Dead Wrestler Of The Week: Miss Elizabeth (Deadspin Classic)

"Macho Man" Randy Savage was killed today in a car accident. Last year, our pro wrestling correspondent paid tribute to Savage's manager and first wife, Miss Elizabeth. She died in 2003 of an overdose at the home of her boyfriend, Lex Luger.

Originally published Feb. 25, 2010.

When the lovely Miss Elizabeth debuted on WWF television, she was serenaded with effusive praise from the commentators as she slowly made her way to the ring. Oh my goodness … Is this a movie star? Who is this? ... my goodness … take a look … what a surprise … I can't believe … look at this … what a beautiful woman… my goodness, she is absolutely gorgeous … That is a gorgeous, gorgeous lady. It was almost as if they were trying to talk themselves into believing in her beauty. Certainly, they were trying to talk the audience into it. Because while Elizabeth Ann Hulette was indeed a looker, she was no Helen of Troy — and that was the role for which she had been cast, the part she would play in WWF storylines in the coming years: the face that launched a thousand dropkicks.

Miss Elizabeth arrived in the WWF as the manager (with benefits, one assumes) of "Macho Man" Randy Savage, who himself came to the WWF to much acclaim and who had been "interviewing" prospective managers in the weeks following. Finally, he gathered all of the gaudily dressed, loudmouth male candidates in the ring and publicly snubbed them all in favor of a classy, demure, and then-unknown woman.

There began not just one love story for the ages but two: Savage and Liz's, of course, but also the love between Elizabeth and the WWF audience, as every male between the ages of 5 and 75 fell head over heels for this woman — or, at least, for the idea of her. We had been talked into it.

Viewers longed to be near Elizabeth, and so they were given a surrogate — not in the form of the (then) dastardly Macho Man, but rather in the form of an affable Neanderthal named George "The Animal" Steele. Steele didn't so much lust after Liz as he doted on her. And of course, this infuriated Savage to no end. Liz's tentative, fluctuating affection for the oafish Steele, though rather grotesque in retrospect, was as important for its symbolism as it was for storyline purposes. Sure, it cast Liz as a damsel in distress in the possession of a controlling Macho Man (he made her hold the ropes open for him as he entered the ring, for goodness sake), but it also gave us a rooting interest in Liz's well-being, and gave us a lens through which to imagine ourselves rescuing her.

Above all, Miss Elizabeth wasn't a woman. She was a symbol — a signifier of ideal beauty, of the perfect woman. Pro wrestling was already a stage for Joseph Campbell-style heroics and for the telegraphic acting out of the oversized emotions of teenage boys, but now the standard Good vs. Evil morality plays could be balanced with archetypal love stories. There had been women in wrestling before her, and these roles had been previously explored, but there had never been a woman like Miss Elizabeth, a vessel into which viewers could pour their emotions. Little wonder that she was so uniquely popular or that her tenure coincided with such a high point in WWF history.

As time went on, Liz stuck by Macho through feuds with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and the Honky Tonk Man, among others. Savage eventually became a fan favorite — "turned face" in industry parlance — and their relationship was able to shift into grayer, more uncertain terrain. Just as Liz was a signifier for beauty and perfection, her relationship with good-guy Savage became a signifier for romance — for true love — with all of its highs and lows.

As the couple moved into what was arguably their career pinnacle — their team-up (and later falling-out) with Hulk Hogan — the WWF kept the whole thing very conservative, but saucier subplots were there, bubbling underneath the surface, for anyone who cared to look. Liz was billed as "lovely" but never "sexy." She didn't sleep with their opponents, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant, to gain an advantage, but she would flash some leg at ringside to help her men win. She didn't sleep with Hogan when Macho Man started showing signs of his old heelish behavior — but she was carried tenderly into the locker room by the Hulkster when she had been knocked out cold. Elizabeth's deliberation between the two alpha males was the subject of great on-screen intrigue, but at the end of the day, her uncertainty left her all alone. Because Hogan didn't need a woman, and Savage was once again playing the bad guy.

We had already seen the dynamic of the evil Savage paired with the accommodating Elizabeth, and so Liz was shunted off and replaced with the more rawly sexual — and frightening — "Sensational" Sherri Martel. But when that relationship dissolved — or, rather, when Macho lost a Wrestlemania VII match to the Ultimate Warrior, and Sherri attacked him in the ring after the match to show her displeasure — Liz intervened, and she and Macho were finally able to pick up the pieces. (Perhaps it was the shared incidence of abuse that finally allowed Savage to fully appreciate her.) Their relationship thereafter was a romantic whirlwind: Savage proposed, and the two were married at SummerSlam 1991 in what was billed as the "Match Made in Heaven". (This was the first in an increasingly ridiculous line of on-screen WWF weddings, which later included Stephanie McMahon and Andrew "Test" Martin, Billy and Chuck, and Dawn Marie and Al Wilson.)

But somewhere along here the wheels came off the fantasy. The relationship had come as far as it could go, and the pair didn't ride off into the sunset. The magic was soon gone, and propriety went along with it: In a notorious angle, the lascivious "Nature Boy" Ric Flair claimed to have been with Liz before Savage had met her. So much for the fuzzy implications of years past. Liz's reputation was eventually restored — Flair had doctored the photos showing them together — but her WWF career was soon over.

Several years later, Elizabeth signed with WCW, as just about every wrestling star of her vintage and wattage did. She appeared there as a new woman — no longer in ballgowns but in a leather skirt and sleeveless top, her hair teased and frosted. And once again, she was touted by the announcers — though not so much as a symbolic beauty as a symbol of the past. Her career there — and the inanity of WCW's booking during that period — is perfectly summed up in this Wikipedia synopsis:

In January 1996, Miss Elizabeth returned to wrestling as a valet for Savage. She later turned against Savage and became Ric Flair's valet in the Four Horsemen. She later turned against the Four Horsemen and joined the New World Order (nWo) alongside Savage and Hogan. In June 1998, she parted ways with Savage once again by joining Hogan's side of the nWo, nWo Hollywood. Then, she accompanied Eric Bischoff on his way to the ring for the next few months.

The only real point of significance here was her pairing with Luger, because somewhere around this time the two started dating in real life. For the few true believers still out there, this may have signaled the end of the line for the Savage-Elizabeth fairy tale. Although Macho and Luger did actually feud over Liz eventually, it wasn't much of a feud by her earlier standards.

This was a modern era, and Liz was (nominally) a modern woman, liberated (somewhat) from the dependence of her Rapunzel youth. The art of wrestling storytelling had changed: Lex and Randy did not heroically vie for her love (or her "managerial duties"), and Lex did not win her hand, and he did not carry her off into some vision of chaste bliss.

Though their real-world relationship continued, it did not end happily. In April 2003, Luger was charged with battery against Liz, and two months later (after several instances of erratic behavior on his part), Luger called 911 from the townhouse they shared in Marietta, Ga., to report that Liz wasn't breathing. She couldn't be revived. A medical examiner listed the cause of death as "acute toxicity," brought on by a mix of painkillers and vodka. Hulette was 42 years old.

With the possible exception of Vince McMahon or maybe Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, no on-air personality has ever meant more to the WWF — without actually wrestling — than Miss Elizabeth. Liz held captive an audience of young men in a way that nobody did before and no one has since, not even in today's era of Maxim-ready divas. Farewell, Miss Elizabeth. You were everything we ever wanted in a woman.

The Masked Man works in publishing. E-mail him at themaskedman01@gmail.com. You can find the rest of the Dead Wrestler series at #deadwrestleroftheweek.