Interview With the Wrestling Vampire: The Strange Journey of Ian Hodgkinson
How does a kid from Thunder Bay, Ontario end up on a supernatural wrestling telanovela?
On Roberto Rodriguez's supernatural wrestling telanovela Lucha Underground, Ian Hodgkinson—better known by his ring name Vampiro—is one half of the show's announce team while doubling as a Sith Lord-esque mentor to the company's most popular star, an irritable ninja skeleton by the name of Pentagon Jr. During last season's finale the commentator was thrown onto thumbtacks, hit in the face with a tube light, and then set on fire. It's not your average gig, but it's what you'd expect given Hodgkinson's origin story. While Hodgkinson was born in northern Ontario, his love for pro wrestling has taken him through the occult scene of 1980s Los Angeles, on a world tour with shamed pop act Milli Vanilli, through lucha libre superstardom in Mexico, and title matches with The Insane Clown Posse's Juggalo Championship Wrestling. Recently VICE had the chance to sit down with Hodgkinson to talk through the incredible life of one of the squared circle's favorite cult figures.
VICE: You grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, what was that like?
Hodgkinson: Thunder Bay is an industrial town. There is a lot of mining and fishing. Those are really the only types of careers that are available there, unless you get into sports. I grew to around six foot three by [the age of] 11. I was a hockey prodigy. In early high school I got drafted to the OHL, but around that time things started changing. Hockey fell by the wayside. I got flustered being around people. My father had left when I was four, my family didn't have any money, and I was an extremely shy kid. I needed help and I needed an outlet, and hockey didn't seem like it was for me anymore. I found music and pro wrestling, and I fell in love with both. So at around fifteen I saved all of my pennies and I headed for Montreal. The rest, as they say, is history.
How did you get involved with wrestling?
I thought becoming a wrestling character might be a way to combine my love of music and sports. I met the people from International Wrestling in Montreal. One of the first nights in the city I just showed up outside of their building and I begged and pleaded to help. I would do anything they asked if I could just be around the wrestlers. I wouldn't leave them alone. Eventually they told me that if I really wanted to become a pro wrestler I could show up in Ottawa. If I could get there I could come on the road, sleep in the truck, and help set up the ring or sell programs. I did that and I hung around long enough and they put me through the ritual. They would beat me and beat me, but when I still wouldn't go away they realized I was one of them. For years they became my family. When the company folded they told me I could go a couple of different places if I wanted to get experience: Calgary or Mexico. Everyone scared me to death in Calgary, so I decided to try Mexico.
I've heard a rumor that you funded the move with a robbery?
Yeah. Wrestling puts you in touch with a lot of different characters. Because of my size I got a lot of work as a debt collector and that lead to things. I don't really like talking about it too much, because that's not my life anymore and I don't know the statute of limitations. But when you're young and desperate, you do what you need to in order to survive.
You stopped in LA before hitting Mexico, what happened there?
I ended up working as a bodyguard at this club co-owned by Billy Idol, but I was still hustling. I was basically just this street kid around Hollywood. It was just before Guns N' Roses broke, and that whole scene at the time became obsessed with Anne Rice. Everybody got long hair and started wearing cowboy boots. The whole lonely guy, romantic, misunderstood monster thing. I recognized myself in that. There was this small little clique called the Hollywood Vampires, parts of that clique became that band with Aerosmith and Johnny Depp, but I was a part of that scene. Everything came from that moment. I read the book, I was on the boulevard, and Vampiro was born.
Is it true you were a bodyguard for Milli Vanilli?
They offered me huge amounts of cash to babysit two guys and travel around the world. I met the guys, they looked really cool, but they didn't really speak English. The first time I met them they were about to go on stage and they were trying to learn the words to their songs. I knew something was up, but you don't say anything. Girls loved them, it was a job, and it's actually where I picked up my hairstyle for a while.
When you finally made it to Mexico you became an overnight sensation. Why do you think you became so popular?
The reason Vampiro became so famous, and it has absolutely nothing to do with wrestling, was because of the look. For years Mexican politicians didn't allow rock concerts or a lot of outside media from foreigners. When I got there MTV had just hit. It was a culture shock and I was probably the only person living in the country with long hair. I was this tall tattooed vampire with pale skin and people didn't know what to do. I arrived in Mexico City and showed up at the [Mexican wrestling promotion] CMLL Arena looking for work, and I don't think they had ever seen anyone like me before. They put me on television immediately. They called me Vampiro Canadiense [translated to Canadian Vampire]. They thought it was a joke, but I knew how to work the room and the look got over.
The boom was when I started dating a soap opera star. Girls had already shown up at the shows to check me out, I was like an urban legend, but as soon as they saw I was dateable that was it. It was an explosion. I had zero talent as a wrestler, but I had learned a lot in Hollywood and I believed in myself. I don't like to say I was famous, because it's never really been about that for me, but it's true.
I first became aware of you during your time in WCW. During that time you worked closely with punk rock legends The Misfits. How did that relationship happen?
WCW thought I was Mexican, and they were hiring anyone from Mexico that had a different look. You have to remember that the company was run by a bunch of guys from Atlanta. They were hillbilly types. When I showed up they didn't know what to do with me. I had just started listening to the Misfits new album, and I was like...fuck it. I'm going to phone these guys. I called the record label and got put on a conference call with [Misfits founder] Jerry Only. I had this idea that I would get played down to the ring with live music, this fast-paced punk rock song, and wanted to know if they were interested. Jerry loved the idea, and it just so happened that we were in town for Monday Nitro and they were in town for a concert. We met up, got along like old friends, and Doyle painted my face like a skull. We walked into the Nitro production meeting as a group, and The Misfits appeared on Nitro that night.
The Misfits didn't last too long in WCW because of backstage politics with Randy Savage. How did you get involved with the Insane Clown Posse?
There was no backstage politics; Doyle stole the fucking guy's wife! I had read about ICP and I knew their loose affiliation with wrestling. I showed up backstage at Nitro one night and the company said I was going to be working with them. You can tell by the look in the eye and the feel of things whether you're going to be family with someone, and from the very first time I met the guys I knew. We were over huge with everyone, and those dudes are like brothers to me to this day. I was blessed to work with them, and we've done a ton of cool shit together.
Since WCW folded you've had a lot of incredible experiences. You've appeared on a paranormal reality TV show, you've survived cancer, and you've fought against organized crime with independent justice agents The Guardian Angels. There is so much ground to cover in your life. What do you think about when you reflect on all these years?
There are a lot of things in my life to be grateful for, and I think it's just trying to make sure you stay positive and give back when you can. I've covered a lot of road and I have a lot more to go. It's not bad for a shy kid from Thunder Bay.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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