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COLUMN ONE : Wrestling's Star Takes a Tumble : The image of children's super-hero Hulk Hogan is in peril, and so is that of professional wrestling, as former colleagues tell of drug abuse. His TV denial produced an outcry.

March 12, 1992|JOHN CHERWA and HOUSTON MITCHELL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

But the WWF's claim to presenting "family entertainment" has been tarnished by several embarrassing incidents.

Texas Tornado, whose real name is Kerry Adkisson, was arrested in Richardson, Tex., for allegedly forging drug prescriptions. He has entered a drug rehabilitation program, and his case is pending. Marty Janetty (half of the tag team The Rockers) was arrested in Tampa, Fla., for possession of cocaine, drug paraphernalia and resisting arrest; the case is pending, and he is wrestling in Japan.

Last month, officers from the St. Louis Police Department conducted a surprise inspection of wrestlers' luggage and clothing, accompanied by drug-sniffing dogs, as part of an ongoing investigation into drug use by WWF wrestlers. No drugs were found.

Perhaps the most damaging blow for the WWF came during the June, 1991, trial of George Zahorian, a Harrisburg, Pa., urologist who was convicted on 12 counts of selling steroids for non-medical purposes.

Hulk Hogan (whose real name is Terry Bollea) was subpoenaed because he was one of the five wrestlers to whom Zahorian was accused of selling steroids. But the U.S. attorney agreed to waive Bollea's testimony because his "private and personal" matters outweighed any possible contribution to the trial. Wrestlers Roddy Piper (real name Roderick Toombs), Brian Blair (his real name), Rick Martel (Richard Vignault) and Dan Spivey (his real name) all admitted to buying steroids from Zahorian. In addition, Zahorian testified that he treated Bollea as a serious steroid abuser and successfully got him off steroids.

Federal Express records obtained by the grand jury in the case show that Zahorian sent packages to Bollea on eight occasions during a nine-month period in 1988. Thirty-four packages were sent during the same period to the WWF's headquarters--which has an unlisted phone number--in Stamford, Conn. An additional eight packages were sent to McMahon at other addresses. The four wrestlers who testified all admitted receiving steroids from Zahorian by Federal Express.

McMahon, who also heads the World Bodybuilding Federation, acknowledges he experimented with steroids for a short time and received them by Federal Express from Zahorian. However, he says they were legal at the time and he does not condone their use. Possession of steroids for non-medical purposes has since been made illegal; the Food and Drug Administration reclassified the drugs under the Controlled Substance Act in 1991.

A furor erupted in the wrestling community two weeks after Zahorian was convicted. Hogan went on the Arsenio Hall show to repair his image. "I am not a steroid abuser," he declared, "and I do not use steroids."

McMahon says of Hogan's television appearance: "I think Hulk told the truth, but maybe not the whole truth." Hogan declined to be interviewed, a WWF spokesman said. Others, claiming first-hand knowledge of Hogan's drug use, are not so reticent.

"I compare Hulk Hogan to (former Washington, D.C., Mayor) Marion Barry," said Superstar Billy Graham (whose real name is Wayne Coleman), the one-time villainous heavyweight champion of the World Wrestling Federation. "Barry went to schools and talked to kids about not doing drugs and at the same time had crack cocaine in his pants pocket. Hogan is a liar to the children, because all the time he is saying 'I'm not using steroids.' I think that was the most disgusting thing you could do in this country with the drug situation the way it is."

Graham admitted his own steroid abuse a few years ago after having several hip and ankle operations that he attributes to degenerating bone and muscle tissue caused by steroids. Now Graham lectures at schools about steroid abuse.

Graham recently appeared on the "Cody Boyns Wrestling Show" on WALE-AM in Providence, R.I., taking a call he says he'll never forget.

"This young girl called me and started crying," Graham said. "She asked me, 'Why is Hulk Hogan lying to us?' I didn't know what to say."

Hulk Hogan's life out of the wrestling ring as Terry Bollea is a long way from his modest beginnings. His home is a large, two-story structure adjoining the Intercoastal Waterway in Clearwater, Fla., where he lives with his wife, Linda, and two children, Brooke, 3, and Nicholas, 1.

"I'm in love with my kids, I'm in love with my wife, I have lots of friends," he told People magazine last year. "When there's a negative I run right over it."

Born in Augusta, Ga., in 1953, he weighed in at a formidable 10 pounds, 7 ounces. His father, a construction worker, and his mother, a housewife and dance teacher, moved the pre-Hulkster to Tampa when he was 3. He was a star pitcher on his Little League team when he was 12 but found trouble at 14 and was sent to the Florida Sheriff's Boys Ranch for street fighting.

After high school he spent a few years playing bass guitar at local clubs in the Tampa area.

Through those years, he maintained an interest in wrestling. Superstar Billy Graham first met Hogan in late 1976 in Tampa.

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