Loogies, bruises, drugs and family: 'Hacksaw' Jim Duggan on the 'golden age' of wrestling
The 1980s WWE wrestling star will appear in St. John's on Friday night
He wasn't always "Hacksaw."
When he started on the pro-wrestling circuit they called him "Big Jim" Duggan, but it never really stuck.
"Then I wore a mask and I wrestled as a convict and that didn't work. And then I tried a fur and I was 'Wild Man Duggan' and that didn't work," he recalled.
"So I finally evolved into 'Hacksaw.'"
Ahead of an appearance in St. John's Friday night, Duggan — who describes the 1980s as the "golden age" of wrestling — told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show about his storied career before, during and after the glory days.
His signature two-by-four, Duggan said, was a prop born out of necessity. In his early wrestling days, rowdy spectators with something to prove brutalized the performers, hoping to show off their own feats of strength.
"Getting back and forth from the ring was very dangerous, you know, the people would spit on you and punch at you and kick you," he said.
"I'm sitting back in the dressing room, all covered with loogies and bruises and my mentor, 'Bruiser' Brody, he looks at me and he says, 'Duggan … if you carry something to the ring, carry something you can use.'"
Strutting through the crowd, lumber in hand, Duggan's fortunes quickly changed. "It was like parting the Red Sea," he laughed.
Rock star livin'
Professional wrestling was massively popular in the 1980s, with prime-time events, music videos, action figures, peanut butter jars, and tons of other promotional tie-ins.
We have a high drug and alcoholism rate, a high divorce rate and a high death rate. It's a tough racket.- 'Hacksaw' Jim Duggan
In the years before drug testing, the industry's stars had more in common with hardy partying musicians than athletes, Duggan said.
"Our generation of guys, we were more like a rock 'n' roll band," he said.
"There's women, there's drugs, there's booze. A lot of guys get caught up in that lifestyle."
In 1987, Duggan was ticketed for drinking and driving, as well as marijuana possession, which he described as a "huge shot to my career."
Duggan admits he indulged, but said he never became addicted to drugs or alcohol.
"We have a high drug and alcoholism rate, a high divorce rate, and a high death rate. It's a tough racket," he said of the profession.
Despite those trends, Duggan himself has been married more than 30 years. What sets their relationship apart from others in the wrestling world is trust, said his wife Debra Duggan.
"You've got to trust your husband," she said, "that he's going to come back home to you."
Family came into sharp focus in 1998, when Duggan was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
"I had two young girls, I was devastated. I spent the time before my surgery in their room crying and praying. I just wanted to survive the ordeal. I didn't care about wrestling," he said.
"A health issue puts everything else in perspective."
Now 65, Duggan is in good health, touring the world and wrestling again. His two daughters are grown, and his wife Debra travels with him.
It's a life the wrestler says he is grateful for. He is scheduled to appear Friday night in St. John's at Dusk Ultra Lounge, telling stories from his career.
"It's humbling that folks remember you this well, 30-plus years after your heyday."