Michael Hayes reflects on Paul Bearer's passing
One day after WWE icon Bill Moody’s (aka Percy Pringle, aka Paul Bearer) untimely passing at age 58, WWE.com sat down with one of Bearer’s oldest friends, Michael “P.S.” Hayes, for an exclusive interview about his time with the legendary manager.
WWE.com: Everyone has a Paul Bearer story, when was the first time you met him?
Michael Hayes: Percy and I go far, far, far, far, back. I think I first met him in ’77 when we were both in the business. I had met him before when we were both going to the wrestling matches. He lived in Mobile [Ala.]. I lived in Pensacola [Fla.]. The promotion was Gulf Coast Championship Wrestling. Lo and behold, I got in. I started putting up the ring, then I started to be the guy who did everything, from referee to being the jabroni who got beat to hell and back; then went back, put a mask on and got beat up again. But I remember Percy telling me how mad and jealous he was when he’d go, “Hot dog, that guy used to stand here in the audience with us, and now he’s there! Why him? Why not me?!”
The irony to the whole thing was once there was a promotion that opened up called Mississippi Championship Wrestling, which was a spinoff of Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling, when I first went over there, I was the jabroni guy again. Because of his crazy looks, Percy got hired and he became the top manager, so I was jealous of him! It’s funny how things work out, but that’s when I first met him.
WWE.com: What was it like to share one of those long car rides? Do you have any wild road stories from your time traveling together?
Hayes: I had a number of them! But I guess the one that comes to mind was the time that — well, Percy was a real mortician, a lot of people don’t know that. He also used to work in ambulances. He was a very multi-talented guy. We were arguing in Hattiesburg [Miss.] about where to go eat. “We’re going to Krystal.” “No, let’s go to the Waffle House.” We did this two, three times, pulled him back in and out.
The last time we pulled out of the Waffle House, a truck had parked on the side of the road and blocked our vision as we were pulling out. Percy pulled out in his brand-new Mustang and this Jeep hit us on the driver’s side. The Jeep, spun us around and flipped us upside down. As soon as our car stopped spinning, he jumped out — he was a little smaller then — and jumped right on the Jeep’s door and got the passenger and driver out just like that before the cops or anybody got there. And we both blamed each other for that accident, but that was a pretty wild trip.
WWE.com: Your careers went in different directions, you went with The Fabulous Freebirds and Percy debuted as Paul Bearer in WWE. When Percy debuted with that persona, what was going through your mind?
Hayes: Before then we had a lot of interaction, even with The Freebirds, because as Percy Pringle, Bill Moody did very well in Southern circuits. Specifically I brought him into Dallas with World Class Championship Wrestling and he did well there. He came in with “Ravishing” Rick Rude, managed The Missing Link one time and a host of others. He was about to graduate mortician school when he was living in San Antonio when I took the Freebirds to FCW. Before he signed on the dotted line to start his career as a mortician I said, “No, no, no, get back in the business!” And he came down there and managed the Pretty Young Things and “Ravishing” Rick Rude. I was really, really happy for him once he got to WWE, and he was ecstatic. And if you get a job being who you are, it’s a pretty good deal.
WWE.com: You hear a lot of stories about how genuine a person Paul Bearer was, how do you think he got that way?
Hayes: You have to understand where he came from. His parents used to take him to the matches. He loved wrestling. It was his life. And back where we grew up, just to get backstage or maybe have a chance to get in the business was a dream come true. That was the dream. To make it to the top was never the dream, because that would have been gravy, and it was.
Every step of the way was another dream being realized, and he never lost that passion and that love for the industry because he never forgot where he came from. He never forgot what a big deal it was to get backstage and become the jabroni guy that gets beat all the time and then become the manager guy that talked good and looked funny and just kept climbing the ladder. He never forgot that, he never lost his passion. He loved his industry.
WWE.com: Why is it that Bill was able to connect with anyone from any generation?
