Terry Bollea is out to prove that “Hulkamania” is far from over.
The 62-year-old Bollea, better known for the past 34 years as Hulk Hogan, made headlines this summer when the audio from his 2007 sex tape was released. Hogan was recorded using a nasty racial slur, and backlash was immediate. The WWE cut ties with Hogan, as well as erased him from WWE history.
“This business has been my life,” said Hogan. “It’s been my heartbeat. I want to be 80 years old and still connected to this business. It’s all I’ve ever known. I dream about wrestling. I watch it over and over again. So for my whole life to be taken away from me? Like I never existed? Like Hulk Hogan’s never been a wrestler? I just can’t believe everything I worked for my whole life is gone.”
Hogan admits he committed a horrible mistake. On the tape, Hogan used the n-word while discussing his daughter Brooke’s music career. But he stressed that he is not a racist, just someone who was someone caught in a very dark place.
“I was mad,” said Hogan. “I vented and I made a huge mistake.I’d worked so hard with my daughter on her music career. She was just getting ready to do her second video and her album was ready to come out, and she was getting some advice from her boyfriend that went completely against the advice that I knew she needed. She pulled up short on me and went in her boyfriend’s direction.
“I was surrounded by a bunch of negativity in my personal life. My [23-year] marriage had pretty much unwound, and it wasn’t fixable. I was going through a tough time with my son being put in an adult prison when he was 16 years old. I was stressed out to the max. All those things, including contemplating my wrestling career–I started having knee replacements and a bunch of back problems–and questioning how much longer I could go. It was almost like the breaking point.”
Hogan’s perfect storm of negativity has not come without consequences, but he refuses to hide from his words.
“Yes, I said it,” said Hogan. “I’m accountable for it, and I’m so sorry. But the real people who know me, they know I’m not a racist. I’ve got a lot of support from the African-American community. Most people know who I am, and I’m just so sorry I was in a situation where I was venting and I was mad. So for the people who don’t understand, I hope they take a good look at who I really am.”
Hogan, the most recognizable name ever in pro wrestling, helped bring the business out of smoky old clubs and into packed houses at Madison Square Garden, the Pontiac Silverdome, and Caesar’s Palace. Initially, during the early part of his run in the 80’s, Hogan was content living fast, but that changed forever after realizing his impact on children battling for their lives. Many of those children are no longer present to speak up for their hero.
“My whole life has been spent trying to help people,” said Hogan. “Even though wrestling was the vehicle, I’ve always tried to reach out and help people and be involved with charities, with everything from Pediatric AIDS to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to the Starlight Foundation. So it hurts if people have a different image of me. What happened to me was just like taking one photograph, one still photo, instead of looking at entire body of work. I just feel horrible that people think that’s the image of me when that’s not who I am.”
Hogan’s star was so bright he transcended beyond the ring and into Hollywood. He is recognizable outside of wrestling, a rare trait even by today’s standards. Yet a strange set of circumstances occurred after the WWE erased Hogan, seemingly, from existence. No one came forward with racist accusations, not even Hogan’s staunchest enemies.
“Bret Hart, who became a top guy in WWE after I left, he’s been really mad at me for the past ten years,” explained Hogan. “Even he said, ‘I’ve never known Hulk to be a racist, but I’m glad it happened to him.’ I felt bad about that [second part], but even Bret stuck up for me. It’s not me, it’s not who I am.”
And he has had plenty of friends pick him up in his time of need.
“There are so many people who stood up for me, and you can go down the list from George [Foreman] to Dennis [Rodman] to [Mike] Tyson,” said Hogan. “Triple H even told me how bad he felt about it and he knew that’s not who I was. They know who I am.”
Triple H is also know as Paul Levesque, a wrestling superstar who is WWE’s Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events, and Creative. Levesque is also the son-in-law of WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, as well as the man who cut ties with Hogan.
“I never talked to Vince,” said Hogan. “The only person I talked to was Triple H. I called him and told him there was some old news coming out from when TMZ first reported the tape and there were some racial slurs on it. Triple H said, ‘OK, thanks for calling. Let me talk to Vince.’
“He called me back a half hour later and he goes, ‘I’ve got some news and it isn’t good. Vince said that you need to resign.’ I never heard from Vince or talked to Vince. In the middle of the night, they just fired me.”
Hogan and his attorney requested an opportunity from WWE to react, which was declined. While Hogan still considers the WWE his family and understands why the publicly-traded company made its decision to part ways, he was hurt his legacy was wiped away.
“They had to do what was best for business,” said Hogan. “Triple H was telling me the USA Network was reacting very badly, and they had to make a quick decision, and that was to put me out to pasture. They were under heavy fire and they were scrambling.”
In no way has Hogan tried to minimize his comment, but he has pointed to the content of his character for the past thirty years. And he does not believe the WWE made the right choice when deciding between education and rehabilitation against isolation and ostracism.
“That’s not characteristic of what the WWE does,” said Hogan. “Vince McMahon reaches out and helps people. If you’re a drug abuser or you abuse alcohol, Vince McMahon and the WWE reach out and help people. So what’s so uncommon about this was they took the symptoms, said, ‘Oh my god, there’s a symptom of being a racist,’ and threw me away. They usually go to the source. They’ve known me for over 30 years and they know I’m not a racist, so they should have went to the source. I don’t use the word, ever, except for in that moment of anger, so I wish WWE went to the source instead of the symptoms. I could have explained I’ve tried every day since then to be a better man.”
The only positive out of this ordeal, Hogan explained, is that he has been able to learn from his mistake.
“I’m having the chance to now say, ‘If you hear it in a movie and you inherited it growing up as a kid, you shouldn’t use it,’” said Hogan. “It’s so hurtful on so many levels. I shouldn’t use it, the WWE shouldn’t use it in their programming when they’re doing skits. It shouldn’t be used at all.”
People are seldom as bad as their worst moment, and Hogan hopes people forgive him for his mistake. While other wrestling companies like Ring of Honor and even former employer TNA exist, Hogan hopes he will have another chance to apologize publicly if he is ever rehired by the WWE.
“The only place for me to be would be the WWE,” said Hogan. “That’s where my home is. I thought I’d go step-by-step, crawling uphill with WWE, to explain how wrong I was, but that opportunity wasn’t there.”
While first glance makes the thought of a reunion with the WWE unlikely, Hogan remains optimistic.
“I’d love to sit down and connect with Vince,” he said. “A lot of people make mistakes. If we were all judged by our weakest moment, it would be a sad world. If I had a chance to work with Vince and help people, we could help fix a lot of things together.”
In the end, regardless of whether Hogan ever reconnects with the WWE, he is thankful for those have stood by him. The foundation of Hulkamania, he explained, has always been the people.
“The worst day of my life has been confronted, but I’ve chosen to move forward,” he said. “I’m just really happy that people who have followed me for all these years know who I am. The people have been so good to me, and they treat me like they’ve always treated me. It gave me faith again in the world.”