"I'll be watching"

Dallas-area media coverage of the devastating news of Mike Von Erich's suicide.

Wrestler's abandoned car found at Lewisville Lake
By Nita Thurman
From the Dallas Morning News, April 16, 1987

DENTON -- Denton County Sheriff's Department investigators mounted a water, air and ground search for Mike Von Erich Wednesday evening, after the missing wrestler's abandoned car was found near Pilot Knoll Point on Lewisville Lake.

Von Erich, 23, was reported missing Monday by Ralph O. Pulley, a Dallas attorney who represents the Von Erich family. He was last seen Saturday after being released on bond from the Denton County Jail, where he had been held overnight after being arrested in Argyle on charges of driving while intoxicated, use of a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of under 2 ounces of marijuana.

The wrestler's 1986 gray Mercury Marquis was found on a dirt side road near the park's entrance, about a quarter mile from the lake shore, Sheriff's Department Capt. Al Lewis said.

A note was found in the car that read in part, "I am in a better place", Lewis said.

However, he said, that was the only part that was visible and authorities did not want to pick up the note to read the rest of it until Thursday morning when a technical crew could be brought in to make sure that no other potential evidence was disturbed.

He said two trained tracking dogs were brought in for several hours Wednesday night to assist in the search, after darkness halted a dragging operation on the lake and an aerial search by a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter.

"With the onset of darkness, we are severely limited," Lewis said. "The dogs are our biggest hope."

A jacket and a pair of wrestling boots found in the car were used to give the tracking dogs Von Erich's scent, he said. Nothing was found before the search was suspended at 10 p.m.

Two of the three trained dogs will be brought back in at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, said Lewis, who also plans to put searchers up on horseback to penetrate dense brush around the lake shore.

Lewis said a resident who lives near the park called the Sheriff's Department at about 5:15 p.m. to report that the gray Mercury had been parked on the dirt road for several days.

"As soon as we ran the license number, we knew what we had," Lewis said. "He apparently drove up, parked, locked the doors and left."

Attorney Jerry Loftin of Fort Worth, who has represented Mike Von Erich in previous court cases, said Wednesday that he and the wrestler's family are "worried to death" about Von Erich's safety.

"It's just not like him not to be heard from," Loftin said. "He always communicates with his family. We are scared to death that something has happened to him."

Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch of the popular wrestling family that includes Mike's brothers Kerry and Kevin, spoke as scheduled Wednesday night at an evangelistic crusade in Denton.

Although he did not mention his missing son, an announcer at the crusade asked for prayers for the Von Erich family during its latest crisis.

Mike Von Erich was critically ill in September 1986 [sic] with toxic shock syndrome, a rare bacterial infection that apparently entered his body through a surgical incision. He had undergone surgery in August 1986 [sic] to repair a damaged shoulder.

He is one of five sons of Fritz Von Erich and his wife, Doris. One son, Jack, was accidentally electrocuted in 1959 at the age of 6. And David Von Erich, 25, died in February 1984 of acute enteritis in a Tokyo hotel room while on a wrestling tour.

Kerry Von Erich was seriously injured last summer when his motorcycle crashed into the rear of an Argyle police squad car. Several pins and rods were placed in his fractured ankle.

In the latest incident in Argyle, a patrolman stopped Mike Von Erich's car on U.S. Highway 377 because it was weaving, said a spokesman for the Argyle Police Department. Von Erich was not speeding and was "very cooperative" with the arresting officer, the spokesman said.

The results of a blood alcohol test and analysis of the pills found in the car have not been returned from the Department of Public Safety lab, he said.

Loftin said that Von Erich, whose real name is Michael Brett [sic] Adkisson, called him Saturday afternoon, shortly after he was released from the county jail at 3:20 p.m. and had reached his home in Roanoke.

"He was concerned (about his arrest). He said he was appreciative of everything I've done," Loftin said. "He was very nice and courteous -- he's always courteous -- but he did not seem unduly upset. It was a normal reaction."

Suicide suspected in wrestler's death
By Nita Thurman
From the Dallas Morning News, April 17, 1987

DENTON -- The body of wrestler Mike Von Erich was found Thursday morning, lying in a navy blue sleeping bag in a densely wooded area near a Lewisville Lake park.

Officers said the cause of death had not been determined but that all evidence indicated suicide.

Von Erich's body probably had been at the remote site since Sunday, one day after he was released from the Denton County Jail and the day before he was reported missing, said Justice of the Peace Hubert H. Cunningham.

