If ever there was a man that fitted the phrase “tough as old boots” it was Terry Funk. Born in Hammond, IN, in 1944, Funk’s in-ring career lasted for more than 50 years. As a member of the legendary Funk wrestling family, the former NWA Heavyweight champion is perhaps best known for his wars with Mick Foley in WWE’s “Attitude Era” and as the go-to henchman in some of the ’80s and ’90s most popular action films.
M&F joins millions of fans around the world in paying tribute to the “Funkster,” who passed away at the age of 79.
Undoubtedly, Terry Funk was one of the most rugged competitors to ever step inside the squared circle. Born into a wrestling family, his dad, Dory, was a wrestler and promoter and so Terry, along with his younger brother Dory Jr soon found a home within the business. Before that, Terry had competed in amateur wrestling and football but would make his pro wrestling debut in 1965. In 1975, Funk beat Jack Brisco to lift the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and held on to that title for more than a year. He was a more than competent grappler but it is perhaps Funk’s charisma and flair for wild brawls that excited fans the most, particularly in Japan where he mixed it up with the likes of Abdullah The Bitcher, Stan Hensen, and Bruiser Brody. While Funk later retired on several occasions, in true wrestling tradition, those retirements were usually short lived.
Terry Funk was one of pro wrestling’s most important innovators
The Funkster wrestled in WWE from 1985-1986, and WCW from 1989-1990, but in 1994, he took things to another level by entering the International Wrestling Association of Japan’s “King of the Death Matches” tournament. It was a gruelling affair that involved barbed wire, glass, and even explosives. Funk made it all the way to the final, losing to his protégé, Mick “Cactus Jack” Foley in the end. But as VHS tapes of the tournament made it across the globe, Funk’s status as an innovator was cemented, leading to memorable runs with ECW and WWE during it’s more violent “Attitude Era.” While Funk returned to WWE in 1997 under the “Chainsaw Charlie” gimmick, he later went by his real name, and in one of hundreds of “did that really happen” moments from Funk, he was launched off the elevated WWE Monday Night RAW stage along with his now partner, Foley, while they were locked inside of a dumpster. It remains one of the most dangerous stunts ever performed on a professional wrestling television show, but it was Funk’s willingness to give his body in the name of entertainment that made him one of the most adored grapplers in the game.
Funk was also respected by his peers, with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin among the many icons of the business that have professed their admiration for his work. Ric Flair has also credited Funk as being a huge influence on his career. Of course, the love and respect that he garnered wasn’t limited to professional wrestling; Funk’s magnetic personality and enthralling mannerisms were a perfect fit for Hollywood.
Terry Funk had Hollywood in a headlock
In 1975, Funk sent in an audition tape that found it’s way to Sylvester Stallone before the casting of the 1978 movie, Paradise Alley. In the audition video, Funk says he was completely outrageous, threating to hit Stallone over the head with a cement brick. Sly loved it, and would later use his skills for several of his other movies including “Over The Top” (1987) and “Rocky V” (1990). Funk is also remembered for his role as a bouncer in “Road House” (1989) with Patrick Swayze and “The Ringer” (2005) starring Johnny Knoxville.
The cause of death was not immediately released, but it is understood that Funk had been in bad health toward the end. Fortunately for all of us, his legacy will live on thanks to the many unforgettable moments that he gave us both in the ring and on the screen. During Funk’s acceptance into WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2009, Funk said “They say you’re as old as you feel. Well, I feel one hundred and five and I’m ready to go! Don’t bury me on the long prairie, no Siree. I want to go to heaven in a wrestling ring, and I’m going to park that ring just beyond the moon, halfway to the stars.” Terry, you were always out of this world!