The Tragic Real-Life Story Of ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage

There are many colorful personalities in the strange world of professional wrestling, but few of them have been as outlandish and captivating as “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Whether you saw him in the ring, peddling Slim Jims, or even fighting Spider-Man on the big screen, he was the kind of guy who made sure you noticed him … and then kept noticing him some more. Savage’s colorful ring attire and unique microphone skills could have caused you to believe that the raspy grappler was more about style than substance — but when you actually saw him wrestle, it was clear that as cool and wild as the Macho Man character was, all that flair and dazzle was simply decoration to his immense athletic ability. 

At a time when simple leg drops and DDTs were considered glorious finishing moves, Macho Man climbed on the top rope, flexed, and gave the opponent their daily dose of flying elbow. Yet, despite his dedication and sheer fearlessness, the negative aspects of life couldn’t always be pinned and beaten. Over the decades, the man born as Randall Mario Poffo might have made “Ooh yeah” his catchphrase, but as is so often the case with professional wrestlers, his personal life included more than its fair share of “oh no.” Today, we’ll look behind the larger-than-life character and into the tragic real-life story of “Macho Man” Randy Savage.

Randy Savage's baseball career failed

Athletic, bombastic, and loud as he was, “Macho Man” Randy Savage seems like a man who was born — or perhaps constructed — to be a professional wrestler. However, his original aspirations were quite different. As Bleacher Report tells us, young Randy Poffo nursed dreams of becoming a professional baseball player. In a 2004 interview with IGN, Savage made it clear how much he’d loved his time in the minor leagues. “I was a catcher. It was really cool. I loved every second of it, every bus ride, all my teammates, every game,” he said.

Savage made the rounds in the minor leagues, trying to make it with the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, and Chicago White Sox. According to Sports Illustrated, he even overcame a potentially career-ending shoulder injury by painstakingly teaching himself to throw left-handed. Unfortunately, his grueling work was in vain. None of the organizations he played for were willing to pick him up for the major leagues, and when the Sox cut him in the spring of 1975, it became apparent that he wasn’t going to make it. To say that he took it extremely hard would be an understatement. “When Randy got released, he broke all his bats and got rid of all his equipment,” the Macho Man’s mother, Judy, said in 2015. “It was horrible.” 

Randy Savage had a hard time staying off character

As CBS Sports tells us, Randy Savage’s Macho Man mode wasn’t always limited to the ring and interviews. According to fellow wrestler Steve “The Brooklyn Brawler” Lombardi, Savage was “very intense” and retained his distinctive Macho Man persona both on and off the camera. “His interviews, when he spoke, it was not just on TV,” Lombardi said. “He spoke like that in real life. ‘Ohhhhh, yeahhhhh! Let me tell you something, brother …'” Per Sports Illustrated, pro wrestling legend “Stone Cold” Steve Austin has expressed a similar sentiment: “His intensity, his promo style — he was the Macho Man 24/7, 365 — and he was that before he got to the WWF.”

Sadly, Savage’s constant intensity also manifested in less savory ways. In 1978, he was involved in a massive brawl at a Waffle House and was so out of control that the police needed to use their batons, Mace, and a police dog to take him down. Savage later admitted that he “was a little hyper” and gave a nod to the dog, which he said “got in a pretty good shot.” According to The Morning Call, another, even worse incident landed him in court in 1988. Allegedly, a fan approached him when he was idling at a red light and asked for an autograph. Savage’s alleged response was to get out of the car, punch the fan in the face, and body slam him. “How’s that for an autograph, boy?” Savage then reportedly asked.   

Randy Savage and the snake incident

Jake “The Snake” Roberts is one of the more tragic figures in the pro wrestling community, and when he crossed paths with Randy Savage in 1991, dark clouds loomed on the horizon. Roberts’ gimmick involved live snakes, and as Pro Wrestling Stories tells us, it soon became evident that Savage wasn’t particularly ecstatic when he found out that his upcoming match with Roberts would end with him getting bitten by a snake. In fact, Roberts says that he eventually had to let the snake bite him in the locker room to convince Savage that the snake wasn’t dangerous and that he wasn’t part of some strange anti-Savage plot.   

When the match took place, though, things went extremely awry. Though the snake bit Savage as planned, it soon became apparent that the animal wouldn’t let go. “I’m trying [to pull it off] — I’m trying,” Roberts said. “And the snake’s just gnawing on his arm. It’s going on for like a minute now, you know?” 

