For wrestling legend Hall, it’s once again good to be the Bad Guy

Diamond Dallas Page, Scott Hall and Jake (The Snake) Roberts. (Getty Images)

Diamond Dallas Page, Scott Hall and Jake (The Snake) Roberts. (Getty Images)

Scott Hall was practically groomed to become a globe-trotting sports entertainer.

He was, after all, a self-proclaimed ‘army brat,’ who had seen more of the United States by the age of 15 than most kids would in a lifetime.

“We moved every year for the first 15 years (of my life),” Hall said over the telephone in a rare media interview. “I can’t even name the bases in order of where we lived. It got to the point where I just wouldn’t even unpack stuff. I’d leave my toys and stuff in a box and just kind of live out of boxes.”

In hindsight, Hall admitted, the vagabond lifestyle was just a warmup for what was yet to come.

What was yet to come was both the stuff of dreams — and nightmares; a trailblazing Hall of Fame sports entertainment career that would make Scott Hall, and his alter ego Razor Ramon, among the most beloved and recognizable figures in pro wrestling history, darkly contrasted by a now career-long struggle with addiction that has threatened his very life on countless occasions.

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It was a birthday present while just a kid that would alter Hall’s future forever.

“When I was eight years old, my dad took me and some of my buddies to a wrestling show for my birthday and it just impacted me so powerfully, I was hooked,” Hall said. That was in 1966. By the early 1980s, being a wrestling fan no longer was enough for the athletic and now 20-something young man. Having spent much of his life to that point moving from military outpost to military outpost, the allure of life on the road as a pro wrestler held a lot of appeal to Hall.

“I was always fascinated by it,” Hall said from his home in Atlanta. “I was more attracted to the lifestyle. I just wanted a cool job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that (wrestling) went global and there’s video games and merchandise and all of this stuff (but) I just liked the lifestyle. You did something cool, you had your days free, you were an entertainer in the evening, that’s what really attracted me.”

As fate would have it, one of the early influences on Hall’s wrestling career was the late great Dusty Rhodes, a man universally credited as one of the most influential and important figures in the history of the business. Hall broke into the business in 1984 in Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF), where he met and feuded with Rhodes.

Hall paid homage to his longtime mentor and friend, who died last year at the age of 69.

“Dusty was known around the world,” Hall said, with a sombreness in his voice. “Every news outlet worldwide carried the news of his passing. It was a great loss for everybody. I feel privileged that I knew Dusty on a personal level. He started me in wrestling and we stayed in contact throughout my career. It was such a blessing, he was such a powerful guy in the industry, but just so humble when you met him. He was really a class act. His influence is still felt in the business today.”

From CWF, Hall went to work for Jim Crockett’s National Wrestling Alliance, eventually landing in Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. Following Hulk Hogan’s defection to Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation, Gagne saw something in Hall and pushed the athletic-looking Hall to the top of his company.

“Hulk had left so obviously there was a huge void there, and I was a big guy and the business was changing in the early ’80s,” Hall recalled. “It was more about merchandise and marketing. It was more about how you looked. It became a television and marketing industry and everything shifted more toward that because there were little kids going, ‘Well I think the muscle guy could beat up the fat guy.” It was less about how good a performer you were because then it became up to the matchmaker to book the guy that the people liked with the right guy. Put him against the guy who can make him look better than he is.”

Though he didn’t yet know it, the AWA wasn’t the last Hall would hear from Hogan in his career. Far from it, in fact. Hall’s and Hogan’s careers would intersect at WWE, World Championship Wrestling and Total Nonstop Action. Along with creating one of the most commercially successful stables in wrestling history – the New World Order — Hall and Hogan would carve out a lasting friendship, something that is rare in pro wrestling.

“I’m happy now the way things worked out,” Hall said. “I call Hulk a friend. You couldn’t really be a pro wrestler in the ’80s and not be a fan of Hulk Hogan. And then to years later end up being partners with the guy. And then to be in positions where you’re making wrestling-related decisions for the guy: ‘I don’t know Hulk, I think we should do this,’ and he yields to you?! It’s a really cool thing.”

