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

Page 6 of 8

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.

"There are only 20 of these left in the free world," he says. "Maybe there are 12 of them in Yugoslavia or Bulgaria, but there are only 20 left in . . . the United States, brother."

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."

He walks around the lobby, standing with another vendor for 20 minutes and signing autographs. He cuts a promo with the Iron Sheik, the Persian wrestler whose claim to fame was that he was chosen to beat Backlund for the title and lose it a month later to Hulk Hogan. Graham, the Iron Sheik boasts, was "the first man with 22-inch pythons [biceps]."

Jimmy "The Mouth of the South" Hart comes by Graham's table and says "Superstar" often has been imitated "but never ever, ever, ever duplicated." Graham says he would advise any wrestler to imitate Hart's promos, word for word, "like Jesse Ventura did with me."

Graham treats his fans as he does his action figures. Each woman who approaches Graham becomes the most beautiful woman in Los Angeles. He is joined through the weekend by Jessica Coleman (no relation), whose husband works with Graham's agent. Coleman looks like a librarian and might be the only woman in the room without breast implants. Graham introduces her to anyone within earshot as his new wife, though she is there only to give fans prices on merchandise and collect money.

There is a fan at the convention who has flown to Los Angeles from the Netherlands to see Billy Graham, who revels in the attention. Bobby Klein tells New Times in a 1,000-word essay that he decided to come over from Europe when he learned Graham was dying.

The last day of the convention is slow. Graham is holding court with some fans when a female wrestler known as Old Dirty Bitch walks by. Graham flags her down and asks for a hug. He remains seated as she approaches, his face level with what wrestling fans like to chant are her "super-titties" as she leans into him. The whole of his head turns red.

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