Paul Bearer: A Tribute

This past Monday’s episode of WWE Raw had an “old school” theme.  The arena, ring, and entranceway were given special one-night-only makeovers to recreate their appearances from the distant past, and the graphics used on the show looked like they had been ripped out from old wrestling TV shows.  There were even some old wrestling personalities who returned to have a good time with the current roster of top talents.  It was a fun show, and I enjoyed seeing some of the old-timers the WWE had brought back.  The next day, I got a mild shock when I saw that another old wrestling personality had made the news.  William Moody, better known to me and millions of wrestling fanatics the world over as Paul Bearer , had died at 58 years of age.  A flood of memories of Moody and the wrestling moments I had seen with him involved came to my mind as I tried to take this in.  A lot of those memories were given further clarity by a tribute video WWE posted on its YouTube page a few days after Moody’s death.  He was one of my favorite wrestling personalities, so to hear that he had died so young was very upsetting to me.

I first became familiar with Moody’s claim to fame, Paul Bearer, through archival footage of him with his most famous wrestling client, the Undertaker, on various DVD collections.  Bearer’s act in the WWF was basically a mortician turned wrestling manager (Moody was also a mortician and embalmer in real life so he obviously knew what he was talking about).  He had slick black hair and ghostly-white skin, almost always looking like a more respectable cousin of Uncle Fester from The Addams Family.  During interviews he would comment on the mortality of the Undertaker’s opponents and vow that the “Deadman” would claim their souls.  His facial features would contort into all sorts of weird positions which, combined with his signature high-pitched voice, made him seem to me like he hailed from a decidedly strange realm.  While Bearer was hamming it up for the camera, ‘Taker would mostly stay silent, brooding in the background or carrying out a mundane mortuary task like repairing a coffin or doing some smithing work.  During matches, ‘Taker wowed the crowds with fantastic offensive maneuvers while Bearer lurked around ringside, continuing with the strange faces and pawing at a “magical” urn that looked like it was made out of papier mache.  When the time came for the match to end, Bearer would raise the urn to the heavens giving the signal for ‘Taker to perform his always well-executed tombstone piledriver.  Bearer and ‘Taker were awe-inspiring people individually, but whenever they came together, it seemed like they were tailor-made for each other.  I think this was probably intentional since Moody had been brought in specifically to manage the Undertaker in the first place, but I also feel that the two of them together had a spectacular chemistry that made their act much more appealing and awe-inspiring than just about anything else before or since in wrestling.

Paul Bearer and the Undertaker stayed together from 1991 to 1996.  The act basically stayed the same throughout this time; the only thing that really changed was that the urn soon had a light built into it that would emit an unearthly glow once ‘Taker won the match and all of the arena lights dimmed.  In 1996, however, at that year’s Summerslam pay-per-view, Bearer betrayed his buddy, helping ‘Taker’s rival, Mankind, win their grudge match.  This began a long trend of Bearer managing rivals of the Undertaker, which over the years included Mankind, Vader, ‘Taker’s storyline “brother” Kane, and even some guy named the Executioner (he attacked ‘Taker at a pay-per-view, but was defeated by the “Deadman” at the next month’s show and left the WWF shortly after, so I don’t think he really left much of an impression).  Quite frankly, I don’t think Bearer’s act was as effective with these other guys as it was with the Undertaker; sure, they were monsters, but they just didn’t seem as intimidating or credible to me.  Luckily, Bearer and ‘Taker had an on-again, off-again relationship throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s which only ended on a seemingly permanent basis when ‘Taker buried Bearer in a block of cement at a 2004 pay-per-view (Don’t worry, folks, Bearer got out.  Also, I’ve seen the footage and, quite frankly, it’s incredibly cheesy).

All of this happened before I actually started watching wrestling full-time.  By the time I started watching, the Undertaker had become entirely capable of handling his own affairs, leaving the Paul Bearer character almost completely behind.  Moody stuck around the WWE, though, signing autographs and making rare TV and live event appearances.  The Bearer character also stuck around, too, but in a virtual form.  He appeared in the WWE Legends of Wrestlemania videogame as one of the managers your character could hire.  I never used him as a manager in this particular game, though, so I couldn’t tell you if he is as effective a manager as he was in the “real” wrestling world, but he does look just as bombastic.  He also played a prominent role in one of the storylines for the WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 game, tormenting me with various “mind games” and his trademark abnormal behavior until I beat his virtual body up so badly during a backstage confrontation that he was no longer a problem.  For the record, I did feel pretty bad for Bearer during that moment, but I had to get past him in order to win the game.  He took all the punishment in stride (Sorry about throwing your videogame counterpart into that TV on the back wall so many times!), and I did use him as a manager afterwards, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.

I was surprised when Paul Bearer returned alongside the Undertaker during a late 2010 episode of WWE Smackdown, but I was delighted to see he hadn’t changed a bit.  Before long, he betrayed ‘Taker again (What are the chances?) and started prepping Kane to finish off his brother, which he did do effectively at three consecutive pay-per-views.  He continued to manage Kane for a while, seeing him through rivalries with the Big Show, Edge, and Randy Orton, but those feuds quickly took on increasing levels of absurdity (Orton even locked him in a freezer at one point).  Bearer left WWE television during April of last year.  A part of me is sad that he won’t be back to see if Undertaker wins again at Wrestlemania this April.  There’s been a lot of talk lately that ‘Taker’s career will end soon, and I’ve often thought that it might be poetic if Paul Bearer could appear alongside him for his last match whenever it came.  Now I’ll be forever denied that sight, but at least I was able to see him on live TV before he passed away.

William Moody played a character who was at times comic, tragic, and menacing, but always colorful, over the top, and with a level of believability you don’t usually find in the world of professional wrestling.  Paul Bearer was one of the most interesting wrestling characters I have ever seen, and truly one without equal anywhere in the world.  He is going up to that big mortuary in the sky now, but down here on Earth, the memory of his fantastic times in wrestling will remain.  In the words of his most noted colleague, all I have left to say is, Rest in peace, Moody.  Rest in peace.

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