After stops in the NWA and AWA, and a short stint in WCW, Hall hit the big time with his arrival in the fast rising World Wrestling Entertainment, then known as the WWF. It was there that Hall’s career would skyrocket, thanks to his Razor Ramon character, a ripoff of a Scarface character. Hall can still remember the meeting with Vince McMahon that led to Ramon character.

“When I first had my debut match, my tryout match, Vince liked it and I was summoned to his office there in the arena,” Hall recalled. At that time, WWE had many characters, like Big Boss Man, who had actually worked in a prison, plus a Model, a Birdman, a Million Dollar Man, a tax collector.

“He goes ‘Well, I understand your father’s in the army, he was career operating officer.’

“I said ‘Vince, if you want me to be G.I. Joe, I’ll be the best G.I. Joe I can be.’”

But before McMahon could answer, Hall broke out the character he had in mind.

“I said ‘Did you ever see Scarface?’ He said ‘No.’ I went ‘Say hello to the bad guy.’ I just started doing that schtick and he loved it and he thought I was a genius. I’m ripping off the movie and he thinks I’m a genius. Of course I never corrected him about the genius part,” Hall quipped. “But that’s how it all came about.”

WWE filmed a series of vignettes that would be played over a number of weeks leading up to Ramon’s debut. In fact, Hall said, McMahon was so impressed with the effort Hall was putting into his character’s development that he flew down to personally direct the filming of the segments.

“We’re in Ottawa and Vince is — and to this day — is at every TV taping,” Hall said. “Now it’s live, but he was there when we taped them all. And he leaves television and flies to South Beach in Miami with me and personally directs the vignettes. We did the first five like in one day.”

Hall, who brought several changes of clothing for the segments, remembered his boss being impressed by his get-up-and-go.

“I’m being real humble bumble, like, ‘Hey Vince, I’ll wear the same thing if you want, but I’ve got other clothes, because then it looks like time has gone by.’ So then Vince sees that I’m putting some initiative into the project and he gets even more excited because he loves guys who work hard, too, because he’s a beast. He doesn’t sleep.”

Hall chuckled at his recollection.

“Now, imagine, it starts pouring in south Florida like it will … out of nowhere, tropical deluge. I’m wearing a vest, with no shirt, gold chains, silk pants and loafers and we’re going through Miami International Airport,” he said, perfectly painting the mental image. “The thing about Miami International is no one really looks twice. No one really cares because it’s such a crazy bunch of people travelling through that airport every day. And everybody knows Vince. At that time he was just known as an announcer. So everybody is spotting Vince at the airport and they’re looking at me and going, ‘Who’s that Vince?’ ‘Oh, he’s the next big thing on the way up. he’s the bad guy, he’s Razor Ramon.’ So Vince is like plugging me as we walked through the airport. It was great.”

Razor Ramon debuted a few weeks later and began a dominating run in the WWE that was highlighted by four Intercontinental championships, becoming the first to capture the title three times, and at a time when the title was never more significant. Hall and Shawn Michaels would also have what is considered one of the all-time great WrestleMania matches at WrestleMania 10, a trend-setting ladder match. Hall’s Ramon character quickly became a fan favourite, and his smooth talking, toothpick-flinging, bad ass ways made him a top attraction.

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By 1996, Hall’s career was on fire. He was a top WWE attraction and one of the faces of the company. At that time, Ted Turner’s WCW was re-emerging as a big time player in the wrestling television landscape, having lured WWE stars like Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage away from the company. It was then that Hall approached McMahon in search of a guaranteed contract, which stars in WCW were getting but which was unheard of in WWE. It was the beginning of the end for Hall and McMahon’s once close relationship.

Hall and McMahon have since made up, with Hall being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014. But that was a long time coming, Hall said.

“I’m so happy to be back on the royalty gravy train,” he said. “I was the guy who left and went to work for the competition and guess what, the competition started winning. I got blamed for taking Kev (Kevin Nash) with me. I didn’t get a royalty cheque for 15 years, Kev still got his.”

