It is not beyond the realms of all possibility that twenty years from now, Chris Kanyon will be seen as something of a trailblazer. A remarkably gifted ring technician and an extremely likeable personality, Kanyon’s untimely demise is undoubtedly a tragic loss to all those who knew him (fan and wrestler alike) and the professional wrestling business at large. The suspected manner of his death – suicide brought on by a prescription drug overdose – is sadly a far from unique occurrence throughout the history of wrestling. However, the personal predicament of Chris Kanyon away from the ring was symptomatic of a societal issue that seldom breaches the parapet of coda and kayfabe that protects the wrestling business. Nevertheless it exists; whether certain sections of the world choose to acknowledge its existence or not.
Instead of his awesome ring prowess or contributions to the business, the last few years of Chris Kanyon’s life were defined by the revelation of his sexuality. He was a gay man working in a business that essentially mirrors the Clinton Administration’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, pertaining to the conduct and rights of gays in the military. As Pat Patterson would doubtless attest, in its own mad an inimitable way the wrestling business possesses an unofficial policy that verges on tolerant, as unlike most professional sports or the military, a performer does not face absolute expulsion if his sexual persuasion is made known to the boys. Of course, many of the more “red-blooded” specimens don’t take kindly to it for stereotypical reasons, but generally the “what happens on the road, stays on the road” mantra prevails and life carries on.
Perhaps it’s churlish to label this beacon of perceived tolerance a side effect of a paranoid and systemically chaotic society – keen not to draw attention to more classical sins for the sake of condemning something less typical. It is definitely the case though, that this perceived wisdom disappears into the night should any person choose to confront their so-called “demons” in public. Kanyon made the choice in 2004 to publically announce his sexuality and renounce the veil of secrecy. For this, he claimed he was blacklisted by the powers-that-be and found his prospects in the profession to which he was such an unappreciated component, very limited indeed.
In this instance, it is not fair to single out the wrestling business for any such specific criticism. Throughout the years, the industry has simply behaved in a manner consistent with all other publically accountable entities and either profited, kept quiet or closed ranks. WWE (in particular) is an entertainment-based institution with corporate sponsorship and national demographics to consider. Given the enormous divisions and religious pressures in America (where homosexuality is still a major cause celebre) WWE would be taking an enormous – not to mention financially imprudent – risk were it to have done as Kanyon allegedly suggested and featured an openly gay character on television. Put simply, there are those in the so-called “land of the free” who are simply incapable of countenancing the notion of a gay person in their personal lexicon.
For those who might be wondering, I have not forgotten characters such as “Gorgeous” George, Adrian Street and Goldust, or the publicity-seeking Billy and Chuck episode: all notorious examples of “straight-baiting” effete creations designed to play off the basest examples of human prejudice. With the exception of George, the “gay” heel has seldom drawn money and either quickly disappeared or degenerated into a lurid exercise in shock value. “The Artist Formerly Known As” version of Goldust (most notably) and more recently, Orlando Jordan’s preposterous, heat-seeking Lady Gaga tribute, are examples of the typical perspectives employed by writers when it comes to addressing sexual controversy of this type.
Wrestling is a reactionary business that has historically sought to utilise any and every societal taboo to make money. This rather primal inclination has encompassed everything from war through to abortion. Over the years virtually nothing has remained sacred, and homosexuality was (and is) no exception. Accepting this truth in no way provides justification for the numerous instances of shameless exploitation throughout the years, but it does at least offer something resembling context.
Apparently, both Vince McMahon and Jeff Jarrett shot down the “openly gay character” idea in quick succession. Kanyon publically alleged (on the Howard Stern show, no less) that his termination from WWE in February 2004 owed as much to his sexuality as it did his apparent lack of professional merit. Anyone who saw Kanyon in a wrestling ring knows they witnessed a phenomenal talent; the very embodiment of the buzzword “underrated”. Considering the parade of greenhorns, meatheads and wastes of space employed by both WWE and TNA from 2004 onwards, it is not difficult to see why Kanyon might be tempted to ask questions of his supposed unsuitability for employment.
That WWE chose Ric Flair – of all people – to argue the toss with Kanyon, live on The Howard Stern Show, only fuelled the argument. Flair made all sorts of nonsensical errors and contradicted himself, admitting as he did that he had no idea why Kanyon was fired and demeaning Kanyon’s talent level, only to then praise his ability moments later. It was one of those perplexing attempts at WWE damage control that succeeded only in enflaming a delicate situation to the detriment of WWE and raising some very awkward questions in the process. Last week’s report of Flair’s apparent drunken tirade at the expense of Orlando Jordan’s male consort doesn’t exactly position “Slic” Ric as a shining beacon of professionalism and tolerance. Instead, it only serves to generate further insinuation and uncertainty as to the thought processes of WWE at the time of Chris Kanyon’s discharge.
For his part, Kanyon always maintained that the WWE office was aware of his sexuality, and only elected to fire him after he let it be known that he intended to come out of the closet. It’s extremely unlikely that WWE will ever choose to address this accusation, although Kanyon certainly did himself no favours with a very silly publicity stunt he pulled at a Raw house show in 2006. After visiting the locker room, Kanyon entered the arena and hopped the barricade prior to a tag match featuring D-Generation X. He brandished some rather inflammatory placards alluding to his earlier suspicions, and was summarily ejected from the building. It was another strange tale involving a man who like so many before him found the world a cold and unforgiving place once he challenged it to accept him for everything he was.
I was genuinely upset to read of Kanyon’s passing. He was a man who possessed so much talent and gave selflessly of himself and elevated scores of lesser men in the process. He was entertaining, intelligent and a genuine enhancement to any show on which he performed. I’m truly sad that a man who wanted to be at peace with himself apparently felt that the world simply didn’t want to listen. There was a similar, equally sad story involving a young English footballer by the name of Justin Fashanu, who tried to live his life in the open and ultimately couldn’t cope with the toll such transparency exacted on him. He took his own life at the age of thirty-seven.
It has not been officially confirmed, but the cause of Chris Klucsaritis’ death is a suspected suicide from an overdose of Seroquel, which is used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. There had been rumours prior to his death that he was suffering from depression, although there is sadly now no real way of knowing the feelings of a man who undoubtedly felt abandoned by a business he had served with distinction (for a decade) prior to his active retirement in 2004. Professional wrestling was not ready for the reality Chris Kanyon represented in 2004 and it certainly isn’t ready six years later, as the current direction of the Orlando Jordan character indicates with unerring clarity. Despite comments to the contrary, the character Jordan portrays on TNA television is yet another penned by Russo/endorsed by Bischoff farce. It exists for the sake of courting controversy, nothing more.
The world at large is growing all the time, but global sensibilities have a considerable amount of evolution left to undergo before the courage exhibited by men like Fashanu and Kanyon will no longer seem so radical. For now though, I long for that day and I mourn a man and a wrestler I admired and respected and who was, without ever receiving the recognition he deserved, a worker’s worker. The question used to be: “Who better than Kanyon?” The answer was and will always remain, very few.
Daniel R. Browne.