Longform

Superstar Billy Graham Made It Big in Wrestling -- Now the Steroids That Got Him There May Be Killing Him

Page 5 of 8


Vince McMahon inducted Billy Graham into what was by then the World Wrestling Entertainment (the company went from WWF to WWE in 2002) Hall of Fame in March 2004, at Wrestlemania 20 in New York City. Graham attended Wrestlemania 21 with his two children in L.A., but by the time Wrestlemania 26 came to Phoenix in March 2010, Graham was no longer welcome.

In 2008, Graham got into a dispute with WWE over royalties from his autobiography, published by the company. Feeling shortchanged by the McMahons over the book, Graham sold his Hall of Fame ring on eBay in 2009 for $12,000, something he says "really pissed [McMahon] off."

"I needed some money," Graham says.

WWE ended its relationship with Graham in spring 2009. At this time, Linda McMahon was running for U.S. Senate as a Connecticut Republican. That summer, Graham limped into a Starbucks on Long Island and told a Hartford Courant reporter, "I am disgruntled. I am bitter. I am mad at Vince McMahon for not having healthcare. Absolutely print that. Absolutely, I'm bitter to the core."

Graham told the Courant that the McMahons' hands were "bloody" and claimed that he would make a T-shirt depicting Vince's wife with a razor blade taped to her finger and the slogan "Linda McMahon is a scam and is made out of spam."

He attacked WWE for shifting its television rating to TV-PG, which he claimed was designed to make Linda McMahon a more appealing candidate, or at least a less embarrassing one.

"I've never done this before," Graham told the newspaper. "There's passion in this one. There's a real issue of hypocrisy."

The truth, from WWE's perspective, was that Graham had a history of lying.

The Courant quoted a WWE representative saying Graham had a history of making false statements about the company while off the payroll and released records showing that Graham had just been removed from the payroll after a five-year stint. WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt said the company had "kept him on the payroll when he wasn't really doing anything to earn [his money]."

Months after the Courant article was published, Graham, incredibly, reached out to WWE to offer his services as a McMahon campaign spokesman. He offered privately to go out to schools and "be a representative of Linda in a professional way and as a beloved person in the wrestling community." He claimed he had changed his mind about Linda's being a "scam" once he found out the "seriousness" of his liver condition.

"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."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gregory Pratt
Contact: Gregory Pratt