By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
Greg Price runs NWA Fanfest, a convention held in North Carolina each August. In 2008, Graham had a dispute with Price over money and refused to attend, sending an e-mail to the promoter calling him "a mark whore for wrestling" and saying he wants to watch Price's intestines spill out as he dies.
Without getting into Graham's bravado, Price confirmed to New Times that Graham is no longer welcome at his conventions: "He's canceled out on us twice. He won't get the opportunity a third time."
Billy Graham says his wife, Valerie, "was doomed to love me."
They have been married for 33 years, and in that time, she has been the primary breadwinner, working odd jobs to support them both. Today she is a manager at a Valley outlet of a thrift-store chain.
Valerie separated from Billy in August 2009 but moved into an extended-stay hotel near his to help him with doctor visits and grocery shopping.
She is in her early 50s, of Greek extraction, with sharp cheekbones and black hair.
"Have you seen The Wrestler?" she asks.
She says she refuses to see the movie starring Mickey Rourke as an over-the-hill, small-time wrestler with health problems and an estranged family. There are similarities between the character and Billy.
Valerie and Billy met when she was 19, in January 1977. They have no children. Billy was made sterile by steroids. Valerie says he would intimidate her into injecting him early in their relationship. She says she would stab him with the needle, fuming that he cared more about his body than starting a family.
Graham's children are from a previous marriage. He claims his ex-wife turned the kids against him, especially his oldest son.
"He had his name changed from my legal name of Coleman to her maiden name. Legally changed. That's heavy," he says, getting animated. "It bothers me that now that he's an adult, he can't bury it, like my daughter Capella, the adult. She buried the fact that her father was on the road. She grew up."
Graham's son came to Phoenix in 2010 to visit him. "He heard I was broke and that my liver was real bad. So I invited him to bring the kids to [L.A. in January]. They only live 80 miles from the [fan convention]. I said, come over to the Hilton [so I could] meet the grandkids, man. One of them has seen some pictures of me, their grandfather. He's 9 years old, or something.
"He was 80 miles away. Eighty miles! Eighty miles in L.A. is nothing, brother."
The son and grandson did not show.
Asked why Valerie left him, Graham explains that she was stressed about his health problems, then adds that she hates it when he is around female wrestlers.
"She says all they are is strippers. I agree that's all they are. That element of the divas always being around . . . really bugs her."
Valerie laughs when told this. "That's just so funny: 'She hates the divas!'"
No, she says, she did not leave him because of any of that. "It had nothing to do with his health." If it did, she says, "I wouldn't still take care of him."
She adds, "If I talk about the reasons for the separation, it would be a derogatory thing. I don't want to hurt him."
It hurts them both, they say, when she drops him off at his place after taking him to the doctor. It hurts that she will not hug him, for fear of giving him false hope that they will get back together.
Valerie says he has changed, that he used to be much happier. "I think he's angry at himself for all the mistakes he has made," she says. He used to enjoy sports, she says, but now he rails about how overpaid athletes are.
"He literally is one of the best people I know, in his heart," she says. "He wants to be good. He isn't very good at it. But he wants to be good."
The day after she spoke with New Times, Billy Graham sent an e-mail to the newspaper announcing that the interview had inspired Valerie to take him back, which she confirms.
"We have a lot to work through, but I think we need to try," she writes. "[We have] lots of years invested."
Graham adds later, "It's called sacrifice. Everybody gives a little, and it works."