Yesterday we discovered the wonder and depression of Lonely Virgil, a single-serving Tumblr chronicling the descent of the onetime WWF and WCW "superstar" into a deserted wastleland of comic conventions and indie show parking lots. And then we heard from readers. You people have met Virgil over the years, and you have stories to tell.
We could probably make this a regular thing. Ever have any strange run-ins with former or current pro wrestlers? Email us. Subject: Wrestlers. (Not just Virgil, although more Virgil stories are always welcome.)
On to the Virgilbag.
When I was in high school (about 15 years ago), Virgil was part of a local wrestling show that my friends and I attended in Lorain, Ohio. He was the "headline" star, so you can imagine the quality of wrestling that we saw. After the show, the wrestlers were available for pictures and autographs. There was Virgil, a few local guys, and a girl that participated in the show as a "manager" of the of the wrestlers - a hot young blond in a bikini. Seeing as how the audience consisted of wrestling fans and teenagers like us, everyone went to the girl's line. Virgil stood around for awhile by himself, seemingly waiting for someone to approach him. After about 10 minutes, he seemingly gave up and came up and started talking to us. That's when things got weird. Virgil started pressuring my friend to grab the girl's ass when he took a picture with her. My friend laughed it off. Virgil persisted, this time telling him to stick his hand down her bikini bottoms. Creeped out, my friend told him he wasn't going to do that. Virgil, seeming to be insulted by his response, called him a pussy and walked away. Only one person asked Virgil for a picture - the fan wanted to take a picture of him shoving dollar bills in Virgil's mouth like Ted Dibiase used to (ouch). Virgil declined.
My second story comes from about two years ago, when Buff Bagwell was doing a local wrestling show in Rittman, Ohio. After the show, Buff and the other wrestlers came to my father-in-law's sports bar (he sponsored the show). Buff was drunk when he arrived, and continued drinking when he arrived. Some people started approaching Buff for pictures. Buff was prepared - he had a Polaroid camera to snap photos with and was charging people $10 for a picture with him (kids were "only" $5). He then put the money he received (which wasn't much) in a fanny pack he was wearing. As the night progressed, we witnessed Buff pop a handful of pills, make out with two overweight, very unattractive girls, and try to leave without paying his tab. After my father-in-law forced him manager to pay it for him, two men helped Buff - who couldn't walk on his own at this point - out of the bar, with the fat girls following him out.
New York area Virgil fans can almost always find Virgil at the Coney Island boardwalk on summer weekends. I've been there a handful of times over the last couple of summers, and each time there he is: idling the lonely minutes away as summer reveler after summer reveler walks past his lonely table as if he were just another grain of sand on the beach and not an accessible, once-proud member of Vince McMahon's stable of talent. Having been a young boy and avid wrestling fan at the time of Virgil's "heyday," I was excited when I saw him on the boardwalk the first time. This wasn't the excitement one might get from seeing a ballplayer they once idolized as a child. Nay, it was similar to the excitement I might get if I happened to see Jerry Supiran sleeping under a bridge in that box he now calls home or if I drove past a garage in southern California and happened to see Tom Sizemore sleeping on a cot inside. Some dancing bears are just more entertaining when the music stops, I suppose. But if revelers follow my example and do stop by to talk to Virgil (I spoke to him, but made it clear I didn't want an autograph, which didn't even bother him; in hindsight, it seems he really did just want someone to talk to), they can expect to hear some vitriol directed at McMahon and Madison Square Garden. Years later, I still can't make sense of Virgil's ramblings about McMahon and MSG (suffice to say he feels both the CEO and the arena owe him a substantial amount of money, though his explanation as to why that is was unclear), but I do know that after the initial 60 seconds of speaking to Virgil both my friend and I were deeply regretting initiating the conversation and slowly backing away toward the wisely indifferent men, women and children enjoying their time on the boardwalk.
I was at the San Diego Comicon in 2001. At the time I was head writer of a now-defunct comic book website. One of the staff responsibilities at the show was to hand out t-shirts subtly advertising our site. My main focus was comic book professionals and related media personalities. Most of them were really cool about it.
