Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest Aug. 1-4 features Jim Cornette (Part 1)

 

Miami Herald Writer

Legendary pro wrestling manager Jim Cornette makes no bones about it. The outspoken personality is not a fan of sports entertainment and what the business has become since his teenage years.

He misses the good old days, which is why he enjoys attending the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend in Charlotte. Cornette looks forward to making the trip to this year’s event, Aug. 1-4, along with other legends such as Jerry Brisco, James J. Dillon, Ivan Koloff and Tully Blanchard.

“It’s especially going to be fun for me because I haven’t been able to go for the last couple of years,” Cornette said. “I was there pretty much there every year until 2010 from the first…It’s great because not only do I get the chance to see people I don’t normally see, but actually talk to real actual wrestling fans. Not sports entertainment fans, where nobody brings up, ‘Well, what is so and so doing on Combat Zone Wrestling?’

“These people are wrestling fans. They enjoy wrestling, and there is no talk of sports entertainment or very little. It’s kept to a minimum. It’s the kind of environment I like to be in where we can remember the days when things were done right when the crowds were big, buildings were big and the guys were over. Everybody knew who you were. Everybody knew your name like on ‘Cheers’.”

In 2009, the avid collector of wrestling memorabilia, comics and everything in between came to the convention with “The Midnight Express and Jim Cornette 25th Anniversary Scrapbook”. This time around he follows up that work with another project.

“Mark James of the MemphisWresltingHistory.com website and I have collaborated on our first book together,” Cornette said.

“We are going to have that for sale. It’s a cool book on the history of the merchandising of Memphis Wrestling. Whether it be programs, pictures or wrestler’s records that got started in Memphis back in the 1950s with Sputnik Monroe. We actually dug through our collections and made some contacts, and there are reprints of programs over a 30 to 40-year period from the early 1950s to the 1980s. A lot of it is told through my first-person account because the way I got in the business as everybody knows is doing the photography for the Memphis territories in the mid 1970s.

“So for about eight years I was in charge of the pictures that were taken and sold at the merchandise stand and stuff we used in the programs. So it’s not only a look back at old stuff, but classic stuff as told through a first-person account.

“We even reprinted the words of the top five in Memphis wrestler’s records. I won’t tell you who made number one. Jimmy Hart might be a little upset, but he is in the top five. We are going to have that this year and Greg [Price] and those folks have been kind enough to be inducting the Midnight Express and myself in the Hall of Heroes. I don’t want to miss that.”

The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condrey and Stan Lane) and Cornette, their longtime manager, will enter the 2013 Hall of Heroes with longtime rivals the Rock-n-Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson). The grapplers who share 30 years of history together are also taking part in the “Mid-Atlantic Memories” documentary being produced and scheduled to premiere at next year’s Fanfest. Eaton, who has been struggling with some serious health issues, is still scheduled to make the convention.

“So far Bobby is out of the hospital,” Cornette said. “He is going to be out for a couple of weeks and then they are going to be putting a pacemaker in to try to regulate his heartbeat. He hasn’t been having heart attacks, but he has a combination irregular heartbeat and that congestive heart failure where fluid builds up because he is diabetic. Being a single guy who doesn’t take care of himself and takes medicine regularly like he should, and I’m not trying to browbeat him in print, but he is definitely planning on making it.

“Dennis will be there. Stan wanted to be there. Stan, for the past 8-10 years, has been doing powerboat racing commentary and producing the television for the American Powerboat racing people. Their annual biggest race is always the first weekend of every August. That’s why he hasn’t been at the Fan Fest every year. He tells Greg [Price] (Fanfest organizer) it’s the one weekend he can’t do anything. He is going to be sending in a video.”

Cornette takes great pride in his incoming induction into the Hall of Heroes and ranks it high among his accomplishments over his stellar career.

“Something like that, at least to me, means more than the WWE Hall of Fame,” Cornette said. “This isn’t about who Vince [McMahon] likes this year or who’s dead, and he wants to honor because they are in his hometown or selling a DVD on them. Much like the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, [New York] I got voted in. People vote and/or it’s from fans that generally enjoyed your performances and enjoyed seeing you and want to honor you. This is rather than just a marketing thing.

