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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Remembering A Great Friend

(Author's Note: All photos in this blog are my personal photos.)

While I try to be humorous and relaxed with my other blog entries here, this entry will be a little bit different. This is something I thought about writing a lot today when I realized what day it was. Today is the day that would've been a friend's 51st birthday. Unfortunately, that friend is no longer with us. This blog will be about remembering that friend, the one and only "Dr. Death" Steve Williams.

I first met Doc purely by accident when he came into my store in April 2008. At first, I thought maybe it was just a guy that looked like Steve Williams (I believed he lived in Oklahoma, as that's where he went to school). After I asked him how he was doing and got a response, I couldn't help myself. "I'm sorry to ask this, sir," I started, "but aren't you 'Dr. Death' Steve Williams?" He just looked at me, gave me a smile and said that he was. At this point, I turned into an idiot fan boy-the kind of wrestling fan I normally hate-and started gushing to him about how I was such a big fan and couldn't believe he was in my store. Now, he could've acted embarrassed or even irritated that a fan was gushing over him, and I would have understood completely, as I know this kind of thing happens to famous wrestlers all the time and it can get irritating for them. Instead, his grin just got bigger and he said "Thank you!" He continued to shop in the store, while I just stood there, semi-dumbfounded. After he decided what he wanted, he had to run back out to his truck to get his credit card.

Once he came back in, I decided that I should at least strike up conversation with him, if for no other reason than it was the polite thing to do. Yes, he was famous, but he was also a customer, after all. Now, as I said, I thought he lived in Oklahoma, so the first thing I asked was what brought him to Colorado, and that I knew he was doing a show here soon, but it wasn't until June. Again, surprisingly, he was very open and told me about how he was actually from Lakewood originally and had moved back a while ago to take care of his mother, who was legally blind. I wasn't expecting that much information, as I didn't mean to get nosey and personal with him. But Doc never made me feel like I was being nosey. He was just an honest man and gave me an honest answer. I shared a little more small talk with him, told him I'd be at the show in June, and I looked forward to seeing him again. He smiled, replied with a similar sentiment, and went on his way.

Fast forward a couple months later, and it was time for the show I mentioned earlier. Doc had his own table set up, and was selling hats, photos, copies of his autobiography, etc. I walked up to him as I wanted to get an autographed photo and maybe get my photo taken with me. He shook my hand and I said, "I don't know if you remember me, but you came into my store in Lakewood a couple of months ago." Again, I would've understood if he didn't remember me, as I was sure he met fans all the time. He took a second to think, and immediately said, "[Store name]. I bought Muscle Milk from you, right?" He remembered me! We continued talking for a few minutes, and when I asked to get a picture with him, he was more than happy to oblige (the picture at the end of this blog). He then proceeded to take a photo with my wife Heather, and my stepdaughter.

Now, before I continue, a little back story for those that might not know. In 2004, Steve was diagnosed with throat cancer, and it was unknown whether he would survive it or not. Well, he not only managed to beat the odds and survive (he had to have a stoma put into his throat in order to communicate, but otherwise made a full recovery), but actually resumed his wrestling career after that, truly defying the odds.

By 2008, he had been nearly four years cancer-free and looked almost as good in the ring as he did prior to the disease taking over. He had also found a new lease on life and began living every day to the fullest. He was never shy about talking about the cancer, and took time out of his day to encourage others to take care of themselves so they didn't suffer the same fate, namely quit smoking. He became a very inspirational person for both fans and other wrestlers alike. Anyway, back to the story.

After this show in June, I began to see Doc at least once a month at following wrestling shows, talking more and more with him each time, and we got to the point where I could actually call him my friend. He always made time to come talk to Heather and I at shows, even if it was just for a moment or two. As it turns out, that's just how Doc was. He was a friendly, outgoing guy who found good in nearly everyone he met.

After a couple of months, I decided that I needed to buy a copy of his book (BTW, if you'd like to buy a copy, it is out of print now, but used copies can still be found at places like At one of the shows, I bought three copies-one for myself, another copy for a friend of my mom's, and one for my grandmother, who is also a wrestling fan-and he gave each one a personalized autograph, even addressed the one to my grandma with the line "Dear Grandma Jo". I told him a little bit about my grandmother, who is also a cancer survivor, and how she was able to overcome the odds like he did. He smiled at me as I told him about her, a smile I came to really like. He just had a smile that you could see a mile away, the kind that was one in a million and was as genuine as you could possibly hope for. He then told me to make sure that I told her to keep fighting and that he would keep her in his thoughts and prayers.

