It may be some time before we find out what’s been going on with Ric Flair since he was admitted to an Atlanta hospital on Aug. 11 for an undisclosed emergency surgery.
But if you’re a fan eager to learn as many details as possible about the two-time WWE Hall of Fame inductee’s public and private life between the period of roughly 2007 to 2016, you’ll get your chance on Sept. 19, when the book he co-authored with daughter Ashley Fliehr (aka WWE star Charlotte Flair) is set to be released.
The first half of the memoir – “Second Nature: The Legacy of Ric Flair and the Rise of Charlotte” – centers around Flair’s first induction into the Hall of Fame and the legendary match with Shawn Michaels that sent him into retirement from the WWE, both of which happened on the same weekend in 2008; the second half details Charlotte’s formative years in her hometown of Charlotte (with dozens of references to people, places and things in the city) and her rise through the ranks that led to her historic WWE championship in 2016.
It also delves deeply into their strong bonds with Reid Fliehr – Ric’s son and Charlotte’s brother, a once-promising professional wrestler who seemed destined to carry on the family legacy but died from an accidental drug overdose in 2013 at age 25.
(This is “Nature Boy’s” second book; his first, “To Be The Man,” was published in 2004. “Second Nature” was co-written with Brian Shields.)
We mined the 405 pages of recollections from the father-daughter duo and dug up the passages that leapt off the page at us like Ric Flair or Charlotte coming off the top rope:
Excerpts from Ric Flair’s sections:
1. He says excess and braggadocio were essential to his “Nature Boy” character: “I did whatever I could to make the people believe what they saw was the real deal: from buying a limousine from the governor of North Carolina and hiring a gas station attendant to be my driver . . . to appearing in handmade suits with alligator shoes and a Rolex President that shone like the sun . . . to filling my closets with diamond-studded robes that cost $10,000 a pop. To make them today would cost around $30,000 each.” But he also says he was so consumed by this charade that “nothing else mattered. “What I do know is that I won’t go down in history as the greatest father – not because I didn’t care or try – because I was so focused on myself.”
2. He shares details about each one of his four failed marriages. In discussing his first wife, Leslie Goodman, he writes that he panicked upon being pulled from the wreckage of the 1975 plane crash that almost killed him: “The EMTs pulled us out, and I heard one of them say, ‘Hurry up. We might lose this one.’ I thought, They’re talking about me. So I said to the guy, ‘Go into my shaving kit. There’s a letter in there. Take it out and get rid of it. I wrote a letter to a girl telling her how much I loved her.’ If I wasn’t going to make it, I didn’t want my wife Leslie to discover the letter when she was sorting through my personal effects.” He said his third, Tiffany VanDemark, took four of his robes from his memorabilia room when their divorce was finalized: “What I later learned in court was that she met someone online and allegedly sold the robes on the side of the highway for about $7,500. They were easily worth an estimated $50,000.” And he said his fourth, Jackie Beems, exhibited “violent, unpredictable behavior” at the end of their relationship: After an argument, “She went down a line of martini glasses and smashed them into her head. She said she was going to make herself bleed and then call the police and tell them I beat her up,” Flair writes.
3. He peels back the curtain on the inner workings of the sport, and how it dovetails with entertainment. In talking about his retirement match against Shawn Michaels in 2008, he writes: “Shawn reminded me to keep quiet during the match and listen to him. In our business, you work together to create an incredible performance. Almost always, one of the performers leads the match by ‘calling’ certain things to be done at certain times. When I came up in the business, we called it in the ring, so we knew where our story was going and how it would end. But the points in between, in terms of how, were left to the performers’ abilities to tell a story based on the audience’s reaction.”
4. He criticizes former World Championship Wrestling executive vice president Jim Herd for, in the late ’80s, wanting Flair “to change my name, cut my hair and put in a diamond earring – all to appeal to a younger demographic.” “Jim’s idea was to get rid of the name Ric Flair and call me Spartacus,” Flair writes. “I remember Kevin Sullivan saying, ‘Why don’t we take the number seven off Mickey Mantle’s uniform while we’re at it?’ ” “It seemed everything Jim touched during his tenure with WCW was destined for failure.”
