When Randy Savage strutted and spun to the ring with Miss Elizabeth in tow, the song “Pomp and Circumstance” played over the public-address system.
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And as any 1980s grappling fan will tell you, the “Macho Man” provided exactly that.
Savage — an icon from the days when WWE, MTV and Cyndi Lauper were hip — died Friday after a car crash near his home in Seminole, Fla. He was 58.
Savage, whose real name was Randy Poffo, had wrestled just one match in the past decade. But his charisma, technical skill and pairing with the late Elizabeth Hulette helped Savage create a lifetime of memories during his WWE heyday.
As pro wrestling became a mainstream phenomenon under WWE owner Vince McMahon in 1985, Savage received the career break he was sorely seeking while struggling in the minor-league wrestling circuits. The key was Hulette, his real-life wife who was instead introduced only as his “manager.”
Savage’s bullying of the stunning and demure Hulette made him the subject of fan hatred. But that same abusive relationship paid box-office dividends. The same was true six years later when Savage’s personality softened as a babyface and he asked for Elizabeth’s hand for an in-ring marriage.
In between, Savage alternated with ease between babyface (good guy) and heel (villain) roles while helping WWE fill its coffers and run competing companies out of business. Savage’s 1987 loss to Ricky Steamboat is still regarded as arguably the greatest match in the history of WWE’s “Wrestlemania” series.
But it was Savage’s work with Hulette that will be remembered most (besides the over-the-top Slim Jim commercials that helped cement the raspy-voiced Macho Man into a household name).
He teamed with fellow WWE headliner Hulk Hogan as the “Mega Powers,” a tag team that dissolved because of Savage’s trademark jealousy. Savage had a long-running feud with George “The Animal” Steele, whose advances toward Elizabeth also infuriated the Macho Man.
Only insiders knew that the Savage-Hulette relationship was just as rocky in real life. Savage was so overly protective of his wife that he refused to let her socialize with other performers backstage and even kept track of the miles Hulette put on her car to control her whereabouts while he was touring. Hulette shared this and similar abusive stories with me in 1994 after she had left Savage and took a sales job at a local mall in South Florida.
Hulette eventually returned to the wrestling business with rival World Championship Wrestling and sufficiently buried the hatchet with Savage, who had landed there after leaving WWE. But the temptations that killed so many of their contemporaries eventually felled her as well. Hulette died of a drug overdose in 2003 while at the home she shared with then-boyfriend Lex Luger, who also has suffered serious medical issues as a result of his excesses.
Savage, who also played minor league baseball, is believed to have also had personal issues with McMahon, which has resulted in WWE refusing to induct the “Macho Man” into its Hall of Fame. That surely now will change.
As a performer, Savage is worthy of the honor. I just hope that Savage became a Hall of Fame husband to his new wife, Lynn, who survived Friday’s car crash.
Alex Marvez has written a syndicated pro wrestling column since 1989.