Jerry Lawler is one of the most legendary figures in professional wrestling history, an all-around talent who is not just a local legend in Memphis and the surrounding areas, but also beloved by wrestling fans around the world. He’s worn various hats during his decades in the sport and has done most everything he’s done incredibly well. He’s also one of the business’s most famously problematic figures in a bunch of different ways.
Lawler’s greatest national prominence, aside from his early ’80s feud with comedian Andy Kaufman, came when he played the role of a lecherous, creepy old man announcer on Monday Night Raw during the show’s late ‘90s popularity peak. Whether it was sounding like he was having a seizure while screaming “IT WAS BREASTS!” after a fan flashed wrestlers or constantly screaming about “puppies” after that became the accepted WWE terminology for breasts, horndoggery became part of his public image. What made this more uncomfortable was that the guy playing the role of creeper on TV had himself narrowly avoided statutory rape and sodomy charges in 1993. It was a constant source of jokes on TV, with cracks routinely made about Lawler hanging around playgrounds since the two girls in question were 13 and 14 years old.
In December, Lawler’s co-host Glenn Moore brought up the #MeToo movement and the topic of sexism in the entertainment business on Lawler’s “Dinner with The King” podcast. Asked if there could “ever be a scandal like that” in pro wrestling, Lawler said, after some rambling, that “it appears that eventually anybody that’s ever flirted with anybody, or had any kind of sexual contact with anybody, is all of a sudden you could potentially be a target in the future.” Moore, seemingly thinking that Lawler misunderstood the question, explained that he was referring to “the more serious accusations, of a woman waking up, or even a guy waking up to an actor/actress performing a sex act on them while they’re sleeping.”
Lawler’s initial response was to laugh, and Moore asked how that was funny. “Because—I thought about this the other day,” Lawler began, “I’ve seen pictures in the past of wrestlers, I’m not gonna say who or whatever, as a prank, [where] a wrestler falls asleep and another guy comes over and says ‘Take a picture of this!’ and he takes his genitals out and puts it near the guy’s face! It’s a prank, it’s something done in jest, it’s like a college kid prank, I’ve actually seen that done before.” Moore further pressed that he was referring to a man using his power to obscure wrongdoings, to which Lawler said “No, pfft, I don’t know of anything, I’ve never heard of anything like that before,” He then complained about having to tone down his commentary, WWE no longer doing “bra and panties” matches, and having to call female wrestlers “women” instead of “Divas.”
“The women have to be treated the same as the men, and I...I dunno, that’s just the way times have changed,” he concluded.
The response to Lawler’s comments was exactly as negative as you’d expect, and it got me thinking about the 1993 case, which Lawler rarely comments on these days (though he inexplicably retweeted an article about it in March 2017). I sent a public record request to the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky, which conducted the investigation, and got back 228 pages of documents—it looks like the entire case file or close to it—several weeks later. Lawler’s public stance at the time was largely that the whole thing had blown up after two girls bragged about having sex with him; he singled out prosecutor Lisa Schweikert wanting to “get her face on TV” as the reason why the case kept going even after Lawler’s lawyer claimed that the both girls had recanted. In private, his rhetoric was similar, if also notably more colorful.
Lawler addressed an undated letter pleading his case to “Lisa and Nick,” who are presumably Schweikert and fellow prosecutor Nick King. Several pages of past articles and correspondence about Lawler’s charity work appear to have been attached to the letter (they precede it in the file), which is handwritten with Lawler’s distinctive, all-caps comic book dialogue brand of penmanship. The letter begins by outlining his commitment to the community and various honorary government appointments before taking a bit of a turn.
“I feel if you did a background search on me, you would find that I have always tried to treat people with respect, from the smallest of the wrestling fans to the mayors and senators and I think they in turn would tell you that my word is good,” he began. “I also know that if you did a background search on the two girls in question you will find that one of them is having a sexual relationship with the other ones [sic] brother. That their mothers are both aware of this relationship. That she smokes, drinks, has been suspended from school several times. That she brags publicly about having numerous sex partners, has claimed to be pregnant, and has exposed herself publicly and has committed lesbian acts in front of witnesses.” Seemingly not understanding how a police background check works, Lawler continued by attacking the second girl who told police that she had sexual contact with him. “The other girl is currently involved in a sexual relationship with a 40 year old neighbor whom she babysits for and also was caught having sex with a black man,” wrote Lawler. “Her mother is aware of both of these situations and admits that her daughter lies to her all the time. The girl also claims to have had sex with ‘several’ wrestlers. She has also bragged in public about having numerous sex partners and she has committed lesbian acts in front of witnesses.”