“So it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be my first wrestling-related appearance since last November and the only one I’m doing this year. It’s like having a taste when you’re on a diet. I’m going to have a cheat day that weekend...”

A highlight of the Fanfest in the past and this year is Cornette’s “Unplugged and Uncensored”. There is nothing ‘PG’ about the very opinionated performer’s session. Nothing is off limits.

“That’s a mainstay and staple when I’m there,” Cornette said. “Greg said we are going to start it early and cut it off for the benefit for folks who are a little older…I usually don’t prepare anything. So if the crowd is boring and sucks, then the whole experience is boring and sucks. So if we got a good crowd and they got some good things to talk about, then I’ll talk about it with them.

“I’m sure I will have a few amusing anecdotes about when I tried to get out of wrestling for my mental and physical health and sanity. That’s the biggest project I’ve been working on all year over the winter and spring. I have been organizing my wrestling collection and comic collection and magazine collection and movie poster collection and horror movie collection.”

Cornette was last seen working for Ring of Honor. His experiences toward the end of his run there coupled with a series of other events influenced his decision to bow out of wrestling.

“After Jerry Lawler basically died of a heart attack on live television and the weekend I was going to do my last TV taping for Ring of Honor is when Brad Armstrong passed away in his sleep younger than me,” Cornette said. “That day or so I was in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, and you know where that is? Exactly, that is my point. Nobody in the $%^&*&, even the people that live there, know where that is.”

The lifelong fan of the industry had reached his breaking point.

“I did a 14-hour day of producing five hours of television, to air on 50 stations,” Cornette said, “in an unheated 40-degree ice rink with concrete bleachers on the biggest shoestring budget I’ve had in my life for a major television production with the stress of an air traffic controller and with a wrestler injured and ambulances pulling up to the back of the building.”

“I’ll flesh it out more in Charlotte ‘Unplugged and Uncensored’. I was sitting at the Eat’n Park off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at 3 a.m. that morning eating two double cheeseburgers out of frustration all by my lonesome. I realized if Lawler can have a heart attack and if Brad Armstrong can die in his sleep and if all the other deaths and heart attacks and health problems that have plagued this industry goes on. I was almost 250 pounds. I was on the road 100 nights a year in a hotel room. I was putting 40-50,000 miles on my vehicle.”

Cornette decided he would rather live a while longer and change his lifestyle. He went home motivated to focus on what was really important like his health.

“I went on a diet,” Cornette said. “Today I weigh 204 pounds and went to the doctor who said my blood pressure was perfect. My cholesterol is so far down he is fixing to take me off my cholesterol medication. My blood sugar is back to normal. I’m even tanning. Everything is good. I just needed to get the wrestling monkey off my back. Ronnie West who I knew from the early 1980s left wrestling and entered the circus. They ended up finding him in a hotel room. He had passed away. That would have been me. If I had been Lawler or what had happened to Lawler had happened to me, instead of being next to an EMT crew, two blocks away from the best cardiac care hospital in Canada.

“I would been at the County Fair somewhere in Wartburg, Tennessee and the guy that ran the Ferris Wheel would be standing over me saying, ‘I don’t think he is going to make it.’ Or they would find me in a remote control in my left hand and a half-eaten cheeseburger in my right hand. Who was it that said it? It was Danny Glover who said in ‘Lethal Weapon’ I’m too old for this $%*^. I’m too old for this $%#@.”

• Catch the candid Cornette and a full lineup of wrestling stars Aug. 1-4 at the Hilton University Place in Charlotte for the Mid-Atlantic Legends Fanfest Weekend. Festivities include question-and-answer sessions, autograph signings, photo opportunities, karaoke, the Hall of Heroes, matches and more. For information or to get your tickets, visit www.midatlanticlegends.com.

• Visit www.JimCornette.com , which is expected to be updated through the summer.

• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN, http://twitter.com/#!/smFISHMAN, where I post links and information. Opinions expressed reflect no other entity. I can also be found tweeting incessantly during wrestling shows weekly.

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