The five Von Erich broth­ers, under the guid­ance of their tough father, became wrestlers. But the fam­i­ly of wrestlers remained in the mem­o­ry of the audi­ence thanks to their trag­ic fate, and not to their sport­ing achieve­ments.

How denial of phys­i­cal and men­tal pain ends for a per­son — we talk about this in an arti­cle about the von Erich fam­i­ly

The father of the family is a failed WCWA champion

Von Erich is not the fam­i­ly’s real name, and Fritz is the fic­ti­tious name of Jack Bar­ton Adkisson, Doris’ hus­band and father of six boys. But first things first. He was born in 1929 in Jew­ett, Texas. His father was the city sher­iff, want­ed to raise his son to be a “real” man, tough­en him up, and orga­nized box­ing match­es between chil­dren.

Sports and com­pe­ti­tion have always been in Jack­’s life. As a stu­dent, he played Amer­i­can foot­ball and was even draft­ed by the NFL Dal­las Tex­ans, which nev­er took place. With his out­stand­ing phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics — he was 193 cm tall and weighed 120 kg — he attract­ed the atten­tion of pro­mot­er Stu Hart. At his insti­ga­tion, Jack Bar­ton Adkisson became the wrestler Von Erich. The image of a Nazi scoundrel caused a strong reac­tion from the audi­ence and was rein­forced by tough behav­ior dur­ing fights. He fin­ished off his oppo­nents with the Iron Claw tech­nique, squeez­ing their skulls with both hands, caus­ing the delight of the pub­lic. Dur­ing his per­for­mances in Japan, Fritz was nick­named exact­ly that — “Iron Claw”; he was very pop­u­lar among Japan­ese wrestling.

Fritz von Erich

The first tragedy in the life of the father of the fam­i­ly occurred in 1959, when his eldest six-year-old son Jack died in an acci­dent. Accord­ing to Dal­las mag­a­zine, while return­ing to the house, Jack ran his hand over his neigh­bor’s trail­er and received an elec­tric shock. At that moment, Fritz was at a com­pe­ti­tion in Cleve­land. He lat­er told Texas Month­ly, “I blamed the wrestling busi­ness for my old­est son’s death—I could­n’t wait to get back in the ring and beat up one of the guys I held respon­si­ble for all my fail­ures.” His wife Doris, a fair­ly devout woman, said: “After you lose your first son, there is a fear that you will lose anoth­er. You prob­a­bly know this is going to hap­pen.” So the von Erich fam­i­ly began to believe that there was a curse on their fam­i­ly.

The mores and rules that exist­ed in wrestling, the death of his first son hard­ened Von Erich’s already strong, pur­pose­ful char­ac­ter. Hav­ing won a lot of titles over a thir­ty-year career, he failed to get the main one — the WCWA cham­pi­on.

Stronger, tougher, more successful, better

Full Steel, direct­ed by Sean Durkin, begins with Fritz von Erich rent­ing a very expen­sive car on the advice of a pro­mot­er in order to appear more suc­cess­ful. He knows what he’s doing: “I’m almost there. You can only win by being stronger, tougher, more suc­cess­ful, bet­ter than every­one else, rely­ing only on your own strength.” This phrase sounds like Fritz’s mot­to in life.

After fin­ish­ing his career, he focused on win­ning for his sons, his goal being for one of them to become the WCWA Heavy­weight Cham­pi­on and bring glo­ry to their fam­i­ly. He instilled the same idea in his sons, whom he raised strict­ly. Fritz, of course, loved them, but his care was expressed in the fact that he forced them to exer­cise even more and not stop, despite the pain — he exhaust­ed them with train­ing for more than three hours a day in the home gym and in a spe­cial­ly built ring on the ranch. In addi­tion to stan­dard exer­cis­es and weight lift­ing, accord­ing to a friend of one of the Ker­ry broth­ers, “…Fritz tied his sons by the legs, hung them from a beam and forced them to fight upside down…”. If any of them did not act accord­ing to the rules, he did not hes­i­tate to resort to cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment.

