Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: The Death of Paul Bearer

Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: The Death of Paul Bearer – WWE, 2004

History


The Undertaker has been a WWF/E fixture since his debut in 1991. Almost since that debut, he had Paul Bearer by his side to serve as his manager.

All of that changed in 1996. Bearer was managing the Undertaker when he and Mankind took part in a Boiler Room Brawl match at Summerslam 1996. The goal of the match was to fight from the boiler room (Mankind’s “home”) and make your way to the ring where Bearer waited with the Undertaker’s urn. In a shocking moment, Bearer clocked the Undertaker with the urn and presented it to Mankind, making him the winner of the match.

By 1997, Bearer forced the Undertaker to align with him by threatening to reveal a secret about the Undertaker’s past. When Undertaker finally broke free, Bearer kept his promise and introduced Kane. Bearer returned to the Undertaker’s side the next year as he joined the Ministry of Darkness.

In 2001, Bearer had been working for the WWF’s website (having left his managing career) when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Bearer left the WWE the next year and retired in order to care for his wife.

Meanwhile, the Undertaker had reinvented himself in 2000 as the American Badass, who had left the zombie accoutrements behind and was now a biker. However, at the 2003 Survivor Series, Vince McMahon defeated the Undertaker in a Buried Alive match with help from Kane.

Soon signs began to appear around the WWE that targeted Kane. A match was signed between the two for Wrestlemania. There the Undertaker returned in his traditional Deadman garb with Bearer back at his side.

Everything was going fine until the May 27th Smackdown. During a match with Scotty 2 Hotty, Booker T (who was feuding with the Undertaker at the time) was startled by lightning striking the four posts of the ring. Later in the night the Dudley Boyz grabbed Bearer and stuffed him into a car trunk.

The next week saw the Undertaker squaring off against Booker (who had made perfectly clear earlier in the night that he had nothing to do with Bearer’s abduction). After Undertaker chokeslammed Booker, Paul Heyman came out. As Undertaker prepared to chokeslam Heyman, the Titantron lit up with the Dudleys standing in front of a door. They told Undertaker that Bearer was behind the door, and it would be in Bearer’s best interests if Undertaker listened. Undertaker released Heyman, who gave him one week to decide whether or not he would join them.

The next episode showed footage of Undertaker trying to make up his mind, and then more video of Heyman telling the Dudleys to keep an eye on Bearer while he went to get Undertaker’s answer alone.

As the show ended, Heyman made his way out to the ring. When Undertaker joined him, Heyman reached into a duffel bag over his shoulder and pulled out the urn. Undertaker saw it and dropped to one knee in his traditional pose.

The next week the Dudleys defeated Rico and Charlie Haas to win the tag team titles. Following that, Heyman came out to address the Undertaker situation. He called Bearer both Undertaker’s weakness and conscience, and set up a situation for the Great American Bash. Bearer would be placed in a glass crypt and cement would fill the crypt up to Bearer’s chin. He said he would make sure Undertaker did the right thing, or he would fill the crypt to the top, killing Bearer.

A week later the Undertaker was set to take on John Cena. Before that, we saw Heyman and the Dudleys in the back, where Heyman again told Bubba Ray and D-Von to trust him.

Undertaker fell victim to Cena’s Five Knuckle Shuffle and F-U in the main event, then sat up and chokeslammed Cena. The referee was down, so Undertaker wrapped Cena’s signature chain around his fist and clocked Cena. As the unconscious Cena fell to the mat, Undertaker noticed the referee was stirring. For effect, Undertaker hit a Tombstone Piledriver on Cena for the win. Afterward Undertaker knelt again before Heyman and the urn.

That brought us to the Great American Bash, where Undertaker was set to take on the Dudleys. Paul Bearer was already strapped in a tank beside a waiting cement truck. Undertaker climbed into the ring and was told that the “right thing” to do was to lie down. Undertaker did so as the cement began pouring in on Bearer. As Bubba Ray gloated and prepared to cover Undertaker, suddenly Undertaker grabbed the Dudleys to prepare to chokeslam them. The brawl continued as Heyman started the cement pouring again while Bearer kept saying that the Undertaker would save him. In the end, Undertaker tombstoned D-Von for the win.

Afterward, Heyman started back for the cement truck when lightning struck to force him away. As Heyman ran for the back, Undertaker walked back to the truck and knelt before Bearer in his traditional pose. He then said that he had no other choice, and pulled the lever to finish filling the chamber with cement as the show closed.

On Smackdown, there was an epilogue to the Bearer saga as it was announced that Bearer had suffered severe internal injuries and would likely not be seen again. The Undertaker’s feud with Paul Heyman continued.

Analysis

At the time I was completely against this angle, and now that I’ve looked back at it I still am. While the Undertaker was moving away from requiring Paul Bearer by his side (and I can certainly understand Bearer’s wishes to retire) there were numerous other ways to move him off-screen.

Look at the other managers who have simply disappeared over the years. Sunny. Sable. Slick. Brother Love. Jimmy Hart. Classy Freddie Blassie. Elizabeth. Sensational Sherri. Mr. Fuji. (and these are simply WWF/E managers!) All of those have left the main show (although they have returned from time to time). None of those characters had to be killed. What made Bearer so special?

Also, although to be fair the WWE did backtrack and say that Bearer had lived, the original sight the WWE fans had was of Bearer being murdered by being buried in concrete. They were understandably outraged by the idea of a character (although they knew it was storyline) being murdered on live television.

Let’s face it. Wrestling has, at times, been compared to a soap opera. On soap operas, characters get killed and resurrected all the time. However, soap operas do not have a history of hiding the fact that they’re not “real”. (Understand, I’m only referring to the storyline interaction between wrestlers in that previous sentence. Anyone who thinks that in-ring work is not real, is only deluding themselves.) In addition, most fans do want the show to be real. They want to relax and watch the hero destroy the villain.

This took that to a whole new level. While we had seen fans react sternly before (such as the Memphis police station being flooded with calls after Eddie Gilbert ran over Jerry Lawler in the TV studio parking lot on live television), we would also see the company react immediately (such as USWA putting Lawler on screen later in the show to ask fans to stop calling the police so he could handle things himself).

This crossed a very uncomfortable line, and no lesson was learned at Titan Towers. The same line was crossed again soon thereafter, as the WWE decided to start airing videos of Tim White committing suicide.

Where are they now?

The Undertaker remains with the WWE on the Smackdown brand. He is currently the World champion.

Paul Bearer (now going by Percy Pringle III), was released by the WWE in April of 2005. However, in June, he also signed a Legend’s contract, which would allow the WWE to continue marketing items with Paul Bearer’s name and likeness. He also does autograph signings and appears at the occasional WWE show.

Pringle is not finished with wrestling, however. He has started his own independent promotion in southern Alabama known as Gulf South Wrestling. He also works full-time managing a funeral home in the same area.

Tags: ,