A Few Words With...Dawn Marie

Interview by John A. Wilcox

Dawn Marie first made her mark on national TV as a bad girl manager on ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling). WWE honcho Vince McMahon took notice of her and brought her over to his brand for several successful years. After leaving the airwaves, Dawn Marie now runs Wrestlers Rescue - www.wrestlersrescue.org - helping wrestlers in need of medical aid. I sat down with the stunning Dawn Marie to discuss the transition from the wrestling ring to her current charitable works...

PS: Was watching wrestling part of your childhood or was it something you became to be interested in later on?

DM: No, no I used to watch it all the time with my dad and my uncle. My dad, my uncle, and my brother. It was a family thing that we did. Wrestling has been a part of my life since I was five years old or six years old in one capacity or another. There was a time where I didn't watch it for a while as I got a little older, probably my teen years. And well, we all know what happened later on.

PS: In your teens, what was it you wanted to be in life?

DM: I had a very rough life growing up, I didn't have the traditional family, traditional situation. I don't think I really concentrated on what I wanted to be when I grew up, as much as I just wanted to be able to exist from day to day. I was homeless at 17, lived on my own, worked very hard to get where I was, where I am today. In my teen years I was concentrating on just existing at the moment.

When I was 17 I started bartending. That led me into working in some other bars in the area. I let the bars put me through school. Then right after school I went and I got a great job in New York as a director of insurance at State Farm. I just didn't like it. It was not very satisfying to me. I still did it because I thought it was a job that you were supposed to do. There was a gentleman that came to my house to sign me up for an acting career at the time. I would take modeling jobs here and there, but never really wanted to be a model. He was talking about wrestling and I just started talking to him and I said "Oh I would like to do that." But I was only joking. The next thing I know he called me and said "I got you booked on a show. A small indy show." I said to him "There is no way, I am not, I was kidding." He said "I thought you were serious. Just do the one and you never have to do it again." It was in New Jersey, and I did the show. It was Snuka against Tony Atlas. At that moment, I just remember walking through the curtain and thinking this is what I am supposed to do. That was on a Friday, so on Monday I called up my boss in New York and I quit my job. I went back to a bar called the Safari that I worked at, I got my job back and started working the independent circuit at 25 years old. I was late - some people already have their career at 25 years and I was just starting on the indy circuit.

PS: How did you transition from the indy circuit to ECW?

DM: I worked very hard, did anywhere from two to three shows a week at least on the indies and I would hustle. I would drive anywhere from Detroit to Florida just to get some experience and I got a lot of exposure. Through that time I met George Napolitano. He gave me a lot of exposure. He really helped me a lot. I had other people that were really in my corner, they helped me and taught me and took the time. In '98 ECW was looking for someone to come in opposite Tammy Sytch. I went in there had a one-day try out, it was supposed to be a one-day deal. They called me back a couple of days later and they asked me if I was interested in coming up for a couple more days, I'm like "Sure!" They then proceeded to tell me I had a job in New Orleans for that.

I got in my car and I went. I was there ready to go. Paul Heyman loved the chemistry between Lance Storm and I instantly. They weren't even looking for a permanent spot, they just wanted someone to get chewed up and spit out by Tammy. He loved the chemistry between Lance and I so much that he actually created a spot for me.

PS: The wrestling biz is notoriously brutal toward women. How do you deal with that psychologically?

DM: You know, it's not personal. You need to learn quickly in this business, which many people don't. You can't take stuff personally. A lot of times things are just business. Decisions need to be made, it's not personal against you. If your time is up, your time is up. It's not that they hate you or they don't like you as a person if you get released. sometimes it's just that your time is up. It's a business decision. I have a saying and I say it to a lot of people that got mad after ECW closed down. They'd be like "Oh Paul's over there and he didn't get me a job." I would be like "Why is it Paul's job to get you a job? It's your job to keep yourself employed. Not Paul." Maybe you need to change something, maybe you need to recreate yourself. Maybe you're great at what you do but there's not a spot for you. This business is about spots. If there is a spot open and you fill it and someone sees you, you fill it. And until that spot is vacant again, there is no room for you.

