The Natural Progression For Hulk?

Valparaiso IN Times – November 12, 1996

You might expect that acting would be a natural progression for the world’s most popular professional wrestler. After all, whether you consider pro wrestling a total sham, a completely legitimate sport or something in-between, you can’t deny the obvious showmanship involved.

Wrestling is entertainment, and the most successful wrestlers are usually the most entertaining ones. Yet Hulk Hogan, the industry’s most famous and popular personality, said his film career still feels the weight of the negative wrestler stereotype.
After seven feature films, including “Rocky III,” “Gremlins,” “Suburban Commando,” “No Holds Barred” and his latest effort, “Santa With Muscles,” Hogan said he knows he must still earn his breaks in Hollywood.

“I proved myself in the wrestling ring, and I’ll have to do it again in Hollywood,” said Hogan during an interview last week. In Chicago for a quick promotional tour on his new movie, “Santa With Muscles,” the 6’7, 275-pound professional wrestler talked about his life in the ring, in front of the camera and as one of tthe entertainment world’s more recognizable role models.

Hogan said wrestlers have always labored under a dubious reputation that has hindered them from making the move from the ring to movies or other endeavors. That was true when he first started making movies more than 10 years ago, and he said it hasn’t entirely changed.

“It’s still there,” said Hogan, who has two children, Brooke, 8, and Nicholas, 6, with his wife, Linda. “I’m a sort of a security freak, and I know I’ll always have wrestling there to take care of my family. But when I wrestle, some people look at me and say, `Oh, he’s just a dumb wrestler.'”

Hogan is anything but dumb. Involved in various movie and television projects, the actor-producer has a varied and busy career outside the ring. In fact, he left wrestling for several years in the early 1990s to pursue various small and big-screen projects, including his TV series, “Thunder In Paradise.”

That hiatus came on the heels of pro wrestling’s most successful period ever, a streak of nationwide, even worldwide, popularity during the mid-and-late 1980s. Led by Hogan and his legions of “Hulkamaniacs,” the World Wrestling Federation and its cast of colorful fighters took pro wrestling from the regional notoriety of small-town convention halls to the national prominence of network matches, lucrative cable deals and pay-per-view windfalls.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, wrestling’s spiraling fame dipped during Hogan’s absence. Hogan said wrestling’s popularity is on the rise again, though he admitted it’s still not where it was during its heydey. Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, said he was taken aback one day when his son asked him who Hulk Hogan was.

“He said, `Dad, the kids at pre-school say you’re Hulk Hogan,’ ” Hogan recalled. “I said, ‘Well, I am and I’m not.’ So I let him watch tapes of me wrestling.”

Hogan returned to the ring in 1994. Signing up with the Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, he gave his mat persona a twist.

“I was working on some projects with New Line Cinema, which is owned by Ted Turner,” Hogan said. “He called me up and said, `There’s a home for you here, boy, but you’ve got to wrestle part-time.’ I said, `OK, what’s the deal?’

“I told him that if he really wanted to get a reaction from the audience, he should turn me into a bad guy,” Hogan said.

Thus was born Hollywood Hogan, Hogan’s latest wrestling incarnation, and one that has proved quite popular. A classic ringside villain, Hogan’s bad-boy antics haven’t cost him many fans. Indeed, Hogan expressed surprise that his following has remained intact and just as supportive as ever.

“They still cheer, man. I can’t believe it,” Hogan said. “I was wrestling in Las Vegas the other night, and I did something that I just knew would make them boo me. I had this wig on, and I walked out, strutting like a peacock. And they still cheered. It’s wild.”

Hogan said playing the bad guy is something he never could have done in past years, in the ring or on the screen. His image as the ultimate do-gooder led to another title: role model. Because kids and adults of all ages looked up to him as wrestling’s greatest good guy, Hogan said any deviation from that path would have betrayed the image so important to others.

“I would have had parents yelling at me, `How could you do that? My kids look up to you,’ ” said Hogan. “Now, though, people recognize that it’s just entertainment. It’s entertainment with good athletes.”

Whether he’s Hollywood Hogan, Hulk Hogan or just plain old Terry Bollea, the multi-talented entertainer said he remains very active in charities and other activities that benefit children. He’s involved with the Pediatric AIDS Center, the Special Olympics, the Starlight Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Unlike some athletes, who consider their role-model status a burden, Hogan said he has enjoyed living up to the responsibilities it entails. He has been one of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s most requested celebrities.

“I have two perfectly healthy children, for whom I am very grateful,” said Hogan, who emphasized that his career comes second to his family. “This gives me something positive to do, something that fills that need in my life. I’ve really enjoyed it. You always have to be ready, too, because you never know what kids want to talk to about. I’ve been asked everything from `Is wrestling fake?’ to `Why am I dying?’ ”

Hogan’s concern for and emphasis on children has extended to his film career, too. “Santa With Muscles,” like his other movies, is directed at youngsters, and upcoming roles in “The Secret Agent Club” and the new “3 Ninjas” sequel continue the trend.
Hogan said he’s not sure how much longer he’ll continue to wrestle. At 43, he’s still in great shape, and Hogan said he feels he can still compete with guys 10, 20 years younger.

“I don’t know,” Hogan said. “As long as I’m not embarrassing myself out there, I’ll keep doing it.”


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