Pro Wrestler Slain After Glory Days

Dallas Morning News – October 9, 2001
By Michael E. Young and Robert Tharp

Chris Adams always lived bigger than life, his days bright with promise, his nights black with promise unfilled.

His troubled days ended early Sunday, when police say a man described as Mr. Adams’ best friend and former roommate shot the professional wrestler to death during a drunken brawl in Waxahachie.

At the time of his death, Mr. Adams, 46, was awaiting trial on manslaughter charges in the drug death of a girlfriend in 2000 and faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

He’d already served a term in federal prison for assaulting an airline pilot during a drunken rage. And he had seen his career plummet from the days when “Gentleman Chris Adams” was an honest-to-goodness wrestling star.

Waxahachie police said Mr. Adams was shot once with a .38-caliber handgun. Mr. Adams and wrestling promoter William B. Parnell had been drinking late Saturday at the home of Mr. Parnell’s mother in the 200 block of Sendero Drive.

The two started “roughhousing” and wrestling, and the play got out of hand. Mr. Parnell told police he began to fear for his life, Sgt. Nathan Bickerstaff said.

“He reached over on the nightstand and got a gun and shot Mr. Adams,” Sgt. Bickerstaff said.

Mr. Parnell then called police and told them about the shooting. He was waiting inside the house when they arrived.

He was charged with murder and is being held in lieu of $300,000 bail at the Waxahachie jail, police said. Mr. Parnell could not be reached for comment Monday.

Mr. Adams arrived in Dallas in 1983. Raised in Stratford, England, he was a national judo champion as a teenager. And he fast became a star in professional wrestling.

He joined the regional World Class Championship Wrestling circuit, using his British accent to create his ring persona, “Gentleman Chris Adams.”

“He became a local superstar,” said friend Jim Wehba, who wrestled under the name “Skandor Akbar.” “When things got real hot around here, Chris was one of the main cogs. He had a lot of charisma.”

“Between 1983 and 1986, he was one of the biggest stars in wrestling,” said Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer publication.

“There were a lot of guys you watched then, and he was the one I always thought was going to be as big as anyone could be in wrestling,” said Bill Mercer, the WCCW’s television voice. “But I guess he was always in trouble.”

Though untrained as a wrestler, Mr. Adams was gifted with dramatic flair and exceptional athletic skills. He quickly joined the Von Erichs, Dallas wrestling’s royal family, in the flashy new WCCW television broadcasts.

“A lot of guys flooded in here to be part of the WCCW,” said wrestling promoter Gary Hart, once Mr. Adams’ manager. “He came and he became a sensation.”

Actually, the whole WCCW production was something of a sensation, and its young stars pushed life to the edge. A staggering number wouldn’t survive.

“It was an unbelievable period in wrestling,” Mr. Meltzer said. “It was something wrestling had never seen before. They all had so much fame so early. They weren’t equipped to handle it.”

Four Von Erich brothers, whose family name is Adkisson, died young – three committed suicide, and one died of an intestinal illness. Mr. Adams’ former wrestling partner, Gino Hernandez, died of a drug overdose in 1986.

Frank “Bruiser Brody” Goodish was killed by another wrestler in Puerto Rico in 1988. “Ravishing” Rick Ruud died from a drug overdose in 1999. So did Buzz Sawyer. Scott “Super Destroyer” Irwin and Jeep Swenson died of cancer. Terry Gordy suffered a fatal heart attack in July 2001.

Mr. Adams survived, though alcohol haunted him.

“This was a problem he battled for the last 10 or 12 years,” Mr. Hart said. “Sometimes he won; sometimes he lost.”

Kevin Adkisson, the only surviving member of the Von Erich wrestling family, saw some of those problems first-hand.

Mr. Adkisson was on a flight with Mr. Adams in 1990, returning from a series of shows in the Caribbean, when their plane was grounded with mechanical problems. The airline provided an open bar. When the flight finally took off, the crew decided they wouldn’t serve drinks. Mr. Adams objected.

“I was asleep in the back and a stewardess came up and said, ‘Mr. Von Erich, can you help us?’ ” Mr. Adkisson recalled.

Mr. Adams had argued with a flight attendant. When one of the pilots intervened, Mr. Adams knocked him to the floor.

“I ran up and got him in a half nelson. I said, ‘Chris, you know they’re going to arrest you for this.’ I told him we could switch shirts and try to walk out with the crowd. And he said, ‘No, I’ll go off as Chris Adams.’ ”

Mr. Adams was one of the toughest wrestlers Mr. Adkisson ever fought, he said.

“He could fight, he really could. And I’m talking Texas style,” he said.

Mr. Adams opened a wrestling school – The Gentleman Chris Adams School of Personalized Professional Wrestling Coaching – and it flourished for a while. His most successful graduate: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, now one of wrestling’s biggest stars.

But Mr. Adams eventually lost the school. He started various wrestling ventures, which usually failed. Still wrestling himself, he received a contract with World Championship Wrestling in the late ’90s. Eventually, though, he returned to Dallas, his career barely a flicker.

He battled alcohol and developed a drug problem. In April 2000, Mr. Parnell found Mr. Adams and girlfriend Linda Kaphengst of Dallas unconscious in an apartment after they overdosed on gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB. Ms. Kaphengst died 12 hours later.

He started drinking again, as heavily as ever.

Mr. Wehba said he worried for years about Mr. Adams’ substance-abuse problems.

“I often wondered why Chris didn’t get it treated,” he said. “God rest his soul, it got worse and worse.

