William Moody, the man known to wrestling fans as Paul Bearer, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 58.
For those of you who didn’t follow the WWE, Paul Bearer was a rotund, pasty-faced manager with a high pitched, quivering voice who, for many years, served as the yin to The Undertaker’s yang. While Undertaker scowled in the background, Bearer would cut animated promos talking about how “my Undertaker” was going to destroy whoever his next opponent happened to be.
Just picturing him on the mic brings a smile to my face. It was a large than life persona and there are many great moments I remember involving Paul Bearer. Perhaps my favorite was when he feuded with Undertaker, introducing the world to Kane.
Kane’s debut, which happened during the Undertaker-Shawn Michael “Hell in a Cell” match at the Bad Blood pay-per-view in 1997, involved the lights going out, pyrotechnics exploding and Kane emerging bathed in a eerie red light. And there with him every step of the way while he marched down to the ring and ripped the cage door right off of its hinges was Paul Bearer, shrilly shouting about the destructive powers of his son/new protege Kane.
But even more than his stints managing The Undertaker, Kane and Mankind or the brief time when he had his own mini-talk show called “The Funeral Parlor,” I think what I’ll miss most is simply living in a world in which Paul Bearer existed.
I’ve seen plenty of terrible wrestling gimmicks come and go over the years (like TL Hopper the wrestling plumber, Skinner the alligator hunter and Mantaur the whatever the hell Mantaur was supposed to be), but the fact that Moody’s real-life experience working into a funeral home could translate into a highly entertaining two decade career as a shrieking character named Paul Bearer is sort of amazing. By any logic, it should have been just another fail gimmick added to the pile, but with Moody behind the mic, somehow it worked.
His existence harkens back to a simpler time when a ghastly pale man in a black suit clutching an urn could rant in a falsetto while a hulking bruiser in a sleeveless black shirt, purple gloves and a top hat stood behind him. Not only did this ridiculous conceit work, but somehow they were the most feared competitors in the entire WWF.
On WWE TV, Paul Bearer was buried in cement in 2004, then was resurrected in 2010 for another brief run that ultimately culminated in him being locked in a freezer, never to be seen again. Such is life in the WWE. Had Moody lived, in a few years Bearer would have inevitably emerged once again to make shrilly threats at whoever stood in his way.
Death is in inevitable part of life. It’s a scary, unavoidable fate that will eventually claim us all. But for any child of the 80s who grew up watching wrestling, Paul Bearer and The Undertaker helped to make death a little less scary. An unseen, icy arm of Death is one thing, but the gloved, tattooed arm of The Undertaker is another. It was comforting living in a world where death could be conquered with a tombstone piledriver and even being buried in concrete only meant you were off TV for a few years.
Paul Bearer’s black hair, black suit look may have been monochromatic, but the world is certainly less colorful without William Moody in it. While others may cope with death by turning to the words of John Keats, Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson, the most apropos words of poetry when coping with Paul Bearer’s death come from the man who spent the most time by his side, The Undertaker.
When forming the Ministry of Darkness, The Undertaker said:
They lay me down in a grave as if it would be my final resting place … filling it with the Earth’s rotting soil. They tried to destroy me, wishing I would just go away. But what is it? What have they really done? The simple minds of mortal men … they sent me back to the place that is my origin. Destroy me? The more they try, the more powerful I’ve become. And now, I’ve risen from my Earthy grave and I will slay the ones I once saved.
William Moody may have passed away, but Paul Bearer can never die. He is alive and well in the hearts of wrestling fans. For now, he simply rests in peace.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org