1. DAVID VON ERICH DIES (1984)
In February 10, 1984, the professional wrestling industry lost one of its most promising young superstars when David Von Erich died suddenly at the age of 24 in his Tokyo hotel room. David was to begin what he deemed an important tour of Japan, as rumors were spreading rampantly within the industry that David was going to win the NWA World championship sometime in 1984.
Apparently, the NWA Board of Directors would wait anxiously to hear the reports of David’s latest tour of Japan before deciding his championship fate.
David’s death was initially speculated to have resulted from either food poisoning, an injury sustained during a match in Japan (which was untrue as David had yet to wrestle a match on this tour), or — as reported in Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer newsletter — a drug overdose (although this remains unproven), as the Adkisson family initially had difficulty getting information on the death from Japan officials. The cause of David’s death, however, was officially ruled as acute enteritis, an inflammation of the intestines which is believed to be stress related.
If left untreated, this condition can become fatal and apparently did for David; brother Kevin stated David had complained of feeling ill for several weeks prior to his tour of Japan.
On a personal level, the Adkisson family lost a beloved husband, son and brother; wrestling fans lost their “Yellow Rose of Texas” and the apparent heir to the NWA World championship; and the World Class organization lost its most popular wrestler at a vital time when the industry would see its largest surge in popularity.
Many speculated that the very successful World Class Championship Wrestling organization would eventually fall into the capable hands of David Adkisson, who would thus join the new breed of multi-generational promoters which included Mid-Atlantic’s Jim Crockett, Jr. and the WWF’s Vince McMahon, Jr., as pioneers who would lead the industry into the next century.
Inside and out of the ring, David had inherited his father’s acumen for the industry. He was negotiating deals for products that were new to the business at the time, such as wrestling action figures, t-shirts, videos, etc. Those close to the World Class scene have stated that Fritz Von Erich relied on two vital people when tough decisions had to be made: wrestling veteran Gary Hart, and David.
David possessed an eye for wrestling talent, bringing in such World Class superstars as the Fabulous Freebirds, “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin, the Irwin Brothers, Gino Hernandez and others at different times.
David was also gaining influence within the National Wrestling Alliance. He was highly respected amongst the Alliance’s board of directors, chiefly with vital members such as Florida’s Eddie Graham (for whom David worked as a heel during 1981-82), St. Louis’ Sam Muchnick and Japan’s Giant Baba, as well as current/former NWA World champions Harley Race and Ric Flair (with the latter two stating that David surely would have become the NWA World champion had he lived).
After David’s death, World Class held its biggest card on May 6, 1984, entitled the Parade of Champions, which was dedicated to the memory of the fallen warrior.
Over 32,000 fans packed Texas Stadium to witness David’s younger brother Kerry capture the NWA World title from Ric Flair, and his father Fritz coming out of retirement to team with sons Kevin and Mike to capture the World Six-Man Tag Team titles from old rivals the Fabulous Freebirds.
Sung before the memorial card was a touching tribute song, “Heaven Needed a Champion”, which singer/songwriter Glen Goza wrote about David’s passing.
While World Class would still have another two years of substantial success, neither the promotion nor the Adkisson family ever quite recovered from the death of David Von Erich. In an industry where fans like to debate the “what ifs”, one can only speculate how different professional wrestling would be today had David lived.
Would Crockett hold the reins on the NWA World title for his Mid-Atlantic promotion? Would World Class eventually join both the WWF and NWA as professional wrestling’s elite promotions? Could several more Adkisson family tragedies have been averted? David’s death continues to be felt today, even in an industry that has experienced mind-boggling numbers of deaths since that cold February morning.
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