Nov 13, 2023 - News

The true story that inspired "The Iron Claw"

Zac Efron and Kevin Von Erich pose for a photo

Zac Efron plays Kevin Von Erich (left) in "The Iron Claw." Photo: Omar Vega/Getty Images

"The Iron Claw," an epic Texas saga set mostly in Dallas, will be in theaters on Dec. 22.

  • The film made its world premiere last week at the Texas Theatre, not far from where the events that inspired the movie took place.

The big picture: The film tells the story of the legendary Von Erich family, a multigenerational dynasty of professional wrestlers beset by tragedy. The movie stars Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White from "The Bear" and Holt McCallany from "Mindhunter."

Why it matters: At the height of their fame, in the 1980s, the Von Erichs were Texas icons on par with the Dallas Cowboys and J.R. Ewing.

  • The true story of the Von Erich family — whose real last name is Adkisson — has captivated Texans for generations.

Yes, but: Their accomplishments in the ring were always superseded by the family's real-life tragedies, sometimes referred to as a curse.

Catch up quick: The family's patriarch Fritz Von Erich — real name Jack Adkisson — was a wrestling star in the '50s and '60s, after playing football at SMU. His signature move was known as "The Iron Claw."

  • In the late '80s, he owned World Class Championship Wrestling, the Texas wrestling circuit, which held most events at the famed Sportatorium just south of downtown Dallas and broadcast shows around the world.

Context: This was years before Vince McMahon turned the WWF into a national promotion. Each regional circuit had its own villains and heroes — none bigger than the God-loving, Texas flag-waving Von Erich family.

  • Fritz sometimes injected himself into the family storylines.
A very old photo of wrestlers, in black and white
Fritz Von Erich preparing to throw Buddy Marino to the mat. Photo: Getty Images

What happened: Adkisson and his wife, Doris, had six sons — Jack Jr., Kevin, David, Kerry, Mike and Chris.

  • Only one, Kevin, lived beyond the age of 33.

Details: The firstborn, Jack Jr., drowned in a puddle outside the family home at the age of 6 in 1959.

  • The second oldest, Kevin, became a lean, high-flying wrestler, known for performing shoeless. He often partnered with David and Kerry.
  • David, the tallest and most charismatic son, was on a wrestling tour of Japan in 1984 when he was found dead in a Tokyo hotel room at 25. The official cause of death was "acute enteritis," though wrestler Ric Flair later wrote that most people in wrestling believe David died of a drug overdose.
  • Kerry had the physique of a Greek god and eventually garnered national attention as the "Texas Tornado." His right foot was amputated after a motorcycle crash in 1986, but the family kept it a secret. He killed himself in 1993, at 33.
  • Mike was never as interested in wrestling but stepped in to fill the void after David's death. After a shoulder surgery led to toxic shock syndrome, he fatally overdosed on tranquilizers at the age of 23.
  • Chris, the youngest brother, was 5-foot-4, much smaller than his brothers. He attempted to wrestle but stopped after several serious injuries. He was 21 when he killed himself in 1991.
Four wrestlers at the ropes of a ring
David, Mike, Kevin and Kerry in the early 1980s. Screenshot: Wrestling Bios

The intrigue: The movie lays bare the raw truths of a family that made its living keeping secrets.

Zoom in: The premiere was as Hollywood as North Texas gets, with Jefferson Boulevard blocked off to make room for the red carpet entrance, dozens of entertainment reporters from around the world, and beautiful stars in every direction.

The front of the Texas Theatre made it clear who the hometown heroes are. Photo: Courtesy of Yesi Hughey

Afterward: When the movie ended, the 600-person crowd buzzed with talk of Oscar nominations.

  • The afterparty was held at the Longhorn Ballroom, where the moviemakers mingled over brisket and bourbon — and a few even attempted to line dance in front of the stage.
  • Plus: Screens on each side of the stage showed old footage of some of the Von Erichs' biggest matches.

What they're saying: Before the screening, Sean Durkin, who wrote and directed the movie, took to the Texas Theatre stage to introduce the stars of the film — several of whom went through dramatic body transformations to play the muscle-bound wrestlers.

  • "To make movies about your childhood heroes is a lifelong dream come true," Durkin told the audience.
  • "It's so incredible to be doing this in Dallas."

The new generation: Kevin's sons, Ross and Marshall, are continuing the family's legacy as pro wrestlers.

  • Marshall wrestles barefoot, like his father.

What we're watching: The new movie could introduce millions of people around the world to a tragic story Texans have lived with for years.


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