When I first heard that a new book about wrestling icon, the 16-time world champion, Ric Flair was being published, I was interested, but the news also left me wondering – Why? Flair, had already released an excellent autobiography, “To Be the Man,” which he co-wrote with Keith Elliot Greenburg; that book had been published on July 6, 2004 by WWE Books, and distributed by Simon & Schuster. “To Be the Man” encompassed the early stages of Flair’s attempting to enter the wrestling business, and the rigors of the training regimen he went through prior to his professional debut on December 10, 1972. In the book, there is a great deal of material devoted to the prime years of Flair’s career, where his platinum hair, diamond studded robes, gift of gab on the mic, and his ability to wrestle 60 minute matches, whenever called for, made him the most recognizable sports entertainer on the planet – apart from Hulk Hogan’s meteoric rise to fame in the 1980s. As interesting a subject, when it comes to wrestling, as Flair is, I wondered if there was enough to warrant a second book, covering the years 2004 through his retirement in 2008. After learning what the book would cover, and that it wouldn’t just be about Ric, I knew there was no need to speculate if there would be enough material.
“Second Nature: The Legacy of Ric Flair and the Rise of Charlotte” was published by St. Martin’s Press this past September. The book is authored by Ric Flair, real name Richard Morgan Fliehr – Charlotte Flair, real name Ashley Elizabeth Fliehr, and author, Brian Shields. The book is written in sections, and the first part deals with Ric Flair’s retirement from WWE in 2008, and the emotional whirlwind of a year he had leading up to it, as well as the aftermath. The entire episode from when he was first informed that he would no longer be working as an in-ring competitor, to his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, is full of behind-the-scenes details that should impress even the most jaded of wrestling fans. Flair’s final WWE match took place at WrestleMania XXIV, on March 30, 2008, at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, against Shawn Michaels. Flair states that the next day, when he woke up, he wasn’t in any mood to start the next phase of his life, but instead felt as if he were having a panic attack, as being a professional wrestler was all he had known for decades; he didn’t know what the future held for him. (As an aside: Ric Flair is currently the only two-time inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. The first time he went in as a single competitor, his second induction was as a member of one of wrestling’s most dominant factions ‘The Four Horsemen.’ The Four Horsemen, managed by J.J. Dillon, had changes to their lineup throughout the years, but the original members were Ric Flair, Arn and Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard).
Wrestling is not the only subject that Flair talks about. He is very candid in referencing his short comings outside of the wrestling business. From his own admission, Flair, who has been married four times, was not a good husband, especially to his first two-wives. In addition, until he got older, and started taking a more active role in his younger children’s lives, he was not the best father to his four children, David, Megan, Reid, and Ashley. The desire to be the best wrestler he could be, the money he was making, and the need to live up to the character he was portraying, that was, to quote him: “The Stylin’, profilin’, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ n’ dealin’ son of a gun! – proved to be all-consuming, to the point where when he wasn’t on the road wrestling, he didn’t know how to be a stay-at-home husband and father. According to Flair, he never took a pain pill in his life, and he was never drunk when he was performing in the ring, but when work was over for the day, despite how banged up he might have been, he could not stand to think of just going back to the hotel, watching television, and getting some sleep. He hated to be alone, and regardless of the town he was in, he wanted to be where the action was.
The second part of the book belongs to Ric’s daughter Ashley, better known to wrestling fans as Charlotte. She talks about her upbringing in Charlotte, North Carolina, and even though Ric Flair knocks himself as a father, Charlotte doesn’t hold his antics against him. In fact, most of what she writes about her younger years, in regard to Ric’s parenting, until she was on the verge of graduating from high school, is positive. What might surprise many readers, who are not familiar with her, outside of WWE programming, is that she never had a desire to be a professional wrestler. She was an outstanding athlete growing up, excelling in gymnastics, competitive cheerleading, and volleyball, but wrestling was something she didn’t have an interest in. Charlotte goes so far, as to admit, that when she would watch wrestling as a child and teenager, she found it boring if her father wasn’t involved in the match. Her late brother and best friend, Reid, however, was the one who nudged her toward a career in wrestling, at a dinner that she was attending with him, where his own burgeoning career in the business was being discussed. Unlike Charlotte, Reid always wanted to be a professional wrestler, like their father. He trained hard, worked tirelessly, competed and did well on every amateur level, but, sadly, he had problems with substance abuse that led to his passing away at the age of 25. Reid’s death left both Ric and Charlotte devastated, and had them wondering if they could’ve done more to prevent it.
