Don’t Think Twice 02.21.09: Sweet Child O’ Mine
Reminds me of childhood memories,
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky.
Now and then when I see her face,
She takes me away to that special place,
And if I’d stare too long,
I’d probably break down and cry.
Oh, sweet child o’ mine.
Oh, sweet love of mine.
– Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses
This is an imaginary story (which may never happen, but then again may) about an imperfect man who came from out east and did the only thing that he could. It tells of his twilight, when the great battles were over and the great matches long since performed; of how his circumstances conspired against him and of that final night beneath those bright lights; of the fans he loved and of the choices he made for them; and how finally all the things he had were taken from him save one. This is an imaginary story…
Aren’t they all?
In some horrible way, it seems as though we ought to be used to it by now. It seems as though the frequency and the repetition should lessen the blow, should temper the shock, should dull the pain. It seems as though we should have run out of tears long ago. And yet today we come together once again as we have done too many times in the past to pay our respects, to send our condolences, to share our memories, to comfort each other, to ask the questions that we know have no easy answers. Today we say goodbye, farewell, and amen, words that we have said so many times that they seem to have lost all meaning. And yet today we know that this is not the last time we will come together on a day such as this.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson, whose real name was Robin Ramzinski but who was known to his fans around the world simply as Ram, died last night following a match at the ROH show in Wilmington, Delaware. Ram defeated the Ayatollah on the twentieth anniversary of their epic match at Madison Square Garden, but after the three-count he was unable to get back to his feet and appeared to be unconscious. Ram was rushed to a local medical facility but was pronounced dead on arrival. Results of the autopsy have yet to be released, but it is believed that Ram suffered a massive heart attack at some point during or immediately after the match. Randy “The Ram” Robinson was fifty-six years old.
And so, just that quickly, another light in the world of professional wrestling was extinguished. And while that light may have flickered and faded over the years, it’s impossible to forget a time when it shone as brightly as any in the world. Randy “The Ram” Robinson was arguably the most famous professional wrestler in the world in the 1980’s. He sold out arenas across the country and helped usher in the era of pay-per-view. Ram’s most famous match was his legendary encounter with the Ayatollah at Madison Square Garden on April 6, 1989, a match that served as the culmination of quite possibly the greatest feud in the history of professional wrestling. The feud between Ram and the Ayatollah produced three consecutive five star matches in the spring of 1989, and their blow-off match at Madison Square Garden was named Match of the Year by both Pro Wrestling Illustrated and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
But Ram’s success as a professional wrestler came at the price of living the life of a professional wrestler, and at times that seemed like a burden no man should be asked to bear. In 1975, less than three years after his debut, Ram broke his back in a place crash and was told that he would never wrestle again. In 1984 he was found unconscious and had to be hospitalized during a tour of Japan. Ram claimed that he had been suffering from gastroenteritis, but there were numerous rumors that a drug overdose was actually to blame. In 1986 he crashed his motorcycle, dislocated his hip, and seriously injured his right foot. Some wrestlers would later claim that Ram actually had his foot amputated and that he wrestled using a prosthetic foot for the remainder of his career. Later in 1986, Ram was in a horrendous car accident that left him temporarily paralyzed. In 1988 he nearly died after being stabbed by a fellow wrestler while working in Puerto Rico.
In 1999 Ram’s drug addiction and his estrangement from his daughter were the subject of a controversial wrestling documentary. In 2002 he narrowly escaped death after being thrown from a forty-foot high scaffold during a match with a wrestler that he had accidentally injured two years earlier. In 2003 his girlfriend, herself a prominent former wrestling manager, died of a drug overdose in their home. The tape of Ram’s frantic 911 call was played on wrestling programs and tabloid news shows for weeks. In 2004 Ram inadvertently caused an anthrax scare after being found in possession of cocaine while working in a Boston subway station. In 2005 he broke his leg during a tag team steel cage match and was later hospitalized for the formation of a dangerous blood clot. In 2007 he was scheduled return to pay-per-view and wrestle in a six-man tag team match, but for reasons that are still unclear he never arrived at the arena. In 2008 his house burned to the ground, killing his beloved pet dog. Later that year, Ram appeared to be extremely drunk during a match and even exposed himself to the crowd at the end of a show. Ram claimed to have been drugged prior to the show and to have no recollection of the events that occurred.
