Who better than Kanyon? The question use to blast through sound systems at professional wrestling events in the late 1990s. The question would be asked, a heavy guitar riff would start and then Kanyon would walk to the ring.
Nicknamed the “Innovator of Offense” by former WCW commentator Mike Tenay, Chris Kanyon was a star in the professional wrestling promotion World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He had a few gimmicks early on, including a construction worker and then a skeleton character with the name “Mortis.”
In the book “Wrestling Reality: The Life and Mind of Chris Kanyon, Wrestling’s Gay Superstar,” Kanyon, with the help of Northern Kentucky University web editor and professor Ryan Clark, has chronicled his whole career from the good, the bad and downright weird — like having a Satan worshipper as a friend/manager.
Clark met Kanyon on National Coming Out Day, an annual day to publicly show gay pride and come out to friends and family, in 2006 when the professional wrestler gave a speech to a small crowd on NKU’s campus.
“I’m not a wrestling fan per se, and I’m not gay, but I know a compelling story when I hear one,” Clark said. “His story was so good, I went up to him afterward and asked, ‘Where’s your book?’”
The book was used for Clark’s master thesis in nonfiction creative writing at NKU, which he used the first 100 pages of the book and according to Clark, “everybody loved it.”
Kanyon’s real name was Chris Klucsaritis, and he was the first openly gay professional wrestler to compete actively, but he had to hide the secret for most of his career because of the macho industry. He would use the Internet to meet other gay men, but he was always afraid of someone recognizing him from TV.
“Kanyon’s big fear was that if he came out, he would lose his job and dream,” Clark said.
After being released from the WWE in 2004 Kanyon accused the company of firing him because he was gay. But he had been injured multiple times and was not active for a few months because of those injuries.
It wasn’t until he retired he let the secret be known by everyone. Finally announcing to fans and others in the business he was gay during wrestling shows in 2006.
Clark feels wrestling has gay fans, but they “don’t have anyone to look up to at all.”
“He wanted to be a positive gay role model. He thought, that if he, growing up, had had a positive gay role model to look up to, then maybe things would have been different. Maybe he wouldn’t have struggled with coming out to friends and family,” said NKU Director of Web Communications Jim Nilson.
Kanyon only told certain people during his wrestling career. Rumors spread on the Internet during the late 1990s. Once he became aware of the rumors, Chris slept with the wrestling groupies, or “ring rats,”o conceal his homosexuality.
“Wrestling Reality” begins with a suicide scene, where Chris swallows a whole bottle of sleeping pills, but then realizes it was a bad decision and crawls to the bathroom to makes himself sick and get them out of his system. He also suffered from manic depression, where episodic mood swings can be debilitating for those who are diagnosed with the disorder. During his episodes, he often considered committing suicide.
During the two-year process of writing the book, there would be long periods, sometimes up to many months, where Clark wouldn’t hear from Kanyon because he was going through one of his “bad times.”
“In the ending of the book [Kanyon] talks about how he fights a daily battle, and it just so happens that he didn’t win,” Clark said. “But he had a message for other people: ‘Don’t be like me, don’t wait 25 years to be honest about who you are.’ That’s part of the message of the book; be honest about who you are.”
Nilson met Kanyon through a mutual friend in 1998 and stayed in contact up until a few days before Kanyon’s death.
Kanyon took his own life in April of last year. Pills were found scattered around his New York apartment and body.
“It wasn’t a surprise,” said friend and professional wrestler Shane Helms. “Those close to Chris knew about his battles and it was still extremely sad and disappointing.”
The book was finished at the time of his death, but Clark was still in search of a publisher. With the help of Kanyon’s family, Clark found a publisher in Toronto, Canada, ECW Press.
“[The book] meant so much to him. There was no way that wasn’t going to get published. It meant so much to his brother, his parents and himself,” Nilson said. “It’s a wrestling book, but it’s not a wrestling book.”
The wrestling community has embraced the book, but Clark wants to reach out to the gay community so the book is aimed at both audiences equally.
“Kanyon wanted to help as many people as he could, so we are going to see if we can do that,” Clark said.