Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hillbilly Jim...Hall of Famer of Humanity

I'm very often asked to share tales of meeting names from the wrestling business. I do have a boatload of them, but I never felt that this blog would be my avenue to share them. Someday, somewhere, I'll assemble them all, but occasionally one slips out. This is an amalgamation of several, all about one man. A man who, in my eyes, often gets lost in the shuffle of legends. He's iconic, yet isn't a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. He was a cast member of WWE Legends House, yet he rarely guests on regular WWE programming. He is Hillbilly Jim.

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.

When you remind kids of the '80s of the grand WWF Wrestling Superstars figure line mentioned above, Hillbilly Jim quickly springs to mind. He was produced very early in the run and was a very lifelike replica. Just as he does in real life, Hillbilly towered above most of the others. He even came with an accessory in the form of his removable hat. Hillbilly also appeared on magazines, programs, trading cards, ViewMaster reels, Hulk Hogan's Rock n' Wrestling cartoon, and much more.

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.

I've met Hillbilly several times since, but it was an appearance just this month that really made me reflect on the wrestling legend. The KSWA (Keystone State Wrestling Alliance) promotion here in Pittsburgh runs their annual fanfest in December. It is one of their biggest shows of the year combined with a Toys For Tots drive and other activities that create a truly festive atmosphere. One or two big names from wrestling's past are always brought in as well. I think all would agree that no legend ever fit the event better than Hillbilly Jim.

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...

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