The broth­ers attend­ed col­lege but even­tu­al­ly dropped out to become wrestlers. “Hon­est­ly, we didn’t even know if we want­ed to fight that hard. The wrestling world was full of old, out of shape men who moved from one small town to anoth­er and looked mis­er­able,” Kevin, the only one of the broth­ers still alive, said in 1988. “But we all knew what would hap­pen in the end. It was inevitable. We were going to take up wrestling because we want­ed to be just like our father.”

Fritz, who loves com­pe­ti­tion, believed that this would help his sons too — in the film we see him rank­ing them over din­ner: “You all know, Ker­ry is my favorite, then David and Mike. But you know, the rat­ing changes eas­i­ly. Any­one can fall or rise.” Despite this sit­u­a­tion, the broth­ers always sup­port­ed and, in some way, pro­tect­ed each oth­er from their strict father.

By the way, the film says noth­ing about Chris, who suf­fered from severe asth­ma and suf­fered from brit­tle bones. But even he even­tu­al­ly entered the ring and tried to prove to his father that he could also per­form — his father’s influ­ence in the fam­i­ly was very strong. Direc­tor Sean Durkin explained that “it was anoth­er tragedy that the film could­n’t han­dle”, so it was decid­ed to do with­out it.

David is almost there, but dies in Japan

The main hope of his father and fam­i­ly, David had all the advan­tages nec­es­sary for the­atri­cal wrestling: an ath­let­ic build, a spe­cif­ic style in the ring and a bright tem­pera­ment. He was the only broth­er to study at the uni­ver­si­ty. Hors­es were also David’s great pas­sion and love; he was engaged in busi­ness — breed­ing pedi­gree hors­es. And yet, under the influ­ence of his father, in 1977 he began a pro­fes­sion­al wrestling career, drop­ping out of school and devot­ing him­self entire­ly to the fam­i­ly busi­ness.

In 1984, he went to Japan for a tour and died there in a hotel room in Tokyo. He was the first Von Erich broth­er to die since Jack­’s trag­ic child­hood death. About David, we can say that his life was inter­rupt­ed at take­off — he was only 25 years old. Accord­ing to offi­cial sources, death was caused by intesti­nal rup­ture as a result of acute enteri­tis, although there is a ver­sion of an over­dose of hydrocodone, a strong painkiller.

The third son of the “Iron Claw” undoubt­ed­ly could have found him­self out­side of wrestling, but fell under the pres­sure of the head of the wrestling dynasty. Sir Fritz sto­ical­ly endured anoth­er blow of fate, con­tin­u­ing with an iron tread the work he had start­ed. In the film, he says that God sends all tri­als to test the strength of char­ac­ter and to strength­en, and the broth­ers should not give in to despon­den­cy.

Mike wanted to be a musician, but was forced to become a fighter

As a child, Mike was more inter­est­ed in music than wrestling and played the gui­tar. Accord­ing to Texas Month­ly, he took up the sport pro­fes­sion­al­ly only after David’s death. But dur­ing a match in Israel in 1985, he injured his shoul­der, after which he under­went surgery. A week lat­er, he fell into a coma — he was diag­nosed with tox­ic shock syn­drome. How­ev­er, after a while he returned to wrestling. Dur­ing one of the match­es he suf­fered brain dam­age. In April 1987, at the age of 23, he com­mit­ted sui­cide by over­dos­ing on sleep­ing pills.

Mike Von Erich

After the death of his three broth­ers, Chris suf­fered from depres­sion and also became a pro­fes­sion­al wrestler. Due to his brit­tle bones, he suf­fered many frac­tures and even­tu­al­ly com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1991 at the age of 22 from a gun­shot wound.

Kerry’s secret: entered the ring with an amputated foot

Ker­ry is the fourth son of the Von Erich dynasty, the most promis­ing and tal­ent­ed in the wrestling field from the fam­i­ly. The pub­lic loved him very much — he was hand­some and very mus­cu­lar.

The first alarm bell sound­ed in June 1983, when a wrestler was found at the air­port with a whole kit con­tain­ing drugs and ille­gal sub­stances. Lat­er in an inter­view, his broth­er Kevin admit­ted that the use of painkillers was a neces­si­ty and com­mon­place among wrestlers.

