Jerry Lawler may never break the tights barrier to become Memphis' first wrestling mayor, but his place in entertainment history is assured. On July 24, 1997, Flyer writer Jim Hanas put Lawler's most famous nemesis, funny man Andy Kaufman, on the cover. His story "The Comedian and the King" was a meditation on the night in 1982 when Lawler smacked and allegedly injured Kaufman on Late Night with David Letterman.
"There had been a plan, but Kaufman getting smacked wasn't part of it," Hanas wrote. "They were supposed to show footage of Lawler injuring Kaufman with an apparently vicious pile-driver move at the Mid-South Coliseum ... . Lawler was to apologize for the injury; and then Kaufman was to burst into a rendition of 'What the World Needs Now is Love.'" But that's not what happened. Lawler hammered Kaufman, Kaufman threw coffee on Lawler, and a lot of words got bleeped.
"You can see it in Andy's eyes and you can see it in Letterman's eyes," Lawler said of the moment when he hit Kaufman. "It's like, what's wrong with this guy? Why ain't he doing what we all said we were going to do?" The incident, named by the Museum of Radio and Television as one of the top 100 moments in the history of television, marks professional wrestling's jump from niche sport to lucrative mainstream entertainment. It's also the big bang of fake reality programing and everything from Jerry Springer to the comedy-meets-reality antics of Stephen Colbert and Sacha Baron Cohen owes a debt of gratitude to Lawler.
In 2007 Lawler told the Flyer that if Kaufman were still alive he would have been asked to induct the King into the WWE Hall of Fame.