Scarcely a week after suffering a dramatic heart attack on live TV in far-off Canada and being reported in the first news flashes as being in critical condition, wrestler/announcer/icon Jerry Lawler put on a show Wednesday in his East Memphis garage merely by being there.
Lawler, who is recuperating in Memphis and may be out of action for an indeterminate period, attracted a gaggle of local media people to a called press conference, where he discussed, not a forthcoming WWE showdown with some ominous masked marauder, but the life-and-death encounter he’d just had with that ubiquitous and fearful entity known as The Reaper.
It has to be said that Jerry the King, who was accompanied at the event by his girl friend Lauryn McBride, looked to be in the pink, though he may have been a mite more subdued than usual as he talked about a sequence of events that many of his listeners had seen newsclips of but that he himself does not remember.
One widely seen clip showed Lawler delivering a dropkick to an opponent in a tag team match in a Montreal arena; another displayed Lawler later on sitting at his ringside desk discussing a match in progress with announcing sidekick Michael Cole. Up to that point it was a typical installment of “Monday Night Raw,” one of the most watched syndicated shows on television.
Lawler appeared to be experiencing some degree of discomfort in both videos, and it was not long after the second one that he collapsed and fell to the floor. He was given CPR on the spot and rushed to a nearby hospital, quickly enough to get the emergency medical attention that presumably saved his life. He was diagnosed as having had a bona fide cardiac event — a heart attack.
All of this Lawler learned much later. What he does remember about last Monday night: “I didn’t feel anything. I felt perfectly fine the whole day. I was prepared to do our live television show. I remember the first couple of segments of the show, and at one point I don’t remember anything….The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.”
(A footnote: After Lawler’s collapse, and even during the period of his being loaded on a gurney and taken to the hospital, the TV broadcast continued to show the staged mayhem in the ring. “Oh yeah, the show must go on. That’s the way it is.”)
It was a matter, Lawler said, of “two little arteries” at the base of the heart. Both were clogged, but “one just needed a stint and the other a balloon opening.” The damage was “minimal,” and “The doctor told me yesterday that he doesn’t see why I shouldn’t have a complete recovery.”
And “complete” means that Lawler hopes to go back into the ring. “And I would definitely go back into commentary.”
The whole problem, Jerry says, was “too much cholesterol,” and the remedy is three-fold: Six months or a year’s worth of the blood clot-dissolving medication Plavix now, a change in diet, and “more exercise.”
What? He doesn’t get enough exercise throwing somebody around a ring and being thrown!?
“Well, the longest match now is about 15 minutes. Two bouts a week is not enough.”
What Jerry the King seems to worry about as much as anything else is the touch of arthritis he has in his right hand, just enough to partially immobilize his thumb. “And that’s my drawing hand,” says Lawler, a talented sketcher, probably good enough to make a living as a commercial artist. “That’s my fallback position,” he says.
(Arguably, one of two fallback positions: Lawler has twice been a candidate for Memphis mayor, and he likes to note that in 1999 he finished third in a 12-person race.)
A little shot of cortisone is usually enough to take care of the thumb problem. Ask him about the wrestling issue a year from now. Or, if things go as well as he thinks they will, just be prepared to tune him in on “Monday Night Raw.”