Kerry Von Erich

Car­rey’s most mem­o­rable win was defeat­ing super­star Ric Flair for the NWA World Cham­pi­onship in 1984, with a huge future ahead of him. In the movie Full­met­al, before his fight with Ker­ry, Ric Flair says, “I am the heavy­weight cham­pi­on of the world. And this is my best house on the high­est hill, an expen­sive jack­et, lizard shoes, a lim­ou­sine one and a half meters long, stuffed with 25 women. A real man can han­dle both ups and downs. Let’s see who’s the real man here and who’s daddy’s boy.”

To be a real man — for wrestlers, this meant ignor­ing pain and win­ning at all costs. And there­fore, when Ker­ry got into an acci­dent and sub­se­quent­ly lost his right foot, he, despite the rec­om­men­da­tions of doc­tors, still entered the ring, inject­ing a huge amount of novo­caine. He won the rematch, but broke his ankle again. Doc­tors even­tu­al­ly con­clud­ed that Ker­ry need­ed ampu­ta­tion. Pos­sess­ing an iron char­ac­ter and large­ly under pres­sure from his father, he per­formed in the pro­fes­sion­al are­na for anoth­er sev­en years and wore high boots, hid­ing the absence of a foot. The use of drugs to relieve pain became sys­tem­at­ic, and attempts to be treat­ed for addic­tion were unsuc­cess­ful.

By the begin­ning of 1993, Kerry’s wife left her, tak­ing the chil­dren. He could no longer per­form. On Feb­ru­ary 17, 1993, he was accused of pos­ses­sion of cocaine, and the threat of receiv­ing a real prison sen­tence became obvi­ous. The next day, the fourth son was found with a bul­let in his chest not far from his beloved motor­cy­cle. Ker­ry became anoth­er vic­tim of his father’s greed and exor­bi­tant ambi­tions, his con­sumerist atti­tude towards his own chil­dren, and his own unful­filled dreams.

Kevin is the only survivor

Kevin, who only took up wrestling after a knee injury end­ed his col­lege foot­ball career. After his broth­ers’ deaths, he con­tin­ued per­form­ing to earn more mon­ey for the fam­i­ly. How­ev­er, after suf­fer­ing a severe con­cus­sion, he was banned from wrestling in Texas, so he went to Japan.

Kevin Von Erich

In his very first match in Japan, he was hit in the ear, caus­ing a con­cus­sion, caus­ing him to final­ly quit wrestling for good. “I had headaches, I was throw­ing up all the time, so it was the injuries that got me out of it,” he explained.

Who knows what the fate of these guys might have been like if they knew that they didn’t have to be the strongest and most suc­cess­ful. The ambi­tious father Fritz so instilled in the chil­dren the idea of ​​being cham­pi­ons and nev­er giv­ing up that it was eas­i­er for them to con­tin­ue to fight at all costs, despite the pain, phys­i­cal and men­tal, than to admit their own weak­ness, and they even­tu­al­ly could not stand it, com­mit­ting sui­cide sui­cide. Between 1959 and 1993, five of Fritz’s six sons died, and peo­ple began to talk about Von Erich’s curse. But is this a curse? Von Erich’s only sur­viv­ing broth­er, Kevin, replies, “This is ridicu­lous. What hap­pened was just ter­ri­ble, but it’s not a curse.” Kevin admit­ted that he, too, strug­gled with thoughts of sui­cide, but man­aged to find peace. Today he and his wife Pam have four chil­dren and 11 grand­chil­dren.

Fritz and Doris divorced in 1992. The death of his sons took a moral toll on the proud father, while lung and brain can­cer under­mined his phys­i­cal well-being. Fritz died on Sep­tem­ber 10, 1997.

Kevin Von Erich with Zac Efron who played him in the film Full Grit

WWE posthu­mous­ly induct­ed the Von Erich fam­i­ly into the Hall of Fame in 2009. Today, Kev­in’s sons Ross and Mar­shall com­pete as part of Von Erich’s team.

Kevin him­self spoke with direc­tor Sean Durkin sev­er­al times about the Full Grit film, but was not direct­ly involved in dis­cussing the script itself. The film was released in Rus­sia on Jan­u­ary 4, 2024.