Charlotte has achieved a great deal of success since breaking into the wrestling business, but she had to earn it the hard way. When she approached WWE about becoming a sports entertainer, she was told in no uncertain terms by WWE Executive Vice-President, Paul Levesque, known in wrestling circles as ‘Triple H,’ that just because she was Ric Flair’s daughter, she wasn’t going to get a free pass to the top. At the time Charlotte was married to a man named Riki, who although college educated, had no ambition or direction in life. Making matters worse, during their one year of marriage, he pulled a gun on her, and on multiple occasions was physically abusive. Two specific occasions stand out to her: One was when he punched her in the head, and was swinging his fists at her like they were in a street fight; another time, he hit her so hard in the ribs, that she had trouble breathing. In interviews, she has spoken about the fact that prior to working on the book, she had never truly dealt with the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband, and that it was difficult for her to open up about her abuse. Charlotte does hope, however, that having written about her own experiences, it will encourage other women to seek out the help of friends and loved ones, and let them know what is going on before it might become too late to get help.
In addition to Ric and Charlotte’s respective sections, the book also covers the untimely death of Reid, and the toll it took on the two of them after his passing. Reid died on March 29, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The cause of his death was a heroin overdose. Furthermore, clonazepam and alprazolam were also found in his system. Reid, from all accounts, was a talented wrestler, but what kept him out of WWE was his issues with substance abuse; twice he excelled at his in-ring performance tryout for the WWE, but both times he failed drug tests and was not given a contract with the company. While Charlotte was devastated by Reid’s death, she put her energy into training, and making the most out of her opportunity with WWE. Conversely, according to Ric, for a solid year, he would wake up in the morning, and be one of the first people at the bar, and one of the last to leave at night. From his own admission, he was drinking himself to death because he could not endure the pain of losing his son. His behavior, combined with past lifestyle choices, would catch up with him in the future, and nearly end his life.
On August 11, 2017, Flair began complaining of stomach pains. His fiancée, Wendy Barlow, rushed him to a hospital in Georgia. Due to years of excessive drinking, Flair’s kidney’s began to shut down, and he was close to having congestive heart failure. On August 14, 2017, he was placed into a medically induced coma, and put on life support, where he would remain for ten days, during which time he underwent surgery to remove a part of his bowel; at the same time doctors inserted a pacemaker into him. After the incident, Flair vowed to never drink again. Unfortunately, I’ve known many people who have made that same promise over the years, in regard to alcohol and smoking, most of them, however, with the exception of a few strong willed individuals, have failed, and need to try multiple times to beat their addictions, some are still trying.
Ric Flair, has provided me countless hours of entertainment over the years, and for the past several years, Charlotte has proven herself a worthy addition to professional wrestling. On a personal note, I remember going to the Nassau Coliseum, in Uniondale, Long Island, with my friend Scott. We had tickets to a WWE house show that wasn’t televised – at the time it was still called WWF. Ric Flair was in the main event, against another wrestler who I loved, Randy Savage. Scott and I had, up until that point in our young lives, never witnessed the title change hands in person, so we were desperate to see Flair win, and for a moment we thought our dream had come true, when Flair’s hand was raised, as the new champion; a second referee, however, came in, to inform the first ref, that Flair had done something underhanded. After all, Flair didn’t get the moniker ‘the dirtiest player in the game’ for nothing, and, within a few short seconds the title was given back to Savage. I think out of the thousands in attendance at Nassau Coliseum, Scott and I, were the only ones disappointed with the reversal; it was a fun night none-the-less. I hope for Ric Flair’s sake, that he has the willpower to beat his addiction.
The informative and well-written “Second Nature: The Legacy of Ric Flair and the Rise of Charlotte” held my interest from start to finish. There is a great deal more contained within the book that I didn’t mention. I’ll let those of you interested in learning more about the Flairs’ highs and lows, read about them yourself.