In my younger days, I was a more casual fan. I remember very early in life saying "KingKongBundy" (youthfully enunciated as one word) and "Junkyard Dog," but some I recognized visually. Standing in the action figure aisle at the late, great Hills Department Store, I remember pointing out figures of "The Announcer," "The Girl," and "The Farmer." Those were, of course, Mean Gene Okerlund, Miss Elizabeth, and Hillbilly Jim. I never really thought that I'd own them, but I sure did like looking at them. I was a G.I. Joe kid then, and those "big, rubber wrestlers" were positively huge. Especially "The Farmer."
As I became more of a fan, I always enjoyed Hillbilly. The idea of a big, scufflin', man from the hills made sense in wrestling, as it had for decades with various incarnations of the gimmick. No one using the style was really having mat classics, but astute fans know that a "five-star match" isn't always what matters. Larger-than-life characters will always marvel the wrestling audience, and that's exactly what the "country boy" wrestler is designed to do. Hillbilly Jim carried that legacy into the most marketable time in wrestling history, the 1980s.
Hillbilly wrestled until 1990 when his neck finally became a problem for him. He became deeply involved in Coliseum Video's WWF video line and later became one of WWF/WWE's "goodwill ambassadors," especially with their Road to WrestleMania tour. It was because of his relationship with Coliseum Video that I first met the big man. He was, in fact, the second wrestler that I ever met. In 1995, my family happened to be shopping in a local grocery store when we learned that Hillbilly would be appearing in the video rental department that day. I can still remember the mountain of a man making his way down the main aisle of the store. When he arrived at the signing table, I recall that he turned to a nearby poster of fitness celebrity Tony Little and said, "Hey, I know you!" This was before everyone had photo capabilities on them at all times, but I did get some autographs and great memories.
Whereas most legends will say a few words about the event that they're at, I truly believed every word this time. The big man billed from "Mudlick, Kentucky" was having a ball. He spent time with each and every fan who approached him. He even mingled with the crowd in the second half of the show and got into the matches just as much as the fans. There wasn't any "sell the gimmicks and run out the back" like you see with a lot of names. Hillbilly Jim is genuine.
Thinking back, Hillbilly has never been anything but genuine with myself and anyone else that I know who has met him. The fun-loving mountainous grappler? The weekly host of SiriusXM's "Moonshine Matinee?" The happy-go-lucky guy that you saw on Legends House? That's the real Hillbilly Jim. In this day and age, he's the kind of person that we need more of. Heck, even his mantra of "I'm not here for a long time, I'm here for a good time," is something that we all could strive to follow.
Hillbilly Jim may not be in the WWE Hall of Fame, but he sure is in mine. He enjoys people. Kids big and small. He doesn't need to spend time away from home, but he does. Whether it's a fan in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania or New York, New York, Hillbilly has time for them. He makes time. He gives back. If you ask me, that's what makes a true legend.
And just as Hillbilly and I said after we snapped the picture above...