William Alvin Moody (1954-2013) was a professional wrestling manager who was born and lived most of his life in Alabama. Trained and certified as a mortician and embalmer, Moody had a notable and lengthy career with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), later World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE), where he managed many notable wrestlers. During his two decades with the WWE, he became famous for portraying Paul Bearer, the cackling white-faced, black-suited character who, despite his sinister make-up and manner, became a beloved figure to fans.
Moody was born April 10, 1954, in Mobile, Mobile County. When he was five, his father, a railroad worker, was transferred to Bogalusa, Louisiana, where Moody attended Annunciation Catholic School from kindergarten to the sixth grade. When he was 12, his family returned to Mobile, where he attended St. Dominic’s Elementary School and graduated from McGill Institute (now McGill-Toolen Catholic High School) in 1972. After graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, serving four years. He then worked part-time for Buddy’s Ambulance Service in Mobile.
From childhood, he had been fascinated by wrestling, beginning at a very early age when his parents would take him to the local Wrestling Live on Channel 5 studio television tapings in Mobile. In 1974, he began wrestling professionally for various independent organizations in the South under the name Mr. X while attending night classes at the University of South Alabama. In 1976, he became an apprentice funeral director and embalmer while continuing to wrestle as the Embalmer and the Mortician. Moody married Dianna McDole in December 1978, and the couple would have two sons, Michael and Daniel, who went on to wrestle as DJ Pringle. After his first son was born in 1979, Moody decided to take a job with more security and returned to his work as an undertaker. He earned a degree in mortuary science from San Antonio College and became a qualified funeral director and embalmer, first working at the Higgins Mortuary in Mobile. He never owned his own funeral business, but despite his increasing fame in wrestling, he worked intermittently at the Coastal Funeral Home in Moss Point, Mississippi, until 2009.
In 1985, Moody returned to wrestling full time in the Florida Championship Wrestling organization, headquartered in Tampa, and with the Von Erich Family’s World Class Championship Wrestling Association, based in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. He managed such wrestlers as “Ravishing” Rick Rude, the Assassin, Blackjack Mulligan, Matt Borne, Buzz Sawyer, The Great Kabuki, Eric Embry, Lex Luger, Kamala the Ugandan Giant, and the Dingo Warrior, who later achieved fame as the Ultimate Warrior. One of his early wrestlers was the young Steve Williams, later famous as Stone Cold Steve Austin. Although Moody would later be best known as Paul Bearer, many friends and associates would continue to call him “Percy” for Percival Pringle III, his first manager persona. In that role, he dyed his hair and mustache blond.
He was signed by the WWF in December 1990, after being mentioned by wrestler Rick Rude to WWF owner Vince McMahon. Professional wrestling is a hybrid of sports and theater, and wrestlers and “managers” develop fictional personae typically identified as heroes and villains in the storyline of the events. Managers take part in the ringside action and engaging in verbal and sometimes physical conflicts with opposing wrestlers. McMahon used Moody’s real-life involvement in the funeral industry to create the character of Paul Bearer, whose name was a play on the term “pallbearer.” With his ghoulish appearance and carrying his signature burial urn, said to contain cremated ashes from which he appeared to summon supernatural powers, he was known for his catch phrase, a sinister drawn-out “Ohhh yesss!” Paul Bearer and the Undertaker began their long association as “heels” (villainous wrestlers whom fans were expected to root against) but were sympathetic or heroic figures (known as “faces”).
Billed as “The Manager of Champions,” Moody began an off-and-on association with the WWF/WWE that would last the rest of his life, during which he was associated with such top names as Kane (Glen Thomas Jacobs), Vader (Leon Allen White), the Executioner (Terry Gordy), and Mankind (Mick Foley). He gained his greatest notoriety managing the 6’10”, 310-lb Undertaker (Mark William Calaway), whose black-clad “Old West gunfighter” persona and nickname of “the Deadman” were a perfect complement to Moody’s character. The duo performed throughout the United States and in more than 28 foreign countries, and Moody was named 1998 Manager of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine.
From the late 1990s onward, Moody was plagued by a series of health issues relating to his weight. At his heaviest, he weighed more than 500 pounds, although at his billed height of 5’11”, he was not an exceptionally tall man as heavyweight professional wrestlers go. By the early 2000s, these problems began curtailing his public appearances, and he underwent gastric bypass surgery 2003 and emergency gallbladder surgery in 2004. Despite his health problems, which would result in him being confined to a wheelchair towards the end of his life, he remained active in wrestling.
On March 2, 2013, William Moody attended the annual Gulf Coast Wrestlers Reunion in Mobile. Moody reportedly experienced difficulty breathing at the event, began coughing, and told friends he was going to seek treatment for respiratory problems. On March 5, 2013, Moody died in Mobile, at the age of 58, from a heart attack and was buried in Serenity Memorial Gardens in Theodore.
In 2014, Moody was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Kane officiated the ceremony and presented the award to Moody’s sons. The Undertaker also made an appearance in full costume to say one last goodbye to the wrestling legend. Moody was awarded the Lou Thesz Award from the George Tragos/Lou Thesz International Wrestling Institute for his contributions to the sport.
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