In a 2004 interview with IGN, Savage discussed the aftermath of the incident, which ended up hospitalizing him. “About five days later I had a fever and went to the hospital with a 104-degree fever,” he said. “It’s unbelievable to walk into the hospital and tell the doctor I had a snake bite.” Macho Man ultimately survived his ordeal — but curiously, the snake died soon after the incident. “He was de-venomized, but maybe I wasn’t,” Savage said. 

A gun-wielding member of a rival promotion attacked Randy Savage

Pro wrestling is a contact game, and when tensions run high, it’s not inconceivable that two wrestlers might fight with each other in real life. However, one would expect such a fight to be a pretty fair game of grappling and punches. One would not expect someone to pull a gun. According to Bleacher Report, though, that’s precisely what happened to Randy Savage in 1982.

Savage’s father, Angelo Poffo, was operating a small wrestling organization called International Championship Wrestling in Memphis, Tennessee, at the time, and his sons Randy and Lanny were its top dogs. To make a name for themselves, they often targeted other, larger wrestling promotions in the area, which ultimately didn’t do many favors for their street cred. In the process, the nascent Macho Man developed an animosity toward Bill Dundee, a top wrestler from a rival promotion. As the story goes, the men eventually ran into each other in the wild, and things were getting nasty … at which point, Dundee went to his car and got a gun.

How the story proceeded from that point on depends on who you ask. The pro-Savage version of the tale says that the future superstar disarmed Dundee and “pistol-whipped” him so hard that he actually broke Dundee’s jaw. According to Dundee, though, he got sucker-punched — but when he whipped out the pistol, Savage retreated with his tail between his legs. 

Randy Savage's tumultuous relationship with Miss Elizabeth

For a long time, the most important figure in Randy Savage’s professional and personal life was the same person: Elizabeth Ann Hulette, whom you probably know better by her wrestling moniker, Miss Elizabeth. As Sports Illustrated tells us, Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth were a wrestler and his valet, but also husband and wife. This actually applied to both their in-ring roles and real-life situation — they got married for real in a small ceremony in 1984, and their characters followed suit in a rather more opulent in-ring ceremony at 1991’s SummerSlam at Madison Square Garden.

Unfortunately, the fact that their knot was doubly tied didn’t translate to a “forever after” scenario. Savage was an extremely jealous man and tried to protect — or, as it often appeared, hide — Elizabeth from the prying eyes of fellow wrestlers. As a result, the locker room was quite irked by the way Savage acted — but wary of him, too. “If you even looked at Elizabeth the wrong way, then, Holy s**t,” Hulk Hogan described Savage’s jealous rages. “Randy would freak out. If you ever wanted to get him lit up, you’d just have to look at Liz.”

If you think this was a rather unhealthy way to maintain a marriage, Miss Elizabeth ultimately agreed and filed for divorce in 1992. To add insult to injury, Savage’s later WCW tenure used their divorce as part of a storyline (per Bleacher Report). 

Randy Savage had a massive falling out with Hulk Hogan

It’s almost impossible to talk about Randy Savage without bringing up his most famous tag team partner, Hulk Hogan. As Talksport tells us, Macho Man and the Hulkster started out as bitter in-ring enemies, but in 1987, the powers that be decided to pair the two superstars. The ensuing tag team was very fittingly known as the Mega Powers, and judging by the fact that Hogan was the man who inducted Savage into the WWE Hall of Fame, it’s easy to think that these two pillars of pro wrestling remained buddies for life. Alas, as is so often the case, the reality was far unhappier. 

In 1992, Savage’s marriage with Elizabeth Hulette fell apart. Hogan ended up receiving a lot of heat about this, thanks to an incident that happened soon afterward. Hulette was a family friend, and the Hogans took her with them for a trip to Miami. According to Pro Wrestling Stories, Hulette was dating an acquaintance of Hogan’s at the time … and when a furious Macho Man eventually turned up, the situation got nasty enough that some say Savage actually gave Hogan the black eye he had in WrestleMania 9. 

After this incident, Savage had plenty of unpleasant things to say about Hogan and has even stated that the pair were never friends. Hogan, on the other hand, has been more mellow, and he’s even stated that the pair ultimately reconnected and reconciled.

Randy Savage was allegedly blacklisted from the WWE

In 2008, Bleacher Report wrote that “Macho Man” Randy Savage was blacklisted from the WWE. The idea of one of the biggest names in pro wrestling being banned from working with the biggest wrestling promotion is a strange one and begs the question: What exactly did Savage do to get on WWE owner Vince McMahon’s bad side? 

