above.

Perry has posted a number of short videos on his Facebook since October. He sits on his dirtied beige couch, typically wearing an item of New England Patriots gear, and he explains semi-coherently his plight. He is overweight, pale, and slurring. He refers many times to the fact that he will soon be homeless. Perhaps the bleakest video is that posted on 12 January 2017 (it is also available on Youtube). It is 56 seconds of broken man.

Some of the comments on these videos are supportive. Some are distrusting: “go get a real job bro [sic] Maybe [sic] if he didnt [sic] decide to draw all over your face Home depot [sic] would hire you [sic]”; “Stop smoking crack then”; and in respect of a status saying he had a bad migraine “[s]ame thing happened to me but due to alcohol poisoning not a migraine. I drank 17 40oz colt 45s and a bottle of gin in 6 hours Thursday”. These distrusting responses I can understand: this is a man who earned good money, had the limelight – lived the dreams of many a young man – and squandered it on drugs.

But I spoke to Perry so here is what I think.

Part IV: Perry speaks.

I was able to speak with Perry briefly on 7 December 2016 and then in more detail – for nearly 40 minutes – on 8 December 2016[15].

In advance of the call I sent Perry a list of questions I would ask. All topics were fine save for questions about the shooting because the “fucking prosecutor gets fucking mad” at him when he says anything about this. His concern on this front seemed valid to me so I let that slide.

He told me a bit about his body:

I’ve had both my shoulders replaced … need both my hips replaced … C5, C6 & C7 is fused and I can hardly twist my neck … severely arthritic … [and] I find out now the joints you inject the steroids in get arthritic.

Basically, it is wrecked. Perry adds resolutely: “but I was coping with that”. Since the onset of CTE symptoms, things have got worse. Temporary but severe memory loss comes and goes, migraines are frequent, and there can be no certainty as to how the condition may develop. He is unable to work and has applied for disability benefits (application still under consideration). Financial ruin and homelessness hang over him. He reads out an excerpt from his psychiatrist’s report: “[Perry] would have substantial difficulty with reasoning and for thinking for even simple tasks”. He drily adds that on this basis “there are not a lot of jobs you can do”. He does mention, however, that he would be able to put a headlock on anybody.

I asked him whether the WWE had been supportive:

No. They offered nothing … dunno if it is that they don’t want to set a precedent … WWE has money, they could financially help someone and they just haven’t … they just ignore the situation … I don’t think it is that big of a strain … they are very successful at their business … Paul Levesque[16] is a good guy so I don’t feel he is being vindictive or fucking me, just doing what they feel is right for business.

Perry made known a few times in the interview his respect for Paul Levesque. The pair trained together under Killer Kowalski, and Perry clearly has high regard for Levesque’s wrestling abilities. It is interesting, I think, that Perry does not see the incongruity between the role of “good guy” and “just doing what is right for business”. How resolutely can you be a good guy if you don’t see beyond the balance sheet?

I asked him whether he thought his plight was particular to him or quite commonplace for retired wrestlers. Before replying in favour of the latter interpretation, he said he was all too aware that he “had a great life. I had a great career … done things most people never get to do … I am just trying to explain exactly how fucked I am right now”. He believes that there are wrestlers who weren’t drug addicts – who did nothing wrong, or, at least, did less wrong than Perry – who are facing the same woes. Perry has quite recently joined the long list of Plaintiffs in the Connecticut lawsuit against the WWE.

The “you know”/“y’all” tic has very much remained. He spoke coherently for most of the interview, sometimes losing his chain of thought, and his answers were always long and detailed. Often it took me a while to get my questions in.

He tells me there is hopefully a full-length biography on the way. It has been ghost-written – “I couldn’t possibly have the correct punctuations [sic] and all that” he tells me – and is currently with a Canadian publisher for their review. Perry tells me that he is in an enviable truth-telling position because the woman to whom he was married during his wrestling career is dead so he has “no one to answer to”. It is a true but bleak logic.

