Huntsville, Ala., Times – September 8, 2000
By Mike Marshall
MADISON — Propped up by two artificial hips, the old man in a red, white and blue tie heads toward his 1992 maroon Chevrolet Caprice Classic with a South Carolina license plate and 140,000 miles on the odometer.
He walks out of Madison Baptist Church and stops about 20 feet from the front door. He reaches for his right leg and grabs the pants of his blue suit.
”Feel this,” he says, wanting to show how well he’s functioning almost 10 years after full hip-replacement surgery.
He also likes to show off his biceps, still thick and firm.
”Oh, man,” he says, ”I used to pump a little iron when I was young.”
When he was young, he was ”Gorgeous George,” the first great professional wrestler in the era before prime-time television and pay-per-view — before wrestlers rivaled rock bands as pop-culture icons, before an ex-wrestler known as ”The Body” was elected governor of Minnesota.
Now, ”Gorgeous George” is a roving Baptist preacher named George Grant. (”No middle name,” he says.) Meeting him for the first time is like running into an electric fence.
Who is George Grant? Imagine a 76-year-old Rush Limbaugh talking about getting saved and wanting to execute drug dealers on national television.
”I believe in making good things available to God’s people at a good price,” he says.
Then he’s off, walking again, bound for the trunk of his Caprice Classic. The black-and-white wrestling pictures are in the trunk.
Hard to believe, with a ”Jesus Saves” window sticker on his car, that this man once rolled his bleached-blond hair in curlers and entered the ring through a perfume shower. (”The cheapest perfume I could find,” he says.)
He wore a green robe, tailored by a man in Canada, the initials ”GG” glittering like icicles. On his neck was a green choker with sequins.
In ”Gorgeous George’s” heyday, the 1950s and early ’60s, Elvis watched him wrestle through peep holes in a curtain at the Memphis City Auditorium. Later, after Elvis died and ”Gorgeous George” became a preacher, Grant gave a sermon entitled ”Seven Reasons Why Elvis Presley Didn’t Go to Hell.”
”Elvis didn’t go to hell because he was a rock ‘n’ roll singer or because he made a lot of money,” Grant says. ”The only reason anybody goes to hell is because they refuse to accept Jesus Christ. From all indications, Elvis was not a saved man.”
As a way of connecting with teen-agers, Grant usually gives the Elvis sermon on church youth nights.
”I don’t tell anybody Elvis went to hell,” he says. ”I’m not foolish enough to condemn somebody like that.”
George Grant found religion in 1965, when he was wrestling at a place called the Hippodrome in Nashville. He and his wife attended a service at Grace Baptist Church, along with the family of Don Greene, another wrestler.
From then on, Grant began attending church regularly. He studied the Bible. He was convinced God wanted him to be a preacher.
In 1971, the year he quit wrestling, he became a full-time preacher. He became a fire-and-brimstone orator who acknowledges only the King James Bible, who has preached from Maine to California, who considers himself ”a ham.”
”The first thing every man, if he’s a true man, should belong to is a fundamentalist Baptist church,” he says. ”The second thing he should belong to is his wife. The third thing is the NRA.”
Then comes the punch line, followed by two of Grant’s favorite questions.
”Bill Clinton is not my president,” he says. ”Charlton Heston is my president. How do you like that? You like that?”
Then, after a member of Madison Baptist Church teases Grant about preaching when Lincoln was president, he deadpans: ”Hey, speaking of Lincoln, isn’t it time for another assassination?”
Apparently, this is what happens to professional wrestlers who have been retired for almost 30 years: They’re still in a TV studio, looking for an announcer with a long-neck microphone, ready to issue another loser-leaves-town challenge.
In the case of ”Gorgeous George,” he has gone from battling trash-talking Tojo Yamamoto (rest his soul) and Len Rossi (former sleeper-hold artist) to seeking a Texas Death Match with gun-control advocates and wife abusers.
”Oh, man, he was loud and emotional when he was here,” Larry Nicholson, the associate pastor of Madison Baptist Church, says of Grant. ”He really got into it. And he knows the Bible, for sure.”
He’s so emotional, in fact, that he never noticed two women who walked out of church in the middle of his testimonial.
”They kept saying, ‘When’s he gonna preach?’ ” Nicholson says. ”He didn’t miss a click when they left.”
In the trunk of Grant’s car are cassette tapes, FedEx packages and a sheet with the words ”Italian proverb” in lowercase letters and ”BREAKA YOUR FACE” in caps.
The cassette tapes are recordings of Grant reading the New Testament.
