[17 November 2010]
Not long ago, Hulk Hogan’s life looked in danger of turning into The Wrestler. A washed up pro wrestler with a broken body, family, and spirit, he seemed only to feel alive in the ring, but… the ring could kill him. Walking that notorious razor’s edge between life and death, he gathered together all his stubborn strength and yes, he would sacrifice all to recover his lost glory.
The legend continues. Billed as a “documentary special” on Hulk Hogan’s return to the wrestling ring, A&E’s Looking for Hulk Hogan, is also a an hour-long commercial—perhaps for a new reality show. The pitch is unsurprising: after all those years of performative excess, now you’ll see a “real “Terry Bollea. The promotion for the special promises to be “emotional, and completely honest” and to give “viewers a Hulk Hogan they’ve never seen before.” This Hulk Hogan is looking back on the dissolution of his marriage, the implosion of his family, and the failure of his own health.
Certainly, the Hulkster and his family have been through a series of high-profile tragedies in recent years, including his son Nick’s tragic car crash (which paralyzed Nick’s best friend and sent Nick to prison), Hogan’s divorce from longtime wife Linda, and their public acrimony, and his own severe injuries from 30 years as a professional wrestler.
We already know all about that from their VH1 reality TV shows, both the original Hogan Knows Best and the spin-off about his daughter’s efforts to make it in the music biz living in Miami, Brooke Knows Best. On those shows, Hogan came across as a caring parent and decent guy who clearly had a dysfunctional marriage in which his wife was happy to have him risk his health to bankroll their lavish lifestyle. You could see his pain, both physical and emotional, and feel sympathy for him.
But this A&E special wants to argue that the reality TV version is hopelessly skewed. If you want the real reality, you need to turn to Finding Hulk Hogan. And believe it is somehow less manipulated than other reality TV.
I’m not convinced. Whatever we didn’t learn from his reality TV shows, the tabloids have told us. Hulk’s own previous TV interviews have too. Ad nauseam. There is a slightly fresher sequence here about how Laila Ali helped him find religion and a supportive church, but that’s been covered in the press too. So why are we here?
Ah, it all becomes clear about halfway through the special. This exercise in navel-gazing is selling TNA Wrestling, the company where he is now an executive. It’s hard to feel sorry for a man who risks his health to get back in the ring to “get his life back,” and maintains a business where other wrestlers also risk damage. Millionaire problems.
Finding Hulk Hogan gives us heartfelt interviews with Hulk talking to the camera. He describes how he was suicidal in 2007 after Linda filed for divorce. He wandered around his empty mansion, feeling like it was “someone else’s life.” He lost all his money because of the divorce and lawsuits stemming from the wreck and—this is where is gets muddy—because of a “series of other things,” he says. He adds that he made hundreds of millions of dollars in wrestling, but lost it all and even had to sell his homes. We see lots of long shots of Hulk walking on the beach in slow motion, accompanied by tragic music.
The narrative doesn’t make sense. Even when he was at his lowest point, he was hosting a TV show, American Gladiator, with Laila Ali (whom he says saved his life). The documentary glosses over the fact that Hulk was gainfully employed at the time.
It also fails to explain why Hulk actually has to get back in the ring himself One More Time in order to help launch this wrestling company he hopes will be his meal ticket for the rest of his life. He trains other wrestlers, helps shape the product, lends his stature as a wrestling legend. Why does Hulk have to wrestle again? Why risk breaking his back? The doctor shows him x-rays of his meat-grindered back and tells him he shouldn’t even be in the gym, much less in the ring in front of thousands of cheering fans. Apparently, only this risk of life and limb that will launch the company. Only this—and not his happy new relationship (he’s engaged to Jennifer McDaniel), and encouraging developments for his son and daughter.
Unlike Randy the Ram, we know Hulk makes it through the big match, even though he has to have back surgery afterward. But in trying to make such high drama out of an unnecessary situation, and in trying so hard to spark sympathy for Hulk as a downtrodden character when he is and continues to be a successful celebrity, the documentary doesn’t so much find Hulk Hogan as it loses him all over again.