The Life and Mind of Chris Kanyon
Chris Kanyon & Ryan Clark
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Christopher Klucsarits was an excellent wrestler, a passionate wrestler, and a good guy by most all accounts. The words of Jim Mitchell – his manager for some time – describe the man we wrestling fans know best as Chris Kanyon, as being “too nice of a guy to be in the wrestling business.”
Jim Mitchell himself had a perspective on life that makes me appreciate those words, and appreciate that Kanyon was not exactly well suited for an industry that makes the adjective Machiavellian pale in comparison to the politics of professional wrestling.
Christopher Klucsarits took his own life, announced on April 2, 2010.
The drug overdose that took his life – an action he unsuccessfully attempted several years earlier – could be attributed to several avenues of speculation.
Perhaps the root cause was bipolar disease, but the troubled soul of Klucsarits endured that mental disorder, and that hostile world of professional wrestling, plus the cocktails of drugs that have afflicted scores of his peers. What’s worse, after a relatively healthy career, the destructive final stage of his wrestling career began with a few significant injuries, and what seems, in hindsight, to be a tragic attempt to use his once secreted lifestyle as a promotional tool.
I approached this book with interest. My knowledge of Chris Kanyon as an innovative and talented professional wrestler was at the forefront. I knew enough of the surrounding stories of his life, and hoped to understand the torment of one more wrestler whose life ended tragically and too soon.
No one did a book about Larry Sweeney, and the wrestling world continues to speculate on what happened with Chris Benoit, but here’s a book about a guy who committed suicide, ostensibly with an insight into his mind and into his life.
Sometimes life and reality and what you expect from watching too much television are never going to be reconciled. Some of my favorite shows delve into puzzles and detective stories and health conditions and it’s amazing how easy it is to connect the dots and watch how one hour shows like House, Criminal Minds and The Mentalist can tie up the story into a neat package with a perfectly tied bow.
Unfortunately, the reality of some things, especially in regard to professional wrestling, isn’t so simplistic.
Come to think of it, I wish the powers-that-be at ECW Press, the bulk of the mainstream and a lot of the more casual fans of this sport would understand that there is nothing simplistic about the business.
That’s one thing I learned from Wrestling Reality.
One layer that I quickly got through, annoying as always, is the standard staples of an ECW book on wrestling: blading, scripting and a scary abstraction of the sport. Just to quickly move on from them: yes, guys blade for blood (but it is rarer these days than ever), the amount of complete scripting of professional wrestling is minimal (but anyone who can’t comprehend that a Dennis Rodman/Randy Savage match must be different than 99.9% of other matches isn’t going to realize how foolish that assumption can be), and when Kanyon is talking about practicing pile-drivers and other various holds without regard to safety, it makes me cringe about how unbelievable those references are.
And there are other troubling references, from names that should have been consistent to overblown hype to more than a few encounters between Kanyon and big figures in the industry.
Sure, I can believe a young Klucsarits crossed paths with Jim Herd, I can believe that Kanyon confronted Hulk Hogan a few times, I can believe Randy Savage wanted to kill him for making a nationally televised comment that could have affected an advertising deal.
But pro wrestling is pro wrestling, and we all expect these stories.
The problem is that we get too many digressions and yet not enough of the details in the later years.
The book opens strong, and the parts about Chris Klucsarits’ lifestyle are compelling. About 40-50 pages in, I did go from “is this a work” to this is real. Another hundred pages later, I went from “where’s the manic-depression” to wow, this is real. A little later, the manic part came to the forefront.
Pardon my skepticism, but I’m schooled in professional wrestling, and professional wrestling is at its best when it is hiding the truth, enhancing things and building up illusions. That’s the real nature of the business, along with the reality that people in this business are power tripping, manipulating and abusing – and especially the bigwigs, but notably those who have mere shreds of responsibility.
Those aspects of the business fly off the pages.
Kanyon started out at the Power Plant, and it seems to be a sense of his niceness that he avoids a lot of the reputation that those operations engendered. I get that he appreciated Jody Hamilton, and even Sgt. Buddy Parker, and he was appreciated for being a very talented individual.
One thing Kanyon was great at was selling, and he made others look awesome.
What remains at the root of my confusion is how little Chris Klucsarits learned from the business that he focused his very life upon.
But these confusions only roll back to the big picture.
There’s something about Wrestling Reality that makes the surface confusing, that makes the logic garbled, that makes the storyline warped. But as far as the big picture, it makes much more sense, albeit that sense is that Kanyon’s torment affected him profoundly, and he did use the professional wrestling tools and his natural abilities to cast an illusion of his own making.
At times, the surface clears, and the underlying problems surface. One notable point to me was where Kanyon talks about his professional wrestling goals. Two of them: winning the World Heavyweight Championship, and winning it clean.
Now, this pronouncement would have been interesting anytime in the first 50 pages, maybe 100 pages, but this was made in the early 200 page range of a 300 page book. It was also make conveniently at a place where Kanyon details his dabbling in steroids.
He wasn’t very good at them, he says, and yet he speculates on how they would affect him, mind and body, which only adds to the ultimate causes of his suicide, perhaps, adding one more worry – real or imagined – to his already complicated life.