Anyway, you can't take business decisions personally. If you do, you should just get out right from the beginning because if you don't you are going to end up a mess. You know that is just the way it is.

PS: How did you deal with the sexist, degrading comments the wrestling crowds would constantly shout?.

DM: You know when they would say that stuff honestly, I didn't even hear it. You know all I would hear is them reacting, and that meant good. I was a heel, I was young, and if they weren't shouting those things, I was doing something wrong. If I heard crickets I knew I was going back behind the curtain and I was fired. But you know there is also a thing called "good heat" and "bad heat." Somebody could go out there and completely not know what they are doing and get a lot of heat but it's not heat for what's going on. It's heat "You're just that freaking bad." You know what I am saying? That's a whole different story. Or heat that takes away from the match or what is going on. I mean there are a lot of managers that can't distinguish between good heat and bad heat. "Oh, they're yelling at me. Good! Let's keep hearing it." Meanwhile they are taking away from what the wrestlers are doing in the ring. You are supposed to be adding to what's going on in the ring, not taking away - that's our job as managers. We're not there for ourselves, we're there to enhance whomever we're with. When they're over or they become enhanced, then we're successful. Our success as a manager is determined by how successful or how much we help the people we're with become. A lot of people don't get that either, they don't understand.

I was very fortunate, I was brought up very "indies" in a time where there were a lot of legends. You know, you had the Capt. Lou's, and the Sherry's. You had people willing to teach. This business is not something you can learn by watching TV and it's not something you learn by going to class. You go and pay someone a couple thousand dollars to teach you when they aren't even successful. But that's a whole other discussion for another time. I see that all the time. You know this isn't just taught and handed to you. It's a gift, it's an absolute gift and an honor when one of your veterans takes the time to teach you their business. You don't "join" the society, you are asked to become part of the society. You're given the business, you don't pay money to be in this business. To be totally in this business, to respect it and be successful. I mean yeah, you wanna go to school and learn something. Fine. But you are not truly in the business until you are given it by your peers. This is something we always say. Vince McMahon gives you the job - it's the boys that let you keep it. And when I say that people are always like "Wow, that is so true!" Or they go "What are you talking about?" Those are the ones that don't get it. But it's your peers that keep you in this business long term and keep you on your toes, and keep you learning. You're never done learning in this business.

I have immense respect for this business, I have immense respect for the people in it. I have immense respect for those who came before me. And I'm just thankful they did the things they did, in order to give me a very wonderful life. I didn't make a lot of money in this business and most women don't unless you are on the top top top tier. But I've always been a heel, I've been the person that goes in there and makes or keeps those top top top people there. You know that's my job, and that's fine. That's my job, and I love my job. I don't think I would know what to do if they had a charming baby face on top. I'd be like "Oh no!"

PS: I think the heels in a way drive the business, because if you have match of two baby faces, you have no match.

DM: Yeah its planned. I mean you can have match of two heels, in a sense. Could be interesting but ahh, two baby faces? Who cares? Because the heel dictates the tone of the match. Your baby face is only as good as your heel is. If your heel doesn't know how to make you really feel sympathetic for your baby face, then who cares about your baby face? I'm not sure. Unless you're Eddie Guerrero. He could probably do both in the ring and it doesn't even matter. Even though he's a heel he could turn you in a second and make you feel he's a baby face. He did an amazing show.

PS: I always thought that even though he was a heel, he was such a likeable heel. He was one of the rare heels you'd pull for.

DM: I mean yeah, like if you had a baby face and Eddie was still being baby face, it would still be an amazing match. He was just so amazing. Not only was he amazing in the ring, he was just an amazing person. He was so giving with his knowledge. I was one of the fortunate ones who was able to take what he was willing to give. You know, he's very sorely missed. Not only in our industry as a profession, but I know he's sorely missed by his friends.