Hayes: I think his Paul Bearer character is undoubtedly a real-life cartoon. I think every kid is scared of a funeral director or a mortician. How many kids do you see saying, “You know what I wanna be when I grow up? I wanna be a mortician and embalm people!” Which Percy loved to do, and was very good at it. So if you imagine this weirdo character, I think the visual that he gave matched your weirdness. And the voice was just magnificent, the eyes and the makeup, and him and The Undertaker were such a great pair. Such a great pair.
And he loved the fans. And the fans knew that he was genuine. He loved people that had the industry. Right away they had a common bond. They had a common denominator. They had something they could discuss and talk about.
WWE.com: You hear a lot of talk about legacy these days. What is Bill Moody’s legacy?
Hayes: When you are a product of the ’60s, ’70s, much less the ’80s, and you are in this industry — any industry in the ’80s and ’90s — you tended to live a different kind of lifestyle. And we all enjoyed our lives. But as Percy got older and traveled a little less, he got to spend more time with his wife, Diane, who he loved dearly. I remember when they first met, and I remember him lighting up like a Christmas tree about her and they became inseparable.
And he started appreciating life more, and time with his kids, and later his grandkids. When he lost Diane four years ago, he lost part of himself. But he also gained — what’s the word I’m looking for — almost like humility. Almost like appreciating every second and appreciating people.
He had realized that after his wife died to make the most of each moment. Take a second, say “I love you,” say “It’s fun to be with you.” Because you’re gonna argue, fuss and fight anyway and I think that had kind of consumed his life. I know he was tickled to death all the time to go see his grandchildren. He was always grateful to come back here, he was so grateful to the McMahons — who are gonna kill me for saying this — for sending him to get a gastric bypass. He told me a million times that was the only reason he was alive. It put 10 more years on his life. So he just started to learn what we all should, to appreciate the little things.
WWE.com: What is a lesson the WWE Universe can learn from Paul Bearer’s life?
Hayes: Live your life and chase your dreams and enjoy the ride along the way. Sometimes we get so consumed with chasing our dreams we don’t enjoy the ride, and by the time we learn to enjoy the ride, the dream’s over.
WWE.com: What’s the funniest Paul Bearer story you can think of off the top of your head?
Hayes: There are just so many moments I don’t know how many of them you could print. One time we went to Florida, we were all renting rooms out of a place that Jimmy Garvin and his mother owned. Jimmy was working for the AWA. I had no idea why Jimmy offered to rent us anything because Jimmy had lived with us before and knew what it was all about. All of a sudden we pull up and Percy came running out of the house with Terry [Gordy], and Buddy [Roberts] is coming out. He’s getting a little pan of water and he’s filling it up with water, running it back in and throwing it on the house. I look at the house. The house is on fire and smoking and Terry goes, “Hey Perce, the whole house is on fire.” That was one of the funny ones.
There’ll be so many more that’ll come to mind. He was just a great guy and we need to cherish and celebrate his life, that’s what he would want. He wouldn’t want people mourning because he’d tell you there was nothing to mourn about. He loved his country music. He got to become friends with his favorite country artist George Jones. They kept in contact all the time. His life was blessed. It really was, and anybody who knew him, their life was touched, too.
WWE.com: Last thoughts for the WWE Universe on Paul Bearer?
Hayes: I don’t know, I think I’ve kind of said it all. Chase your dreams and enjoy the ride, and know you can be happy with the person that’s inside. That’s what he was. He never lost the spunk that drove him to become Percy Pringle, Paul Bearer. He never lost that drive.
Now don’t get me wrong, he could be an a-hole (laughs). He could be one of the grouchiest son of a guns ever and we all can be that way, but you live and learn from it. But I’m so proud I spent a good part of my life with him. And I think everybody out there who’s ever loved him, that’s mourning him now, that will remember him as we go on and respect his career should know that’s the way to honor him. Because that’s what he would like. He’d like to be remembered, and he’d like people to have loved his career, which is work of art.