"He was lying there very peaceful, like you would go out for an overnight, to get away from it all," Cunningham said.

A small red canvas bag on the ground at Von Erich's right side contained his driver's license, billfold, $48 in cash, an asthma inhaler and other personal possessions, Cunningham said.

The Dallas County medical examiner's office found no wounds. Results of chemical tests will not be available until Tuesday.

Von Erich, 23, son of famed wrestler Fritz Von Erich, was reported missing after the family was unable to find him. He apparently disappeared Saturday shortly after he was released from the Denton County Jail, where he had been held overnight on charges of driving while intoxicated, possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of less that 2 ounces of marijuana. His attorney, Jerry Loftin, said the pills found in his car were a prescription medicine.

Fritz Von Erich could not be reached for comment, but in a statement issued Thursday afternoon the family said Mike Von Erich had been in pain and poor health continually since a bout with toxic shock syndrome in 1985.

"Mike loved his fans, family and, above all, his Lord. He was in constant pain, but wanted so much for everyone to be proud of him," the statement said. "Please let our tragic loss be a positive message to kids and families everywhere this Easter. Sunday, everyone join hands and be grateful that your family is together. Love one another."

Von Erich was hospitalized in critical condition in September 1985 with toxic shock syndrome, a rare bacterial infection that apparently entered his body when he had surgery to repair a damaged shoulder. He was not able to resume his wrestling career until 1986, and in February the 6-foot-2 wrestler said he was still trying to get back to his full fighting weight.

Von Erich, whose real name was Michael Brett [sic] Adkisson, left a note tucked in the armrest of his car, which was found Wednesday evening. Cunningham said the note read: "Mom -- you have always been wonderful. I am in a better place. Dave (2). I will be watching."

Von Erich's brother David died in 1984 of acute enteritis, an intestinal inflammation, in Tokyo while on a wrestling tour.

Cunningham said a note was also found in Von Erich's apartment in Roanoke, with directions on "who he wanted to leave things to," but the judge said he did not know the exact contents of the note.

On Wednesday evening, sheriff's deputies began a search after Von Erich's gray 1986 Mercury Marquis was found parked and locked in a small, paved parking area near Pilot Knoll Park.

The search was resumed early Thursday morning by officers on horseback, Texas Department of Public Safety officers and Grand Prairie and Bedford officers with dogs.

Von Erich's mother, Doris Adkisson, arrived at the search area at 9:00 a.m. to wait.

Within 20 minutes, she was notified that Grand Prairie officer David Cavins and his trained German shepherd, Shay, had found her son's body. Mrs. Adkisson left to tell her family. She later returned with her other sons, Kerry, Kevin and Chris, to stand watch until the body was recovered shortly before noon.

Deputies kept the family at a distance from the news media, but Kevin Von Erich remonstrated with photographers to give his mother privacy.

"We're going to be fine," he said. "Our family has had some tough times. It's my mother we're worried about now. She's soft. She's a lady, and it's hard for her."

He told reporters that "the story goes deeper than you realize now." He did not elaborate but walked away.

Cavins said he was following a cattle trail east of the parking area when his dog "made a strong indication toward the west." He found the body in "very rough, very thick trees and underbrush" about 15 feet off the trail and about 600 yards from where Von Erich's car had been abandoned.

During his wrestling career, Mike Von Erich was a member of the world six-man tag team champions, the American heavyweight champion and the Mid-East champion [sic].

Readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated voted him Rookie of the Year in 1984 and Most Inspirational Athlete in 1985.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church of Dallas, Ervay and San Jacinto streets. The Rev. W.A. Criswell and the Rev. Gary Holder will officiate.

Burial will be at Grove Hill Cemetery in East Dallas. The body may be viewed from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Dalton & Son Funeral Home in Lewisville, 1550 N. Stemmons Freeway.

Staff writer Curtis Rist contributed to this report.

By Curtis Rist
From the Dallas Morning News, April 17, 1987

As news of Mike Von Erich's death spread Thursday, some of the usually raucous pro wrestling fans turned tender.

At the Sportatorium, the Dallas arena where the Von Erich family has wrestled over the years, fans were tearful as they bought what tickets were left for Friday's match involving his brother, Kevin Von Erich.

By early afternoon, delivery vans had dropped off the first of what are expected to be hundreds of flower arrangements in memory of the young athlete.

