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Ric Flair Film to Preview Here Friday

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October 22, 2017

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There are characters—and then there is Ric Flair who spent part of his youth in Edina and is the subject of an ESPN documentary that airs November 7. Minnesotans will have a preview look at the show on Friday night as part of the Twin Cities Film Festival at the ICON Theatre in St. Louis Park. The film is part of ESPN’s much praised “30-for-30” series.

Jim Brunzell, who has known Flair since the two attended Verne Gagne’s pro wrestling school in suburban Minneapolis in 1972, will be at the ICON with Verne’s son Greg, and the two will do a Q&A with show attendees. Brunzell, who partnered with Greg in the 1970s to form the famous “High Flyers” tag team, told Sports Headliners that Flair might also attend the showing Friday night.

Flair almost died earlier this year and Brunzell said doctors have cautioned the 68 year old about travel. Although Flair has been retired from wrestling for years, he does promotional work for World Wrestling Entertainment, the pro wrestling industry giant. Often referred to as the greatest professional wrestler ever, he paid a price for his demanding career in the ring and his extravagant lifestyle out of it.

Brunzell said Flair had an awful pain in his stomach this summer and was hospitalized. He had internal bleeding and was put into an induced coma. “During that time he was on the edge of leaving us,” Brunzell said.

Part of Flair’s colon was removed and he was placed on a defibrillator for heart arrhythmia. He was in the coma for nine days. “He can’t remember anything but he knows right now he will never have a drink again,” Brunzell said.

Flair & Brunzell

Flair told Brunzell he is “very fortunate that I didn’t kick over.” Flair also said he plans to “lead a better life” in terms of his habits.

Flair admitted to Brunzell he had too much idle time in hotels and airports during his wrestling career. Drinking alcohol filled a lot of hours. “He told me he got in the habit of drinking too much,” Brunzell said. “He was drinking to the tune of about 3,800 calories a day (of alcohol).”

Years ago Brunzell and Greg Gagne attended a party at the Sofitel Hotel in Bloomington where the booze flowed. Guests brought refreshments like whiskey, vodka and rum. They dumped everything into a container lined with a garbage bag—brewing up “mother hunch punch.” Brunzell said the concoction “was like firewater.”

Flair appeared at midnight near the hotel swimming pool. He was dressed in cowboy boots, cowboy hat and a handmade wrestling robe that might have cost $10,000. Brunzell said Flair started dancing, took off his robe and revealed his naked body. The hotel staff told Flair that wasn’t acceptable. Brunzell and Gagne headed to their hotel rooms in case things got a little crazier.

Brunzell tells the story to make a couple of points including how much Flair loves to be around people—to see them smile, to feel their energy and to entertain them. On any given night Flair might do just about anything to get people’s attention and feed his ego. “There’s stories that people just can’t fathom, and they’re true,” Brunzell said.

In the online ESPN “30-for-30” trailer, Flair said, ““Everybody wanted to be me. Every man because I had the nicest clothes, the biggest cars and the more (most) women, and I was the best wrestler.”

Flair claims in the documentary to have slept with 10,000 women. Brunzell, who has known Flair for more than five decades, won’t put up an argument about the number saying, “Well, it’s close, and I can tell you that for a fact. …”

Flair has been married four times and he lost his son Reid to a drug overdose in 2013. His relationships have been strained with those closest to him. He often faced the question of how his actions would impact family and himself. “Many times he went the wrong way on that question,” Brunzell said.

Talk to Brunzell for awhile about his friend and it doesn’t take long to understand why he says the “30-for-30” documentary about Flair’s life will be compelling and sad. The two have known each other since 1968 when they met at the University of Minnesota. Brunzell, from White Bear Lake High School, was a sophomore on the Gophers football team when this kid with literally one of the biggest heads on the team showed up for practice.

Flair stood 6 feet tall and weighed about 300 pounds. He practiced for five days. Then guess what?

The coaches learned the freshman hadn’t bothered to register for classes at the University. Well, despite the warning, Flair didn’t register, and that ended his brief Gopher football career.

Flair, who managed to do a little socializing at a fraternity during his short stay at the U, never earned a college degree and sold insurance before turning himself into a professional wrestler. He went on to become a “Mount Rushmore” wrestling icon because of his persona (including his signature “woo” catchphrase), and also his skills and athleticism in the ring.

Brunzell refers to the gifted Flair as one of the top five wrestlers of his era. “He could do anything and he worked his rear off, and he took hellacious bumps (punishment),” Brunzell said.

It would be a homecoming for Flair, who now lives in Atlanta, to come back to Minnesota later this week for the showing of his documentary. “Well, I think deep in his heart, he was proud to come from Edina,” said Brunzell who recalled that Flair, once known as Rick Fliehr, was an adopted child who spent some of his school years at a boarding school in Wisconsin.

Whether Flair is able to return here or not, he will long be remembered by Minnesotans and others across the country as a larger than life wrestler and entertainer. As Flair says in his ESPN documentary, “Diamonds are forever and so is Ric Flair.”

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers.

Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section.

A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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