“Big John” Murray: Body Slams & Backstage Passes
Three years ago we sat down with “Big John” Murray for a three-part interview. In the course of those three interviews, we discussed growing up in Cincinnati, OH, joining the U.S. Marine Corps. and his journey into the world of rock n’ roll. It was also during that time that John looked to be heading towards the reality of needing a heart transplant. Those three interviews continue to be some of the MOST WANTED content here on The Music Room. A lot has happened to Big John over the course of the last three years. Some good, some not soo good. But through it all, John has come out better than ever. Now seems like the perfect time to catch everyone up on what’s been going on in the life of Big John Murray. From body slams to backstage passes, there is too much to contain for one interview. So we are offering up the fourth and fifth installment of the 5 Most Wanted interviews with Big John Murray!
The Music Room: All right, let’s get into wrestling first man. If people see you on social media, they are going to see lots of photos with you holding up 5 fingers. So why don’t we start with that? What are the five fingers about?
John Murray: The five fingers is simply this…When I went back into pro wrestling, I was asked by Sean Casey, Cody Hawk, Shawna Reed, and David J. Getz to join their organization in the independent network. It is called 5 Most Wanted. Basically, what we are is like a modern-day DX…you know, Degeneration-X for the new generation who may not understand. We’re the heels that everybody loves. We go in there and we kick ass. We basically live our gimmick. Sean Casey is a two-time Playgirl centerfold model. He’s my brother…quote, unquote brother. The 5 Most Wanted is one giant family. It’s the biggest dysfunctional family, I think (laughs.)
TMR: Nice, what is your roll in the five most wanted?
JM: I am the enforcer. If you think back to the days of Shawn Michael and Kevin Nash, I am the Kevin Nash of the five most wanted. I go in there. The Diesel or whatever you want to call it. I draw attention from the refs. Create a distraction and go in there and literally chokeslam, powerbomb, and annihilate people on the wrestling ring so that we are guaranteed a victory.
JM: Period, point-blank. Like I said we live our gimmick. My gimmick is Big John. When they announce me it is as the world’s most recognized bodyguard or bodyguard to the stars…coming fresh off his tour with Bret Michaels and Poison and The Monsters of Rock Cruise, Big John. You know. We’re not trying to be anything that we’re not.
TMR: I gotcha. Now you said when you got back into pro wrestling, so talk about your initial start in wrestling. How did you get involved in the first place?
JM: Sure, sure. In 1995, right after my first divorce, I met up with a very good friend of mine at Annie’s named Lance. He was a promoter and managed all the shows at Annie’s. And he was quite familiar with the wrestling circuit and the minute we met he had an idea. He got in touch with the proper people and got me training with Les Thatcher of the HWA (Heartland Wrestling Association.) Through that, I got to move up the ranks, quite quickly. I trained for about a year and then things started to happen, and I started to get my pop. They started to push me, and I had a neck injury after doing a couple of dark matches and stuff for the ECW and the HWA, etc. I broke my neck. I have what they call a compression fracture on my C7 vertebrae and I never really recovered. I got really gun shy. As luck would have it, by doing that and stepping away I wound up at a show in Cleveland with uh…and you’ve already heard this story and they’ve read this story, I wound up at a show in Cleveland visiting the guys from Ratt where I got on the wrong tour bus. And here we are today.
TMR: The rest is history (laughs.) Obviously you’ve had a lot of injuries, and when we talked three years ago you were having a lot of issues with your heart, why would you risk going back and doing things in the ring and risk taking bumps and things like that?
JM: A lot of people ask me that and the ask if I’m psycho, stupid, or what the hell is wrong with me. I’m just going to put it this way…as the cardiologists started to work on me, and things kept going wrong, there was trial and error. Eventually, the medicines and the surgery started to work. Three years ago, they were talking about a heart transplant and today we’re just talking about just keeping the one that I have today sustained. So far, so good…knock on wood. I’m definitely not cured. At some point, I will need a heart transplant. But the reason I do it…and it might be a little bit egotistical, it might make me stupid, it might be whatever…but the reason I do it is two reasons. One is because I’ve become, for lack of better words, an attention whore. I love coming through that curtain. I love seeing the kid’s reactions and the adult’s reactions from the stands. I love the reactions. Wrestling for me is like medicine. What I mean by that is, it got me back into the gym. It got me working out again. It got me eating right. And by doing so, it helped my heart. The doctors were simply amazed because, like I said, they were talking about a heart transplant. I was like, hell no…this isn’t going to happen. Once I started doing my research on transplants, I heard that with heart transplants the average sustainability of life after the transplant is anywhere from 5-8 years. Not to say everyone is like that, but 5-8 years is the life of the heart before your body starts to reject it. I’m not ready to go.
