I never liked the Undertaker, but I always liked Paul Bearer.
I was an NWA kid. I was conditioned not to fear or deride the stupid, but to prefer the serious stuff. Ricky Steamboat with Ric Flair in a double chicken-wing. Abdullah the Butcher and Manny Fernandez nearly bleeding to death in a sombrero match. Texas death bullrope things. WWF TV was for weird kids who preferred stimulus response to content, so guys like the Undertaker didn’t “scare” me. “That’s not a zombie mortician,” I’d think to myself. “That’s Mean Mark from the Skyscrapers. Why’s he wearing purple gloves? This is dumb.” I remembered seeing Paul Bearer as Percy Pringle III in promotions like World Class and Florida and the USWA, but some combination of his ridiculous voice, ridiculous face and ridiculous everything pushed him so far over the top I was willing to accept him for who he was, not what I’d seen him be.
That’s the trick to Paul Bearer, I think. It’s easy to accept him for who he was. The thing you’re going to hear a lot in the wake of his death is that he scared people as a kid. He was the first wrestler who legitimately creeped them out. They remember how weird he was. That’s amazing, right? A guy played a character so well that that character is forever associated with the first instances of fear or confusion in wrestling fans’ lives. At the same time, Paul Bearer and William Moody were totally different. If Undertaker walks by you in an airport and he’s not “The Undertaker,” he’s still the Undertaker. If Bill Moody walks by and his hair is sandy blonde, and he’s wearing sunglasses and a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt or whatever, that’s Bill Moody. HE’S Paul Bearer, sure, and if you took a picture with him you’d say OH MY GOD PAUL BEARER, but … he’s not. Does that make sense?
When I die, I hope to have accomplished something as specific and never-ending as what William Moody did with Paul Bearer. You absolutely CAN NOT forget Paul Bearer. It’s impossible. A man showed up with a big suit and some chalk paint and some black hair dye and made funny voices while holding a flower pot, and it will live forever. That’s the most amazing thing about life — that you can achieve the greatest importance by doing something unimportant better than anyone. I always liked you a lot, Paul Bearer. Thanks for everything you did, and every weird face you made, and every memory that wouldn’t exist without you.
To get an idea of just how unusual a character Paul Bearer was, one need only look at his WWF debut. The Undertaker was first managed by Brother Love after his debut. Love was everything a stereotypical wrestling manager should be: brash, obnoxious, loud, red-faced as if I even need to say it. He was the Southern preacher version of Jimmy Hart, the squealing version of Bobby Heenan, the less armed version of Jim Cornette, though perhaps without the charisma of all three. And on this night, Brother Love was placing the Undertaker under the tutelage of a new manager.
“Brother Bearer” was wide-eyed and quiet, saying only his first name as Brother Love flew into histrionics, having a vision of a defeated Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII. While Brother Love flew off the handle, Paul Bearer stood in silence in the shadow of the massive Undertaker, the mysterious new force that had taken the WWF by storm. The strange segment ended with Paul Bearer saying to the Ultimate Warrior–still quiet, with that high-pitched Southern drawl–“may you rest in peace.”
Of course, William Moody, the man behind Paul Bearer, was capable of playing the loudmouth manager himself; he’d done as much in Florida as “The Bossman” Percival Pringle III alongside the likes of Rick Rude, the Pretty Young Things, and Stunning Steve Austin. But what made Paul Bearer Moody’s most memorable character was the way he broke the mold as both manager and wrestling character. A few spook-show effects, some props, and an altogether different delivery were all it took.
But that’s not giving William Moody himself too much credit. By all accounts, he grew up as a fan, and he took great pride and pleasure in his involvement in the show. The fact that wrestlers from across the country were immediately praising him as a kind-hearted man and and a friend should come as no surprise. And when the red light came on, he never seemed to phone it in, playing helpless victim,mysterious scion, or just creepy fat jerk in equal measure throughout his career. And he nailed it every time. That Undertaker/Kane feud from 2010–with all of its plodding matches and “vegetative state” nonsense–meant a whole lot more the second Uncle Paul showed up and started waving the urn around.
