Chris Kanyon beat long odds to achieve his childhood dream of pro wrestling stardom.
What he couldn’t conquer were the mental health issues that contributed to Kanyon’s 2010 suicide at the age of 40.
His sad tale is told in a new autobiography that Kanyon was writing with co-author Ryan Clark at the time of his death. Wrestling Reality not only chronicles Kanyon’s grappling career but his battle with depression, bipolar disorder and the personal struggles faced because of his sexual orientation. Kanyon (real name Chris Klucsartis) spent most of his life trying to conceal the fact he was homosexual from friends and fellow wrestlers because of concerns with how such news would be received.
Clark, a former newspaper reporter, met Kanyon five years ago when covering a “National Coming-Out Day” event at Northern Kentucky University. By then, Kanyon had finally become comfortable with revealing his secret publicly and was encouraging others to do the same.
“I’m not gay and wasn’t a wrestling fan, but when I listened to Chris speak I thought his was an amazing story that anyone could identify with,” Clark said. “At some point in our lives, we’ve all been outsiders or had that feeling of not belonging.
“At that point, Chris had really overcome his demons. He was trying to help people deal with their issues whether it was manic depression or being honest about their sexuality.”
Kanyon realized he was gay while in junior high school but never made that admission publicly until wrestling on a small independent card in February 2006. By then, Kanyon’s time in the grappling spotlight had ended.
Injuries and a lack of promotional push in WWE had kept Kanyon from reaching the same heights he did in World Championship Wrestling, which used him as a prominent mid-card performer from 1997 to 2001 because of his outstanding in-ring skills and innovative maneuvers.
Kanyon was so talented that he was hired as stunt coordinator to provide technical advice for two movies featuring wrestling scenes: Ready to Rumble and The Jesse Ventura Story, a made-for-TV biopic about the colourful grappler who later became governor of Minnesota.
Kanyon joined WWE in 2001 when that company purchased WCW. After making a strong debut — he enjoyed two different title reigns in a three-week span — Kanyon quickly moved down the WWE ladder. Then he was sidelined by a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
When he returned, Kanyon was asked to dress in drag and sing like Boy George before a match against The Undertaker. Kanyon, who had a lengthy history of concussions, suffered another when violently whacked with a chair in a lopsided beat-down. Kanyon, who believes he was set-up by WWE management as a form of humiliation for being a closeted homosexual, was never featured prominently in WWE again. He was released in February 2004.
Kanyon had hoped to reinvent himself as an openly gay grappler without the stereotypical effeminate and sexual mannerisms long associated with such characters in pro wrestling. Kanyon claimed to have pitched the idea to WWE brass but it was rejected.
To this day, no major grappling companies has ever promoted that type of performer. Gay wrestlers and promoters also have long decided to remain closeted because of concerns about public backlash and negative reaction among their peers.
Clark hopes that Kanyon’s story can help change how homosexuality is perceived in pro wrestling and also erase some of the stigmas associated with seeking treatment for psychological disorders.
“Maybe this book can open some minds a little bit,” said Clark, who noted that “Chris would have absolutely loved” wrestling to have the kind of gay character he’d proposed.
“For those questioning their sexuality, it’s OK,” Clark continued. “Be honest with yourself. For those suffering from bipolar disorder, take your meds. You can live your life and be OK.”
Kanyon’s mental-health problems proved too much for him to overcome. Kanyon, who opened the book recalling an aborted suicide attempt in 2003 following The Undertaker incident, overdosed on prescription medication last year in his apartment in Queens, N.Y.
Clark said Kanyon’s erratic behavior made it difficult for him to complete Wrestling Reality.
“It was all about starts and stops,” said Clark, who is now the new media editor at Northern Kentucky University. “We only met face-to-face two or three times. When Chris felt good, we could work. We would have these epic seven-hour conversations He was a great storyteller.
“But we could only talk when he was feeling well. Sometimes that wasn’t for weeks. I wouldn’t hear from him when I would try to call and text. I wondered if we going to finish. He was spiraling. I would talk to some friends of his and Chris would sometimes talk to them about dying.
“You knew that in some ways this was not going to end up well and there was not going to be a happy ending. When I got the call about his death, I was shocked — but at the same time I wasn’t. I’ve asked myself if there was something I could have done even being so far away. I don’t know. Those are questions I’ll always ask.”
Clark did know that it was important to Kanyon’s family that Wrestling Reality was published, which is why he is especially grateful to ECW Press for obliging.
“In a lot of ways this is a beautiful story,” Clark said. “There are some funny moments in it. Chris was very honest and had a story to tell.”
Alex Marvez takes a ringside look at the latest in professional wrestling in LIFE on Thursday. Contact him at email@example.com.