So, Sean got me into the gym. Sean Casey got me into the gym. He got me working out and I really started to feel good again. By doing that, he asked me if I wanted to step in the ring and chokeslam a few people. Maybe put them through tables. And at first, I was a little hesitant. But when I did it for the first time since ’95, the itch came back. It was like wow, the people really dig this. I am a big guy and I’m getting a lot of recognition. Now, a lot of it came from Rock of Love and working with Bret and Poison. So, they knew who I was right away. But they never expected me to be able to wrestle and do the things I was doing. They thought that it was just going to be a gimmick and it was just going to be a novelty. Well, when I started running around the ring grabbing people and throwing them around and actually showing them what I could do, the popularity rose. It became almost addictive. I mean, right now even though I’m working with Bret I miss wrestling with all my heart. I miss seeing those fans. I have some little kids that are emailing me sending me messages on Facebook. Of course, with the supervision of their parents. That is one of the things that I emphasize the most. Do your mom and dad approve that you sent me this? They give me their names and I’ll contact their parents. Sometimes the parents will contact me and say hey, little Johnny wants to say hi. And I’ll call them, and I’ll say hey what’s going on bud? They’re like oh my gosh, Big John called! And the greatest thing about it is that it’s not about Rock of Love. It’s not about Poison. It’s not about anything on the road. It is about the character that I have built and what I have become in wrestling. Those kids have no idea what Rock of Love is. I mean we’re talking kids from ages 5 to 15. And you know, it’s been their parents of course. I think their parents are more likely to know who I am and what I have done in the past. But it’s really cool to come out there and hear these kids start chanting your name and screaming.
JM: The second reason is that I told the doctors…even though when I first started, they were hesitant. What are you doing? You cannot be doing this. I said look, I want to live but I am going to die on my own terms. That is the simplest way I can put it. I want to live but I’m going to die on my terms. When the time comes, it’s going to be on my terms and I’m not giving up. I’m not going to stop what keeps me kicking. I’m not going to stop what keeps me going and what makes me happy in order to sustain a zero to minimal experience in life.
JM: I’m going to live life to the fullest. I don’t want to die…well actually, I’ve died twice so I’m not afraid of it. But if it happens, it’s going to be on my terms. Its either going to be in the ring or on the road in a tour bus or whatever because I can’t…with being married and giving up everything to try to please her, it made me nothing more than miserable.
TMR: Yeah, could you kind of talk about what happened when you were down in Tampa? I know people probably know little bits of what happened, but it was pretty scary.
JM: Tampa, yeah. If you’re talking about last year when I was in Tampa.
TMR: All I know is that it was some scary stuff. But then to look at where you are now… So just for contrast, can you kind of tell us what happened as much as you’re comfortable with?
JM: Yeah. I was prepping to go on the Monsters of Rock Cruise at the end of January. I went down there a week early so we meet up and do all of our stuff. Right before I left for Tampa I was not feeling very good. I thought maybe I had a bad food allergy, or that I ate some bad sushi or something, you know. I had no idea. I thought it was just a food reaction. I got down there and the Superbowl’s on and all these parties are happening in Tampa. But I’m stuck up in my hotel room literally shaking. I was convulsing because I was so cold, but I was also so hot. It just went from one extreme to the other. I told Larry Morand, the director of the cruises, I said I’ve got the flu. If you could just let me lay in the room for a couple of days before we leave, I’ll be fine. Well, the night before we were supposed to take off, I went down there and they looked at me. One of the guys looked at me and said, somethings wrong. I could hear him… somethings wrong. He didn’t say it to me directly. Well, the next morning we woke up and were getting ready to go on the cruise and I started convulsing. I literally slid down onto the floor and called my cardiologist in front of everybody. I started to like…hallucinate. It was like, something is wrong. I don’t know if it’s my heart or what, but I think I am dying. And sure enough, they call the paramedics and I got to the hospital in Tampa. Saint Joseph’s Medical Center, which is a piece of shit hospital…and you can put that in print, I don’t care. I got there and the emergency room doctor says, I know who you are. You know you’re a wrestler. Ironically, he knew me from wrestling through a mutual friend of ours through Randy Savage. So yeah, I was giving him the run down and he said he was going to do some tests on me. Turns out that my gallbladder had exploded.
TMR: Awe, man
JM: And what happened was I went septic. I didn’t even know what the hell septic was, but it’s an infection in your blood that will kill you if it’s not treated. Well, I’m septic. I’m lying in their ICU expecting them to take my gallbladder out. For four days I laid in there and they didn’t do a damn thing. They would not do it because they tried to contact the V.A. This doctor wouldn’t do anything. He’s like, he’s got heart problems…I’m not operating on him. I said look. my heart is fine. Contact my cardiologist. And he refused. So, what I did is I called a friend of mine, Tammy Prock. You may have met Tammy.
