The author of Fritz Von Erich: Master of the Iron Claw shares his thoughts on Fritz's last days, and relates his memories of the events which led to the book's creation, in this 2005 email interview.
First off, congratulations on winning the 2005 Pinnacle Achievement Book Award, from the North American Bookdealers Exchange, for your book Fritz Von Erich: Master of the Iron Claw. For the fans who have not yet read your book, how did you come about meeting Fritz and writing a book about his life?
Thank you for the interview. I first met Kevin, Fritz's oldest son, thru a mutual friend in Dallas, Texas in 1993 shortly after Kerry committed suicide. Kevin and his family were living in Jefferson, Texas at the time and Kevin would drive to Denton to check on his dad and take care of other business. Fritz lived alone in a small frame house on his 150 acre ranch near Lake Dallas. I was living in Irving and Kevin would often stop by my house on his way back to Jefferson to let the traffic die down and visit for a while. I was connected to the internet, which was new at the time, and Kevin and I would spend countless hours on my computer surfing the net.
After knowing Kevin for almost two years, Fritz had a house built for Kevin and his family on the 150 acre ranch just down the road from his small frame house. Kevin called me one day and asked if I would help him move some of his family's belongings from Jefferson to his new house. I am a couple of years older than Kevin and on many occasions I had related to him how I had considered his dad my childhood hero. As Kevin and I finished unloading the truck that afternoon Fritz walked into the room to ask how everything was going and Kevin introduced the two of us.
Kevin had told his dad about the internet and all the wrestling sites that mentioned the Von Erichs. Fritz was heavily invested in the stock market and wanted to know as much as I could tell him about tracking his stocks in real time on a computer. I invited him to come by my house sometime and he and I would sit down at my computer and surf the net. About two weeks later Kevin called and said he and Fritz were on their way over. Fritz would later hire me to teach him as much as I knew about computers, the internet and electronic investing.
After Fritz and I had been friends for just over a year, he became ill and was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. It was during this time that he wanted me to write a book about his life, from him to all the Von Erich fans around the world. Fritz wanted everyone to hear the Von Erich story from him and not to believe the many rumors that had been circulating over the past several years. I had never written a book and tried to talk Fritz into letting me find someone that could take on such a task. But Fritz said he did not have the time to find a professional writer and made me promise to give it my best. So, for the last four months of his life he related one story after another while I took notes that he would always check after each story was completed.
Fritz passed away in September of 1997; five years later I published The Secret of the Iron Claw. I was not satisfied with the first book because I felt I had left out many important stories Fritz had passed along to me. So I went to work rewriting the book and in February 2005 I published Fritz Von Erich: Master of the Iron Claw. I feel Fritz himself would be proud of this edition.
Do you know if Kevin or any other members of the Adkisson family have read the book? If so, what kind of feedback have you received from them? Do you still keep in touch with the Adkisson family?
I still eat at a sushi bar in Irving, Texas that Kevin and I regularly visited years ago. The owner and I are close friends and I autographed a copy of my book to her and she put it on the shelf for all the customers to see. Kevin and his two sons came in to eat one day and Kevin noticed the book and asked the owner if he could take it home and read it, said he would bring it back in a couple of days. The owner agreed and Kevin took the book home and never brought it back, so I know he's read it, but I have had no feedback on what his thoughts were. The ending of the book does not paint a good picture of Kevin, but it's the way Fritz wanted the story told. I have not had any contact with the Adkisson family since shortly after Fritz's death in 1997. In my book, I explain everything that took place in the last few days of Fritz's life. After reading my book, I think the readers will understand why I no longer stay in contact with Kevin.
What was it like developing a relationship with Fritz after idolizing him for so many years? Looking back, what do you cherish most about that friendship?
It was 1962 and I was ten years old when I first watched Fritz wrestle on TV in Wichita Falls, Texas. My wife, daughter, son and I were at Texas Stadium to watch Fritz in his retirement match with King Kong Bundy in 1982. I thought Fritz Von Erich was one of the most exciting wrestlers I had ever seen, so to meet this man and become his friend was unbelievable. I used to sit across the table and stare at Fritz as he told me the most amazing stories. Before Fritz passed away, Gene Kiniski came down from Canada to spend a week with his longtime friend. The two of them would talk for hours about the old days of professional wrestling and I sat there with my mouth open, not believing I was in the same room with two former giants of the wrestling world.
