The best wrestler of all time. The Nature Boy. The glitz, the robes, the attitude. The 16-time heavyweight champion. These are the things you know about Ric Flair. But there’s a lot of stuff that went into being the man, the myth, and the legend over all these years. We dug a little deeper to find some things you might not know about Ric Flair. Here goes.
Richard Fliehr is his real name… or is it?
Ric Flair was adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an orphanage with a criminal history and shady record-keeping. According to records – which are basically non-existent since most of them were destroyed or never kept to begin with – Flair was born in Memphis and given the name Fred… something. Fred Phillips, Fred Stewart, or Fred Demaree are all possibilities.
The orphanage in question was found guilty of kidnapping children and arranging illegal adoptions. Flair doesn’t know and doesn’t care to find out if he was a part of any of that that. What we do know is that little Fred was quickly adopted, moved to Minnesota, and renamed Richard. The rest is history. Good thing “Richard Fliehr” morphed easily into a really cool wrestling name.
Flair’s wrestling training was outrageously tough.
According to ESPN’s 30 for 30, Ric Flair tried to quit wrestling training pretty early on. But do a little research and it’s not hard to see why. At legendary trainer Verne Gagne’s wrestling camp, the conditions they put these guys through were, um,
rustic brutal to say the least. The trainees ran miles along a path at Gagne’s farm in negative 10-degree temperatures. They passed a frozen creek wearing three sweatsuits. In his book, Flair says they had to keep moving to stay warm, all while they slipped and slid along the trails.
The ring where the trainees worked out was inside Gagne’s horse barn, where four feet of snow would often accumulate because of the gaps in the walls and roof. There was a single light bulb hanging on a wire for light, and chickens roosted on beams and pooped on the mat below. Even the ring was in rough condition, with loose ropes, despite the fact that Gagne was basically a millionaire. The guys would train for four or five hours a day before heading out to drink and party, only to return the next day, puking and hungover, to train again.
There was more to that fateful plane crash.
Sure, we all know that Ric Flair was lucky to be alive after that 1975 plane crash on the way to Wilmington, North Carolina. But how it all went down is even more interesting. Flair met the plane’s pilot in a Charlotte bar (shocker). Mike Farkas, a 28-year-old amateur pilot and Vietnam veteran, was trying to make some cash and offered to save them a little time and money and fly them himself. After a chat, Flair rounded up his wrestling buddies and they piled in the guy’s Cessna 310.
These tiny planes aren’t meant to hold six people, especially if four of them happen to be super jacked wrestlers (and, it turns out, improperly distributed within the plane). They had trouble taking off in Charlotte, and after learning that they were ridiculously over weight capacity, Farkas made the executive decision to dump half the fuel before takeoff. Unsurprisingly, as they neared Wilmington, the gauge hit zero, the plane started sputtering, and Farkas started panicking. He did a good job stalling the plane to slow it down, but the plane crashed about 100 yards short of the runway. Farkas eventually died from his injuries, one of the men was paralyzed, and Flair broke his back in three places.
But he was back wrestling in less than four months.
Those robes really were a hot commodity.
The Nature Boy constantly bragged that his fabulous robes cost something like $10,000… but was that all talk?
No, it turns out they really were worth that much. Or more. The famed seamstress behind the robes, Olivia Walker, charged wrestlers like Lex Luger, Dusty Rhodes, and Flair around $8,000 or more for each of these ensembles. That’s like $20,000 today after inflation. Walker explained that she only used Austrian rhinestones, which (used to) cost about 45 cents a pop, because they were more brilliant than others. One of her creations for Flair included over 1,000 peacock feathers.
These one-of-a-kind robes were hand-stitched with thousands of sequins, rhinestones, and feathers, so many sparkly things that Walker eventually had to start wearing sunglasses while she worked. The finished product could end up weighing over 40 pounds, so you had to be a real man to wear one. Not only have some of Flair’s robes been sold off to hardcore Nature Boy fans, but he alleges that one of his ex-wives broke into his home using a shovel and stole three of them (along with his dog). One of the red and silver “Olivia Originals” worn by Flair sold for $27,000 at auction in 2017. Hey, it was autographed too.