Joe Babinsack looks at the life of Larry Sweeney



 

It’s a difficult situation to be in, writing about someone I never knew personally, while many did know him, worked with him, traveled with him and knew him well, or knew of his torments.

Larry Sweeney is just one more young life tragically lost in the industry, and although this one is far more personal, we should all ponder that chicken-and-the-egg question of whether the industry attracts talented individuals with demons battling for their souls, or if the industry tends to stoke the fires of those demons in individuals who become part of the business.

Almost all reports about Larry Sweeney over the past few years mentioned Bipolar Disorder. That’s a condition – a mental illness – that causes drastic or frequent mood swings, often from, to or a combination of depression and Mania. It’s believed to be a brain chemistry issue, and it has a variety of severities, and it is said to be managed with treatment.

Bipolar isn’t exactly rare – five million adults in the United States have it, and isn’t exactly unknown to the mainstream – actress Catherine Zeta-Jones has just been reported to be in treatment for the condition. And history has examples of great talents, like Vincent van Gogh, who may have had the condition.

But I’m not an expert in medical conditions, nor the personal history of Larry Sweeney.

There is a poignant reflection on Larry Sweeney by Allison Danger & Amber Gertner for those who want to get a very personal take on it, at http://www.diva-dirt.com/2011/04/16/the-untitled-allison-danger-show-episode-12-larry-sweeney-tribute-show/

All I can offer is a glimpse of Larry Sweeney’s career and what he offered and how he portrayed his gifted talents in the ring for audiences all over the place. And along the way, I’d very much like to provide some insight and some things I’ve discovered in researching him.

Greatness is mostly subjective, and the sad reality is that professional wrestlers who don’t work in that Connecticut based powerhouse don’t get hardly recognized by the mainstream or by mainstream oriented fans, but let me just add to some already notable wrestling dignitaries, and say that Larry Sweeney was great at what he did.

Unfortunately, his calling in this industry would have been answered in decades past, and as weird as it is that in the real fighting industries, his size would have slotted him, but he could have been recognized as great, he found himself fighting a battle against his size in a corporate world that doesn’t care much – with rare exceptions – if you’re not of a certain height.

It’s too bad that that old Gordon Solie axiom, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog, didn’t play out in this story.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of watching numerous talents in the rings of the indy circuit. I admire the passion and talent and drive of wrestlers toiling in small venues, having their matches taped for hardcore fans, trying to keep alive an artform that is either ignored or unwanted by the mainstream masses. The pessimist in me suggests that mainstream fans just don’t want to explore the depths of professional wrestling. The optimist in me suggests that without the options of even a decade ago, there’s just not the same sort of fanbase these days, and they’re more than satisfied with watching the mainstream products.

Either way, the talents of Larry Sweeney were far more attuned to the wrestling of yesteryear.

As a wrestler, he paid attention to the subtleties in the ring and the interactions of the fans and had created a character – a real heel – that all put together a depth of character and performance seldom seen these days. Well, unless you watched “Sweet and Sour” in action in the US, Canada, Mexico and Japan, for a wide variety of promotions, and often with his ICW-ICWA Texarkana Television Championship, which he held 27 times.

That’s one prop that was properly defined as a Championship, though.

What was amazing about Sweeney in the ring was an incredible ability to be a professional wrestler, to meld the concepts of over-the-top comedy with a heelish seriousness, to walk that fine line between making people want to watch, and making people want to hate, to blur the lines between fantasy and reality.

Larry Sweeney was a spectacle in the ring, like he was at the Full Impact Pro Third Anniversary Show, attacking Delirious, decked out in a blue singlet with red stars, leopard print tights showing below the blue, with big purple kneepads, white elbow pads and white boots … plus the pink & white boa.

Inside the ring, he transitioned like few others, overselling a low-blow one minute, feverishly attacking his opponent a few minutes later, and working in a way that defied modern day sensibilities. Unlike so many, Larry Sweeney interacted in multiple dimensions: against the opponent, with and against the referee, and especially with the fans.

Sweeney was decidedly Old School in approach: slower paced, methodical in his moves, telling a story. And he had that often unquantifiable quality called ‘fire’. Larry Sweeney just had “it” – he turned it on, became a true professional wrestler, and performed seamlessly in the ring.

In another day and age, even when his size would cause issues, he could have been a manager of stars. He was often compared to Bobby Heenan – of course, because he could work and taking bumps would never be an issue, and more than that, his ability on the stick was impressive. 

He really did have that gift of gab.

And again, over the top while being serious. The thing is, Larry Sweeney could be utterly lampooning and at the same time cutting a promo that got the audience involved, whether live or on a DVD.

In Ring of Honor, he almost revolutionized the managerial role, as he dressed upscale, often with a white suit, open at the collar, yelling into a cell phone and played a modern day “super agent” type of manager.

Thanks to Bob Barnett, I got a glimpse of Bobby Davis in action, and while Sweeney looked a lot more like Ray Stevens (shorter, blond hair) than Davis (taller, dark hair), there’s a definite similarity in the attitude.

But it wasn’t the tweener coolness that is wrecking the heel/face dynamic, but the serious business side – the Jerry Maguire before the moralistic part – that was best portrayed when ROH and Larry blended work and shoot and Matt Sydal got his contract “sold” to Vince McMahon’s WWE.

The scary thing is that, like most professional wrestling greats, Alex Whybrow likely made his own personality larger than life, and provided the glimpses of what drove him.

And yet, being over the top, being able to emote and perform and interact, it’s easy to start to believe that professional wrestling was something of a positive for him.

