McGinnis: Wrestler Foley sets a kind exampleWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the world of wrestling, Mick Foley has played many psychotic, terrifying characters. As the mutilated Mankind, he tore his own hair out of his head and mused, “Of all the things I’ve lost in life, I think I miss my mind the most.” As Cactus Jack, he participated in some of the most violent matches ever. Anyone who only knew Foley from his various personas would certainly be forgiven for not wanting to meet him in a dark alley.
But under the bloody facade that Foley has projected over the past 25 years of performing, lies the heart of a kind-hearted and generous man. A man who has a sincere passion for giving back to the world, in any way he can.
I first became aware of Foley’s career in the mid-1990’s. He had already been wrestling for nearly a decade, and had long since established a reputation as one of the most insane performers out there. He seemingly had a willingness to do anything to make a match more exciting. Barbed wire? Sure. Exploding boards? Okay. A thousand thumbtacks? No sweat.
Of course, as Foley readily admits in his writing, his apparent recklessness was orchestrated to overcome the bad hand he was dealt by mother nature. In an era where bodybuilders’ physiques were the norm, Foley was a large man, but not really muscular or athletic. “I had bad genetics,” Foley once said in an interview, “and I never took chemical shortcuts.” His abstention from those shortcuts may help explain why Foley is still here, while so many of his contemporaries have sadly passed away.
Against all odds, Foley became one of the biggest stars of the hottest era in wrestling history — the late 1990s, as the WWF’s business became bigger than it ever had been. He “retired” from competition in the year 2000, though he has since had several comebacks. (Wrestling retirements are about as credible as Brett Farve’s, and last about as long.)
By the time Mick stopped as a full-time performer, he had long since become my favorite wrestler. But not just because of the quality of his in-ring work, which was considerable. But because of the kind of man he was outside of the ring, as well.
His first book, “Have a Nice Day,” handwritten on legal pads because Foley refused to use a computer, became a New York Times bestseller. It also was one of the most compelling and fascinating memoirs you’d want to read, the wrestling equivalent of Jim Bouton’s classic “Ball Four.” Two more autobiographies followed while he worked for the WWF/WWE, each of them providing more funny and moving stories, while acting as a snapshot of the era of wrestling history they were written in.
A fourth in the series, entitled “Countdown to Lockdown,” was released this week — this one focusing on his new career working for WWE’s competitor, TNA Wrestling. (Foley himself jokes in the book that he now has officially written more memoirs than Churchill.) And while this new book is just as compelling as his previous installments, what I found interesting is how my focus as a reader shifted. Though he still has passion for his work in wrestling, the most involving chapters are stories of the work he does elsewhere, with charities.
Foley has said that he views whatever fame wrestling has given him as a gift, a chance to do good. And he clearly makes the most of it. He writes of visiting soldiers injured in the Iraq war. He writes of sponsoring children in Sierra Leone through ChildFund International, visiting their village, and learning that the money he had sent built a local school. He writes of meeting Tori Amos, whose work with RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network) inspired his own work for the group.
All of the advance Foley earned for “Countdown to Lockdown,” he gave to ChildFund and RAINN. And he continues to work and campaign for these and other causes he believes in, aided by his blog and Twitter account.
Throughout his career, Foley seemingly gave everything he could in an effort to entertain. Now, years later, he continues to give more of himself — his time, his passion, his work, as much as he can, for as long as he can — but to things that truly matter. And he demonstrates that, in a business where people are often judged by the size of their muscles, the most powerful one of all is the one beating in your chest.
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com