I asked about his family. He is very thankful for the care his wife Lisa gives him. “I’m 50 years old … I really got nothing to offer … if it wasn’t for her I would be dead”. The pair met as drug addicts and worked together to eventually get themselves clean. And “the light of [his] life” is his six-year-old grandson. The “best days” are those that he “unprompted walks up to me and says ‘papa I love you'”. The word “unprompted” stung me: Perry isn’t interested any longer in scripts. Choreography and plotlines are no more. After all the performances, a longing for earnestness is what remains.

At the end of our interview he asks me: “you get what you wanted, man?”. Ever the crowd pleaser, ever the storyteller. It was a kind remark reminding that behind the tattooed face and the abused body is the warm heart of an entertainer – the still proud Perry.

Part V: Some final thoughts

As I mentioned in one of the opening paragraphs, I do not intend this piece to be “overtly or broadly political or legal”. Instead I want it to be about one man – Perry Arthur Satullo – and I want to engage you, the reader, in his plight. But I equally want to engage the WWE in that same individualised plight, to make the company read a little about Perry.

In contrast to these 4000 words on Perry, go on the WWE’s profile page of Perry Saturn. It has a few paragraphs of biography. It begins:

When it comes to word association, “tough” is the best way to describe Perry Saturn.

And it continues:

However, Saturn’s defining moment in WWE remains his bizarre relationship with a mop named “Moppy.”

Is this really all the WWE can say?

I have not contacted the WWE for a comment on Perry. I don’t want a further soundbite about Perry’s “tough” character; it won’t help. I want them to digest the problems he faces and act with considered compassion. With this purpose in mind, I have sent them the piece by email and by post – Paul Levesque, check your mail tray! (I’m sure he has a mail tray and checks it frequently, of course). And if you like the piece and/or want to help Perry I urge you to share it as you see fit. Thank you.

One final sentence from Perry. In my interview, he said that he would tell his in-ring opponents they should: “hit me as hard as you can but don’t hit me in the eyes, ears or nose”. He is an idiot, author too often of his own downfall, but even he knows there is a code of sense and decorum behind the scripts and the entertainment. Perhaps the WWE can remember that before the curtains close – not on one of its shows but on a small, repossessed house of one of its former stars in Minnesota.

January 2017

++++++

Perry’s GoFundMe page is at https://www.gofundme.com/perrysaturn.

Here is the WWE’s 2016 Third Quarter Financial Highlights.

________

[1] Actually not all of us do. Those fans who believe it is real are known in the wrestling community as marks (http://grantland.com/features/grantland-dictionary-pro-wrestling-edition/ (accessed 15 January 2017)).

[2] Faces and heels, respectively, in wrestling lingo.

[3] For example, this from 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kr9kPyq3zME (accessed 15 January 2017).

[4] Here is the Plaintiffs’ Complaint, being brought in the District of Connecticut: https://www.scribd.com/document/318679718/20160718-Wwe-Cte-Lawsuit (accessed 15 January 2017).

[5] The industry term for a wrestler employed to lose week-in-week-out to make other more popular wrestlers look good.

[6] Match viewable on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPQaVn4rnOI (accessed 15 January 2017).

[7] Uncanny, right?: http://nwhof.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/bio-b-apter-150×150.jpg (accessed 15 January 2017).

[8] http://www.1wrestling.com/

[9] Interview viewable on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zChsn8__kRI (accessed 16 January 2017).

[10] A portion of the interview is viewable on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSb2XnaxVTU (accessed 16 January 2017).

[11] Interview viewable on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFj4-VqvWA0 (accessed 16 January 2017).

[12] @PerrySaturn1.

[13] While writing the piece I found this comment in my notes document: “Last photo of the two of them [Perry and Lisa] from 2014. Actually Perry also with a cat”. It made me chuckle.

[14] For example, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NFL_players_with_chronic_traumatic_encephalopathy (accessed 16 January 2017).

[15] Disclaimer: Perry’s current wife, Lisa, asked if I could donate to his GoFundMe before I spoke to Perry. I did. If this makes me compromised then so be it – I’d rather be a compromised writer than a heartless prick. If you want to hear the recorded interview I did with Perry, please feel free to send me an email.

[16] Aka wrestler Triple H. Also an Executive Vice President of the WWE. In short, one of the big power brokers in the industry and at the company.

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