PS: He had this special charisma about him. He seemed to exude that from day one.

DM: You know it's that intangible. People go "What's It?" Well, if I have to explain it to you, you'll never get it. You know you don't have it. "It" is when you are sitting in a small diner and when you walk in the room, people go "Who are you?" Whether or not they've ever seen you on TV or not they're like "He has to be someone." or "She has to be someone." It's a glow, an aura, a presence. People want to look and see who you are, what you're doing. Know what you are saying. It's a weird thing. It's a God given gift. It's like umm, if you're a pitcher, God just puts a lightning bolt in your arm. It's the same thing as an entertainer, God just gives you this bright light, this amazing aura around you. People just want to know what you are doing, it's just one of your gifts. Whether you use it or not is up to you.

PS: I've always felt that "It" is also the thing that you know when it's not there. I see the difference between a wrestler, and someone who'd like to be a wrestler. Desire doesn't always mean ability.

DM: Well some of your best top-notch draws were not the best athletes in the world. They actually were pretty crappy. It's not even about that. I wasn't a good wrestler, I was pretty much shit. I just knew how to hide it and I have a lot of presence, I have a very distinct character. And I understand it because I come from an acting background. So I was able to hide my inabilities a lot through that. The other thing I always had going for me - I have this amazing gift of knowing where I am in the ring at all times. I just knew where I was, I would get up and know where I was. It was good for me because I could lead it, I could be a ring general, in a sense, if we get lost. I always had that confidence that I would be able to get it back together. Again, it's like I said, it's just something that you are given. You can't learn that, it's either you know it or you don't. Getting back to what you were saying, I also believe that "It" if you understand it and you possess it, you are able to turn it on and off also. If you truly have "It", you know what it feels like when it's on. It's a feeling and you should be able to turn it on and off.

Beauty comes from within also, I don't mean to that make sound like a clich´┐Ż, but I think if you are happy and peaceful with who you are inside, a lot of that comes out and I think right now with my work, Wrestlers Rescue, I feel like a better person. I was talking to Jim Ross the other day. We were talking about Wrestlers Rescue, and I said I feel like the last 13 years of my life happened because this is really what my career was. This is really where I'm supposed to be. This is what I was meant to do. All that was getting credibility, gaining exposure, make friendships, do good business. Learn. I never got caught up in all that, got caught up in the evils of the industry. Which, Thank God! Why? Why not me? Why didn't I? I think that was just part of the bigger plan for me, the reason I'm on Earth. My schooling, my college - now here's my real career. I love the work we are doing here at Wrestlers Rescue, it's very fulfilling and I feel the most at peace with career today than when I was headlining Pay Per Views. I feel more fulfilled today than I did then and it's kinda crazy, because I don't get paid for what I do now. But this is an act of love. Most people don't make a lot of money. Most people walk away broke, or with not enough to live the rest of their lives. It really is a work of love.

PS: Speaking of Wrestlers Rescue - Tell me how it came to be.

