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Brian Christopher Was Another Victim of the Wrestling Machine

While it’s certainly a cleaner, more sober place than it has been, pro wrestling is still a culture which struggles with the legacy of drugs, booze, and wild living.
Screen capture via WWE Network

The death of Brian Christopher on Sunday, at a young 46 years of age, elicited the curious, queasy mix of shock and jaded expectation which only pro wrestling deaths can. Pro wrestling kills, and while it’s certainly a cleaner, more sober place than it has been, it’s still a culture which struggles with the legacy of drugs, booze, and wild living as multipliers on the effects of lifetimes of bad joints, concussions, and broken bones.


You undoubtedly remember him. Christopher was one part of Too Cool, wrestling as Grandmaster Sexay with Scotty 2 Hotty, during the height of the Attitude Era of the late 1990s. They were a gimmicky, ironic sendup of white, hip hop obsessed teens who outgrew the narrow confines of that role to become legitimately over. The irony was still there—the crowd’s weren’t roaring for Too Cool for the same reasons they were for the Hardys or Edge and Christian—but the lid had come off. That thing pro wrestling does, where irony and sincerity melt into one another into a new gestalt, happened with Too Cool. Then they added Rikishi to the mix, as an island savage swayed by the power of friendship and dancing, and they rocketed to the moon.

Every now and then, you see an act which doesn’t get the titles to go with how over it is. The prime era Too Cool was like this. They won all of one WWF tag team title, but the pops were loud and consistent. Christopher made a good living on the then WWF’s tag team circuit. What more could you really want?

A lot, as it turns out. Lost in the hazy Limbo of basic cable is the fact that Brian Christopher was a solid, sometimes spectacular, wrestler in the USWA prior to coming to the WWF. The USWA might best be thought of as the last of the territories, formed when the CWA (home of Jerry Lawler and where the iconic Andy Kaufman angle took place) with the Von Erich dominated WCCW. The USWA never took off the way owner Jerry Jarrett thought it would, but it offered a last flourishing of the old Southern style of brawls and blood-and-guts realism.


Christopher was a big part of it. The old timers couldn’t carry a territory anymore, being in their 40s and early 50s by the time the USWA got off the ground. It was left to a new generation and the children of the old to carry the torch as best they could, against changing tastes and the financial stranglehold of Ted Turner and Vince McMahon. Brian Christopher was one of those children of the old vanguard. He wasn’t actually Brian Christopher, but Brian Lawler, son of Jerry Lawler. He wrestled hard blood feuds with the son of the other big Tennessee wrestling personality, Jeff Jarrett, whose father was Jerry Jarrett. They gave their all, and it wasn’t quite enough. The WWF started sniffing around in the early 90s, the elder Lawler went to become a color commentator, and the rest fell into place.

Psychoanalyzing a relationship between two people you don’t know, from a distance of 20+ years and a thousand miles, isn’t really doable, but this much is clear: the vagaries of the relationship between Jerry Lawler and Brian Christopher weighed heavily on the latter. It was never directly mentioned that he was Jerry Lawler’s son while they were in the USWA, seeming from the outside to be some mix of Christopher trying to avoid any appearance of nepotism and Lawler insisting his son make it on his own. Brian Lawler was just Brian Christopher, then Grandmaster Sexay.

The kayfabe refusal to acknowledge his parentage went right on into his WWF career, often to hilarious effect. Jerry Lawler would talk Christopher up on commentary. Brian Christopher was the greatest tag team wrestler ever, the greatest light heavyweight ever, the best looking man on the roster. Jim Ross would hint something was going on and Lawler would shut up or beg it off as impartial commentary.


It was all a little weird, as humorous as it was. When the WWF became WWE and finally did acknowledge that Brian Christopher was Brian Lawler, son of Jerry Lawler, it was uncomfortable and jagged. In 2011, Christopher was brought back to WWE during a feud between Lawler and Michael Cole.

It was an uncomfortable segment, one of the most shameful things WWE has done this decade. Christopher came out to little reaction, dressed in jeans and with blonde hair. He danced to his music, then to silence. He cut a promo stating that his legendary father didn’t want children, that he’d been abandoned by The King. Lawler replied that he was glad Christopher didn’t use the Lawler name because he was ashamed of his son. It broke down from there, with the audience sitting in fidgety silence until Jim Ross came to the ring to stand up for his former broadcast partner.

The point of pro wrestling is to feel just a little too real, but WWE’s penchant for bringing up family drama and making fodder of it always sucks. When Lawler looked his son right in the eyes and compared him to Charlie Sheen, it felt deeply wrong.

It felt so improper because Brian Christopher had problems with drugs and alcohol. The only reason he had to return to WWE was because he was released in the first place. In 2001, he was busted bringing drugs over the Canadian border. That was it for him. He returned to the indies and sporadic WWE appearances much later, including the aforementioned disaster of an exchange with his father. His last WWE appearances were in 2014.

He hanged himself in a jail outside of Memphis, where he’d been since a July 7 arrest for DUI. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating, though it will likely remain a suicide and whatever series of events led here, whatever condemnation of a carceral state which lets people rot for a month rather than getting them help, will disappear unexamined. His demons caught up with him, just as they caught up with so many children of famous wrestlers: the Von Erichs, Reid Flair, Luna Vachon, nearly Jeff Jarrett. It happens more rarely, but wrestling still eats its young.