As the Dark Side of The Ring mini-documentary series on Viceland prepares for its finale this week, last Wednesday featured one of its strongest, and most mysterious, efforts to date: the life and death of WCCW star Gino Hernandez.
Other than hearing his name frequently through the years, I went into 'The Mysterious Death of Gorgeous Gino' with virtually no knowledge of Hernandez's backstory or even how he died. Coming out of the near 48-minute feature, that story and the questions around his death feel like they deserve a deep dive Serial-style podcast series.
What's In This Thing?
The first 15 minutes of 'Gorgeous Gino' are electric. After a tease about odd circumstances around his death, we meet Hernandez's mother, Patrice, and his sisters who flip through some photos and joke about how hard it was to see their brother as a heel. It may sound odd to call his mother the star of the documentary, but she was. Even 30 years later, the pain of losing her son is still front and center and to hear the state in how the single mother lived her life since his death is painful, yet understandable.
The Viceland team did a really good job here getting the right people to talk about Hernandez's past in Jake Roberts (who tagged with him), WCCW promoter and referee David Manning, Bruce Prichard, and Jeanie "Lady Blossom" Clarke. They all add different perspectives at different points of his young life. As Roberts alludes to, it is wrestling so you're always searching for the truth but as a viewer, you don't feel like you're being fed a total line of b.s. by any of them. Maybe I'm just naive though.
What struck me was how much Hernandez (born Charles Wolfe) comes off like a dark haired Ric Flair with the suits, the cars, the promos, and the women. Manning puts him in the promo category with Flair and Michael Hayes, adding that he truly lived the gimmick in and out of the ring.
We eventually meet both his first (and only) wife, Janice, and their daughter, Lisha. This was another good get for the Viceland team as they provided another non-wrestling person to relate was it like to have a home life with a budding wrestling star. The stories are what you would expect, but they help illustrate how quickly things went downhill and why.
As you might expect, Hernandez met drugs which eventually took him down the road to his unfortunate demise. Manning describes a scene in Las Vegas where he saw Hernandez with some unsavory characters that become part of the eventual mystery, enhanced by Roberts who is reluctant in answering a question about those men, only to say "some dangerous and powerful people."
We learn about Hernandez's growing paranoia, his desire to own a gun, and his mother describing what happened the last time she saw him. Eventually, he was found in his apartment in February 1986 after being dead for nearly five days, suspicions raised after he missed two bookings and went missing.
This is where the mystery truly begins and questions about unlocked deadbolts, incorrect police reports, and suspicion of a staged death come bubbling up in the aftermath.
There's a lot to sift through but essentially the story comes down to this: did Hernandez simply overdose on way too much cocaine or was he murdered by someone involved with this heavy crowd he was hanging with? His mother tells of a man (John Royal) that comes over to the house after Hernandez's death and says that while Hernandez owed him a lot of money, he was going to pay for his funeral. She said she was scared to death following the conversation which led her to fear reprisal for something she wasn't involved in.
Prichard describes the funeral as "weird" with Royal giving a speech about times he and Gino had. The wrestling people there didn't know who he or any of the "rich people" that attended were, adding to the intrigue. We learn that Hernandez never even had an autopsy because his body was too badly decomposed, but the report of his death and details on that report are fraught with so many errors, it caussed his ex-wife to question whether he staged his own death. As his mother said, everything was guarded around his death which was strange.
After more conspiracy theories and a funny story about how Chris Adams was suspected by fans due to a heated angle at the time, Viceland completes the great interview trifecta by tracking down Royal himself, somewhat fresh out of prison after serving time due to drug related matters. He admits to paying for the funeral, but denies that Hernandez ever owed him money. He said the last time he saw Hernandez alive was at the club that night when the 29-year-old left with some airline stewardesses. He denies being involved and says that at his trial, it was fabricated that he gave Hernandez drugs. He could be lying, but the interview is over the phone, making it hard to read body language.
We then get a bit of a surprise in an anonymous drug trafficker that supposedly was involved with Hernandez. We have to trust the filmmakers that he is legitimate as he drops some news that is pretty key to the whole sordid tale. In an interview first played for his mother, the trafficker says Hernandez started taking drugs recreationally, but they "got a hold on him" and that his death was probably due to a mix of drugs and alcohol. He tells the mother to not being concerned as the situation wasn't of her doing which puts her at ease. This is enough for her as she appears relieved with this answer and satisfied that his death wasn't a murder. Others in his life probably don't agree.
Not a lot. I would have liked to go a bit more in-depth into the circumstances around the bizarre police report, but given the time constraints and its relevance to the story, I get what that didn't happen. (Podcast anyone?)
Should You Watch It?
Yes. Even if you're a Hernandez newbie like me, 'The Gorgeous Gino' will give you everything you need to know about a story that truly is one that belongs to pro wrestling.