“Vince took it personally when I left, to the point where I didn’t get royalties,” he said, adding that while he didn’t receive royalties, McMahon and WWE did pay for several of his rehab attempts. “He still was showing me love. He wasn’t going to give me money that I could do bad things with was what it came down to. ‘I’ll pay for your hospital, I pay for your rehab, I’m not sending you money that you might go buy booze or drugs with,’ was what it came down to.”

Hall still feels that he did everything properly on his part, but McMahon would have nothing to do with his request for a guaranteed deal or better pay to stay in WWE.

“I went to Vince ahead of time and asked, ‘Is there anything I can do to improve my situation? Is it my ring skills that need improving? Is it my microphone skills?’

“’No, I’m happy with everything you do,’ ” he recalled McMahon saying.

“I’m just curious because my pay seems to have plateaued while I feel my value to the company continues to increase. I’m just wondering what I can do to make big money like the guys who preceded me.”

Hall paid a heavy toll for his defection to the competition.

“As soon as I made the decision, I was dirty on a piss test that was six weeks old,” Hall said. “I mean Vince came after me with everything. It was really brutal man.”

Hall has no regrets about seeking guaranteed money.

“I feel good about what I did,” he said. “I went to him man to man, months in advance, asked for the money, gave a written notice, 90 days in advance, and the notice was only that I didn’t want to leave, but I just didn’t want my contract to keep rolling over. Initially, the contracts that the WWE offered was 10 days, 10 matches you were guaranteed in one year; 10 matches at $150 a match, which means you’re guaranteed $1,500, but you give up everything — you can’t wrestle, or promote, or do an interview or an appearance or anything for anybody but Vince. But he’s only guaranteeing you $1,500. I just didn’t want that contract to roll over, I wanted to talk, but he was furious.”

It was Hall’s defection that led to changes in contracts in pro wrestling, ushering in the guaranteed money era.

“You know what, I’ve seen Vince do interviews (afterward) where he was (saying) ‘I don’t blame those guys, I’d have done the same thing.’ I would have stayed with Vince for less money than I took from (Ted) Turner. I just wanted it guaranteed and Vince just wouldn’t budge on that. Now, guess what? Everybody, the NXT guys, everybody gets guaranteed money. You’re welcome fellas, you’re welcome.”

But it’s all water under the bridge now, according to Hall, who besides being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame will also be featured in a WWE DVD to be released in July.

“I’m in the Hall of Fame, involved in Triple H’s match in Mania, throw in a little Raw appearance here and there, I’ve got a DVD coming out in July. I’m back in and it feels real good. It’s way better to be on the inside looking out than on the outside looking in.”

After famously and unceremoniously leaving WWE, Hall joined rival WCW, further igniting the now famous Monday night war, a ratings boom for pro wrestling that will likely never be matched. After forming The Outsiders with his longtime friend and fellow WWE defector Kevin Nash, Hall and Nash took WCW by storm, eventually forming the New World Order (NWO), a stable that reinvented stables and which reached previously untouched heights in popularity.

“I still get cheques now, well finally now that I’m back on the royalty train,” Hall said of sales of NWO merchandise. “Me and Kevin (Nash), we split 50% of all NWO merch.”

So popular was the NWO merchandise, Hall said, that he would get offers to buy the shirt off of his back.

“A lot of the WCW guys were mad at us,” Hall said of the success he and Nash brought to WCW. “I’ll never forget the Nasty Boyz going, ‘Yeah, way to go, now we have to make house shows.’

“Business was so bad in WCW when Kev and I got there that they only ran TV. They didn’t run house shows. Guys didn’t care because they were on guaranteed contracts and got paid the same.”

Looking back, and after all he’s been through both in regards to his success and his struggles, Hall said he doesn’t seek credit for his contributions to the success of pro wrestling, which is now a multi-billion-dollar worldwide phenomenon.

“I don’t find myself sweating stuff like that,” he said. “I don’t care who gets credit.”

As for his greatest accomplishment inside the ring, Hall said that was never injuring an opponent.

“I don’t think I’ve really hurt anybody,” he said. “I think I had a lot of matches and I don’t think I ever hurt anybody. I’m proud of that.”