The real details of the breakup of business relationship between Larry Sweeney and Ring of Honor weren’t exactly headline news, even if the odd behavior was reported. I’m more than willing to give ROH the benefit of the doubt of how they handled situations a few years back. Dealing with irrationality and spectacles isn’t something any business can readily relate to, but the torment of bi-polar disorder wasn’t something Mr. Whybrow could just walk away from.

That was a long time ago, and there’s no way we’ll ever know what could have saved him. Most reports indicate that the man we knew as Larry Sweeney stopped taking his meds. Whatever happened in those years between Larry Sweeney halting his promising career in wrestling, and Alex Whybrow taking his life will remain a mystery.

Alexander K. Whybrow, 30 years old by the obituary in the Chicago Tribune, took his own life by all other reports on April 11th. It’s not the time to rant about journalists and the often lack of depth of the scrutiny of the independent circuit of the of-undignified professional wrestling industry, let alone the mainstream variety, but even Wikipedia listed Alex’s year of birth.

Whether 29 or 30, that’s an age of death far too young to contemplate, but fans of this sport should be familiar with contemplating that, because we’ve seen it, heard it, felt it and have known it for the past four decades. In this case, it wasn’t drugs but a disorder at the root of it. That doesn’t soften the loss, and while it doesn’t damn the professional wrestling world so much, it also shows that this industry still doesn’t quite know how to handle situations like this.

One way or another, the industry tends to walk away from personal battles with demons.

Well, unfortunately, Whybrow took his own life while no one was looking.

I’m aware that things on the internet aren’t always accurate, aren’t always what they appear, and it’s been almost a week since his passing, but I couldn’t help but easily finding this on  www.myspace.com/larrysweeney , Alex’s  MySpace page:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth: whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet, and especially, when my hypos get such an upper hand on me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from pondering the tall buildings of this city, and wondering the easiest route to the top-- then, I account it high time to get away as soon as I can.  This is my substitute for pistol and ball.  With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the road.  There is nothing surprising in this”

Philosophical, but not exactly subtle. When Larry/Alex writes “There is nothing surprising in this.”, that’s when it really comes crashing down. But in hindsight, there’s so much that can be read into that last blog…. So much that should have been noted.

When I read on the site last week about the death of Larry Sweeney, was it really surprising to you, to me, to others? One more casualty from this crazed form of sports entertainment.  One more glowing example of genius lost to inner demons.

“This is a dead-end career that chews you up, spits you out, and leaves you unable to deal with the real world, with its resumes and corporate hierarchies.”

Wrestling isn’t the real world, and it is a world created in the ring, and by the fans. All I’m hoping for is that, even though this was one more excusable situation where the wrestling industry saw one more inexplicable death of someone far too young to be dying, that it won’t be forgotten.  

For anyone approaching that destination Larry hopelessly sought, please look to assistance like that offered by Thresholds (www.threshholds.org) as noted in the Chicago Tribune obituary, or a more local assistance center, or someone that you can talk to.

Joe Babinsack can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

The last blog on www.myspace.com/larrysweeney

Call me whatever.

Some time ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my pocket, and nothing in particular to interest me on shore, I thought I might hit the road and travel a bit.  It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation.  Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth: whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet, and especially, when my hypos get such an upper hand on me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from pondering the tall buildings of this city, and wondering the easiest route to the top-- then, I account it high time to get away as soon as I can.  This is my substitute for pistol and ball.  With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the road.  There is nothing surprising in this.  If they but new it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the open road with me.

When I was a bright eyed kid with a dream, five years ago, I had the pleasure of getting to know the late Chris Candido before he passed.  He had been through a lengthy experience that in some ways resembled the journey I have taken over the past year and a half, and his thought?

"Well, I know how to do this shit, and it's better than getting a real job, so fuck it."

I'm not sure I feel the same way.  This is a dead-end career that chews you up, spits you out, and leaves you unable to deal with the real world, with its resumes and corporate hierarchies.  But then again, fuck that world.  I'll never live in it and I don't want to.

Past November, I have an idea of what I want out of this world, and wrestling has little to do with that.  But this business is a disease, and once you've caught it, good luck finding a cure.  So who knows.  I would be great to be a general manager for Vince, but there are far too many vets out there, and so I'm not holding out hope.

But I'm not giving this shit up, either.  At least, not yet.

On September First, I will be relocating to Southern Louisiana, where the business is alive and thriving, though nobody knows that, and where I have several true friends that I can count on.  We will work every weekend, and when the business takes me up to the North, it is my hope that they will ride the road with me.

After Thanksgiving, all bets are off.  A return to India may be in the works for me, or a jaunt to Thailand, I'm not sure.  Something.  And then I'll be back in this country, and I have a fair idea of the direction that I want to head in.

From this moment through the end of November.  The Larry Sweeney comeback, feel good and yet feel awful reunion tour.  You should come.

On Sept 3, I will be appearing for Xtreme Impact Wrestling in McHenry, Mississippi at the JDL Auction Building.  The rest of September is fairly open, until I return to AAW for Danny Daniels in Berwin, IL, on the 24th, and then appear in Michigan City, IN, in a tag match against Greg Valentine and an opponent of his choosing on the 25th.

The October and November updates will come as I figure them out.

Then I may disappear never to return to this business again, or I may be back.  I honestly don't know at this point.

The Larry Sweeney Return Tour, coming to a city near you this fall.  Catch it before it's over.

12 Large,

Larry

 

 

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