Klucsarits was troubled by a sport that ultimately rejected him, by a mental condition that made him more and more unstable, and all tied into his homosexuality, a struggle that dominated his life all the while the logic and the stories never seemed to add up.
Chris Kanyon is gay, we all learn from the book, and it’s a revelation he made some years back. Wrestling Reality is an apt title for the book, because Kayon – Chris Klucsarits – spent his life wrestling his own reality as a homosexual man, as much as he wrestled in the ring.
Which is tragic on many levels, not the least of which is that this book, and Kanyon’s life story, is replete with examples where his own feelings were far more self-destructive than the reality of others.
On one hand, his pro wrestling career, and especially a stint where he donned a mask and hid his identity, seems to provide an analogy to his own lifestyle. Pro wrestling is all about being one person in the ring, being another in real life.
Of course, the stories and examples of guys who couldn’t balance the two are many. There are guys who self-destruct because they cannot move from one to the other, there are guys who refuse to move from one to the other, and there are the rare few who can live their real life while enhancing and supersizing the ring life.
But Kanyon never seemed to make use of that fundamental part of wrestling.
Which is easy for me to say, because I’m not living a lifestyle that Kanyon did. I’ll never fully grasp the stigma and the fear that obviously ate away at him. I just can’t wrap my head around the perceptions he had.
The tragedy to me, reading the book and noting the various times where Chris Klucsarits did open up to others, did point out relationships of others, did acknowledge a sense of acceptance, never seemed to overcome his internal fear.
The few times he let others know: Mitchell, his college roommate, a counselor at a Catholic high school, there were never fireworks, never condemnation, and it didn’t seem to faze people as much as Chris feared. What’s odd is that Kanyon refused to out himself to his parents, yet traveled to a party to meet them in Florida, and mentions in passing that his parent’s friends had a gay son.
The internal struggles seem to be superficial, but the logic – the illogic to be more apt – and the painful problems Kanyon had with the duality of his life and the eventual life-altering public acknowledgement of his very being are there for the reading.
That aspect of the book makes it an excellent story for one of its intended audiences.
For those not in that audience, there is a conversation to be had about acceptance and tolerance and fundamental understandings of the differences in people. Because it is not a simplistic story, it forces the reader to think about perspectives, perceptions and matters of acceptance.
This story does not have a storybook ending. It has a jarring ending, because the leap from Kanyon’s last words to the news of his passing went from his speech to tell people that coming out was a good thing, and then we jump forward, skipping the true torments ,and never get a sense of why it all went so wrong.
The final commentary of family and friends was touching, but there is a gap here that begs to be filled.
But maybe that is the reality, that the wrestling with reality was not about to be solved in the mind of Chris Kanyon, that there were too many things that went wrong, too many things wrestling in his mind, too many fears to overcome.
In many ways this book is for two audiences, and in some ways, I don’t get the feeling that those two can be combined very easily. The professional wrestling world chew up and spat out Chris Kanyon, and what’s worse, it really rejected him at a time when he thought his coming out was going to solve his problems.
Unfortunately, Chris Kanyon never seemed to heed his own experiences, the best advice of those who wanted to help him and his career, and tried to go his own way within a business – and especially the WWE – that insists on doing things a certain way.
Could Kanyon have been the “Gay Superstar” that the book purports him to be?
It’s hard to be sure about that. The WWE dabbled in a few storylines, but the Billy & Chuck thing – ironically with the involvement of Eric Bischoff – ended up being a spoof of sorts, and it’s hard to imagine the mentality of McMahon changing over a few years.
It would be unfair to say that Kanyon brought about a PR problem upon himself, but he does note that he realized that if an idea didn’t come from the decision makers at the WWE, it really wouldn’t go anywhere.
And yet he pushed forward.
What the WWE did with him in the ring wasn’t pretty, and wasn’t fair, but everything Kanyon writes about shows that he should have expected it. He knew the penchant for humiliation and he knew that he set himself up for it.
And yet, that set-up, which is targeted at that other audience, the gay community, the homosexual community, whatever appropriate terminology I should be using, seemed to have short-circuited as well.
That’s where the book is far from a ‘how-to’ about dealing with coming out of the closet, and yet, it’s a distinctly informative story about the same: it’s obvious that Kanyon’s way of dealing with his life is not one to copy.
As a wrestling fan, I was troubled by the many overlooks, the many strange pronouncements and the often off-putting commentary about the business, from a guy whom I always respected as a great mind, and talent, for the business.
Upon reflection, I’m more certain now that whatever was affecting Chris Klucsarits – it could have been the manic-depression, could have been the steroids, could have been the concussions, or the overriding fear, or likely the rejection at the end of his career – it showed itself more in the jumbled thought processes and the inability to see what was often painfully obvious to the reader.
Wrestling Reality is a compelling book.
Even with the flaws, even with the gaps, even with the sense that wrestling fans aren’t the main focus of the book, this is a book that exposes a lot of ugliness in the industry, much of which may already be known, but the way it affected one of its passionate performers is the biggest tragedy of all.