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Scott Hall the wrestler truly lived a storybook career. Fame, money and success followed him wherever he went. But Scott Hall the person was not quite so fortunate. Demons plagued the person. Drugs, alcohol and health woes eventually replaced success, fame and fortune, culminating in near-death experiences, addiction and rehab, all but wiping out his legacy in the process.

“I was one of those guys who didn’t drink and stuff until really late in life,” Hall said when asked when his addiction issues surfaced. “Of course as a teen I tried stuff, a sip of beer and stuff like that, (but) I didn’t start really drinking what I would call abusively or alcoholically until my mid-30s, which is kind of late. And I (had even) worked in bars.”

Looking back, a reflective and sober Hall believes that for all the wrestling business gave him, it took from his as well.

“It actually became a situation where,” he said, pausing, “I’m not blaming it on the business, this is just my story. Before guaranteed money, you got paid per show and a lot of (what happened in the ring) was based on the relationship with the other guy. (A) guy wouldn’t have a good match with you if he didn’t like you.”

In those days, Hall said, he preferred keeping to himself and hanging out in his hotel room following a show. But that wasn’t conducive to camaraderie, which was key to success, Hall said.

“It was kind of mentioned to me, ‘Man, everybody thinks you’re stuck up because you’re getting a big push and … you don’t hang out.’ I go, ‘Well I don’t drink.’ ‘Well, you know, a lot of business gets done in the bar and you need to come and hang out,’” he remembered it being explained. “In that era, it kind of was true. If you didn’t have a relationship with a guy out of the ring, it impacted your matches in the ring.”

So rather than hanging out in his room, Hall began hanging with the boys after the matches.

“I’m not blaming anybody, but I just got slowly seduced by the lifestyle,” he said.

At first, it was booze. Later, booze turned to pills. And still later, stronger pills. And stronger booze. And mixing them. And it was here in Canada where Hall popped his first pill, he said.

“I was in Winnipeg, with a group of the guys when I took my first pill,” he said, adding he took it and didn’t feel anything immediately. “I was sitting down, I was the youngest guy in the room and the most inexperienced guy, so I’m sitting on the floor at a big party in the hotel. And in that hotel in Winnipeg, there was a strip club in the lobby of the hotel. So everybody else is drinking and when people get drinking, they start laughing at stuff that’s not really funny and stuff like that so I said, ‘I’m just going to wander on down to the bar, see you guys later.’ I had taken the pill a half hour before. When I stood up, it was like whoa, I felt it … and I liked it,” he said.

Something changed, for the worst, that night.

“It was life-changing for me,” Hall said. “I finally could relax. And I went down to the bar and just drank diet soda, but from then on, anytime anybody offered me a pill, I was down. Yeah, I’ll take it.”

The pill Hall took that night in Winnipeg was a Halcion.

“I don’t even think they make them anymore,” he said. “It was just a sleeping pill. I’ve always been an anxiety guy. To me, my drug of choice was like Zanex. I love something that can just make me go ahhhhh, just calm down. But now — and I have doctors all around the world who would give me whatever I want — I just don’t mess with them anymore. Since I’ve removed booze from life, it’s so much less complicated. It’s so much easier to get through the day when I’m not handcuffed to booze.”

After Winnipeg, pills and alcohol soon became an everyday part of Hall’s life. As his addiction worsened, so too did his performances in the ring. By the late 1990s, Hall’s addiction issues were pubic knowledge, even briefly incorporated into a WCW storyline. By 2000, Hall was no longer with WCW. In the decade that followed, he would work for various wrestling companies, including a brief return to WWE, but his struggles worsened, forcing him to seek help on multiple occasions.

“I never was in any kind of denial that I had issues,” Hall said. “That’s why I went to 12 rehabs. It was only the last five or six when the WWE stepped in and started referring me to toward more dual diagnosis clinics. As time went on and the addiction specialist I’ve worked with up there for years … said that, ‘The symptoms are alcohol and drug abuse, let’s treat the root problem, what’s causing this behaviour.’ All the 12-step places say don’t drink, go to meetings, call your sponsor … I’m like, ‘Oh, gee, don’t drink? I never thought of that. What do I owe you, 40 grand?’ Once I started dealing with the (psychological) issues and what’s causing that type of behaviour, I started to gain a little traction.”