Lawler further argued that the girls’ credibility was lacking because of the timeline. The accusers said that the contact happened in June but didn’t come forward until a few months later, after they had gotten in a shouting match with Lawler’s girlfriend at a wrestling show. “Please take the time to check out the reputations of the people involved her, “ he wrote at the start of the final paragraph. “My life and the lives of countless people around me can be irreparable [sic] damaged by this. Thank you for your time and consideration.”
As of this writing, Lawler has not responded to Deadspin’s email requesting comment on the letter.
The case file, as released to Deadspin, appears to be out of order, but the letter seems to have been sent fairly early on. Lawler later tried to get more backup, and produced several witnesses who signed affidavits on his behalf. These are not especially compelling and generally share similar themes with Lawler’s letter, although there are also affidavits from fans claiming that one of the girls recanted her allegations and that the other claimed that she was going to somehow get $10,000 out of Lawler. One affidavit, though, is a bit out of place: It’s from the person who drove Lawler to the motel where the girls said they met him, and the point of that statement appears to be that she didn’t see the girls enter his room. Lawler, however, had already told police during a 90-minute interview that the girls had been in his room; he said the same thing to investigators in Indiana as part of a parallel investigation. (He maintained that they used the hotel room phone and that was it.)
The police file also debunks much of the historical narrative around the case, some of which was set by Lawler himself. In an interview with Lawler published in the December 18, 1993 issue of the Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter, editor Wade Keller asked Lawler if he had anything to say about the case that he had not already expressed publicly. “I think it was made to sound so much worse than it was when the only way it’s reported is, ‘Jerry Lawler is charged with rape,’” replied Lawler. “When in actuality all it is—here’s a young girl who goes to wrestling who claimed to a friend of hers that she had sex with Jerry Lawler. I mean, how many groupies or girls who go to wrestling have claimed to have had sex with the wrestlers? Millions. And then this just got told to the wrong individual…” Lawler had also made similar comments to Keller several weeks earlier after the story first broke.
The Louisville police report, however, says the investigation began after one of the girls was confronted about having a sexual relationship with a boy by a male family friend (the Indiana case came about when local authorities were called by the Louisville cops). The girl told the man that she had in fact slept with the boy; when asked if she’d had sexual contact with anyone else, she named Lawler and Bill Martin, who wrestled as Bill Marino in Lawler’s USWA promotion and was not charged in conjunction with the case. The friend told the girl’s mother, and one of them (it’s unclear which due to the redaction of their names) called the Crimes Against Children Unit to report it.
The mother also told the police that, after confirming the details with her daughter, she called the mother of the other girl and their stories matched up. The accounts that both girls gave to the police, which involved Lawler stripping naked, the girls being hesitant to do anything, and all of them watching cartoons before the girls finally performed oral sex on Lawler, also matched up. Later, all before the case went public, Lawler—running a tape recorder—called the girls’ homes, where he ended up speaking to at least one of them and/or their mothers; allegations were then relayed about him suggesting that this be taken care of by talking to his lawyer. One of the girls maintained that everything she said was true, but she was unsure if she wanted to pursue the case in light of Lawler’s call. Previously, during the initial police interview, one of the girls had broken down in tears while telling detectives what happened in the motel room with Lawler.
As f0r the issue of whether or not the girls recanted, retired Louisville detective Mike Redmond, who worked the case, told Deadspin that they never did. Instead, they refused to testify against Lawler. with Redmond’s interpretation of the decision being that the girls didn’t want “The King” to get in trouble.
On Feb. 23, 1994, Lawler copped a plea for harassing a witness, who was said to be a female other than the complainants; the sex crime charges were dismissed. One of Lawler’s attorneys cited the girls’ reluctance to testify as a factor in the deal being made. Lisa Schweikert, speaking for the prosecution, would not comment on the plea past saying that it “served justice.” Neither indicated if Lawler’s attempt to frame the girls as bisexual, nymphomaniacal, miscegenation-happy sluts played a role in the decision.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are eavailable. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix.