Name: Jerry “The King” Lawler
Year Inducted: 2011
Jerry “The King” Lawler
To fans in Tennessee, Jerry “The King” Lawler is professional wrestling. On a national basis, since 1992, Lawler has been an entertaining WWE color commentator, and occasional in-ring performer. In either role, he has excelled, and surprised.
“He has drawn more fans to attend pro wrestling in a specific city (in his case Memphis) than anyone in this country in any city in this country over the past 25 years and has been the featured performer on what has been for years the highest rated local wrestling show in the world,” wrote Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer when Lawler jumped.
Lawler was born and raised in Memphis, aside from a stint in Lorain, Ohio, where his love of the Cleveland sports teams started. He was an art student on full scholarship at Memphis State University when his artwork helped him transition to radio. While a DJ at a country and western station, he got a glimpse of the wrestling life and wanted in. As a DJ, he plugged his own debut, and a self-promotional masterpiece began a storied career that is still going - in WWE storylines, in Memphis, and at independent shows across the country.
But he never forgot his art background. His Patriot comic ran in the wrestling magazines, and he freelanced caricatures, including illustrating Mick Foley’s Christmas Chaos.
“I started knowing Lawler when he was 15 years old, because he drew the pictures,” said Memphis announcer Lance Russell, praising Lawler’s knowledge of promoting wrestling. “He was very good, and still is, certainly in his knowledge. He knew how to work with young guys, teach them and put them over as well as anybody I have ever seen do it.”
A feud with comedian Andy Kaufman, who had proclaimed himself Intergender Wrestling Champion, in 1982 brought Lawler his greatest attention. Lawler slapped Kaufman’s face on Late Night with David Letterman. “That’s probably the highlight of my career,” Lawler said in 2008. “I was suddenly in the national spotlight – and so was wrestling. The Letterman people still call that episode their ‘famous show.’”
In Memphis, he has been both a hated villain and a celebrated hero. In the ring, The King could force the likes of Jack Brisco or Nick Bockwinkel to the limits of their wrestling skills, or participate in bloody brawls with Jos Leduc or Terry Funk. Epic, long-running feuds with Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantell and Jimmy Valiant – to name but a few – entertained fans for years. His pile-driver has been banned in storylines real and contrived, yet always seemed to get used, and when the shoulder strap came down, watch out!
With 40 years of active wrestling under his belt, Lawler attributes some of his longevity to the things he’s avoided. “I’ve never had a taste of alcohol, never done any kind of drug and never smoked a cigarette,” he said. “Some people will think that’s not true, but I’ve honestly never tasted one sip of beer, wine or whiskey.”
— Greg Oliver