Longform

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

Page 7 of 8

Suddenly, Graham sees his agent, Scott Epstein, and calls him over. Mexican superstar Mil Mascaras was at the convention the day before, and Graham managed to get a picture taken with his onetime rival.

"You've gotta get that picture up of me and Mascaras immediately. Eee-me-dee-id-lee! There's money there."


Superstar Billy Graham lives alone in an extended-stay motel in North Phoenix, in a room that is only slightly larger than a wrestling ring. Graham spends much of his day sitting at a tiny table in the kitchen, his laptop and paint supplies in front of him, Bob Dylan playing in the background. There is a small bathroom to his left and a refrigerator behind him. His bed is just inside the room.

"This place is perfect for me," he says.

There is a large photo on the wall of him wrestling Mil Mascaras at Madison Square Garden, a scene he plans to depict in paint. "It will be my Mona Lisa. I bet some wrestling fan will want to buy it." Painting has become his life, and one of his few sources of income.

"I'm on disability. I get disability checks. And I sell my artwork. My art sales are starting to pick up." (Check out Graham's paintings at www.wix.com/xtreemathletics/superstarbillygraham.)

To pass the time, Graham paints and corresponds with fans.

"Who remembers or cares about the universities that had Einstein and Freud on their payrolls?" waxes one e-mail from an Australian he has befriended. "Who knows the names of the rich men who funded the research of Edison or Marconi? Who can remember the patrons of Michelangelo and da Vinci, who were forever bossing them around and annoying them? Posterity never remembers the 'business' or the patron, only the artist and what he produced."

It will be the same, he writes, with Billy.

Graham controls his life from his laptop, e-mailing his agent to ask if he could sue a writer at an online boxing website who is using "Superstar Billy Graham" as a byline.

He is sitting at his laptop when he says he will attend the fan convention in New Jersey in May, after all. He says he wants to go to Florida and do color commentary at an event for Total Nonstop Action wrestling. That deal, he says, will be his "last ever public appearance" on the East Coast.

Turns out, he says, the L.A. convention was his last public appearance on the West Coast.

A couple of weeks ago, Epstein, Graham's agent, sent out a press release denying "rumors" that Graham would be at the fan convention in New Jersey. Epstein claimed to have spoken with Graham's doctor, who "does not like or approve of Graham's flying across the United States, due to a real possibility of what he termed as 'bleeding esophageal varice.'"

Dr. Rodriguez-Luna tells New Times he never advised Graham not to fly. He denies ever having a conversation with Epstein about whether Graham should fly.

If indeed the fan convention in L.A. turns out to have been his last, it might not be by choice — as Graham slowly is alienating the organizers of other conventions.

Graham says he plans to sue the organizers of the L.A. convention because, he says, they excluded him from the "VIP portion" of the festivities.

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.

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