Catching up with Paul Bearer
After 15 years in the wrestling business, Percy Pringle was determined to step up to the major leagues of sports-entertainment. Nearly two decades ago, Percy walked into WWE headquarters for an interview that he hoped would help him accomplish that very goal. Little did he know that shortly thereafter he would become Paul Bearer, and was about to embark on a journey that would take him to the top of the wrestling world.
As a mortician prior to his life in wrestling, Paul Bearer was a perfect fit for his role as manager of a young, ghoulish looking character known as Undertaker. In the decade and change that followed their union in 1991, the chemistry between Bearer and The Deadman would carry them to unforeseen heights, which included multiple championships and a place in history as one of the most successful duos to grace a WWE arena.
While managing Undertaker, Bearer enjoyed some of the most memorable experiences of his career. The urn-carrying manager cites many overseas tours, including a trip to London's Wembley Stadium in 1992 for SummerSlam, and multiple appearances at WrestleMania as just a few highlights of his lengthy WWE tenure. One of the proudest moments of his career however, came outside of the ring during an early edition of Bearer's talk show segment, appropriately titled The Funeral Parlor.
"I have a picture of it hanging on my wall," said Bearer. "Ric Flair had just joined the company, and I had both him and Hulk Hogan in The Funeral Parlor at the same time. As I was standing there with these two legends on either side of me, I thought to myself, ‘Where do I go from here? This is the top of the mountain.' I'll never forget it."
Over the years, Bearer and Undertaker severed ties on many occasions, only to reunite in grand fashion to the delight of WWE fans. One of the most emotional nights of Bearer's career took place in Madison Square Garden at WrestleMania XX when, after an extended hiatus, he was once again reunited with Undertaker. As Bearer explained to WWE.com, his dramatic return almost never took place due to a particular issue with his health that threatened not only his career, but also his life.
"I weighed 525 pounds," remembered Bearer. "When I left the road, I had a lot of problems. My wife was sick, I was depressed, and I gained a lot of weight. I was a big man for a lot of the years that I managed Undertaker, but I carried it well. At this point though, I could barely walk around my house."
Bearer continued, detailing the phone call that would change his life forever.
"I got a call asking if I wanted to come back," recalled Bearer. "I told them I would love to, but I didn't think there was any way I could get back on the road in my condition. They asked what they could do to help me, so I told them about the gastric bypass surgery."
Knowing that Bearer didn't have the money or insurance to cover the costs of the expensive and risky surgery, WWE made Bearer an offer he couldn't refuse.
"A few days later, I received another call," said Bearer. "They said that they would really like to have me back, and so, as a signing bonus they offered to pay for the surgery. To make a long story short, I had the surgery and lost 240 pounds. The surgery saved my life, and without it, you wouldn't be hearing from me today."
Today, several years after his last appearance on WWE TV, Bearer has returned to his original trade in the funeral service industry. Toting a degree in mortuary science and a license he continually renewed during his years on the road, Bearer manages a full service funeral home in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.
"I'm the boss," said Bearer. "I'm the managing funeral director, and I oversee all the operations within our crematory, cemetery and mausoleum. I also am an embalmer, and I offer grief counseling. I handle families from the time the person dies, until we put them in the ground."
Believe it or not, Bearer draws on his experience in the world of sports-entertainment when preparing for a funeral service.
"The funeral isn't for the dead person," said Bearer. "It's almost like a show for the living. There's a distinct parallel between this and a WWE show. When WWE comes to town, they need to coordinate with the arenas and arrange for promotion of the event. When I set up a funeral, I need to coordinate plans with the church, the minister and the families. It's a very similar procedure."
Outside of the funeral home, Bearer likes to keep a finger on the pulse of the wrestling business. The veteran of the squared circle owns and operates his own promotion down south. Bearer boasts a mission statement to "celebrate tradition and set new standards," all under the watchful eye of one of sports-entertainment's most knowledgeable personalities.
Through his promotion, Bearer is able to stay close to the fans that cheered for him and Undertaker for so many years. A humble Bearer offers a simple message to those fans that followed his career.
"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to entertain you."