Superstar Billy Graham book excerpt

(Superstar Billy Graham's new autobiography, Tangled Ropes -- co-authored with longtime WWE publications senior writer Keith Elliot Greenberg -- is different than any  wrestling book ever published.  In addition to holding the WWE title in 1977 and 1978, Graham -- with his buffed, bronzed look -- was the inspiration for generations of future greats, including Hulk Hogan, Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Triple H.  Before entering the industry, Graham -- the real-life Eldridge Wayne Coleman -- was a teenage bodybuilding champion, evangelist and professional football player.  In 2002, he received a life-saving liver transplant, becoming a strong advocate for organ donation.

But back in the early 1990s, a drug addicted Graham sued WWE, blaming the company for a steroid habit that began years before he even entered the wrestling profession.  Hoping for an out-of-court settlement, Graham's lawyer threatened that that his client would expose improprieties within the organization -- unless the former WWE champion received a million dollar pay-off.  Vince McMahon's response: "Take your best shot."


This excerpt from Tangled Ropes involves his confrontation with WWE attorney, Jerry McDevitt, at a 1993 deposition)


           Jerry had already established that I had a difficult time remembering the name of my third wife, the kleptomaniac.  Jerry was a pit bull, and I understood the message that he was trying to convey: what kind of man is so cavalier that he forgets his wife's name?  And why in the world had I been married five times?

           My goal was to not let him rattle me. 

           "Do you have a preference as to whether I call you Mr. Coleman or Mr. Graham?" McDevitt asked.

           "Superstar is fine, too," I answered.

           McDevitt laughed; he sold it.

           I then went on to link my steroid use to the McMahon family's decision to crown me champion: "The fact that I had a steroid-induced body definitely influenced their decision…because Vince, Jr. was infatuated with my physique at that time."

           "Nobody told you that you were being picked to be champion because you used steroids," McDevitt said.  "Is that correct?"

           "They told me that I was picked as champion because of my appearance and charisma."

           "Which is different than saying you're being picked as champion because you use steroids.  Correct?"

           "I guess the term is different, but I assumed that my appearance, having an extremely muscular physique, steroid induced, along with my charisma, was the reason they picked me as champion."

           "Why do you think they picked Bob Backlund to beat you?"

           "Because Vince McMahon, Sr. was convinced that Bob Backlund would be another Bruno Sammartino…because of his wholesome appearance."

           "The fact is…that the man you took the belt from, Bruno Sammartino, as well as the man that took the belt from you, Bob Backlund, neither of those two used steroids, did they?"

           "No.  They did not."

           "So both of those achieved the stature of champion with the World Wrestling Federation without ever touching a steroid.  Correct?"

           "That's true."

           Jerry went down a list of wrestlers who'd worked for the company -- George Steele, Dominic DeNucci, Freddie Blassie and Lou Albano, among others -- and had me confirm that, according to my judgment, none of them used steroids.

           "How about Andre the Giant?" McDevitt asked.

           "I know Andre and…I believe he did not use steroids."

           McDevitt smiled slightly.  "Everybody was very thankful for that, I'm sure."

           "Yeah," I quipped.  "Maybe human growth hormone."  I was working the room.


JERRY McDEVITT: It was definitely theater for everyone there.  The pharmaceutical firms that were also named in the lawsuit had sent these white shoe lawyers who weren't used to this kind of character.  He made a huge tactical mistake by naming us in the lawsuit.  We already knew him.  The pharmaceutical companies would have had no idea who they were dealing with.


           "You have had extensive dealings with the tabloid media, haven't you?" McDevitt questioned, in another effort to undermine my integrity.

           "What is that?"

           "You have dealt with A Current Affair, right?"
           "I believe I did."

           "Did you deal with Hard Copy?"


           "How about Inside Edition?"

           "Yes…I might like to add one more that I did that I'm very proud of, and that was a Nickelodeon children's program they just aired on the first of the year.  I did a steroid interview for Nickelodeon.  That's a real good children's program that was obviously not in the tabloid arena.  It was very wholesome."

           That wasn't a bad line.  And I also held my own when Jerry asked me to provide validation of my steroid purchases.

           "It's true," he stated, "that you don't have one piece of documentary evidence as to where you purchased them, when you purchased them, or how much you paid for them for so much as one transaction.  Is that correct?"

           "That's probably true," I retorted.  "The only evidence that I have that I used them is in my body, not in a checkbook or receipt.  But my body has plenty of evidence."

           Still, the heart of my argument -- that Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation were responsible for my steroid abuse -- was effortlessly shot down by McDevitt's questioning. 

           "By 1975, when you have your first affiliation with (the WWWF), would I be correct that you had been a steroid user for a decade?" he asked.


           With that established, he continued, "Did anybody from Titan (the World Wrestling Federation's corporate name at the time) ever give you steroids?"


           "Did you have any knowledge of anybody from Titan ever giving any wrestlers steroids?"



JERRY McDEVITT: The deposition had been going on for two or three days.  I had a couple of document bags with me.  I noticed that every time I went for another document, Billy seemed to be getting a little jumpy.

       "What else do you have in that bag there, brother?" he asked.

       During one of the breaks, I ran into Billy in the bathroom.  He started laughing and said, "You're killing me, brother."  I've been in this situation with other litigants, and they usually scowl.  But he was very charming. 

       Then, he went back out and continued lying.


           Even when McDevitt was trying to nail me, I kind of liked him.  I'd use a line, and he'd used another one to try to top me.  It was almost like cutting promos against Dusty.  We definitely enjoyed each other.

           The deposition took place in downtown Philadelphia, where everybody knew me.  When I'd step out of the elevator, or walk down the street, people would stop and yell, "Superstar!  Superstar!"  Even one of the pharmaceutical company lawyers came up to me during a break, and said, "I was at your Cage match with Bruno.  Off the record, do you think I could get your autograph?"

           This was an attorney from the other side!  Can you imagine if his client found out?  When it comes to wrestling -- except for those absolutely hardcore about "protecting the business" -- there's always some humor.

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