Thursday, May 8, 2014

Book About JYD Missing One Thing....JYD

 I've come to find that the best books on the topic of pro wrestling are those written by the talent themselves or at least with their involvement.  Some of the stories may be stretched and facts a bit muddled by the passage of time, but that's part of wrestling's charm.  Sadly, many of wrestling's most colorful personalities and stories are forever lost to that same concept of time.  Occasionally an author will come along and be able to salvage some of these lost treasures.  That is exactly what I was hoping for when I opened up "The King of New Orleans" by Greg Klein.

The basis of the life of the late Sylvester Ritter is already known by many fans.  Ritter was, for all intents and purposes, your average territorial wrestler.  Once he was given the gimmick of "The Junkyard Dog," he became an undeniable superstar.  With average wrestling skills but an unreal amount of charisma and an amazing ability to connect with fans, JYD took Mid-South Wrestling, and later the WWF, by storm.

As has been the case with success in countless walks of life, the downward spiral came for Ritter just as fast as did the ascension to the top.  Drug abuse and other factors that come packaged with fame and the fast life took the Junkyard Dog from the bright lights of WrestleMania to the dimly lit armories much faster than should have been, ultimately contributing to his death just a decade after leaving the spotlight.

I'm not saying that the two paragraphs above summarize the entire story of Sylvester Ritter as told in "King of New Orleans," but it's not far off.  When I began the book, I kept waiting for the personal stories told by those who knew him.  I was expecting tales from Ritter's rise to fame and maybe even nuggets about how he handled going from the second banana behind Hulk Hogan in the mid-1980s to an almost forgotten undercarder just a few years later.  None of that was here.

Perhaps I was expecting too much, as the books subtitle is in fact "How The Junkyard Dog Became Professional Wrestling's First Black Superstar."  Maybe the author never intended to delve too far into the WWF's "Grab Them Cakes" version of JYD.  But even if the intention was just to chronicle his rise to fame in New Orleans, there just isn't enough about Junkyard to make an intimate account of his life.  I will say that a good history of Mid-South and UWF Wrestling is provided.  These segments seem to take up the majority of the book and, at times, rarely seem to mention Ritter at all.

Because of very little in the way of interviews done for the purpose of this book (many quotes are borrowed from publications by Bill Watts, Ted DiBiase, and other sources), the JYD story almost seems to become a backdrop.  I know for a fact that wrestlers love to talk.  They especially enjoy discussing the old days and their fallen brothers. As colorful a life as he led, I'm sure that Watts and DiBiase aren't the only two living wrestlers who knew JYD well.  And though LaToya Ritter, the daughter who accepted the Junkyard Dog's WWE 2004 Hall of Fame induction, passed away suddenly a few years ago, there have to be other family and friends who could have provided valuable insight.

A very casual fan with an interest in recalling the basic JYD story and various Mid-South Wrestling memories will get something from "The King of New Orleans." Most other types of fans will have already absorbed these facts from other media sources.  The story of an individual who lived an unstructured life as Ritter did is never an easy one to tell, but not impossible.  Unfortunately in the case of the Junkyard Dog, this isn't the book to do it.

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