”25 bucks, 12 tapes,” he says.
Finally, he pulls out the black-and-white pictures. Some are 8-by-10s, others 3-by-5.
Usually, he charges $5 for the pictures, taken in 1954 in a photo studio in Charleston, W. Va. But here, two days before he’s scheduled for Sunday sermons at Madison Baptist Church on Hughes Road, the pictures are free.
Two men are in the pictures. One of them looks like Claude Rains in ”Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” or ”Casablanca.” The other is ”Gorgeous George.”
The man who looks like Claude Rains is named Tom Clark. He has a cane in the crook of his arm and he’s tinkering with the wrestler’s curlers.
Clark, nicknamed ”Pretty Boy Clark,” was a valet for ”Gorgeous George.” In his 26-year wrestling career, ”Gorgeous George” went through 10 valets, including a midget named ”Diamond Jim.”
His valet carried a comb and a brush on a silver tray, then rolled a red carpet and sprayed perfume as ”Gorgeous George” strolled into the ring.
”Hey, show biz,” Grant says. ”That’s what draws the money.”
Big money for wrestlers in the days of ”Gorgeous George” –1945 to ’71 — meant steak and shrimp cocktail for dinner.”Gorgeous George” spent plenty of money on his friends. But wrestling didn’t make him rich.
Now he lives on a 10-acre estate in York, S.C., about 30 miles from Charlotte. He says everybody in York, population about 10,000, can tell you where he lives.
Says Grant: ”I’m not saying this in a bragging way, but the preacher of my home church has said: ‘All you people who live a dull, humdrum, routine life, start hanging around Brother George.’ Really, he said that from the pulpit.”
Really, Muhammad Ali once credited ”Gorgeous George” for teaching him the value of showmanship. Ali said it on ”The Gary Moore Show,” according to Grant.
”What about an autograph?” Grant asks after passing out a free 3-by-5 picture.
Using a blue felt-tip pen, he signs the picture: ”Best Regards, George Grant, Gorgeous George.”
After years of charging $5 for autographed pictures, he has learned you can’t sign a glossy picture with a ballpoint pen.
”Gorgeous George” is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds – about 30 pounds more than when he was wrestling for the now-defunct American Wrestling Alliance.
He spends most of his free time attending wrestling reunions, renewing acquaintances with ”Two Ton” Davis, among others. He says he does not have time for modern-day professional wrestling, though he can rattle off the names of two of today’s best-known wrestlers — Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair.
”I don’t watch the wrestlers today,” he says, like a schoolboy who insists he no longer has a crush on an old girlfriend.
Instead, he watches game shows and quiz shows. ”Jeopardy,” ”The Price Is Right” and ”Wheel of Fortune” are his favorites.
”I like those quiz shows because I think I’m a smart aleck,” he says.
Another thing Grant likes to do when he’s home: shoot guns.
”I’m an avid target shooter,” he says. ”Ted Kennedy’s car has killed more people than my guns.”
Then, as if he’s doing a stand-up routine, he waits for the reaction.
”How do you like that?” he asks. ”You like that?”
As soon as Harry Truman, a Democrat, gave Gen. Douglas MacArthur the heave-ho in Korea – April 1951, to be precise – George Grant became a Republican. He has been fit for the John Birch Society ever since.
He compares himself to Daniel, who, in the Bible, was given a position of power after interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Among Grant’s interpretations:
On capital punishment: ”I believe in capital punishment. George W. Bush, as governor of Texas, was getting a few of ’em.”
On the penalty for child abuse: ”Public beatings.”
On homosexuality: ”See what the Bible says? If a man also lies with mankind as he lies with a woman, both have committed an abomination. That means something God hates. They shall be put to death – their blood should be put upon him. . . . Now that doesn’t mean we should go out and start killing homosexuals.”
On President Clinton: ”All these draft dodgers should be executed for treason.”
Then he says in a playful tone: ”I’m easy to get along with, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Springing out of a chair and bending his knees, George Grant flexes his two artificial hips and sits down.
Then he raises his legs.
Then he wants you to know what it means for a 76-year-old with two artificial hips to be able to bob up and down like a sports fan doing the wave.
”God is not through with me yet,” he says.
When God is done with him, Grant wants to be cremated. A blue card in his wallet verifies he has given his body to the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.
”Are you ready?” Grant asks. ”As far as I’m concerned, the southwest quadrant of the International Dateline is the most beautiful place on earth. My son is in charge of making sure my ashes are thrown there.
”What do you think of that?”