Inside the white-shingled building, the World Class Championship Wrestling staff worked feverishly to answer five telephones that rang without stop. As many as 400 calls an hour were taken from grieving fans.

"We've had calls from Japan, from the Middle East and from all over the country," said Ralph Pulley Jr., who is a referee for some of the wrestling matches.

"But that doesn't bother us at all," he said during a brief break from telephone duty. "Wrestling fans are like family."

One "family" member is Jill Sanford, a Dallas clerical worker who drove straight to the Sportatorium to buy four $10.50 ringside tickets for Friday's match when she heard about Von Erich's death.

"I don't know if Kevin will wrestle, but I just have to be there, as a tribute to Mike," said Ms. Sanford, as tears rolled from her eyes. "I'll be there all right, but I just can't talk about this."

Staff workers at the Sportatorium were visibly shaken Thursday by the death.

"I've worked with the family for 33 years and we're all just devastated by this," said one woman who answered the phone but would not give her name. "We just don't have any time to have any feelings right now."

A woman behind the Plexiglas ticket window at the front of the building began to reminisce about Von Erich, but stopped when her sobs interrupted her.

"I'm sorry, I just can't talk anymore," she said, as she put a piece of wood up to block the window.

Friends said the adulation of fans may have created too much pressure for Von Erich, particularly after his quick rise on the pro wrestling scene and his slow recovery from toxic shock syndrome in 1986.

At 210 pounds, Von Erich was smaller than most of the other hulks he challenged in the ring. Some wrestling observers said he relied on his athletic prowess and strategy to win matches. After his professional debut on Thanksgiving Day 1983, he wrestled for nearly a year without defeat, often competing as many as five or six nights a week.

"He wasn't someone who just beat the stuffings out of you and threw you over the ropes," said Stan Hovatter Jr., editor of All Pro Wrestling magazine based in Dallas and a former Von Erich family spokesman. "His approach to the sport was almost scientific."

But Von Erich suffered from chronic shoulder pain, and his 1986 illness may have disrupted his momentum in the sport.

Von Erich slipped in his performances, Hovatter said, but fans demanded he fulfill his potential.

"He was under a lot of pressure to rise to that level and he just wasn't able to make it," Hovatter said. "Pro wrestlers, like all professional athletes, are people first and athletes second. I don't think anyone really understood that about Mike Von Erich."

At the Terrell High School football stadium, where a World Class Wrestling match was held Thursday evening, one somber announcement acknowledged the tragedy.

At 8 p.m., when the event was scheduled to begin, Terrell school board member Bill Griffin picked up the microphone and announced: "Due to the unfortunate circumstances in the Von Erich family, there are a couple of changes in tonight's matches."

Lance Von Erich, billed as a Von Erich cousin and the top draw on the Terrell wrestling card, was not there.

At the Terrell event, fellow wrestlers, faithful fans and longtime referee Bronko Lubich all had good things to say about Mike and the Von Erich family.

"I've refereed a bunch of their matches," Lubich said. "I knew him (Mike) before he was a wrestler, when he was a young kid. Of course he was born into a wrestlling family, and they were good teachers."

"It's an unnerving kind of deal," said Steve Doll, a 24-year-old Denton wrestler. "Mike and I are about the same age so it really hits home. What's sad is that he was such a competitor and he fought the illness (toxic shock syndrome) -- and then to see this happen is such a shock."

Longtime wrestling fan and Von Erich follower Thomas Evans, a homebuilder from Terrell, said that "at least a moment of silence" should have been observed before the matches began Thursday evening.

"I think it would only be appropriate, in all due respect," he said. "That family has done a lot for wrestling. Regardless of what that kid was charged with, he's been a beautiful person and the whole family has been through agony."

Staff writer James Ragland contributed to this report.

By David Jackson
From the Dallas Morning News, April 17, 1987

It was in the 1950s that Jack Adkisson created the legend of Fritz Von Erich, a latter-day Nazi who proudly wore an Iron Cross and goose-stepped into wrestling rings across America.

It was in the 1960s that Fritz Von Erich became a good guy and set the stage for the legend of the Von Erich family, a father and four sons who climbed to the top of the wrestling world, but suffered one personal tragedy after another.

The latest tragedy occurred Thursday, when authorities found the body of Mike Von Erich in a wooded area near Lake Lewisville. Though an autopsy is pending, officials said all evidence points to suicide.

The death of Mike Von Erich leaves only one Von Erich as an active wrestler.

