As I noted when I reviewed the Andre The Giant comic book, I grew up in the 1980s when wrestling was first going national in America, but I personally wasn’t a fan of it. I knew of wrestlers like Hulk Hogan from his film and TV appearances, and Rowdy Roddy Piper for his involvement with Cindi Lauper’s music career, and I had friends who were into it, but for whatever reason it never grabbed me. That wasn’t until I was an adult. It was 1998 when I started taping the monthly WWF (World Wrestling Federation, at the time) and WCW (World Championship Wrestling) ppv shows for a friend of mine (I had an illegal cable box, that was a thing back then, so the shows were free for me), and slowly but surely I started getting hooked. This was the height of the “Monday Night Wars” and WWF in particular was on fire, getting even more mainstream attention than it did in the 1980s. Newly crowned champion Stone Cold Steve Austin, along with characters like Sable, Mankind, The Undertaker, Degeneration X, and the Nation of Domination, featuring eventual breakout star The Rock, captured the public’s imagination, including mine. This is what would become known as “The Attitude Era.” It was a good time. Monday nights were spent flipping channels back and forth between the two shows, while Tuesday mornings were spent talking about them with my friends at work.
Vince Russo was one of the main men behind WWF’s rise back then, as the year before he’d become the head writer for their TV storylines. Of course, I knew nothing about this at the time, as he was operating strictly behind the scenes. He didn’t become a public figure until late 1999 when it was announced that he and his writing partner, Ed Ferrera, has been hired by WCW. Russo would work at the WCW until that company went out of business in the spring of 2001. And it was at that point that Russo wrote this book.
In this autobiography, Vince Russo covers his life from his childhood growing up in Long Island to the time he quit the WWF. We read about his upbringing in a close-knit but dysfunctional Italian-American family, his early interest in wrestling (and baseball), his forays into writing when he worked for his high school newspaper, going to college to get a journalism degree, meeting his wife Amy and starting a family, he opened a video rental store and then self-financed his own weekly radio talk show all about wrestling. Eventually, the store and the radio show have to be shut down, so he manages to become a freelance writer for the WWF magazine, eventually rising to the position of Editor-In-Chief, and then finally being asked to join the creative team for the TV show.
Here we got a lot of behind-the-scenes info about the ins and out of the wrestling business. Formatting shows, coming up with storylines and characters, life on the road, and, dealing with the personalities and egos of the wrestlers. And, most importantly, working with Vince McMahon. Reading the way Russo describes McMahon’s relentless non-stop work ethic, it’s not surprising to see how WWF succeeded for so long. The man basically put WWF before everything, including family. The problem is he expected Vince Russo to do the same, which is what eventually lead to Russo feeling burnt out and making the decision to leave for WCW.
Now, admittedly, all of this can be found in multiple interviews you can find online that Russo has given in the past 20 years. But the “plot twist” of this book is that while writing it Russo has an experience (or series of experiences) that lead to him becoming a Born Again Christian. This changed his whole outlook. Originally this book was going to be called Welcome To Bizzarroland, and it was going to be more of a salacious “tell-all” type of book. But after his conversion, he decided to rewrite it. And what he did was he included multiple passages from his original manuscript in this book, just to then contrast it with how he feels now, so you can get a glimpse into his changed mindset. So you’ll get a page of him talking negatively about some person, or sexually objectifying some female celebrity, and then the next page is him saying something like “can you believe how egomaniacal I sounded?” or “Look at what a pig I was!”
Even for a staunch atheist like myself, the inclusion of these passages is a great testament to Russo’s faith, and while it’s a little preachy at times, it’s never overboard. He’s not coming off like he’s trying to convert anyway, he’s just telling you his story.
For fans and non-fans of wrestling alike, Forgiven by Vince Russo is an entertaining and informative look at a crucial era of the industry. Chacebook rating: FIVE STARS
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