The Million Dollar Man hits the silver screen for one-night only, opening up about his past vices and long road to redemption.
On November 7, “The Price of Fame” comes to more than 600 select movie theaters across the United States, chronicling Ted DiBiase’s journey from greedy pro wrestling villain to ordained minister and family man. The documentary covers the WWE Hall of Famer’s career, with appearances by contemporaries like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, George “The Animal” Steele and Terry Funk, and his renewed pursuit of a Christian lifestyle.
With a running time of 1 hour, 45 minutes, the PG-13 film serves as cautionary tale for current and aspiring pro athletes as well as a heartwarming, family-friendly tale before the holidays.
For ticket prices and a list of theaters showing the film, visit www.thepriceoffame.com.
DiBiase spoke with The Wrestling Estate in preparation for the film’s release.
How did the idea for this documentary come about?
Ted DiBiase: “Peter Ferriero, one of the producers of the film, approached me about doing – what we call in the business – a shoot interview. Pete does wedding video and photography, so he was doing the interview for a friend. In shoot interviews, you talk about real life so if you start asking me questions, I start talking about my real life and what God has done in it. In Pete’s own words, he said he was the son of a minister and my story resonated with him. It helped turn his own life around in some ways.
My son came along to add a little twist to the story. I’m telling my story and you’re seeing it through my son’s eyes. It’s a story of personal redemption, the redemption and salvation of my marriage, the relationship with my children.”
You’ve done many shoot interviews about your wrestling career, but this film focuses on areas you haven’t really explored before. Was that uncomfortable for you?
DiBiase: “Well, I’ve explored it for 17 years. I’ve traveled all around the world sharing the basic story that’s told here. But this is different because you’re not hearing the story – you’re seeing the story. I have traveled as a minister in evangelism for 17 years. I’ve spoken in a number of churches in the United States, Canada and a number of foreign countries. But there’s a whole new generation out there that hasn’t heard this story.
The other thing that makes this different is there are interviews in this story from a number of my contemporaries. Some of the guys that we hear from are no longer with us. Roddy Piper is gone, George Steele is gone. Terry Funk is still with us – he’s quoted. Harley Race is quoted. Jake Roberts is quoted. There are a number of guys included that were involved with my career because it’s also the story of my career.”
You mentioned Piper and Steele having passed away and recently, we lost Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Do you have any good Bobby stories to share?
DiBiase: “I just loved Bobby. In my opinion, he was the best in terms of you can put him on the mic and let him go. He had that quick wit. He was as funny in real life as he was on television. He was an all-around great guy.
I never actually wrestled Bobby, but my deal on television with Bobby was I paid him off to sell me Hercules. (laughs) Bobby was great. I miss him. We all miss him. I mean, my gosh, to lose his voice…that was his thing. Most people would have just gone into depression, but he never changed. I’d see him at some of these autograph signings and of course his wife was always with him. God bless her, she could understand what he was saying and tell you what he was trying to say because it was hard to understand him. But to his credit, his personality never changed and he never lost it.”
You also mentioned Terry Funk. His family trained you, right?
DiBiase: “I was trained by a lot of guys. I chose West Texas State over the University of Arizona because I could have played college football at either school. I went to a smaller school largely because of the influence of the Funks and my love of wrestling. I already had it figured out that I wouldn’t be fast enough to play in the NFL, and I was right.
When I first started, I was a referee for two summers. You don’t realize how much psychology you learn about the matches when you’re the third man in the ring. So their influence was huge on my life in wrestling. Harley Race was another guy, Dick Murdoch, Karl Kox. These guys were great. They were great performers.”
Are you surprised that the Funks are still wrestling?
DiBiase: “Well, I don’t know about Terry. I think Terry pretty well really retired now.”
Oh, no. He just wrestled a few weeks ago.
DiBiase: “Are you kidding?”
No, he wrestled with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and Jerry Lawler.
DiBiase: “That really amazes me. (laughs) This is crazy.”
In the film, you say that WrestleMania IV was your finest hour. Why is that?
DiBiase: “They had spent several months building my character to this event. To me, it was really the launch point. My son says ‘Well, I wrestled at WrestleMania.’ Really? Did you ever wrestle three matches at WrestleMania? It’s one thing to be a part of the show, but it’s another thing to be a part of the show throughout the show.
The matchup I had with Randy was a great match. I enjoyed it. It was actually the first time I ever worked with the guy, which is a testament to Randy as well. Then going forward from there, I was all over the country in tag team matches with Andre.”
How was your relationship with Vince McMahon back then, and how is it today?
DiBiase: “Obviously, it was great back then and it’s fine today. I went back to work for the company in ‘05 for a year and a half. They wanted me to be part of the creative team, one of the producers. I told them up front that I’m not Clint Eastwood . I’m not the story teller. You tell me what the story is and what you want, and I can go out there and make the magic happen.
It’s just a different business. Arn Anderson and I had a long conversation about it. I told him I feel like I’ve come back to a business I’ve known all my life and I’m a stranger. He said in a way, I was. But the difference between him and I was that I went away. He’s been there through all the changes. It’s more drama than wrestling, to be honest. There’s a whole lot more talking than there is action today.”