Eventually I found my way into the Sail Pavilion, where mostly E-list (and lower) celebrities hung out and signed autographs. The "celebrities" included Gil Gerard, soft core porn actress Lisa Boyle and the guy who played Uncle Owen in Star Wars Episode 4. Brief aside: that dude was slumped over in a wheelchair, apparently asleep and looking more like Captain Pike in the Star Trek pilot than Uncle Owen.
Anyway, I had just successfully handed off a shirt to Frank Gorshin (shortly afterward he started screaming at his agent via cell phone) and began walking the perimeter of the floor when I heard a voice.
"Hey man!" I looked up and it was Virgil. "Hey, come here." I complied because I didn't want him to hit me from behind with a haliburton. He was standing in front of his table and it was littered with WWF trading cards featuring his visage and several 8 x 10" glossies with him standing next to DiBiase.
"What are those shirts," he asked. I told him and he looked at me for a second, puzzled.
"You want one?" I was totally uncomfortable because I was pretty sure I knew what was coming next.
"Yeah. Size XL." I gave him the shirt and he held it up, looking at it. He repeated the text on the shirt and then looked back to me. "I tell you what. I'll wear your shirt tomorrow if you buy something from my table." He gestured at his table, particularly at his trading cards. "These are collector's items. They're worth a lot of money."
"If they're worth a lot of money, why are you selling them for $5?" He gave me a blank stare. I told him I didn't have any money on me, but he could keep the shirt.
While I made the rounds the next day, I saw him sitting at his booth. He was wearing the shirt.
So I used to go to the Wizard World Chicago con pretty regularly. It went from being pretty cool in 1997 to being a sad pathetic thing that I stopped going to in 2008, and through it all Virgil had his booth there. Around 2004 or 2005, definitely on the down turn, I had made friends with a wrestling fan in College and decided to get him a signed Virgil picture as a look how crappy this guy was kind of joke. I went up to his table and the guy just lit up. Someone actually gave enough of a damn to buy his wares, after the better part of a decade. It was just so soul crushingly sad. It made my heart hurt to see how much this guy was happy to have any human interaction. I quickly picked a photo and was on my way.
A buddy and I went to the Wizard World convention in Philadelphia back in 2007. We were walking around the "celebrity" booths and saw Virgil sitting by himself with no one to talk to. We decided to go up to him just to say hi because it was really a sad sight to see. No more than 5 seconds after saying hello to the man, he is trying to sell us a $120 signed action figure 2 pack consisting of The Million Dollar Man and himself. We told him we have no interest in buying the action figures but he persists to try and sell them dropping the price down to $80 and then $60. Getting frustrated with our refusal to buy his overpriced toys he then tries to sell us a $30 signed photo of himself, and getting angry at us for not buying anything from him. At this point I'm completely disgusted and regretting our decision to just be nice to the guy, so we just tell him to have a nice day and walked off passing Lou Ferrigno who is also sitting alone and looking very lonely.
1. Spring, 2001 - Sports card show at Robert Morris University in Pgh. (a.k.a "The First Time")
While perusing the tables at the Sports Card Show, I noticed "Wrestling Superstar Virgil's" table near (not "among") the actual autograph attractions (usually the remaining living former 1960 Pirates, as most have retired to Western PA, plus whoever else they can dig up, but it's mostly a baseball theme). Nobody was nearby (shocker, I know), so I went up and chatted him up. Seemed like a nice enough, talkative (VERY talkative) guy. Talked about his time in the business.
When the topic turned to "what he's doing now" is when the fun started. (It should be noted that, in the timeline of pro wrestling, my convo with WS Virgil was around the beginning of the ill-fated WWE "Invasion" angle, not long after WWE purchased WCW in real-life, and attempted to merge the rosters in an angle that had a ton of potential, but ultimately went nowhere.) As for the question, he indicated that he had done a tour of Japan with Hogan and a group of other wrestlers (guessing some permutation of Hogan's cronies), which seemed plausible enough. But then he went into a spiel where he was actually explaining to me what his real life plans were through the lens of the kayfabe (general term for the suspension of disbelief/acceptance that it's all staged) world of wrestling, which made my head spin something fierce. (not the last time this would happen). Noting, among other things, that
A "Shane McMahon is now the owner of WCW" (Storyline, yes....real world, no)
B "Some of my best friends are no longer with the company. Vince went right up to Jeff Jarrett and said that he was "G-O - Double-N - E....GONE!" (Those were close enough to the exact words that Vince used....ON THE TV SHOW....to describe his reaction to seeing Jarrett on TV (this was during the surreal simulcast of the last Nitro stow). Because there's a remote outside chance that conversation may have happened in real life, he gets a pass, albeit a very flimsy one, on that one)
And more "What in the fuck are you talking about?" moments that I'm hazy on the details on (I just started to tune out at that point).
