“A lot of fans are going to remember the combination of Jerry Lawler and Andy Kaufman. Many will remember Jerry’s ’Kiss My Foot’ match with Bret Hart. Many of us will always remember Jerry’s amazing work at the announce desk. Jerry Lawler has impacted upon generations of fans.” Jim Ross, It’s Good To Be King: The Jerry Lawler Story DVD, 2015
The Big Takeaway: Although there is plenty of material here that will intrigue and that is not available on the WWE Network, this is not an essential purchase. The matches and interview segments are entertaining, but there is little that is must-see. The documentary feature on Lawler’s life is good and Jerry is tremendous, but it is shorter than it should be. For fans of Lawler, this is worth purchasing; for casual WWE fans, there is arguably nothing too vital here.
There’s a rear air of humility about Jerry Lawler as he sits in his home studio, carefully shading some of his artwork – a picture of the McMahon lineage: Shane, Vince Jr and Vince Sr. As he concentrates on the intricacies of the picture, thoughts spill out that feel honest and natural. He seems completely at peace when he is drawing. His talent is unmistakable and, of course, it was his art that got Lawler his first break into the business.
If you have read his 2002 autobiography, It’s Good to be King…Sometimes, you’ll know much of his history. The documentary runs at just over 80 minutes, where we’re shown a truncated version of Jerry Lawler’s life and career in the wrestling business, told by a mellow and reflective Lawler himself. But, largely, this feels like a profile of a WWE commentator who was once a wrestler.
On the subsequent discs, matches on offer include his work against Kaufman, Bret Hart, Roddy Piper and even a Raw match from 2004 against Ric Flair. Many of the best of his King’s Court segments make up the rest of the collection.
Jerry Lawler comes across as grateful and humble, a humility that would seem to stem from his modest upbringing with his mother, father and brother. His dad, a factory worker, earned $99 a week in Memphis until a forced moved to Ohio saw some upheaval in Lawler’s life. But it was Lawler’s father’s heart attacks that forced them to move back to Memphis, where he would stay. It is never stated that this family medical history has worried Lawler and in the last chapter of the feature, when Jerry’s own heart attack is covered, they miss this fact too.
In Memphis, a young Lawler would go to watch the local wrestling with his father, where Jerry would draw caricatures of the wrestlers. Many fans noticed his work and he was encouraged to send them into Channel 13 to be shown on TV. Sure enough, Lance Russell called Lawler to ask for more of his work. Lawler obliged and met Jackie Fargo and, after doing sign artwork and some radio work, Fargo saw his verbal talent and the rest is history.
Given his pivotal role in breaking into the business, his love and respect for Jackie Fargo is clear. After Lawler and Jerry Vickers went over to work in West Memphis, Arkansas, where Aubrey Griffith was running the territory, Fargo got him work instead. Lawler had promised Griffith promotion on his radio station in return for work as a wrestler, but Fargo would pull him back in and train him up properly.
Here, there isn’t too much depth into the trajectory of Lawler’s rise to becoming a huge star in Memphis. His becoming the ‘King’ is covered in minutes and the uninitiated viewer just won’t get that sense of just quite how big he and wrestling were in that territory, in that period.
Jerry Jarrett puts over Lawler’s ability as a promo. His charisma is clear – Lawler was a different type of ‘bad guy’, young, brash, outspoken with a natural ability to think of and deliver one-liners. As Jack Brisco notes when reflecting on their 1974 matches, ‘Jerry was never a great athlete, but he was a great performer’
Lawler’s infamous feud with Andy Kaufman is the main focus of his early career in Memphis. The footage of Kaufman wrestling women and cutting promos that would get easy heat from those living in the South is tremendous. As is the admission from Vince McMahon that they were offered Kaufman and passed, making Vince very jealous of the mainstream publicity that it drew.
Keeping that sort of attention on their product was tough and a now invested Lawler reflects on how Memphis started losing talent and that, although competition made them strong, he “could see the writing on the wall.” He briefly mentions how he filed a lawsuit against the WWF because of their representation and advertisement of ‘The King’ (Harley Race) at their shows in the Mid South area.
Lawler is fairly damning of the Super Clash III title unification match between he and Kerry Von Erich and here the documentary claims that he went over to work for WWF in 1993 (his first work on TV was December 1992), where Vince had already lured Jerry Jarrett in. Jarrett, Lawler states, was brought in to run things in case Vince’s court case against the government had not been fortuitous and had recommended Lawler for commentary.
There is much more focus on Lawler as a colour commentator than there is on his in-ring career with the company, but Bret Hart is gracious enough to call him “a genius as a heel.” We’re shown very little footage at this point of Lawler doing anything other than talking, either behind the announce table or in the ring and it feels very much like the company are keen to paint him as a commentator who used to be a wrestler.
Lawler remembers that Vince was a lot of fun to do commentary with and Jim Ross tells us that he and Jerry, “never met, never sat down, it just happened organically […] he was a perfect foil for my insults.” Lawler goes on to dissect his ‘character’ as an announcer, noting the high pitch, the sexist vernacular, the wide eyes and dreamy expression. All seem very far away from Lawler now when he speaks in calm, soft tones to the camera.
This persona was toned down, too, by 1999 when Jerry ran for Mayor of Memphis – placing third with 11.7% of the ballots. We’re shown his mayoral campaign TV advert where his policies centered around him essentially not being a politician and offering a safer, cleaner city. His then wife, Stacy Carter, remembers how much strain the running for Mayor put on them and said that not winning had been a relief to some extent.
After Carter’s release and Lawler’s subsequent walkout, his return to the company in 2001 is made to look like a huge deal, but his impact is left there. There is no mention of any influence on the company or anyone in it for 6 years, until were shown clips from his Hall of Fame induction in 2007.
From here, we fast forward through to his memories of working a TLC match against The Miz, in 2010, for the WWE Championship. It was, of course, his first and last title match in the company and no reference is made to the fact that it took place on Lawler’s 61st birthday. In fact, age is never mentioned at all. Lawler, at least outwardly, remembers it fondly but the documentary is keen to paint it as a stepping-stone to him facing Michael Cole at WrestleMania 27.
Cole speaks highly and fondly of Lawler but says at WrestleMania the drop kick that he took from Lawler knocked out one of his teeth and the bump that he took into the General Manager’s podium was so hard that he thought he was going to pass out. This fondness then transitions into Cole’s memories of Lawler’s heart attack, live on Raw in 2012.
There’s something very uncomfortable about watching someone having CPR, but the footage make it look like it’s an angle. The camera used to film the backstage footage is in HD, with the same filter as a normal ring camera. Nothing about it looks real and yet it is. Although the sentiment expressed by Cole, Ross and McMahon is one of respect and concern and worry, the images don’t really seem to match. It makes for uncomfortable viewing.
Rather disappointingly, the heart attack is where the documentary ends and we go back to Lawler drawing at his desk at his home in Memphis. Thankfully, closing statements from Cole, McMahon and Ross save the end of this documentary from celebrating a near-death experience rather than this man’s impact on the world of professional wrestling.