It hasn’t been without his struggles and dark, lonely moments, Hall said.

“Because I’m a Christian, I never contemplated suicide because I’m a chicken and I don’t want to go to hell and I believe I would,” Hall said. “I was at the point the where I wasn’t going to kill myself but I didn’t really care if I died. There was a time when I couldn’t put the booze down and I’d be looking at that glass in my hand or that beer bottle and I would say, ‘Wow, slow suicide, let today be the day.’ I wasn’t going to do anything (to myself) that would kill me, but I really was kind of hoping God would do that for me. I’d sit around thinking, ‘I’ve had a hell of a life, I’ve had a great life, so if it’s over, let’s go ahead and speed it up, because this being in pain, sitting around, broken, doesn’t feel good.'”

Loneliness and despair, pain and agony, booze and drugs. They consumed Scott Hall. He was no longer the man who brought fans to their feet simply by grabbing a microphone. Razor Ramon, Scott Hall of the NWO, they were dead. All that was left was an addict with little reason to live.

“I didn’t really care,” Hall said, without emotion. “I didn’t care about me, I couldn’t imagine anybody else cared. I was just waiting for when I didn’t wake up anymore. I felt like I had a really great run and that it was all over. I was just waiting for the ‘over’ part to commence.”

Even now, clean and sober, and in the best shape in years, Hall struggles to understand why he’s still here when so many others like him, some of them his friends and colleagues, are not, many victims of the same drugs and alcohol that placed him on death’s door, one foot half inside.

“I should’ve been dead a hundred times,” Hall said. “So there’s got to be a purpose. I do believe that things happen for a reason and nothing happens by accident and I guess there is a message here. I’m slowly getting more comfortable with telling people (about my struggles). Sometimes I’ll see one guy go, ‘Man, I just want to party a little bit, I just want to have a few beers.’ And I go, ‘Do you realize who you’re talking to? You’re explaining that lifestyle to me?’ And they go, ‘Ah, gee, OK.’ So it gives me credibility with the younger guys when I want to talk about life on the road and maybe things to avoid. I’ve got all of this knowledge that I’ve gained through a lot of pain. It wasn’t all painful but a lot of painful times, so if I can steer somebody else away from a painful encounter, then maybe that’s why I’m here.”

Hall also pointed out that he never lacked support in his battle. His friends and family were constantly pushing him to get help.

“They were always there for me,” he said. “The thing is, you get to the point where, for me, my experience with addiction and stuff and alcohol and drug abuse is there becomes a point where you have to do it yourself. People can only help you so much, then they feel like maybe they’re enabling you. It just became a personal thing for me. It just had to be my time because like I said, I had been to 12 rehabs. I’d been trying to get clean for over 20 years so I was never in any kind of denial that it was an issue. I just couldn’t find which path to take. And I’m pretty happy with the path I’m on now.”

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Where he is now is Atlanta, living mere houses away from the man who has done what a dozen rehabs could not. Hall lives not far from friend and fellow wrestling legend Diamond Dallas Page, who reached out to Hall to help him a few years back.

“A lot of people don’t realize that we’re really close friends because we didn’t have a relationship on screen,” Hall said of his friendship with the man behind DDP Yoga. “Early in both of our careers, he managed me when I was the Diamond Stud, but we’ve always been friends and always stayed in contact.”

At the time DDP offered to help, Hall was near death and quickly running out of options.

“When Dallas reached out to me, it was like, ‘Well, let me see, go to rehab again or try something different?’ And I came here to Atlanta and I never left. I mean I’m only about two blocks away from Dally’s house now. I’m sitting out in the backyard and it’s gorgeous here in Atlanta. I’m sitting out in the backyard and I’m supposed to meet him down at his yoga studio and work out here in a little while,” Hall said, a happiness in his voice evident.

