I first met Tommy Billington at the Stampede Pavilion on March 20th, 1989. This would fit in around page 163. He was in the back with Harley Race having a fortified soda. It was the last vestiges of the old territories, when I think about it I think only Owens and Jarrett were left. There was a lot of talent there. Muraco vs. Davey Boy Smith. Race vs. Ron Ritchie. Cuban Assasin and Gerry Morrow. Johnny Smith vs. Eddie Watts. Chris Benoit. Mike Shaw.
The late Gary Albright. The late Larry Cameron. The late Brian Pillman. And of course Mr. Billington, who details many close calls that would add him to that list. In streetclothes, drinking in the back with Harley Race, he asked me where I was from and when I said Winnipeg, Tom gruffly said "lucky you got out." Ed Whelan sat me at ringside with Bulldog Bob Brown. Calgary was coming to an end, I was there to see it and there was nothing the old warhorse could do about it. Even though Tom had the book, dealing with jealousy from Bruce, a disaffected crew and a couple of bounced cheques made it impossible to turn around.
Almost 13 years later, I am reading his life story, his career cut short by injury and the ravages of drug and other abuse. I can't begin to count the number of younger guys I have met who cite Dynamite as a childhood hero.
A star in Portland, Stampede, Japan, England, the early 80's (when I broke in) was a boom period, with the business being hot due to the emergence of cable TV and videotape. It was a time when maintaining the illusion of reality, in a kayfabe if not storyline sense, was mandatory. If you didn't respect the business, you didn't last and certainly wouldn't make it. I don't think that this book disrespects the business, not nowadays.
(The one part of the book that at all coincides with my early experience actually involves some mixed up facts. On page 58 he refers to "a wrestler in from Georgia... Charles Bouffant." It's a funny story because after Dynamite squashed the monster, Smith Hart argued with Stu about it and hoofed Stu from behind right in the nuts. Then on page 54 there is a reference to a tour of Antigua - which he figured had soemthing to do with Smith.
The two stories are related. In fact, the wrestler in question was Charles Buffong, and he was booked into New Brand Wrestling for the same reason he was in Stampede, to get the promotion into Antigua. And Dynamite is correct, he was terrible.)
The era of world travel, learning different styles and cultures, making and reuniting with friends in far-flung locales, are recalled in vivid detail. The story of his making it to and in North America is fascinating. Anyone who has seen footage from the New Japan office will eat up the inside story of his rise to prominance and jump with Davey Boy to All Japan. In the early 80's, Dynamite, Tiger Mask and Davey Boy (by Billington's account, an ungrateful coat-tailer) were at the forefront of a revolution that caught on at least for awhile everywhere but where it counted, the USA. Then the British Bulldogs became the team to beat as McMahon raised the stakes on the industry with his WWF marketing machine. So fame and fortune came his way. At a huge price.
But this book is as much an admission, generally unapologetic, of the excesses and self-abuse inherent in an industry evolved from the carnival that throws talent and ego into a whirlwind from which great success or failure can evolve. Risk was set aside for career. Ergo, page 116, "but in Hershey Park, we got them from Dr. Zahorian."
Steroids, pain killers, recreational drugs, boozing, working matches in a state of, well, a state, all topics in Billington's rear-view mirror.
His lengthy association with the Harts, including a punch-up with Bruce, relationship with Bret (they married sisters), working for Stu,
all exposed. McMahon, Hogan, Beefcake ("a load of shit"), Junkyard Dog (bad drug story), frankly discussed. Stars of yesteryear like Leo Burke (buried), Dan Spivey (loves him), Honky Tonk Man (read it). All there.
Even a brief story about starting a fight between ET (Tommy) Stanton and Bobby Fulton.
A lot of people who have read the book have come out of it with a sour view of Billington and his antics around the territories. Calgary was famous for ribs that were often mean spirited. In ring he had a rep. There are a couple of stories, legend in the business about him deliberatly hurting people, that are left out. Still this was not written to rehabilitate Billington's image. He is brutally honest about his career and life.
To me, Stampede was always a quirky taste, very Canadian, but a lot of wrestlers who went there did not like it. A lot of politics, a lot of Harts. In the manner of a jungle, Billington clearly adhered to the philosophy of survival of the fittest. He ended up crippled by pain and seizures, a divorced father of 3, and now is disabled. By his own account, he has "no regrets." I ask the reader to judge Billington's fate on their own.
A lot of these kinds of stories, in our day, were never divulged. Yes there were drugs and steroids and partying and daring wild adventures and violent fights and getting screwed by promoters. We just kept it to ourselves. But Tommy names names, and without hesitation.
The onslaught of factoids and fictions continue to be put before the public by pro wrestling personalities shedding the years of kayfabe. Pure Dynamite is by far the best book of the bunch. For any aspiring or current wrestler you will not be able to put the book down. Casual fans from the 80's and early 90's will also enjoy the read. There are a few missakes but nothing too obvious or dumb. To the modern day fan, it may come off as a history lesson, but one with valuable lessons that repeat themselves in wrestling. Maybe you won't like Tommy Billington after you read the book, but your appreciation for the life and times of Dynamite Kid will be vast.