5. He reveals how WWE CEO Vince McMahon once loaned him a large amount of money to help him through some financial struggles: “I wouldn’t let my kids borrow this amount of money from me,” Flair says McMahon told him. When he told McMahon he wanted to thank him in his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2008, Flair writes that “Vince’s eyes widened. He said, ‘Absolutely not. If you do that, I’m going to come out there and lay you out with a chair.’ ”
6. He describes the 2008 incident in Chapel Hill that led to the arrest of his daughter, following a middle-of-the-night fight with then-boyfriend Riki Johnson (who she would later marry and divorce). Flair alleges that when he tried to step in, Johnson yelled, “ ‘Your daughter–!’ and that’s all I had to hear. My daughter did everything for this guy. He could barely hold a job. I got up and said, ‘Do you think you’re a man behaving this way? You’re not a man.’ Ashley’s boyfriend exploded in a fury and started throwing punches at me. I just stood there. ... Police arrived, and all hell broke loose. ... When one of the police officers entered her space and asked her to put her hands behind her back, I heard her say, ‘Don’t touch me. I said don’t touch me.’ The next thing I knew, the officer used a Taser to subdue her. She was brought to the floor and taken into police custody in handcuffs. Her boyfriend assaulted me, I had bruises on my face, and somehow my daughter, who tried to be the peacekeeper, was arrested.”
7. He remembers the sudden realization that he had been in denial about his son Reid’s substance abuse problems: “Putting everything together – the partying at school, those failed tests, and the recent road incidents with police – I felt like a building fell on me,” Flair writes.
8. He remains angry about media coverage of his son’s problems: “The intense scrutiny from the Charlotte media, while he tried to deal with a private matter, made things worse for Reid. I’ll never forgive them for going out of their way to publicize my son’s struggles and what he was dealing with.”
9. But he also places a lot of blame on himself for Reid’s death: “Did I push him too hard as an athlete? Did I let him see too much of the partying lifestyle? Was I too much of a best friend? Should I have brought myself to do what the experts recommended and administer tough love? Would he still be here if I had? ... I’ll never recover from not being able to save my son.”
Excerpts from Charlotte’s sections:
1. She provides a window into how wealthy her family was when she was a girl: “My parents had a dollhouse built for me,” she writes. “I don’t mean the Barbie Dreamhouse in my bedroom with a pink Corvette next to it, or something with a handle that I could take with me, or even a scale model of a Victorian home. This was my own house. Just off our deck was a little white wood house – something off the pages of my mom’s Southern Living magazine. Once you passed the planted flowers in the front, you’d open the door and walk on Italian marble floors, stroll under elegant ceiling fans in each room, and see a ladder that led to a second-floor loft that was a bedroom.”
2. In 2006, not long after Charlotte’s father and mother were officially divorced, Ric Flair married Tiffany VanDemark, a woman Charlotte initially resented for playing a part in breaking up her family. Charlotte and her brother, Reid, proceeded to treat their dad’s wedding day “like we were at a college keg party.” Family friend Paul Levesque (aka “Triple H”) recalls, in a footnote: “On our way out, we saw Ashley passed out on the side of a walkway at the hotel. Steph (his wife, Stephanie McMahon) took care of her. We knew seeing her dad get remarried was not easy.”
3. She says she “said a lot of hurtful things to my dad” after the family was broken apart, but recalls forgiving him the weekend he retired from the WWE in 2008: “Seeing how happy he was with us from the moment we arrived in Orlando to the time we said goodbye in the hotel, that process began and I didn’t even realize it. The hug we shared in the hotel lobby before we went our separate ways was one of the strongest we’d had in a long time. Wrestling kept him away from his family more than he wanted, but it was wrestling that brought us back together.”
4. In a fair amount of detail, she chronicles her ugly relationship with Riki Johnson, her first husband. She gave up a Division I volleyball scholarship and left Appalachian State after her sophomore year to live with Johnson, who at the time was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Riki was Jekyll and Hyde,” she writes. “If he was happy, things were great; he was the man of my dreams. If he was angry, everyone knew it, and it would be taken out on someone or something.” Charlotte shares her side of the much-publicized 2008 altercation in Chapel Hill, and alleges there were multiple instances in which arguments led to him becoming physically violent with her. In one, “Riki started swinging at me like we were in a street fight. Over his screams, I could hear his fists hit my arms. I managed to block most of the punches, but one shot got me in the ribs. I began to gasp for air, but he didn’t stop.” In another, “Riki punched me right in the head.” “I think about that girl now, and it brings tears to my eyes. How did I get there? Why was this going on? Why wasn’t I strong enough, brave enough, to end this?”
5. At one point, Charlotte took her brother Reid into the house, but he moved out after Charlotte discovered Reid and her husband were using drugs together. After that, “Every day, another piece of my heart broke over what had happened.” She divorced Johnson in 2011 after just one year of marriage.
6. She says her brother put her on the path to realizing her life’s work, and that the spirit of her brother provides her with motivation: “Reid pushed me to pursue a WWE career, and now I’m living his dream,” she writes. “I sense his presence most when I’m performing – walking to the ring, feeling the canvas underneath my boots and the ropes across my hands. WrestleMania week is when I get the strongest sense that Reid is by my side. I think it will be that way for the rest of my life.”