Ram’s last match before the ROH show was a hardcore match against the Necro Butcher at a CZW show a few months ago. Ram had never been in a hardcore match during his legendary career, and it was clear that he was more than a bit uncomfortable in the unfamiliar environment. Ram won the match, but after the show he collapsed in the locker room and was taken to a local hospital. Ram has said that he was simply overheated and dehydrated, but fans at last night’s ROH show claim to have seen a prominent scar on Ram’s chest. It’s unclear if that scar was a result of an injury suffered during his hardcore match in CZW or if it had something to do with his ensuing hospitalization.
Ram cancelled a number of bookings after the CZW match, and there were reports that he may have finally retired from the ring. He pulled out of the ROH rematch with the Ayatollah, but he later changed his mind less than a week before the show. In the days leading up to the match, many wondered whether Ram would really wrestle or, as he had done in the past, simply never arrive at the arena. Ram did make it to the show, but before the match he cut a promo that many in attendance thought might be a retirement speech. Near the end of that speech, less than half an hour before his death, Ram said that the only people who could tell him when he was through doing his thing were the fans. The fans at the show last night have said that it almost seemed as though Ram was looking for a way out, as if he knew that he wasn’t strong enough to walk away on his own, as if he was asking the fans to let go for him. But that isn’t what happened. Instead, the fans in Wilmington last night cheered for Ram, and so Ram wrestled for them. And so Ram suffered for them. And so Ram died for them.
We as wrestling fans have dealt with the death of our heroes before, and we’ve asked ourselves if we played a part in each of those tragedies. But never before has our role been as clear and as concrete as it was last night, because last night Ram literally put his life in our hands. But we didn’t ask ourselves if he was actually fit to wrestle. We didn’t ask ourselves if that scar on his chest was a sign of something more serious than getting slashed with barbed wire. And we didn’t ask ourselves what would have to have happened to a man in order for him to put his life in the hands of a crowd of strangers. All we did was cheer. All we wanted was to see our hero wrestle one more time. Even if one more time was one time too many.
In many ways, professional wrestling is as much about escapism as it is about entertainment. Many of us who are fans as adults can trace our love of the industry back to our childhood, back to a time when we watched matches with our fathers and grandfathers, back to a time when professional wrestlers were super heroes, back to a time when it was still real to us. And so for many of us, part of the joy of watching professional wrestling today is the subtle way in which it reminds us of childhood memories, where everything was as fresh as a bright blue sky. We let our heroes take us away to that special place, and maybe it is that quest to return to our childhood that has allowed us to ignore the very adult questions that we must ask ourselves about professional wrestling. Is any form of entertainment worth the terrible price paid by professional wrestlers? Why is it that professional wrestlers are seemingly asked to bear a much heavier burden than so many other athletes and entertainers? And can the industry be changed so that this most unique form of art that we all love can endure without necessitating the tragedy that has so often accompanied it?
Randy “The Ram” Robinson dedicated his life to us for decades, and last night he gave his life for us. In that way, his story is like so many that have gone before him and so many that will go after him, like so many men and women that have enriched our lives at the expense of their own. And so today we come together to pay our respects, to send our condolences, to share our memories, to comfort each other, and to ask the questions that we know have no easy answers. Today we say goodbye, farewell, and amen to one of the few men who could honestly say that he was once the very best in the world at what he did, to a man that spent twenty years trying to recapture the glory of a single night, to a man who was our hero, to a man know simply as Ram.
You will be missed, Ram, but you will never be forgotten.