The family's first tragedy was in 1959, when 6-year-old Jack Jr. was accidentally electrocuted. Three years ago, David Von Erich, whom many experts rated as the best wrestler of the bunch, died of an intestinal inflammation while touring Japan. Last year, Kerry Von Erich nearly lost a foot in a motorcycle accident and has not yet returned to the ring.

Now Mike.

"For a giant of a man in so many ways to have that much tragedy in one lifetime is just unbelievable," said Gordon Solie, a veteran wrestling broadcaster based in Florida. "How much hell can one man take?"

Friends said the family's strong religious faith has seen them through previous crises and will carry them through again.

"They have great religious faith," said Bill Mercer, who has broadcast the family's wrestling exploits for years. "They are the most together group of people you'll ever find."

"Their convictions and their relationship with the Lord are a real source of strength," said family attorney Ralph Pulley.

Solie and other observers said the Von Erichs are a main reason that the popularity of professional wrestling has increased dramatically in recent years.

Although the fame of the old Fritz Von Erich was built on foreign evil, the fame of Fritz Von Erich and his sons was based on good old Americanism.

"They were the All-American boys. They were the heroes. They were the boys next door," Mercer said. "I think they were the most exciting thing to happen to wrestling in the last 10 years."

Mercer said he met Fritz Von Erich when he was an evil Nazi in the late 1950s, before the conversion that Mercer said was in deference to Von Erich's family.

"He had his family here, and the boys were growing and he felt like he needed to give them a better image," Mercer said.

By the early 1980s, sons David, Kerry and Kevin formed the centerpiece of an organization called World Class Championship Wrestling. The trio had legions of fans that included a striking number of teen-age girls.

"They had kind of a teen-idol appeal to the young girls," said Craig Peters, associate editor of the New York-based magazine Pro Wrestling Illustrated. "To the rest of the fans, they were really good athletes."

Mike joined the team on Thanksgiving night 1983 and was named Rookie of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

"I think he felt like he had a lot to live up to," said friend Wanda Lee Nichols. "His family meant so much to him."

Friends said Mike's problems began two years ago when he nearly died of toxic shock syndrome, an infection he suffered after undergoing a shoulder operation. Friends said Mike was not the same when he returned to the ring 11 months later. Earlier this year, he was acquitted of charges that he assaulted a doctor. Saturday, he was arrested and charged with drunken driving and drug possession.

"How badly did that illness affect him?" Mercer said. "We don't know and we never will."

Sportatorium crowd remembers wrestler
By Michael Sawicki
From the Dallas Times Herald, April 18, 1987

There's plenty of emotion during professional wrestling matches at Dallas' Sportatorium, but seldom is it of the type displayed for a few minutes there Friday night.

The arena went silent as the bell was tolled 10 times in tribute to Mike Von Erich, a member of the celebrated wrestling family who died in a secluded Denton County park of a tranquilizer overdose.

Hundreds of fans gave a standing ovation to Von Erich's brother Kevin, who was escorted by bodyguards down an aisle and into the ring.  A few fans wept.

From the center of the mat, Kevin Von Erich took a microphone from a television announcer and told the fans he would not wrestle Friday night as scheduled.

"I have other commitments," he said. "You know me. You know my family. We hang together. In a time like this I have to be with them."

Kevin Von Erich said he and his family appreciated the fans' support and their prayers.

"Keep on doing what you're doing because it has been tough," he said.

Then he left, and the first of 10 scheduled matches started.

Sportatorium ushers said Friday's crowd of about 300 was a bit larger than usual. Tom Pulley, director of marketing for World Class Wrestling, said people wondering whether the matches would be held had been calling the arena all day.

At the souvenir stand, Mike Von Erich T-shirts were selling for $5.  Black and white photos cost $2, color photos $4.

"We decided to go ahead and sell Mike's stuff," Pulley said. "We don't want to appear to be taking advantage of people, but we don't want to deny the fans."

Before the matches, fans discussed the 23-year-old wrestler's death. The manner of death has not been determined, but officials believe Mike Von Erich committed suicide.

"I've been a fan of the Von Erichs for 10 years. They've been my idols," said Debi Perkins of Dallas. "It still is a shock to me that this has happened. Mike means so much to the young kids."

Jami Fell, 14, of Krum, said, "I'm not coming here for a while because it will hurt too much. MIke meant so much to me."

Joyce Wiley, 25, of Dallas, stood at the wrestlers' entrance among a crowd waiting to see Kevin Von Erich.

