When Jerry “the King” Lawler shows up almost anywhere, and certainly in Memphis, Tennessee, where Lawler dominated the professional wrestling circuit for decades, he draws a crowd. Everybody’s a fan, and everybody wants a picture with the King.
“The King”” That sobriquet is not to be taken lightly. It certainly wasn’t when Lawler, along with his friend and agent Joe Cooper, was in Mayor A C Wharton’s office on Thursday to receive an official proclamation of “Jerry Lawler Day” in Memphis. (It was also Jerry Lawler Day in Jackson, Tennessee, where Mayor Jerry Gist would do similar honors by Lawler on Thursday night.)
In any case, on Thursday morning Mayor Wharton came on like a fan in Lawler’s presence, and he clearly wasn’t faking it. (Cooper, on Lawler’s behalf, had volunteered to come by and pick up the proclamation, the Mayor volunteered, but he had insisted on seeing the King in the flesh.
And, again, he didn’t seem to be kidding about that “King” part. Before he read his official proclamation, he delivered a few remarks to the effect that “There was the King of Rock and Roll, elvis, and there was B.B. King, and they’re gone now. And even King Cottion is gone. You’re the only King we’ve got left.”
“This has been a big week for me,” Lawler said. “After 40 years in the business and over 23 years in the WWE, they finally got around to putting out a DVD the entire copilation of my life…and all the Memphis wrestling history. It just came out Tuesday.” And he handed a copy over to Wharton, which made for another round of pictures.
Lawler listened to all this — and to the official praise of the proclamation, which acknowledged Lawyer’s professional accomplishments and folk-hero status, as well as his serious charitable contributions — with the modest smile of someone flattered to be there, and to be taken so seriously.
The Mayor had jested in his remarks about the Lawler’s 40 years in the wrestling ring, “which you must have started when you were four,” and that prompted the honoree to make a gift in his turn — a freshly pressed DVD made by the WWE and chronicling Lawler’s career.
The two of them, Lawler and the mayor, spent some more time reminiscing about the Nashville and Memphis wrestling circuits, which, back in the day, overlapped, and about some of the sport’s promoters and characters they knew in common.
After that, there were more pictures, out on the open-air deck adjacent to the Mayor’s Office, and, on his way out, Lawler was happy to dilate to a small audience on on one of the most famous moments of his life — the time he slapped Andy Kaufman out of a chair on the David Letterman show, an event named by Time Magazine as Number Two on its recent Top Ten list of moments on Dave’s show.
Th ough it was enacted with uncommon verisimilitude, that was a put-up job, of course, performed as part of the running feud Lawler and eccentric comic genius Kaufman maintained as part of a P.R. strategy to get customers into the Mid-South Coliseum, where they had a series of “bouts” back in the early ‘80s.
It was things like that that put Memphis wrestling on the map. Whether as “heel” (bad guy) or “baby-face” (good guy), Lawler was — is — indeed a star performer.
That remains true when serving as announcer for the monstrously popular “Monday Night Raw,” a syndicated TV show, or, with the tights on himself, demonstrating what ‘rasslin is supposed to look like, as he and Bill Dundee did in an outdoor tag-team exhibition match outside the Coliseum against some heels a week or so ago in an effort to bolster the cause of saving that iconic structure.
“King” is as good a word as any to describe it all.