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July 28, 2014

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You really don’t know Mick Foley

One of wrestling’s most violent characters ever, is a writer, a comedian and a generous giver

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Shane M. Kidder

Mick Foley, or “Dude Love”

Mick Foley always gushed blood in the ring—sheets of red from rolling in barbed wire, being hit in the face with folding chairs, getting slammed nose-first into a table, padding the staged landings of professional wrestling’s greatest flying oafs.

There were matches when Mick Foley—aka Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love—passed out in the ring, then woke up to finish fighting. Matches where Foley fell on thumbtacks, set himself on fire, ripped out his hair, lost teeth, lost part of his ear. Matches where Foley, lying unconscious in his tights, made the announcer shout into his microphone, “Thaaat’s it! He’s dead! Will somebody STOP THE DAMN MATCH.”

Mick Foley wrestled for stadium audiences—fans in the tens of thousands. In Las Vegas on February 6, he appeared on stage at The Hilton for an audience of perhaps 100—fans in the tens of tens. People gathered not to watch Foley body-slam someone, but to watch him stand alone in the spotlight, telling funny stories about his career—an inside-joke show his promoters call Total Extreme Comedy with Mick Foley, which has played three cities including Las Vegas

Foley has made a career out of self-mutilation, and this is partly why fans love him—in a fake fight, Foley goes for real injuries. He feels audience entertainment is proportional to his level of personal risk. In the ring, Foley gives his fans what they want: blood. On the comedy stage, he gives them a version of the same: tales of his injuries, of life on the road, of the children he famously scared in the 1999 wrestling documentary Beyond The Mat—his own kids, who once came to watch their dad take nightmare lumps from The Rock and left screaming in tears before the match was over.

These stories are what the comedy fans were expecting, and that’s what they got: the wrestler wearing his mask. They didn’t even blink when Foley—missing two front teeth, with a curly kind of mullet, wearing a leather vest with sweat pants—dedicated the one-night show to someone he admires deeply: Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

He first encountered Shriver at the World Special Olympics Games in Shanghai, and said her speech about passion and anger in advocacy has stuck with him since.

Famous for feats of self-mutilation, Foley told this Weekly reporter that the last time he was really scared was sitting in front of a computer. He was training to become a volunteer for Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), a nonprofit dedicated to combating sexual assault, and when he couldn’t get the computer to work, he panicked—he so badly wanted to help.

Foley is donating half of the advance royalties for his third, upcoming memoir—Countdown to Lockdown—to RAINN. He’s donating the other half to victims of sexual abuse in Sierra Leone—he’s built seven schools there.

He only has advance royalties to give away because the other two memoirs he wrote spent weeks on the New York Times best-sellers list—most fans will know about that. What they probably don’t know, however, is that Foley has also written three children’s books and two works of fiction, both novels about young men living dysfunctional lives with problematic fathers. Boys fighting—psychically—for some kind of hope in strife.

Foley has said he loves the works of James Joyce and Marcel Proust. That one of his favorite songs is Puccini’s “E Lucevan le Stelle,” while Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” is another. (Foley once beat a foe in the wrestling ring with a Cohen CD.) He’d love to know how to play piano...

All of this is interesting only because, fair or not, nobody expects it from a wrestler. That’s the stigma. Sometimes, he says, it works in his favor. He hopes, for example, that people will find it so unusual that a professional wrestler donates his time and money to victims of sexual violence that they’ll pay more attention to the issue.

“If it’s a double-edged sword, there are far more pros than cons in being identified with wrestling,” he said.

Sitting in a dressing room after the Vegas comedy show, Foley said he’s happy playing for any crowd—70,000 in a stadium, or 100 in a local theater. And the comedy show was a charity event, with part of the proceeds going to Best Buddies, a national nonprofit for the intellectually and developmentally disabled, so selling even one ticket was reason for the wrestler to celebrate. Even if it meant telling stories about the dingy sock puppet Foley is famous for storing in the crotch of his wrestling tights—Mr. Socko—and shoving down the throat of other wrestlers.

“As long as you are putting smiles on the faces you see,” Foley said, “I think the night’s work is successful.”

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