In an industry as rife with rumor as professional wrestling, it may be impossible to ever find out the truth behind the story. However, it’s clear that the relationship between Savage and the WWE became rather strained around the year 1994 (when the WWE was known as the WWF). At the time, his contract was nearing its end, and he was (seemingly) happily pulling double duty as a color commentator and occasional mid-card wrestler — only to abscond to the rival promotion, WCW, the second he could. Some say that this broke a verbal agreement he had with McMahon. Others have speculated that the WWE owner was bitter because Savage’s departure meant the company also lost the Slim Jim ad dollar, since the meat snack was so associated with the Macho Man. It has been insinuated that another factor was the sheer humiliation of Savage signing with a bitter enemy just as the WWE magazine with him on the cover came out. As SportsKeeda reports, there’s even an odd rumor that Savage had an affair with McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie. 

Regardless of what really provoked the WWE’s ire, the promotion basically purged all mentions of Savage for years.

The death of Randy Savage's father

Randy Savage was a great many things, but perhaps above all, he was a man who loved his father. According to Bleacher Report, his relationship with Angelo Poffo was by far the most important in his life, and he molded his life after his father’s teachings. Considering that Angelo was a tough-as-nails wrestler who once held the world record in sit-ups with no fewer than 6,000 reps, this was no easy feat, but Macho Man inherited his father’s perseverance.

Savage’s frugality — also a lesson learned from his father — didn’t extend to his parents, whom he lavished with expensive gifts and so many luxurious vacations that they eventually had to tell him to stop. Unfortunately, even great family relationships aren’t safe from the ravages of time, and the strong and determined Angelo ultimately became a slowly deteriorating dementia patient. Though he cared for his father until the bitter end, the situation was extremely hard for Savage. “Randy prayed for [Angelo] to die because he suffered so much,” the Macho Man’s mother, Judy, said. “But when he did die, Randy went home and punched holes in the walls.” 

Injuries took their toll on 'Macho Man' Randy Savage's body

“Macho Man” Randy Savage lived an intensely physical life, and he suffered his share of nasty injuries over the years. According to Sports Illustrated, his first major injury came before he even started wrestling. In 1973, he was still trying to make it as a baseball player when an incident described as a “home plate collision” wrecked his right shoulder so badly that he had to switch his throwing hand. As Bleacher Report tells us, Savage’s actual wrestling career wasn’t much kinder to his body. In fact, toward the end of his life, he often talked about the daily pains he lived with.

Curiously, one of the worst injuries of the Macho Man’s life had nothing to do with his dangerous in-ring endeavors. It came from acting, of all things. In 2002, Savage played a fearsome wrestler called Bonesaw McGraw in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. In this role, he got to battle Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) himself — but the price for this prestige was high. The fight required several takes of a particularly nasty bump that involves McGraw landing on his head, and being a professional wrestler, Savage refused to use a stuntman. As a result, his neck was more or less irreparably wrecked. “He needed a lot of physical therapy,” Savage’s brother, wrestler Lanny Poffo, said. “But he was never the same. Instead of turning his neck to see you, he turned his torso.”

The death of 'Macho Man' Randy Savage

Even wrestling legends can’t live forever. As the Los Angeles Times tells us, Randy Savage died at the wheel on May 20, 2011, after losing control of his vehicle in Pinellas County, Florida, and crashing into a tree. However, Bleacher Report notes that there was more to the story. The medical examiner found that the 58-year-old Savage was suffering from atherosclerosis and also had an enlarged heart, which gave out as he was behind the wheel. Before the incident, he’d complained to his wife, Lynn, that he was about to lose consciousness. Despite this, Savage refused to relinquish the wheel — until he fainted and the car crashed. Thankfully, the impact was fairly light, and Lynn got away with only minor injuries.  

At the time of his death, Macho Man was a much more reserved figure than the colorful character the world knew and loved. He had gradually turned into something of a hermit, who lived behind a fence, shunned the company of most people, and essentially refused to keep in touch with the wrestling community. He also seemed eerily certain that he’d meet an untimely fate and was quick to tell his loved ones that he didn’t want a large funeral. Then again, he also seemed to enjoy the small tasks and errands of life and appeared to be at a peace of sorts. As his brother, Lanny Poffo, put it: “He was getting closure for everything.”  

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