DM: After I was released from WWE, I had a lot of life changing situations occur. I was released, so you're in this world 275 days a year then oh, that's not there anymore. I like to call it the downward spiral that occurs. What happens is, you have been within your walls for so many years. You're with the same people every day, you communicate about the same things. Then you get thrown out into what I call the Loser World. Then you're like "Where do I go? What do I do for a job? I don't know what to talk about other than wrestling, I guess I better start watching current events." You just don't know how to communicate. "Where do I fit?" At the same time I was pregnant. I was going through all those and the one thing I made my living from - my body - I didn't have any more. I was pregnant. Because of the excess dieting all those years, my body was holding everything I ate. I think that is called starvation mode. So I gained 85 pounds with my son. I was 218 pounds with my son. So here I am pregnant, I don't even know where I fit in this world, now I don't even know where I fit in this body. I was really depressed. I went through a big crisis. The downward spiral I called it. So then what happened was, I started to pick up my pieces, my hormones calmed down, and then I decided that maybe I needed to feel more like my old self. I went and watched wrestling. I hadn't watched wrestling since I had been released. I hadn't talked to anybody. I was talking with Ivy a few weeks ago and she made the best comment in the world because I was feeling that. She said "I had to divorce wrestling for awhile" and I said "You know what? That is a perfect word." You have to divorce it, you have to walk away, there's no dipping your toes in it for a while. You have to divorce it, to kinda fit back into real life, cause you can't dabble. So I divorced wrestling for a while, then I said "You know, I just don't feel like myself." I was depressed. So then I said "Let me start taking some appearances."

So I started taking some appearances here and there, seeing some old friends and I guess a couple of years had gone by at this point, where I was gone. You just saw people aging, some people had died, some friends have passed. A lot of changes, you see a big change when you step away for a while. I saw a lot of the veterans I grew up watching, veterans that really took the time to teach me my business or gave me their business just really deteriorating quickly. I remember seeing Iron Sheik at a show and he was being wheeled to the bathroom in a wheelchair, by his agent. And I looked at him and said "Sheiky, where you going?" And he said "I'm going to the toilet, watch my gimmicks so no one steals them." And at first the wrestler in me chuckled, but then I'm like, wait a minute - he's in a wheelchair because he needs a double knee replacement. There's something wrong with that. He's not in a wheelchair because there's no cure, he's in a wheelchair because he doesn't have health insurance and his knees are now garbage because of the business he chose. Everyone says he has his issues and does his things, and people question if he has addictions or not and I don't know, I never saw them so I don't know. But whatever his demons are, his knees are not a trick. He's not in a wheelchair because of them, he's in a wheelchair because of professional wrestling. Do you know what I am saying?

PS: Oh yeah, definitely.

DM: I just thought "Oh my God this is ridiculous." I would see things like this every time I'd go out. And I was just finally - "Enough!" You know, at this point, I was depressed, I felt like I still had more to offer the business because I left when I was on top. I chose to have my children. I felt like I had put all this time in and you know, I had never really made a difference. People that love the business want to say "At the end of the day when I am done with my career, did I change the business in a positive way?" And you want the answer to be - yes. Because if the answer is no, you pretty much gave away your whole life for nothing. Because you really don't get paid that much. So you at least want to be "Okay, I contributed in a positive way. I changed something I loved." So at this time, I wasn't able to do that, I couldn't say I had changed the business in a positive way. I mean did I contribute to it? Absolutely. Did I change it? No. So I decided that since I couldn't contribute to my industry in the ring in a positive way, didn't mean that I couldn't do it out of the ring. I saw the things I didn't like, and I wasn't looking to go back to work cause I was 8 to 10 years older than the other girls. I got my break late in life, I was always older than the other girls. So, you know, most likely not going back. I don't wanna go back and be away from my children 300 days a year. So I said "You know what, I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna take the risk that needs to be taken, I don't ever have to worry about them hiring me again if I piss someone off because I'm not going back anyway." So I did it. I went to the bookstore, I bought some non-profit books on how to put it together, organization, fund-raising, and I read and I started with a mission statement. You have to start somewhere. You can't go somewhere if you don't have a direction, you're not gonna get there. So I started with that and we just continue to work off from that. Today I am so proud of our foundation. It has grown to be this immense place. We are getting ready to launch our healthcare program, for all of wrestling. Which has never been done, ever in the history of wrestling. That was our five year goal.

PS: Now before you continue with that, am I wrong in feeling that while this is an absolutely fantastic organization to have, that it is shameful that the business on the large end of it doesn't already have it?