Well, you’d certainly still excel. You’re one of the best talkers in the history of wrestling.
DiBiase: “Yeah, but it’s really too hard for me to explain. It just wasn’t my thing. I’m still on the Legends contract and I go back every year for WrestleMania. They have asked me in the past year to come back for a cameo appearance. Unfortunately, I was obligated to other things at the time. That’s the way the business is. Someone will have a great idea and say, ‘call him and see if he can be here Monday.’ (laughs) Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.”
What was your favorite Million Dollar Man segment?
DiBiase: “Well, the one that everybody talks about, the one that I just get bombarded with constantly, is the one with the little kid and the basketball. This was Milwaukee, Wisconsin and I asked what’s Milwaukee famous for. Somebody said beer and basketball. We couldn’t do anything with beer, so we did something with basketball. We picked this little boy, he was probably 6 years old. We rehearsed it. He dribbles it once for 10 times and then I say, ‘okay kid, if you can do it 15 times without missing, you got 500 bucks. I can tell you can really use the money, pal.’
So I had to be hardcore when we did it live. I scared him. He had these crocodile tears and went running to his mother. He couldn’t have done it any better. I felt bad because I didn’t mean to make him cry. But it really made a heel out of me. Of course when I got to the back, everybody was giving me high fives. I said I’m glad you’re all pleased, but I need an armored vehicle to get me out of the building.
That’s probably number one, so much so that they actually put out an action figure of me, and in the box with the figure was a gold briefcase and a basketball.”
This film – “The Price of Fame” – reminds me of the “Resurrection of Jake the Snake.”
DiBiase: “Yeah, two lives were changed. We all go down a path in life and as I speak to young people today, I tell them there is no real shame in failing or falling. That’s human nature – we’re all going to fall. Again, the words of Jesus Christ, he said, ‘He who is without sin casts the first stone.’ Before you start talking about the guy you see on TV, get yourself right before you worry about somebody else. There’s no shame in falling – the shame is in staying down. You learn from your mistake and get back up. If you can get back up, the rewards are great.
The price of fame is whatever you make it. My hope is that people come away from this with an understanding that all the things they think are important, you know, to have happiness I need to make a lot of money and have a good job and a nice, cozy house and a good car. Man, wouldn’t it be great if I could be famous and be on TV like one of those guys? I want them to understand that it’s not what you think it is. The things that are really valuable in life are the love and commitment of a family. There’s nothing more important in my life today than the relationship I have with my wife and my children.
People come up to me and say, ‘you’re really the Million Dollar Man? You’re so outrageously wealthy?’ I say no, but what I do have today is the love and respect of my wife and my children. I have the privilege of watching my grandchildren grow up. You can’t put a price tag on that. All those other things will make you happy for a little while, but they won’t satisfy you or give you the contentment you need in life.”
When your son Ted told you he wanted to enter the business, did you have an intimate conversation with him about all of this?
DiBiase: “Well, yeah. The thing I also understood as a father is you can talk until you’re blue in the face but there are some things in life that people can’t possibly understand until they experience it. It was one of those places where I realized I’d have to let my son go and let him discover it on his own. And he did. At one point, they were touting him as the next guy, the next John Cena.
Then he got hurt. Then he got married and had a son. Then he called me one day and said, ‘Dad, you’re right. With the amount of time I have to give to the business, I’m never home. It’s not fair to my wife and my son.’ When his contract came up, he just declined. They wanted to resign him and he said thank you, but no thank you. And he stepped away.”
How did you feel about that?
DiBiase: “Oh, I was happy. I was proud that he did as well as he did, but I was glad that he figured it out. I couldn’t be happier for him today.”
Do you wish you stepped away earlier than you did?
DiBiase: “Well, you know, I was already 38 years old when I had this thing with my neck happen. I was almost 40 and I could have had the surgery like some guys did, but all this stuff was happening in my life and I needed to focus on my family. I stepped away as an active wrestler but I did return to the company. It required me to be on the road constantly and that was the thing I was trying to avoid.”
The most moving part of the film is when you and your son have what is described as your first discussion about your infidelity. Was that really the first time you guys talked about it?
Were you worried about having that conversation on film for the world to see?
DiBiase: “Well, no, because it’s all the truth. The boys had heard me speak in church so they knew something had happened. My way of thinking was if they ever need to know more, whenever they feel is right, then I’ll be willing to sit and talk about it. But my wife, back when this happened, said despite what you did to me, you’re still a great dad. I don’t want to destroy that so until these boys are old enough, they don’t know about it.
When I talk to young wrestlers today or guys that approach me about becoming a wrestler, I say that it’s a great job for a single guy. At the same time, you have to build accountability in your life. If you’re not accountable to anybody, all those things that are out there will easily drag you away. It’s great to walk into a coliseum and there’s a whole bunch of people shouting your name. But when that show is over and you go back to that hotel at night and your family is 2,000 miles away, that becomes a very lonely place. That’s how all those other things start. Just like the Million Dollar Man says, everything has a price…even fame.”