"There will be an empty spot in the Sportatorium, I'm sure," Wiley said. "It'll be a strange feeling with Mike gone. I think I'll get goose bumps."

Broadcaster says wrestler changed after hospital stay
By David Jackson and Sam Blair
From the Dallas Morning News, April 18, 1987

Mike Von Erich was born of a legendary father and reached adulthood behind three famous brothers, but friends said it was the combination of a near fatal illness and the pressure of celebrity that got to him.

A difficult recovery from toxic shock syndrome may well have led to what officials suspect was Mike's suicide, said the friends. The body of the 23-year-old wrestler, a victim of a drug overdose, was discovered Thursday near Lewisville Lake.

"I think there were two people," said veteran wrestling broadcaster Bill Mercer. "I think there was the Mike Von Erich before the illness and the Mike Von Erich after the illness."

Von Erich's physical problems began with a shoulder injury suffered in the ring and intensified after an operation in August 1985, when he contracted toxic shock syndrome. His temperature climbed to 107 degrees and he lost nearly 60 pounds. Doctors feared he would die.

Remarkably, he survived. But then his emotional problems began.

He had scrapes with the law and problems with alcohol and drugs. His marriage crumbled. He had constant pain and was plagued by lapses of memory. And last Saturday, he felt the disgrace of being booked into the Denton County Jail, charged with driving while intoxicated and possession of drugs. When he was released, he was a hero who apparently felt he had failed his family, friends and fans.

"Everyone saw Mike as another great champion in the Von Erich mold," said Stan Hovatter Jr., a writer for All Pro Wrestling and a longtime associate of the family. "But after his shoulder injury and the toxic shock syndrome, he lost all his momentum."

Mercer and others described the first Mike Von Erich as a warm and kind-hearted man who was good to his fans, especially small children. They described the second one as also a good person, but one who would have trouble dealing with frustrations in and out of the ring.

"He seemed to react a little more emotionally to things than he did before," said family attorney Ralph Pulley. "His self-control wasn't what it was before."

Darlene Fidler, who lived next door to Von Erich and profiled him for the Grapevine Sun, said Mike was reluctant to discuss whether the illness affected him emotionally -- but brother Kerry told her it did.

"Kerry said he was never the same," Mrs. Fidler said. "He said he was very irritable, that he would lose his temper more often."

Friends said those frustrations may have manifested themselves in Von Erich's brushes with the law, although the incident in which he was charged with assaulting a doctor took place before he became ill. (He was later acquitted.) Since his illness, Von Erich had also paid a $900 settlement on charges that he kicked in a car door. Then came the charges on Saturday.

Attorney Jerry Loftin, who defended Von Erich on the assault charge and spoke to him three times after the Saturday arrest, said the physical demands of the illness were undoubtedly frustrating for a man whose body was his career.

"The only thing I am aware of is that the toxic shock syndrome was devastating physically," Loftin said. "The consequences of it affected him emotionally."

The changes were not so much in his personality as in his manner, friends said. For example, Mercer said that during interviews Mike would slur words and have trouble staying on the same subject.

"You could see there was something wrong," Mercer said.

In his earlier years, everything seemed right for Mike. He was an all-around athlete and honor student at Lake Dallas High School, where he won letters in football and basketball and was all-district in track.

"He was always a happy guy and never got down," classmate Steve Payne said. "But after the surgery, he apparently got down and never could get back up."

Like his brothers, Mike was introduced to wrestling at an early age in the backyard gym their father built for them. When he reached high school age, he launched an outstanding amateur career under the coaching of Richard Kemp. His father said Mike was the best amateur in the family and he was eager to bring his skills to the professional game.

"He loved his wrestling," Mrs. Fidler said. "He said it was his life. He loved his family, too. He was very proud to be a part of that family."

Mrs. Fidler's husband, Bob, noted that Mike's career carried a heavy physical price.

"He was always hurt coming back from those matches," Fidler said. "A lot of people didn't realize that."

Mike's early career was a marked success. Pro Wrestling Illustrated named him Rookie of the Year in 1984, and he became American heavyweight champion the next year -- before the illness. Later in 1985, the magazine's readers voted him "Most Inspirational Athlete" of the year.

Mike Von Erich's death is a crippling blow to what was evolving into a Von Erich wrestling dynasty. The patriarch was Fritz Von Erich, who, as Jack Adkisson, sought a career in professional football but turned to wrestling because of injuries. Fritz Von Erich -- who billed himself for years as a latter-day Nazi whose favorite hold was the dreaded Iron Claw -- terrorized the wrestling world for nearly a decade until becoming a good guy in the mid-1960s.

