In late June of 1997, Jack Adkisson, better known to older wrestling fans around the world as Fritz Von Erich, “The Master of the Iron Claw,” was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.
To help Jack through his painful last months, I moved into his home on Lake Dallas in Denton County, Texas. In the months that followed, Jack Adkisson and I would become the closest of friends. I did my best to take care of him and make his final days as pleasant as possible until he passed away in September of that year. I would not accept any compensation from the Adkisson family for the help I gave Jack through his illness. In fact, I considered it a privilege to spend those last few months with a man I have always considered my life-long hero. Being by his side as he passed from this world was an experience that has touched my life in so many ways.
Growing up in Wichita Falls, Texas, my parents were immense wrestling fans. Professional wrestling became a big part of my life at a very early age. I can remember my sister and I looking forward to Thursday nights, when our family would pile in our old green Chevy pick-up truck and head out to the wrestling matches.
On Saturday mornings, I would sit in front of the television set watching NWA Championship Wrestling. It was there that I saw Fritz Von Erich for the very first time, using his patented “Iron Claw.” Fritz was wrestling Gene Kiniski, an ex-world champion from Canada that used another version of the claw referred to as, The “Abdominal Claw.” Kiniski also used another deadly wrestling hold that he claimed to be the master of, known as the “Sleeper Hold.”
It was 1962 and I was 10 years old at the time. That wrestling match sticks in my mind as if it were yesterday. I will never forget seeing Fritz Von Erich that Saturday morning as he entered the ring dressed in black wrestling trunks with a bright red cape draped across his shoulders. A large, claw-like hand with long fingernails had been embroidered on the back of his cape. As Fritz entered the ring with a sneer on his face, he held his right arm high up in the air, grabbed his right wrist with his left hand, and began to turn slowly in a circle showing the fans his deadly, patented Iron Claw.
The upcoming match had been all the announcers and promoters could talk about in the past two weeks on Saturday morning NWA wrestling. This huge 6 foot 6, 275-pound German wrestler who claimed he hated all Americans was the talk of the wrestling world. The fans down south were to get their first look at who the wrestling promoters were calling the most feared man in professional wrestling. I remember talking my father into buying me the latest NWA wrestling magazine that was doing a feature story on Fritz with his picture on the front cover. Dad had agreed to buy me the magazine. He and I stopped at three different stores, but they had sold out within the first few days of putting them on the shelves. I had to count the days as I waited for that particular Saturday morning so I could judge for myself what was being said about this German Wrestler and his feared Iron Claw.
What a wrestling match that turned out to be, with the two men battling to win two out of three falls. Fritz won the first fall after jumping off the second rope and catching Kiniski on the side of the head with a knee, knocking him out. The second fall was full of excitement, with both Gene and Fritz throwing each other out of the ring and beating one other over the heads with the ringside metal chairs. Following a long struggle, Gene won the second fall after getting Fritz in the center of the ring and applying his sleeper hold.
As the third and final fall began, I found myself on the edge of my chair screaming for Fritz to win. To this day, I am still not quite sure why I started cheering for Fritz Von Erich. Maybe it was the way he seemed to take total control of the match. About five minutes into the third round, he knocked Kiniski down to the mat. With a sneer on his face, Fritz dropped to his knees in the center of the ring and clamped a very large right hand around the top of Gene Kiniski head.
I will never forget the look of agony on Kiniski face as Fritz began to apply pressure to the upper part of the head. Blood had started trickling down the left side of Gene’s face, and then the right side started bleeding as he screamed in pain. With arms waving wildly in the air, Gene managed to get to his feet as he tried every way to break the tremendous grip that was causing him so much agony. Blood had started to flow freely as it began to puddle on the mat. After what had to be over a minute under Fritz’s claw like grip, Gene began loosing consciences. As the blood supply was being cut off to the brain, Kiniski fell back to his knees on the ring apron. The referee, along with all the fans at ringside, stood with their mouths open, not believing what was taking place in front of their eyes. Fritz turned his head looking for the referee and screamed out something. After the referee woke up, he ran over to Kiniski, looked at his blood- soaked face, picked Gene’s right arm up in the air, and let it drop. Gene’s limp arm fell back to his side as the referee turned his head and screamed out, “Ring the bell,” “Ring the bell.” Fritz had won the match that morning due to Kiniski not being able to continue the final round.
From that point on, I was a true Fritz Von Erich fan. I made a point of watching Fritz whenever one of his matches was on television. I devoured every wrestling magazine I could find bearing the name, “Von Erich.” Clipping and saving articles about his life and career was my favorite past time.
When I first met Fritz Von Erich I had been working in the personal computer field for many years. Fritz, who invested heavily in the stock market, asked if I would be interested in showing him how to use a personal computer to track his stocks in real-time. I had recently undergone back surgery and was not working so I jumped at the opportunity.
After each day’s lessons were over, and the stock markets had closed, Fritz would break out a bottle of Scotch. Over drinks, he would tell me about the old days of professional wrestling, about raising his six sons, and all the places around the world he had traveled during his 35-plus-years in the wrestling business. In return, I talked about my experiences in the Marine Corps, my tour in Vietnam, and all the years I followed wrestling while I was growing up.
It sounded like a good idea, so I started the long process of taking notes the best I could, attempting to put down on paper all the wonderful stories that Fritz, Doris, and Kevin shared with me throughout the years of our friendship. To put together something that Fritz Von Erich himself would find worthy of his approval was the challenge.
As we became the closest of friends, Fritz told me about all the tragedies he and his family had endured throughout the years; How he could not understand why he had lost five of his six sons and suffered through a divorce from his one true love, Doris Smith, after forty-two years of marriage.
Jack Adkisson was more than a great athlete and professional wrestler. He was a very wonderful and kind man as well. After the Doctors diagnosed Fritz with terminal cancer, he gave me some irreplaceable photos and videos. When I would not accept any compensation for the help I gave him during his illness, he said, “Why don’t you write a book about me, from me, to all my fans around the world like you, Ron, and let everyone hear the Von Erich story from me.”