There may be only one celebrity funeral director in the United States. His name is Paul Bearer — as in pall bearer.
Fans of World Wrestling Entertainment, the television and live soap opera that manages to combine athleticism, drama, nutty feuds and steel chairs over heads, get it. They’ve watched Bearer, also known as Percy Pringle III, make appearances on WWE broadcasts and in live shows for the past 20 years.
Bearer, who appeared as the black-suited, white-faced manager to the sinister Undertaker — the 6-foot-10 Mark Calaway — always made a memorable impression. He arched his eyebrows, widened his eyes, cocked his head at odd angles and generally spoke in a high-pitched, lilting voice that promised pain, doom and revenge to enemies of the fearsome Undertaker. Paul carried a gold-colored urn as he escorted the ’Taker — who dressed in a long Western duster and a wide-brimmed hat during his early days on the circuit — to his matches.
Bearer brings his urn-ing power to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Amsterdam on Saturday. The celebrated corpse valet will sign photos and pose for pictures from 2 until 4 p.m. for a $15 fee. It will also be hat and glove giveaway and Child Watch identification card day at the Hall of Fame, located at 30 E. Main Street.
Pringle, who lives in Mobile, Ala., and has worked as a funeral director in real life, was happy to talk about his life in World Wrestling Entertainment.
Q: What’s your status with pro wrestling these days? Have you been laying low?
A: Laying low? I wish! I just got in from Detroit, and then I’m in Toledo, Ohio, then I’m up to the Hall of Fame. I’m still under contract with WWE; it’s kind of a unique contract, what they call a legends contract. I’m not doing anything at the time on television, but I do consulting and make personal appearances, things of that nature, behind the scenes. About this time last year, I went back on TV with them for about six months. I just don’t want a full-time schedule any more. I worked for the company for 20 years, I’m 57 years old, been in the business for over 30 years and I just don’t care for a full-time schedule. So as much as I don’t care for one, it looks like I have one. These past few months, I’ve been on the road two or three times a month, signings, meeting fans, managing wrestlers at independent organizations around the country.
Q: What were the Undertaker days like for you?
A: They were very tiring. We had several years when we were on the road 325 days a year, and I’m talking about traveling around the world. There were weekends when we would do four shows, two shows on a Saturday and two shows on a Sunday. We stayed very, very, very busy. But I do have to say, as tiring as it was, it certainly was fun. I’d wanted to be in the wrestling business since I was a kid. I’ve been blessed; I’ve been living the dream for over 30 years.
Q: What was the Undertaker like out of character?
A: He’s just like you, he’s just like me. He has a family, just a regular old guy that really has to take care of his body. He’s had many, many injuries through the years; that’s the reason he’s not active at this very moment.
Q: Anything funny ever happen to you guys outside of the ring?
A: Oh, my lord. The night after Undertaker beat Hulk Hogan for what was then the World Wrestling Federation title, this was in November of 1991 at Survivor Series in Detroit, Michigan, we went from Detroit up to some shows in Canada, we had a big show in Montreal and we had a smaller show the day before, I think it was Ottawa, Canada.
After the show, we were on our way to Montreal and I was driving and he fell asleep. I was trying to make up some time, I was just hauling butt on the highway and he had just beaten Hulk Hogan and I was the manager of the world champion. I was just blissful and I was telling myself after all these years I had finally made it. So we’re driving the highway, there aren’t a lot of service stations and I can’t speak French. Hell, I’m from Mobile, Alabama, we don’t talk too much French down here on the Gulf Coast.
So I’m flying along, not paying attention to nothing, my head’s in the clouds. All of a sudden, the car started jerking, — it was a big Cadillac — and I’m going, “Oh, no, what’s going on here? Are we breaking down?” All of a sudden, the light came on — we’re out of gas. I pulled over to the side of the road, didn’t have any choice, rolled to a stop, put it in park. By that time, Undertaker woke up and looked over to me and said “We’re there?” I said, “Wellllll, not quite.” We were looking at each other and I had to say, “We’re out of gas.”
Q: Undertaker probably wanted to kill you — for real.
A: Absolutely. You should have seen the look in his eyes. I thought I was going to get the choke slam or the tombstone. It shows we’re just ordinary people, professional wrestling is just what we do.
Q: With Paul Bearer’s make-up, the black suit, the faces you made — was there a lot of acting involved?
A: No, no, I swear. That’s the way I look. While I’m talking to you on the phone, I’m swinging my arms, making all the faces. The only thing I had to work on was the voice, the “Ohhhhhhh, yessssss.” The facial expressions, that’s me. I used to get in trouble all the time with my parents; they’d ask me to go do something and I’d look at them like I would as Paul Bearer.
Q: Do you get recognized out of character?
A: Absolutely. I’m having some work done on my house right now. When the contractors arrived this morning, I opened the door, and the guy says, “Are you Paul Bearer?” I’ve gone to Walmart or someplace, drug stores, wherever I go, I get it all the time. Which is a good thing, that shows that people remember me, although I’m not currently on TV.
Q: What are your diversions away from wrestling?
A: My family, my friends and my faith. I’m a family man. I lost my wife Dianna 2 1⁄2 years ago to breast cancer; we were married 30 years. Just the fact that I was married 30 years, in our business, is an accomplishment in itself. There are not many wrestlers who have been blessed to find an angel who will put up with them or our business for 30 years. I have two sons, three granddaughters, two daughters-in-law and three dogs. I’m sitting in my La-Z-Boy chair in my den right now and I have three dogs on top of me. They’re all asleep.
Q: Can you use your Paul Bearer character to speak out against breast cancer? Or would that combination not work?
A: I talk about it almost every interview, especially during October, I really push breast cancer because October is breast cancer awareness month. I always make sure to touch on that and make sure the ladies pay attention and do what they should be doing. Or if they don’t do it, for the guys to make them do it. I would hate to see anybody go through the suffering and pain my wife did and the pain that I had when she passed away and still have today.
Q: You’re a licensed funeral director and a television funeral director. Can you comment on that strange mix?
A: I have a degree in mortuary science. I stepped back out of the wrestling business for about four years to stay home and take care of my wife. And while I was doing that, I was managing a funeral home. When my wife passed away, I had to get away from the death scene for a little while and went back to wrestling and started doing what I’ve been doing now. I’m still a licensed embalmer … there are a couple of funeral homes in town where I have friends; if they get real busy and I’m home and not doing anything, I tell them to give me call if they need a hand.
Q: Did people who come to the funeral home for arrangements ever recognize Paul Bearer?
A: It’s happened more than you would think. We’re down here in the South; it’s a different world than New York or California. I’ve had a family come in and make arrangements for Grandma, they sit down and say, “Oh my God, you’re Paul Bearer!” It really made things easier; we established a connection. It showed they were wrestling fans and they felt they knew me. It made things easier. But some of them would have some really outlandish requests. Like, “Hey Paul, would you get down here by Grandma’s casket and let me take a picture? …”
It kind of added a little levity in a very serious situation. I like to think I’m a good funeral director, and I’ve done that job as well as I’ve been able to do in professional wrestling.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Life and Arts