There’ll never be another William Moody, and that’s a shame. On a show filled with muscle-bound freaks of nature and blonde-haired rock stars, a fat mustachioed guy from Alabama set himself apart from the crowd. – Bill Bicknell
Paul Bearer was an amazing character in WWE’s pantheon. He had such an amazing dichotomy from the perspective of a young viewer during his initial run to someone revisiting old footage in the present day. As a young fan, Bearer (And the Undertaker) was a frightening entity, with his ghoulish makeup, shrill, bone-chilling voice, and macabre subject matter. I was even slightly disturbed by an old WWF comic book that featured Bearer murdering the residents of the new neighborhood he had just moved to and grinding them into sausage (Luckily the Big Bossman saved the day, which is probably the only time I ever thought “yay, the Big Bossman is here”). That’s how well William Moody portrayed Paul Bearer; I was scared of a comic book version of him!
Now, though, whenever I watch old footage, I mostly scrutinize Bearer and the Undertaker, looking for one or the other to break down into fits of laughter (Or wonder how either managed to ever remain composed). Since I’m no longer mortified that Bearer will send one of his demonic charges to embalm me while I’m still alive, burn me alive, or simply beat me up in a boiler room, I can appreciate how over the top Moody was. His exaggerated sneers and quavering falsetto (Which of course I imitated as a child and still do as a grown-ish adult) just shows me how much fun Bearer had. I had fun, too, Paul, oh yes. – Jessica Hudnall
For most of yesterday, it seemed like a regular day for most wrestling fans. People were cracking jokes, discussing what they liked or did not like, but all around the wrestling world was pretty mellow. That was until late into the night when news had broke that the man that many have come to know and love as either Paul Bearer or Percival Pringle, William Moody passed away at the fairly young age of 58.
To be entirely honest, this is the first wrestling related death in a good period of time that I was truly shocked and despondent over. Many may think that because of my age and therefore my time as a wrestling fan, I never developed a connection with the iconic character that was Paul Bearer, but that is not true. As I watched this spectacle as a young lad, my father would tell me stories of how Moody was one of his favorites, even before he was introduced into his most famous of roles. While I was watching the Undertaker ride out to the ring on his Harley as “The American Bad-Ass”, I heard tale of episodes of “The Funeral Parlor” and his involvement in the great development that was “The Deadman”.
But, I remember the day when I finally got to witness it for myself. Wrestlemania 20 in Madison Square Garden is memorable for many reasons, some of which I am told to forget. However, my brain refuses to forget when an un-masked Kane was startled by the enthusiastic “Oh Yeeeeeeeeeesssss” that was exclaimed over the loudspeakers. And just like that, Paul Bearer had returned.
His over the top voice and promo work is famous for a reason. The way I see it, Paul Bearer created the perfect escape from the seriousness that many exhibit towards pro wrestling. These days, people can get caught up and focus solely on what is bad, but Bearer was the ultimate cure. The immediate sound of his voice made me smile. I’ve watched him get buried in a glass coffin full of cement after The Undertaker won a handicap match against The Dudley Boys. More recently, I watched him be hauled around by “The Rated R Superstar” Edge, get hit with dodgeballs, covered in pizza, and eventually being shoved off of a ladder by Kane. And never once did I think about how dumb or ridiculous it was, because it was just plain fun. Paul Bearer made it that way, and I can’t thank him enough for it.
He was a great mind who created so many memorable moments for so many fans like my father and myself. Here’s hoping that his knowledge and teachings have inspired enough people that will strive to be as great as he was. Because I have to say, I doubt we will see another one like him.
R.I.P. William “Paul Bearer” Moody (April 10th, 1954-March 5th, 2013) – Eamon Paton
As much as I love the character of Paul Bearer, and still be forever expectant that he’s going to show up on Raw whenever the Undertaker comes back around, I think I’m going to miss his tweets the most. It seems like a blasé, frivolous thing to say, but it’s true. Starting out with warm wishes from him to have a blessed day, every day, was oddly comforting. Even if I don’t believe what he believed, I appreciated that he just wanted to say hey, have a nice day, because I’m a lovely man who cares about other people.
In all of the sentiments I’ve seen shared from people who knew him, or had the chance to meet him, the common thread is that he was always so nice, always willing to give of himself and his time to help people, to make them feel good. There need to be more people like that in the world, and we’re all worse off for losing his humour, his light, and his love from our lives. – Danielle Matheson
I hope he had a chance to tell every single story he had. – Jojo Bravo