TMR: Yeah, Tammy’s good people.
JM: I called Tammy and said Tammy, I need your help. She literally came in and saved my life because of what she did. She told them that if by 9 am the next day he’s not on a table being operated on, I’m taking him out of here. That is exactly what she did. She got me the hell out of there. She forced them to let me out and she put me on a plane…which I don’t remember, that’s how out of it I was. I was dying. I got on a plane and got back here to Cincinnati. I had a friend of mine, Tower picked me up and my mom took me to the ER. Or something like that, I don’t remember. One of those two took me to the hospital and immediately they were like okay, he’s septic. His gallbladder has exploded, and gangrene has set in. And something called necrosis, which is where the infection starts eating your organs. So, they immediately jammed a tube down my throat and medically induced a coma. I was in and out of a coma for 28 days. They thought I was going to die. That’s how bad it had gotten. And 28 days later after I literally… Sean Casey, Tower, and Nick…my buddy Nick got in there and the doctors were telling them what was not happening and what needs to be done. So, they were literally pulling me out of bed and teaching me how to walk again because I had forgotten. It’s not that I had forgotten, it was that my body wouldn’t do it. So, after 28 days they released me. I went home and spent another 2 or 3 months recovering. I had a big hole in my stomach and I had to keep packing it with gauze. It never healed right, so just this past June I believe it was, they went back in opened me up. They had to slice it open and take out all of the dead tissue and scar tissue. Then I had to re-heal again. But during that healing time, I’m still wrestling.
JM: Even wrestlers are looking at me like, are you out of your mind? I was like, I can’t go without it. It’s like crack (laughter.) But yeah, its really weird. All I can say is, I’ll never ignore my body again. You know what I mean? My body was telling me something was wrong, and I kept thinking okay, you’re going to get better. You’re going to get better, you’re going to get better…as opposed to the heart, where it was just like wham…it was there.
JM: This was something that dragged out about a week and a half. I kept ignoring it thinking it would get better, and then thinking okay, it’s over. The fever broke. Then all of a sudden, I get another fever and it was even higher. I started basically freezing cause I was so cold. What was happening was that my body was giving out and my organs were failing.
TMR: Had you had any problems with your gallbladder before that? Like gall stones or gallbladder…
TMR: Wow, that’s insane
JM: Which is why I never knew what a gallbladder was. When they said they needed to take out my gallbladder I was like, oh God…I’m going to die. They were like, no you’re not! (laughs.)
TMR: Thank God man. To think where you are now compared to then…it’s unbelievable.
JM: I wake up every day, Tony. Every single day and I think of what I’m thankful for. Not only friends…you know, Rikki (Rockett) and Brandon (Gibbs) did that benefit for me three years ago. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t think of where I was and where I was headed. I think of where I am today, and even I don’t understand it. The Man Upstairs has plans for me. I don’t know what they are. I’m not going to say that I have become an overly religious man, but I will tell you that there is someone looking out for me.
TMR: Definitely man, thank God. And then there was a shoulder surgery on top of that, right?
JM: (laughs) Yeah, there’s another thing. Add that into the equation. I was wrestling in Owensboro, KY. Sean and I had been in the gym for several months. I kept telling him that something was not right in my arm. Something was burning. It felt like a sunburn on the inside of my arm. It was just one little strand. It felt like lightning was going down my arm whenever we do curls, or whatever we were lifting. It was my right arm. He couldn’t figure it out because he had never gone through it before. I kept putting it off and putting it off. I started lifting less with that arm…you know, I started compensating. So, we’re wrestling in Owensboro, KY and there was a guy who I was going to chokeslam who weighs about 300 plus pounds. I didn’t get him fully off of the mat when I went to do the chokeslam …no fault of his. My shoulder popped out of socket and I tore my bicep, triceps, labrum tendon, another tendon, and my rotator cuff. Immediately, I knew something was wrong. Four months later I had surgery on it. I continued to wrestle, which probably did even more damage.
When I had the surgery the doctor looked at me and said, this is a one time shot. I don’t know what you did to your arm, but it can never be fixed again. I was like, one more thing to add to the repertoire. That took about 14 months to fully heal to where I was not in pain anymore. The weird thing is…here’s the bad part about it. As I told you in our previous discussion, I quit drinking and have been sober since late 2010. So, they gave me all of this damn medicine and I refused to take it. I was literally living with the pain and taking aspirin or Tylenol because I refused to take the pain medicine. So, that was quite an experience.
Stay tuned for part 5 of our 5 Most Wanted interviews with Big John Murray. John talks about getting back on the road with Bret Michaels and his brothers in Poison for this summer’s Stadium Tour. In the meantime, catch up on parts 1 – 3 here!