That conversion helped set the stage for the appearance, a decade and a half later, of the fighting Von Erich sons, Kevin, David and Kerry. Mike joined them on Thanksgiving night in 1983.

Three months later, David Von Erich -- considered by many the best wrestler in the family -- died of an intestinal infection contracted while touring Japan. Last year, Kerry nearly lost a foot in a motorcycle accident. Kevin is the only Von Erich son left wrestling.

"You got a sense about these young guys," said Gordon Solie, a wrestling broadcaster based in Florida. "Who wouldn't want to have something like that? Tall, handsome, rugged, all-American type athletes. Then you begin to realize how frail all that is."

By Sam Blair
From the Dallas Morning News, April 18, 1987

Mike Von Erich's heartbreaking death illustrates the thin line that separates an American dream and an American tragedy.

Thousands of fans cheered him in the ring. He was the youngest of four sons of Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch of the professional wrestling boom, who made it big in the sport. Like brothers Kevin, David and Kerry, Mike had great public appeal. He was strong, handsome and rugged, but right.

Now, like David before him, he has died suddenly and shockingly.

Few lives, or deaths, inspire the great public display of emotion that has attended Mike Von Erich's. He was a product of the phenomenon of professional wrestling. He also was its victim.

The Von Erichs are the classic example of how professional wrestling has captured an amazingly large audience.

The Von Erichs long have filled a need for millions of people. There are the ones who come to the arenas, like the mourning faithful who came to the Sportatorium Friday night, and those who have watched their syndicated television shows across the United States, in the Middle East and Japan.

"It's a release for people," said Dr. Robert Weinberg, a sports psychologist at North Texas State University. "Most of us are trapped in mundane or ordinary lives. You get up at 6:30 each morning, get your kids off to school and you go to a job. You wear certain clothes and act a certain way. But when you get off, you go to watch wrestling and freak out. You feel like it's a great escape.

"The Von Erichs epitomize the All-America mentality -- the identity of what's good against what's evil. This is a fantasy world, but it can be very satisfying to a lot of people.

"It's like the Rocky movies. When you first heard the story line, you said, 'Who's going to pay to see this?' Well, there's something in American society which finds this very appealing. It's good over evil."

The intense demands of the public and the sport leave a star unable to cope with bad times, he said.

"When you're on a pedestal and everyone looks up to you as an idol, an Adonis, and you suffer a public humiliation, it can hit you very hard," Weinberg said. "It's depressing. It's extra weight on someone who already feels the pressure of being a hero."

Mike Von Erich may have felt that weight was crushing him.

"He sent out all kinds of messages for help," said Dr. Sandra Steinbach, a psychologist at Baylor University Medical Center.

"It's deadly being a hero," she said. "Our heroes die because we won't let them seek help like everyday people do. Look at Marilyn Monroe. Look at Elvis Presley. They had terrible problems but never received the help they needed. Betty Ford did step out of it and got help (for alcoholism). Now look at all the wonderful things she has done with her life."

For all their adulation and apparent devotion, most fans seemingly want to deal with their heroes strictly on favorable terms.

"Athletics and music are ways for people to express emotion they have difficulty expressing in everyday life," said Dr. Geoffrey Toffell, a sociologist at San Jose State University. "Millions of people are swept up in hero worship, and they enjoy it at their convenience. Actually, it's much nicer than knowing them. This way, you only take the part you want."

The fans get the thrills. The heroes keep the problems.

Of the four wrestling brothers, only Kevin is left to carry on. Kerry has not fully recovered from a critical ankle injury suffered in a motorcycle accident last June and his professional future is clouded. But there always will be the memory of the Von Erichs' rare impact on a society hungry for heroes.

"It got to the point that David and Kevin, then Kerry and Mike, physically couldn't get to the ring for girls -- teenagers and older -- grabbing and kissing them," said Bill Mercer, the veteran broadcaster and ring announcer.

"They camped outside the Sportatorium so they could get inside as early as possible and get a seat on the aisle where the wrestlers entered the arena. They brought flowers, paintings, embroidered clothes, poems, songs. I saw girls weeping because they touched one of the Von Erichs. It became almost like a religious experience."

That has to be exhilarating, but it also leaves a hero keenly aware of how much is expected of him.

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