All told, the convo lasted about 45 minutes, a duration of which he was interrupted once by somebody wanting to take a picture (which I took). I felt sorry for the guy, so I dropped just under $20 on some of his merch, including an autographed WCW promo picture (to which he signed "Vincent", his gimmick name in WCW), and a polaroid shot of the two of us (to which he signed "Virgil"), so he's got the multiple personality thing going too.
2. Fall, 2003 (a.k.a. "The Loud Neighbor")
Was at a "card show" (using the term loosely...prob only like 20 tables) at a local mall, when I noted the table of a guy, along with his daughter, Carrie (I changed the name), whom I've known from flea markets and card shows through the years. Set up at the table next to him....none other than "Wrestling Superstar Virgil".
Remembering the convo from two years prior, and already suffering the effects of a headache, I didn't really talk with him as much this time around, only taking away two observations:
1. He was seriously flirting with Carrie who was, maybe, 14. Maybe it could be construed as "clowning around," and there was nothing physical, but it was a bit off-putting nonetheless.
2. The guy (whose name I honestly don't remember, and I only remember the daughter's name because Virgil kept shouting it) leaned up to me and whispered, "This guy has been doing this the whole day....he keeps saying he was a former champion, but I don't remember him at all. He says he fought Hulk Hogan at a Wrestlemania. But whoever he is, he's pissing me off, and if he keeps talking to (Carrie), I'm going to beat the shit out of him."
3. Fall, 2011 ("Advice")
Worked as a ring announcer an indy show for a local federation (Renegade Wrestling Alliance), where Wrestling Superstar Virgil set up his table to peddle his wares. He was set up right next to me. He couldn't pull the "lonely" card as easily here, because it was a relatively big, compact crowd, but he and I were able to chat, mostly during the matches. I regret not remembering the lessons from ten years prior. Observations:
A. A relatively small wrestler did a move where he swung through the ropes to kick an opponent in the head, better known as the "6-1-9", one of the signature moves of popular WWE star Rey Mysterio. Virgil used this spot as a place to vent how today's wrestlers are "stealing moves from us", presumably meaning his brethren of workers. Knowing that Virgil and Rey would have crossed paths in WCW, I seized the opportunity to ask the "fanboy" question of what Rey was like, to which I got the following response:
"Yeah, Rey was great....I threw him into the side of a building once, kind of like a lawn dart!"
Sounds like a fun anecdote, although I, along with anybody who has ever seen WCW wrestling regularly during the mid-to-late 90's, would recognize that as one of the most famous moments during that time, and while that DID happen, Virgil was nowhere near the scene. Kevin Nash, one of Virgil's "gang mates" in the NWO, and a guy who's got at least a foot on Virgil (and myself) was the one who did the lawn darting. I seriously developed a sharp headache at that point, but I went back for more....
After I did the ring announcer spiel for a match, I came back to my area and decided to "pick the brain" of WS Virgil. I asked him if he had any advice for how I could do better at my job of ring announcing. (Again, this was a show in a local gymnasium in front of about 150-200 people.) And this was the advice I received:
"Whenever Vince (McMahon) would bring us up to Stamford (Connecticut, home of WWE HQ, and where the post-production/feature video presentations were produced), for promos, he would tell us to love the camera, and reach through it to talk with the man, woman, or child who was watching at home, to bring him into our head, and what was on our mind for our upcoming match. (Keep in mind again....I was RING ANNOUNCING). He said our goal was to bring them into the building, to pay to see us do our thing." (Again, they were already IN THE F'ING BUILDING!!!)
At that point, I pretty much walked away from him mid-sentence and didn't say another word to him the rest of the night. Kind of a dick move on my part, but purely out of self-preservation....I was getting dumber listening to him.
Photo via @joedisano