Using DDP’s DDP Yoga program, and the support and love from his friend Page, Hall slowly but sure turned his life around, once again getting clean, and staying cleain. Hall credits Page with not only helping him overcome his addiction, but with instilling a new outlook on life in him.

“Anybody who knows Dallas knows he’s annoyingly positive,” he said. “I mean obnoxiously positive. He’s relentless and he doesn’t give up. When he has a goal, he’s determined to achieve it. And when he’s on your side, he’s on your side for life. He was there when I needed a helping hand. I thank Dallas for reintroducing me to myself and restoring health. I’m the guy who came from the street and made it to the top. But then I thought, ‘OK, I’m done, I’ve had my run.’ He’s like, ‘No, bro, there’s a whole Chapter 2. There’s a whole other chapter coming. Everybody’s waiting on you.’ So that’s where I’m at. I’ve got pen to paper, brother, and I’m ready to write the second chapter.”

Page also famously helped wrestling legend Jake “The Snake” Roberts overcome his addiction, re-find his health and get back out in the world. He even detailed it in a documentary now available on Netflix entitled The Resurrection of Jake The Snake, which also features Hall’s battle to overcome his addiction.

Being around Roberts, whom Hall knew he could relate to, was key, Hall said.

“I’ve never partied with Jake in the past and we don’t plan on starting now, but Dallas was one of those guys who I never partied with. Dallas was considered an amateur drinker so he couldn’t really relate to the things that I was going through and what I was talking about, but I knew that Jake could. So I had Jake to go to, ‘Man, remember when it was like this?’ ‘Yeah, I remember brother.’ I had the dark side, I had somebody who’d been to every party in town, then I had Dallas, who wasn’t at every party. It was just a great blending. Like I said, I don’t think things happened by accident. I think it was intended that way.”

Hall recalled DDP approaching him about the documentary.

“When Dallas first contacted me, he said, ‘Hey man, we’re doing this thing with Jake and we’re calling it The Resurrection of Jake The Snake, man, we’ll just call it The Resurrection of Jake the Snake and Scott Hall,’” he said. “Being a big fan of Jake, and also knowing having been to multiple rehabs and not having any success, I didn’t want to prop myself up in that kind of position where I would set myself up for a big fall. And plus just out of respect for Jake, I was like, ‘No man, you just go ahead and keep everything about Jake and if I just happen to be in it, then I’m in it.’ They had cameras rolling all the time, so pretty soon you just get comfortable around them.”

Not long after the filming began, both Jake and Hall got their lives trending in the right direction, underwent some surgeries funded in part by fans and things began to turn around. Both soon were rewarded for getting their lives moving in the right direction when each was called to the WWE Hall of Fame, the highest honour the company can bestow on one of its own.

It was a Hollywood ending, Hall said.

“There was a part of the (Jake documentary) where they went to Vegas for the Cauliflower Alley convention and that could have just been the end of the movie,” he said. “That could have been as high as Jake got. He got some mention by Cauliflower Alley. But if it had been a scripted movie, and some writers were sitting around the table and they go, ‘OK, we’re going to take both these guys and put them both in the Hall of Fame the same year.’ Somebody would have said, ‘No, that’s not believable, let’s just put Scott in.’

“I just think that you couldn’t have written it that way because nobody would have believed it. Truth is stranger than fiction. We both ended up in the Hall of Fame and then my life has just continued to get better and better every day. I mean here I am talking to you and like I said, I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

Hall, who has been increasingly making more public appearances now that he’s clean and sober, and back in “Bad Guy” shape, remains focused on his long-term health. Asked if he yearns for a return to WWE, he hesitated, before answering.

“My goal is to work at NXT and work with the young talent,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with the young guys and I think that’s where I’ll be most gifted and be of the most value. But I figure the best thing for me to do is just to continue to keep my shit together and go places and let people see me with my shit together. When my head is clear, my phone rings and opportunities are presented to me all the time. So I’m just keeping my shit together and letting people know it. I’ll wait and see what comes from there. I’m not going to flat out ask for a job at this point. I’m kind of hoping it gets offered to me down the road. But I figure the best thing I can do is put myself in a good situation by keeping it together.”

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