“I think Chris felt his life was in a hole and he couldn’t climb out.

“Chris Adams always lived bigger than life, his days bright with promise, his nights black with promise unfilled.

His troubled days ended early Sunday, when police say a man described as Mr. Adams’ best friend and former roommate shot the professional wrestler to death during a drunken brawl in Waxahachie.

At the time of his death, Mr. Adams, 46, was awaiting trial on manslaughter charges in the drug death of a girlfriend in 2000 and faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

He’d already served a term in federal prison for assaulting an airline pilot during a drunken rage. And he had seen his career plummet from the days when “Gentleman Chris Adams” was an honest-to-goodness wrestling star.

Waxahachie police said Mr. Adams was shot once with a .38-caliber handgun. Mr. Adams and wrestling promoter William B. Parnell had been drinking late Saturday at the home of Mr. Parnell’s mother in the 200 block of Sendero Drive.

The two started “roughhousing” and wrestling, and the play got out of hand. Mr. Parnell told police he began to fear for his life, Sgt. Nathan Bickerstaff said.

“He reached over on the nightstand and got a gun and shot Mr. Adams,” Sgt. Bickerstaff said.

Mr. Parnell then called police and told them about the shooting. He was waiting inside the house when they arrived.

He was charged with murder and is being held in lieu of $300,000 bail at the Waxahachie jail, police said. Mr. Parnell could not be reached for comment Monday.

Mr. Adams arrived in Dallas in 1983. Raised in Stratford, England, he was a national judo champion as a teenager. And he fast became a star in professional wrestling.

He joined the regional World Class Championship Wrestling circuit, using his British accent to create his ring persona, “Gentleman Chris Adams.”

“He became a local superstar,” said friend Jim Wehba, who wrestled under the name “Skandor Akbar.” “When things got real hot around here, Chris was one of the main cogs. He had a lot of charisma.”

“Between 1983 and 1986, he was one of the biggest stars in wrestling,” said Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer publication.

“There were a lot of guys you watched then, and he was the one I always thought was going to be as big as anyone could be in wrestling,” said Bill Mercer, the WCCW’s television voice. “But I guess he was always in trouble.”

Though untrained as a wrestler, Mr. Adams was gifted with dramatic flair and exceptional athletic skills. He quickly joined the Von Erichs, Dallas wrestling’s royal family, in the flashy new WCCW television broadcasts.

“A lot of guys flooded in here to be part of the WCCW,” said wrestling promoter Gary Hart, once Mr. Adams’ manager. “He came and he became a sensation.”

Actually, the whole WCCW production was something of a sensation, and its young stars pushed life to the edge. A staggering number wouldn’t survive.

“It was an unbelievable period in wrestling,” Mr. Meltzer said. “It was something wrestling had never seen before. They all had so much fame so early. They weren’t equipped to handle it.”

Four Von Erich brothers, whose family name is Adkisson, died young – three committed suicide, and one died of an intestinal illness. Mr. Adams’ former wrestling partner, Gino Hernandez, died of a drug overdose in 1986.

Frank “Bruiser Brody” Goodish was killed by another wrestler in Puerto Rico in 1988. “Ravishing” Rick Ruud died from a drug overdose in 1999. So did Buzz Sawyer. Scott “Super Destroyer” Irwin and Jeep Swenson died of cancer. Terry Gordy suffered a fatal heart attack in July 2001.

Mr. Adams survived, though alcohol haunted him.

“This was a problem he battled for the last 10 or 12 years,” Mr. Hart said. “Sometimes he won; sometimes he lost.”

Kevin Adkisson, the only surviving member of the Von Erich wrestling family, saw some of those problems first-hand.

Mr. Adkisson was on a flight with Mr. Adams in 1990, returning from a series of shows in the Caribbean, when their plane was grounded with mechanical problems. The airline provided an open bar. When the flight finally took off, the crew decided they wouldn’t serve drinks. Mr. Adams objected.

“I was asleep in the back and a stewardess came up and said, ‘Mr. Von Erich, can you help us?’ ” Mr. Adkisson recalled.

Mr. Adams had argued with a flight attendant. When one of the pilots intervened, Mr. Adams knocked him to the floor.

“I ran up and got him in a half nelson. I said, ‘Chris, you know they’re going to arrest you for this.’ I told him we could switch shirts and try to walk out with the crowd. And he said, ‘No, I’ll go off as Chris Adams.’ ”

Mr. Adams was one of the toughest wrestlers Mr. Adkisson ever fought, he said.

“He could fight, he really could. And I’m talking Texas style,” he said.

Mr. Adams opened a wrestling school – The Gentleman Chris Adams School of Personalized Professional Wrestling Coaching – and it flourished for a while. His most successful graduate: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, now one of wrestling’s biggest stars.

But Mr. Adams eventually lost the school. He started various wrestling ventures, which usually failed. Still wrestling himself, he received a contract with World Championship Wrestling in the late ’90s. Eventually, though, he returned to Dallas, his career barely a flicker.

He battled alcohol and developed a drug problem. In April 2000, Mr. Parnell found Mr. Adams and girlfriend Linda Kaphengst of Dallas unconscious in an apartment after they overdosed on gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB. Ms. Kaphengst died 12 hours later.

He started drinking again, as heavily as ever.

Mr. Wehba said he worried for years about Mr. Adams’ substance-abuse problems.

“I often wondered why Chris didn’t get it treated,” he said. “God rest his soul, it got worse and worse.

“I think Chris felt his life was in a hole and he couldn’t climb out.”

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