“Macho Man” Randy Savage died 10 years ago yesterday, on May 20, 2011. At the time I wrote the following piece about his death, what he meant to me, and how drunkenly playing a wrestling videogame helped me mourn his passing; it originally ran on a website that no longer exists that was loosely affiliated with a legendary alternative newsweekly that also no longer exists. In memory of the Macho Man, and in observance of the 10th anniversary of his death, we’re republishing it here at Paste.
Hey, I’m a human, too. I’ve got emotions. Sometimes I can feel them. I’m pretty sure Pixar exists specifically to soak my beard with tears. I moped around for days after Alex Chilton died. Listening to Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” on repeat put me in a massive funk one morning in my late twenties because I remember my teenage ambitions a little too well. Anything that blatantly appeals to nostalgia or the loss of childhood or man’s passage through life can set me off.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage’s death last Friday hit me harder than the passing of any other celebrity. He was the primary reason I got hooked on wrestling when I was eight. My love for the squared circle has waxed and waned over the last twenty-five years but that’s an addiction you never fully kick. His death is like if Mario, Captain America or Dale Murphy were real people that could actually die.
Savage sucked me in with his unparalleled combination of charisma, intensity, wrestling ability, and utter insanity. In a fake sport full of one-note characters and bad actors, Savage was thoroughly convincing as a raving lunatic who could back up his surreal interviews with the most exciting matches the WWF had ever seen up to that point. Even better, he was billed from Sarasota, Florida, the only hometown I knew until middle school. Not only was he the best thing eight-year-old me had ever seen on TV, but maybe I’d run into him at the Publix or Chuck E. Cheese one day.
So yeah, I was bummed all day on Friday. By the end of the night, after a few drinks and a few hours watching some of Savage’s best interviews and matches, I fired up WWE All-Stars for the first time in weeks. I figured a single match as Macho Man would be a nice way to cap off the evening. The next time I looked at the clock it was 4 a.m. Hours had slipped by.
At some point over the preceding two hours this mediocre wrestling game had turned into something more important, more personal. I cared about winning a lot more than I usually did now that I was playing in Savage’s memory. In that late hour, my mind foggy with grief and whiskey, I was fighting for Savage’s legacy in a weird fake sport whose primary overseer consistently diminishes Savage’s role and significance.
Savage’s relationship with WWE owner Vince McMahon had famously deteriorated to the point where the Macho Man was barely ever mentioned on WWF/WWE TV over the last 15 years, despite McMahon’s increasing fixation with trotting out the past. Savage will never get the late-career accolades the WWE showers down on any 1980s mid-carder who’s still alive. His appearance in All-Stars was a shock, as Savage and McMahon had not worked together in any capacity since 1994. Savage didn’t get to return to the ring for one last interview or deliver an incomprehensible Hall of Fame acceptance speech. That lack of resolution makes his death sting even more for his dedicated fans.
That night with WWE All-Stars I did all I could to make up for that loss and lack of closure. I stumbled upon a heretofore undiscovered sixth stage in the Kubler-Ross Model, one that bridges Depression and Acceptance and involves playing videogames in which the person whose death you are grieving can jump 20 feet into the air before somersaulting down with a deadly elbow drop.
Watching Savage perform in old footage only reinforced the sense of loss of both a childhood hero and childhood itself. Performing as Savage in WWE All-Stars provided an active outlet for that grief, channeling it into something other than just sitting around feeling blue. A videogame helped me get over real life sadness. That whiskey probably didn’t hurt, either.
This originally ran on May 25, 2011.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.