DM: You know, I get asked that a lot. I feel bad, and I know where you are aiming at, you're aiming at the WWE. Poor Vince, honestly. Because he is last man standing and because he is so super successful in his business, he gets the backlash of a lot of things that are wrong in this business. And a lot of things that are wrong in this business, he didn't necessarily create. Now, I'm not saying he doesn't get the blame for anything, I'm not one of those people who say "No, no, Vince is great!" I'm just saying what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. To blame Vince that in the entire history of the industry there was never health insurance. You know, well, that is just the way it is.

PS: I'm not implying, I guess what I'm implying is, he surely cannot be blamed for the history of wrestling having no health insurance, but in the year 2010 he has had ample opportunity to be part of the solution and has chosen not to be.

DM: Well, we're independent contractors, and as independent contractors they don't have to supply it, and if they do supply it, you're no longer an independent contractor, you're an employee. So there are a lot of guidelines that need to be followed, and for whatever his reasons he wants to keep everyone independent contractors. I'm sure there's many reasons and I'm not going to think on what they are because I'm not in his head. But, if he were to provide health insurance, there is a checklist of items that if "X" amount of items are done by a company that says you are an independent contractor you can fight that independent contract and be called an employee. Then you are under a whole other set of guidelines, laws, and jurisdictions, a whole bunch of rules and regulations. If you were to supply insurance, even insurance they can buy with their own money - that would be one of things on the checklist. It's a whole other argument - should he make us employees? Should he keep us independent contractors?

PS: Also, that's a question for Vince, and not for you.

DM: Yes, I can't answer that. That is a question I can't personally answer because I don't know. We just did an interview with ESPN and I said I really feel bad for Vince, and believe me Vince and I have had our days in the past. I feel bad for him and his family because he is last man standing, because he is a successful business man, he gets the backlash of everything. When I was talking with some of the representatives, I feel really bad, but unfortunately, this is what happens. You know what, we can sit and say shoulda, coulda, woulda, but now we're here and we have it. So no one has to worry anymore.

PS: So, have you gotten any reaction from the corporate end of WWE?

DM: Oh yeah, they are working very well with us. They are very cordial, very responsive. When I call the office for any reason - I need to discuss different issues, there's always a phone call back, I'm not passed off to the assistant, you know what I am saying?

PS: Yes.

DM: People are picking up the phones, we talking with each other and dealing with things to make the business better. I was also informed the other day when the tests results came out for Andrew Martin, "Test," had protein build-up in the brain plus compression syndrome. I don't know if you know about that, it's the thing they test a football player for.

PS: Yes.

DM: Okay, so now they're going after the wrestlers. What they are saying is that all this trauma to the brain, not just concussion, trauma, bumps, banging around the head, creates this protein called "Pau." "P-A-U" When you get a build-up of this protein, it starts making brain cells dysfunctional. Eventually, these dysfunctional brain cells die, so you are losing brain cells. There is a whole list of things that happen, loss of memory, short term memory, irritation, insomnia, addiction, alcohol addictions, depression, manic depression - it's a whole list of things that happen as it progressively gets worse. Paranoia, hallucinations, and this is what has happened to a lot of football players. They've already found twenty football players with this protein. The institute that I just signed on with, Brain Research Institute, I actually signed on their board of directors. They are the ones who did testing on Chris Benoit and Andrew Martin's brain. Both of them were found to have Pau. Now, both of them were also found to have brains of a man double their age with Alzheimer's. Pretty sad.

PS: To say the least.

DM: It's really sad. I just spoke to a doctor we have on board, the doctor that actually discovered the protein that is doing this to brain. There is a group that is going to congress and they are fighting for the rights of the players, the athletes. They are trying to find a preventative. They are trying to find testing to tell that athletes are at this level and it could go either way. Do you want to continue? What the risks are, and you really need to stop.

PS: When you come to the athletes involved, be they on the football field or in the ring, Is there a resistance to have this looked into? Because as life threatening as indeed it can be, getting checked for it, in their eyes can be perceived as a threat to their income.

