Sunday Mirror – March 18, 2001
Penniless and injured champ in warning to heroes of WWF as the Dynamite Kid he was a hero to millions of wrestling fans…and he earned millions of dollars. He owned a fleet of luxury cars and home was a 20-acre ranch. His battles against WWF stars like Hulk Hogan were legendary.
But today the Kid – real name Tom Billington – lives a remarkably different life. Confined to a wheelchair and living in a bedsit in Wigan, he relies upon disability handouts to survive.
Now Tom, 42, wants to warn current champions just how quickly it can all go wrong. He said: “WWF superstars like The Rock are getting millions of pounds but they don’t realise how quickly it can be taken away from you.” Tom has been left penniless after seeing his fortune dwindle away to nothing in the last four years due to a combination of bad luck and bad judgment.
He is unable to walk after suffering a back injury in the ring, and spiralling medical bills – along with two bitter divorces – have left him destitute and alone. He said:
“My life as a wrestler in the World Wrestling Federation was like being in paradise. I had all I ever wanted – and everywhere I went people treated me like a king.”
Apart from his ranch in Calgary, Canada, he owned another ranch and eight plush apartments. His fleet of 15 cars included a customised Cadillac He said:
“American promoters labelled me the best high-flying wrestler in the world and I was in constant demand.
“But after only four years since retiring I have got nothing left. And I’m stuck in this wheelchair for the rest of my life.”
Tom grew up in Golborne, Lancs, with mother Edna and coal miner father Billy who encouraged his son to take up a career in the ring. His big break came when a scout spotted him wrestling in Wigan in 1979 and invited him to compete at a tournament in Canada.
Three years later Tom entered the glamorous world of the WWF. With cousin Davey Boy Smith he formed a fearsome tag team called The British Bulldogs, who became world champions in 1985. But just two years later, tragedy struck.
“We were wrestling in front of thousands of fans when I attempted a big leap-frog move,” he said. “All of a sudden pain shot through my back and I crumpled to the ground. I was rushed to hospital and I had an operation to repair a damaged vertebrae in my lower back.”
With injuries piling up Tom left the WWF and returned to England following a bitter divorce from first wife Michelle in 1993. His two daughters Bronwyn, 16, and Armaris, nine, and son Merrick, 13, still live with Michelle. Tom continued to rake in a fortune as The Dynamite Kid on tours to the Far East.
But disaster struck again back home in 1997. Unable to get out of bed one morning, Tom was rushed to hospital in Wigan. Doctors told him he would never walk again. He says:
“In America I fought alongside Hulk Hogan in front of 93,000 screaming fans at Wrestlemania. But once I was in a wheelchair there was nothing left for me to do.”
And after divorcing his second wife Doris this week the former WWF champion lives alone and destitute.
“I spent thousands of pounds on medical bills. Wrestlers do not have a pension and you risk your life every time you step through the ropes.”