We kept going to these shows, and would always see Doc and chat him up. He would sometimes attend the show after parties at Buffalo Wild Wings as well, and we'd chat him up a bit more. He always seemed happy to talk to friends and fans, and never acted like it was a burden. He always seemed happy around other people, and as I got to know him more and more, I found it was always genuine happiness.

We ended up missing a couple of shows at the beginning of 2009 because Heather gave birth to our only daughter together (her third child, my first). We decided at one point to see how she'd do at a wrestling show, despite being an infant and took her to one. Turns out she did just fine, not being fussy or cranky or anything like that. So, when ACW, the wrestling promotion Doc was mainly working for in Colorado and the promotion we would usually see himi at, ran a show in April of 2009, we decided we'd take our daughter with us, despite her only being three months old at the time. As usual, Doc was at his merchandise table, talking to fans, taking pictures and whatnot. As we began to walk up to him with our daughter, Doc looked at us and then looked away, only to do a double-take and look at us again. When he saw our baby girl, his entire face lit up (he was a parent and grandfather himself, and absolutely loved kids) and said "Well! What do we have here?" We told him about our daughter, when she was born, her name, etc., and then I said, "I probably know the answer to this, but could we get a picture of you and our daughter together?" Before I could even finish my sentence, he had his hands stretched out, ready to hold her. He wanted to take the picture almost as much as we did! He scooped her up in his arms and gave us his signature "Thumbs Up" to pose for this photo:
It instantly became my all-time favorite photo.

Towards the end of the year, Doc decided that wrestling was wearing him out and that it was time to retire. If anyone deserved a nice retirement, it was Doc. He had wrestled for every major promotion in the U.S. and Japan (and man, was he a huge star in Japan), had become a household name for many wrestling fans, and was a living legend. Unfortunately, his retirement got pushed up a couple of months. In August 2009, Doc's throat cancer had come back, only about a month shy of his five-year anniversary of being cancer-free. That same month, ACW held a retirement show for Doc, going as far as to fly former WWE diva Dawn Marie to the show, who had become friends with Doc through her charity organization Wrestler's Rescue (she was in the process of helping raise money to get Doc a hands-free device to allow him to communicate more easily. At this point, he would have to hold his thumb to the stoma in order to speak). That night, Doc beat ACW Heavyweight Champion Franco D'Angelo to win the belt, giving him one last shining moment in his career before retirement. He made a speech as the entire locker room emptied to pay their respect, and he told those in attendance that night, "I beat this once. I'll beat it again."

Unfortunately, Doc was not able to beat cancer the second time, and in December 2009, just days after Christmas, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams passed away at the age of just 49 years old. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. I was in shock the entire day after I found out, and felt numb for weeks afterwards.

In January, ACW put on a tribute show for Doc, with all money from the show going to his family to help cover his final debts such as funeral services. Former WCW World Champion Vader, a Colorado native and close friend of Doc's, also came to the show to pay his final respects. I did not stop crying for nearly the entire show, and I wasn't the only one. Many of the wrestlers could not keep it together, and many in the audience had a difficult time as well.

To this day, I still have a difficult time thinking about Doc. I think about him and I smile, but at the same time, in the back of my mind, it dawns on me he is not with us anymore. After he had been gone for about a year, I decided I wanted to honor him in some way, and the best way to do that would be with a tattoo. In February of this year, I finally had the tattoo done on my shoulder. It is the most meaningful tattoo I have on my body, and I hope that, if there is an afterlife, he can see it and he is looking at it with a smile on his face.

I only got to know Doc the last year and a half or so of his life, so I can't claim to know him as well as other people did. I wish I had gotten a chance to know him much better, and I still regret never being able to take him out to dinner like I had planned on. However, the memories I do have of him, I will cherish for the rest of my life, and I will never forget the time I spent with him, no matter how brief it was.

Doc, you left us way too soon, and I miss you every day of my life. I love you, my friend.


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