By Amy Silverman
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"I said, I need to make amends here because I might not make it," Graham says now. "I needed to get everything out in the open, lay it out there. I told Vince McMahon [in an e-mail to an intermediary] that WWE had done nothing but good for me. Nothing but good for me. I wish Linda all the success in the world."
McMahon, Graham says, never responded.
Billy Graham's liver is in bad shape. According to his doctor, Hector Rodriguez-Luna, Graham is suffering from advanced fibrosis that may, in fact, be early cirrhosis.
"On paper, his liver functions well. He is not confused, he eats, he exercises, and he paints," says Rodriguez-Luna, who plans to start Graham on a drug called Interferon, to slow the hepatitis.
But he does not think Graham is in any real danger now. "He probably has a couple of years [to live], to be honest. But we just don't know."
Graham's recent health woes have exacerbated his financial problems, and he has filed a couple of lawsuits in recent years.
In 2007, Graham went to the Phoenix Art Museum with his wife. It became a "defining moment" in his life, or so he wrote in a press release exhorting wrestling fans to complain to the museum.
This is the story he tells in court documents and press releases: He had a "wheel chair" for his hip when he entered the building. A greeter asked him, "Where do you think you are going with that chair?" Graham told her that it was his wheelchair, prescribed by a doctor and that he was going to see the exhibit. Security offered him a choice between two museum wheelchairs. When he refused their accommodation, he was sent on his way, but not before he informed them of his intent to sue for discrimination.
The museum does not deny turning him away that afternoon. Its problem with Graham's "wheel chair," according to museum director James Ballinger, was that it was as high as a barstool and lacked brakes.
"Our policy is that a vehicle needs to be deemed safe," Ballinger recalls. "We explained that and then offered him two chairs. He declined both. However, there's something you should know."
Ballinger pauses on the telephone.
"Two weeks prior, he had come to see the same exhibition and walked through it. He came back two weeks later in his wheelchair."
Graham does not mention this prior visit in his press release, nor does he mention that his "wheel chair" was not, in fact, a wheelchair, but an art chair with casters. He admits coming to the museum earlier but says standing caused him too much pain and says he cannot use a normal wheelchair because it is "too low." The lawsuit, for unspecified damages, was dismissed.
Last March, Graham filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Phoenix Fire Department, which he later amended to $25 million. On February 18, 2010, he woke up ill and called for an ambulance. Paramedics wanted to take him to the nearest hospital, but Graham insisted on going to the Mayo Clinic; paramedics refused to take him there. His wife had to drive him to Mayo during a monsoon, Graham claims, which could have led to both of their deaths. He attached pictures of his liver, pre-transplant, to the lawsuit filing and suggested that he would show them to a jury so they could see his deteriorating condition. Finally, he claimed, Linda McMahon contacted "an attorney friend of hers in Phoenix" to help him with his case.
McMahon denies this in a statement to New Times: "I haven't spoken to Billy Graham in a few years. I have no knowledge of any case in Phoenix, and I have not made any overtures on his behalf."
This lawsuit also was dismissed.
Billy Graham is holding a black-and-white figure of himself that he sells for $25. A crowd of fans surrounds him as he preaches with biblical conviction.
He notices a fan taking a special look at the figures. "That, by the way, happens to be my favorite because it was made eee-lee-guh-lee in Canada. Bootleg. And WWE did not make this action figure. Some smart man in Montreal, Canada, contacted Billy Graham and said, 'We're gonna put you in gray, brother.' This has outsold every action figure WWE has made. This is the truth, brother!"
The figure has a sticker on its front declaring it one of 3,000.
He shows another fan his fingers, which are bent like spider legs, saying they were injured while wrestling Andre the Giant more than 500 times. He says, "I was his favorite opponent."
His book, Tangled Ropes, is on sale. "This is the best wrestling book cover" ever made, Graham says. The reason is that he designed it. He is talking with Christy Hemme, a former WWE diva, about his loss to Bob Backlund in the late '70s: "The title didn't belong on a child. It belonged on a man."