Pro wrestler Mick Foley recently asked a big favor of his peers. He asked them not to hit him in the head with a chair for a year.
“I’ve called for a headshot hiatus,” Foley tells me.
He’s earned the break. In his 15 years in the ring, Foley, who performed at MCI Center Monday night under his nom de rasslin’, Mankind, has convinced fans and co-workers that he has no pain threshold. He lost his right ear to the ropes in the middle of a 1994 match. The ref picked up the piece of flesh, and the brawl continued. Leftover cartilage from his bygone ear was sewn by doctors into the pouch just above his left ear to keep it alive until he retires and a replacement lobe is found; the original skin was tossed into a trash can while Foley watched.
Then there’s his 1998 cage match with the Undertaker on a WWF pay-per-view, dubbed “Hell in a Cell.” It was the wrestling equivalent of “The Thrilla in Manila.” Early in the bout, perhaps the most famous of all time, Foley separated his shoulder when he was tossed off the top of the cage some 22 feet to the arena floor. He got back up, only to have the Undertaker body-slam him so hard into the roof of the cage that it broke. He fell on his back to the ring, followed by a chair that hit him in the head. The unscripted fall (or, in wrestling parlance, “bump”) left him with broken bones in his face, two broken teeth, one of which lodged in a nostril, and a concussion that had him temporarily unconscious. Finally, Foley was choke-slammed onto a pile of thumbtacks in the ring, many of which clearly broke the skin. He kept wrestling until he was pinned.
The new headshot hiatus, however, is Foley’s way of confessing that a blow to the noggin hurts him as much as the next guy; he’s just been a better actor all these years. And now, finally, Foley’s getting recognition for using his head as something other than a chair stop. He’s featured in a mostly pro-
pro-wrestling documentary called Beyond the Mat, which premiered to positive notices last week in Los Angeles. Better yet, his first book, Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, will debut on the New York Times best-seller list this weekend.
“All I ever wanted to be was a wrestler,” says Foley. “But I like the sound of ‘Mick Foley, best-selling author.’”
Hard-core wrestling fans are buying Have a Nice Day, because they’d buy anything endorsed by Foley, long a favorite of WWF devotees. Foley’s fans sent him to the top of Time.com’s “Man of the Year” poll for 1998 before editors arbitrarily knocked him out of title contention. The book’s 505 pages have enough inside baseball for those fanatics. (Ric Flair and Jake “the Snake” Roberts, both douchebags? Believe it.)
But the sales indicate that the book has also found an audience that doesn’t tune in to Monday Night Raw. It makes sense, because Foley’s story transcends his sport, or whatever you want to call it. Have a Nice Day—the title comes from Mankind’s signature sign-off—tells how a weird, insecure kid made his dream, ridiculous as some think it to be, come true. Take away the bloodletting, and Foley’s path from makeshift rings in Long Island back yards to the squared circle at Madison Square Garden isn’t so different from the path that brought, say, Liberace to Carnegie Hall. Then again, take away the bloodletting, and Have a Nice Day is a pamphlet.
Actually, publishers initially intended for Foley’s autobiography to be just a quickie. Foley wasn’t even supposed to write it. But after he was handed the galleys of a ghostwriter’s first few chapters, everything changed.
“When I first met this guy, he bragged that he ghost-wrote Willie Mays’ autobiography after spending only half an hour with him, so I was already worried,” laughs Foley. “And then I read a sentence like, ‘Boy, Mom made the best spaghetti on the block.’ I’m not kidding—those were the words this guy put in my mouth. I just decided to salvage my life story.”
Foley wasn’t confident that he could lead the salvage effort, however. He hadn’t really written since high school, and he says that every one of his poems and songs from that era ended in “pregnancy, venereal disease, or the cutting off of the penis.” But he had a contractual deadline to meet.
Just seven weeks after taking over the project, Foley turned in 200,000 of his own words, or about three-and-a-half times as many as the publisher had asked for. And every word was handwritten on legal pads. Editors at ReganBooks, a division of HarperCollins, kept almost all of ’em.
Wise decision. From beginning to end, the story grips you like a Goldberg half-nelson. Foley’s career plans were set in 1984, during his first semester of college in upstate New York. That’s when the woman of his wet dreams called him Frank at the end of his long-sought-after first outing with her. The slight left young Mick resigned to a lifetime of virginity, so he started spending all his free time trying to impress his male college buddies with impersonations of the big wrestlers of the day, whose moves he’d already been studying on videotape for years. He’d dive off furniture, out windows, and even off the roofs of houses, whenever the spirit moved him. One of his early roof jumps was captured in The Legend of Frank Foley, an 8 mm film he made during his freshman year in college about, well, a boy who becomes a pro wrestler after being spurned by the target of his affection.
Foley never felt particularly normal, but he began worrying about his ring obsession the night he came home to find a drunk woman in his room: “I saw her not as an easy target of sexual fulfillment,” Foley writes, “but as an easy target for an elbow-drop off a desk.”
The only counseling he sought, however, was from the wrestling school outside Pittsburgh that he drove to every weekend, 400 miles each way. After college, he traveled around the globe picking up expenses plus $10 to $25 a match to be a loser (“jobber”) on various independent circuits. Foley’s willingness to take the big bumps and to bleed (“juice”) got him as much work as he needed. So much blood would swirl down the drain when he rinsed off after matches that he started calling the routine “Bates Motel showers.”
His big break came in 1989, when Ted Turner’s WCW took him on as a character named Cactus Jack, supposedly from Truth or Consequences, N.M. Things went sweetly for a time, but he left WCW in a huff, miffed that company brass refused to use his real-life ear loss as a story angle. He resurfaced with WWF, where Vince McMahon—whom Foley clearly regards as a genius—directed his makeover into Mankind, a hilarious 300-pound masochist who wears a Silence of the Lambs-style mask and a shirt and tie into the ring. McMahon made Mankind a key part of the crusade to crush Turner’s group in the television ratings game. Once WWF’s mission was accomplished—its programs have beaten WCW’s every week for well over a year now—Mankind got his reward. On Dec. 29, 1998, he defeated the Rock to win his first world championship. Foley’s dream was finally realized.
Literary success was not part of that dream scenario. So Foley doesn’t quite know how to act these days when people ask him when he’ll put pen to paper next. Rather than celebrate, Foley, like Mankind, is beating himself up over some verbiage he used in the debut.
“I read my book this week,” he says, “and I must have counted the word ‘assuaged’ about 25 times. I haven’t said ‘assuaged’ 25 times in my whole life. Man, that’s terrible.”—Dave McKenna