DM: Yes, and that's why it's an anonymous list. They have the entitlement to do it anonymously and they also get the results. The company doesn't. They're in control of it.

PS: It's a tough situation.

DM: Yeah. There are battles we are fighting one by one, battles that aren't won yet. Battles we're talking about right now. They do know about the research. They do know about the protein. They do know the effects it is having on the brain. They do know the symptoms. Right now they're continuously testing brain tissue from athletes. Basketball players, football players, wrestlers, any kind of athlete. Hockey players. If they want to donate their brain tissue after they pass, the Brain Institute is amazing. They're making great strides in helping the future athletes. They don't need the whole brain, only a small portion of it, a sample. I mean the whole brain would be great. I donated my brains, I'm just like what am I going to do with it? If it can help someone else, why not?

PS: Well let's hope they don't take you up on that one for many, many years to come.

DM: Let's hope it's really smart by then. I just think it's amazing work and you know if the errors of the ways today with a little research and science, which is amazing, can help somebody's family down the road, why wouldn't you? I just don't understand that concept, why wouldn't you donate your brain as an athlete? Especially knowing what you have to endure to be at that level. Walk away and have brain damage.

PS: I think it's great that you are setting up framework that is going to help generations to come of wrestlers as well as generations that have been.

DM: We have to lead by example. So now we are going to have a financial advisory board put in place as well as the healthcare. We pay doctor bills. We don't give money to individuals. People in desperate times do desperate things. So we actually get the bills and pay the doctors. There are so many ways people can help and it's not just dollar wise. If someone has memorabilia in their house - and it doesn't have to be wrestling. We have celebrities who are alumni and we have a full-fledged booking agency. I just booked Mick Foley for a Bar Mitzvah. When the talent get booked through us we, get ten percent donation back. It's great for anyone. Wrestling promoters they're hiring, hire through us. That is a great way for giving back without taking money out of your pocket. If you have memorabilia sitting around your house, please donate it if you're not using it. Let us put it where you want it. There's always cash donation. I was talking with them last night and they said that Monday Night Raw has an average over three million viewers. Could you imagine if we had a commercial that said if everyone gave a dollar that has been entertained by the programming you've seen tonight? We'd be three million dollars richer. And it's a dollar.

So, there are many ways of contributing. Oh, this I would love for you to put out there. If you go to our website, we have something that we are giving out to the fans, it's called a discount prescription card. If you don't have insurance, it's free. You can download it off our website and print it. Or you can ask for one. It tells you how to submit a request for a plastic one. It gives you anywhere from 25 to 70 percent off of prescriptions, and every time someone uses it, we get a quarter back to our cause. We are giving it to anyone that wants it, you can download the card off our website. A friend of mine used it the other day for her dad. He has a very reputable health insurance program, and he asked the pharmacist which one would be cheaper, and ours was. She had a prescription that was two hundred and thirty dollars, and ended up paying only twenty six dollars!

PS: Wow, great!

DM: It was actually eight dollars less than what his plan would have charged him. So even if you have health insurance, take it because you don't know which one is going to be cheaper. There is a lot of information, it can be over the counter medication, not just prescriptions, and there are a lot of discounts. So anyone interested, definitely just go on there and take it, it's a great way of giving back. You can just use it and it gives us a quarter back every time you get your prescription filled. And you save money!

PS: Cool. So everyone wins.

DM: We also have a travel agency that we bought. It's the same discount you would get through any of your other big agencies like Expedia and all those other big online travel sites. Same prices, and anytime you book through us, we get six percent back. All you need to do is go to wrestlersrescue.org and it has a button that says "Travel." You just book your travel and it does a search of which one is cheaper and all that. Same thing you see on the internet on any other travel agency site, and we have six percent back! It's got car rentals and everything. These are all ways that you can help us and not really take money out of your pocket.


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