I guess what I cherish most about our friendship is the time I spent with Fritz before he passed away. I could never understand why that man chose me to be at his side in the final moments of his life. And I guess that's the main reason I worked so hard to fulfill his last wishes and tell his life's story just the way he told it to me.
Many people that knew Fritz describe his last few years as being alone and sad. While I know he suffered unimaginable tragedies in his lifetime, and would later become very ill, could you describe what Fritz's, say, last six months were like?
Fritz locked himself in that small frame house on Lake Dallas for years after Kerry committed suicide. He didn't want to go anywhere or speak to anyone, just think about all the misfortunes that had taken place in his life. Fritz was having the battle of his life trying to understand why GOD could allow his precious family to slowly disappear from his life one by one. He told me on several occasions that he had lost his faith in GOD, and was not sure he existed. But, he also told me before he died that it would be so wonderful if there was a Heaven and he could be with all his sons just one more time. I have always wondered if GOD somehow put the two of us together so Fritz would have someone by his side that would listen to all the hurt that had built up in his heart for so many years. To outlive five of your six children has to leave very deep scars. I think the last three months of Fritz's life was a bit different. After Fritz found out that he only had a few short months left to live, he became obsessed with telling me the Von Erich story in hopes that I would fulfill his last wishes and write a book about his life. I think that by reliving his life with me it made him feel better in the end.
As a huge fan of the Von Erich family, I have to ask: did you get to see any ring memorabilia, or personal family mementos that you were just in awe of? If so, would you mind sharing what they were?
Before I met Fritz, Kevin called me one weekend and asked if I would like to drive to Vicksburg, Mississippi with him and meet his mother (Doris). I jumped at the chance; we drove to his mother's on Thursday and returned to Dallas on Saturday. The two days I spent in Vicksburg were unbelievable! For two days, Kevin's mother showed me family pictures, news articles and all kinds of mementos she had collected over the years the family were traveling together. I have seen the NWA World Championship belt that Kerry won from Ric Flair and the ring jacket he wore that night. The mementos Doris showed me are just too many to mention.
What I thought was interesting was walking into Fritz's house. You would have never known Fritz was ever a wrestler; there was nothing in his house, not even a picture of anything to do with wrestling. He did show me the .44 Magnum handgun Kerry shot himself with. And just before he passed away, he gave me two Zippo cigarette lighters (that I still have) that have two wrestlers on the front with the words TAKEN BY FORCE FROM FRITZ VON ERICH, which I am very proud of.
Master of the Iron Claw is the first comprehensive Von Erich book, being very thorough. Do you have any further plans, i.e. a possible movie screenplay, or a follow-up book?
I entered an agreement with Richard Lack, an actor/independent producer in L.A. to write the Fritz Von Erich screenplay almost 3 years ago. The screenplay was finished just after the first of the year and is in the copyright stage now. There are several studios that are interested in reading the screenplay after all the legal stuff is over with. I have a website at: http://www.fritzvonerich.com that fans can go to and check for updates under "News and Reviews".
Jack Adkisson sometimes gets a bad rap for being very gruff and intimidating. Is there something you would like to share with our web visitors about Fritz that would surprise them?
I think it was his deep voice that made him seem so intimidating. There were times when I would be trying to show him something new on the computer and he would get frustrated and raise his voice, it would send chills down my spine. Jack Adkisson (Fritz) was a very nice man; he helped so many people and organizations in his lifetime. One short story I would like to share with your readers that's not in the book is the time he and I were at the grocery store in Denton. We had just finished doing our shopping and loading everything into the back of the pickup truck. Fritz said he wanted to walk next door and pick up a pair of eyeglasses that were being repaired. After picking up his glasses, we started back to the pickup when both of us looked up and saw a car pulled up behind the truck. A guy and a young woman were busy loading our groceries into their car. I told Fritz that I would take care of it and started walking towards them. Fritz grabbed my arm and said, "Ron, let them have the groceries, there's kids in the car." I looked at the car and saw two heads looking over the backseat. "Those kids are hungry," Fritz said. "We can buy more groceries, just let them have them." The two of us turned around and walked back into the store and bought groceries a second time.
Lastly, Ron, how can fans order a copy of Fritz Von Erich: Master of the Iron Claw?
Fans can pick up a copy of my book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com or almost any online bookstore. Or, you can ask your local bookstore to order you a copy. On my website you can also see a list of bookstores with links to my book. In closing, I would like to thank you again for the interview.