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The Story of Vince McMahon

As told by Vince McMahon

Box Brown
Box Brown

In the world of professional wrestling, no single person is as influential — or as reclusive — as WWE chairman Vince McMahon. When he gives candid interviews, they’re mostly topical or overly invested in story lines, pushes, and backstage politics. But perhaps the most interesting things about McMahon are the parts that exist off-camera, away from the ring. Over the 30-plus years since he took the reins of his father’s wrestling company — and turned it into first the World Wrestling Federation and then World Wrestling Entertainment — McMahon has given a few wide-ranging interviews, though most of them are forgotten … or offline anyway. To try to get a handle on someone as mysterious as McMahon, we retraced his statements over the years to let him tell his own story. Call it a one-man oral history — the life and times of the man who made pro wrestling what it is.

Most people think I was born with a silver spoon. I wish that were the case. [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

I basically grew up in an 8-foot-wide New Moon trailer — which was not bad; a little cramped from time to time. [The New York Times, 1998]

[A] trailer park isn’t poverty. You don’t have much privacy, but there are nice things about it. Everything is compact. And it beats some other places. Prior to that I lived in Manly, North Carolina, in a house with no indoor plumbing. That could get a little disconcerting in the wintertime. [Playboy, 2001]

You never forget the rainy, cold days when you’d have to go so badly and the only place was outside to the privy. Likewise, you never forget the real hot summer days, either. It, was quite odorific, let me tell you. [Esquire, 2005]

I grew up dirt poor. When you’re in that class, a lower economic class, everyone is, quote, "above you." And there were a number of individuals who thought they were above me because of their economic situation. It always bugged me that people would think they were better than me. I developed a philosophy that no one’s better than me, and at the same time I’m no better than anyone else. [Muscle & Fitness, 2016]

My parents got divorced and I went with my mom, Vickie. She was in the church choir. A real performer, a female Elmer Gantry. Very striking, with an excellent voice. Lived with her and my real asshole of a stepfather, a man who enjoyed kicking people around. [Playboy, 2001]

I grew up in a very aggressive environment to say the least. That includes any number of individuals … beating the hell out of me only because I had a big mouth and had to say what was on my mind. [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

You would think that after being on the receiving end of numerous attacks I would wise up, but I couldn’t. I refused to. I felt I should say something, even though I knew what the result would be. [Playboy, 2001]

This one particular stepfather I did not get along with at all. [Esquire, 2005]

Leo Lupton. It’s unfortunate that he died before I could kill him. I would have enjoyed that. Not that he didn’t have some redeeming qualities. He was an athlete, great at any sport, which I admired, and I remember watching The Jackie Gleason Show with him. We used to laugh together at Jackie Gleason. [Playboy, 2001]

When you’re young and you’re facing a man, you get the shit beat out of you. [Esquire, 2005]

First time I remember, I was 6 years old. The slightest provocation would set him off. But I lived through it. [Playboy, 2001]

I think you have to develop an attitude. From the severity that I experienced, taking numerous beatings and things of that nature, I developed a defensive philosophy that has served me very well through the years. That is: If I lived through whatever the adversarial position was, I won. No matter what happens, if I’m still breathing in and out, I won. So if you have that kind of philosophy, then failure is not a big thing. [Muscle & Fitness, 2016]

There are just no excuses for anything. I read about some guy who has excuses for his behavior because he comes from a broken home or he was beaten or was sexually abused or got into the wrong crowd or whatever the case may be — all of which have occurred in my lifetime. But those are no excuses. [New York Magazine, 1998]

This country gives you opportunity if you want to take it, so don’t blame your environment. [Playboy, 2001]

The world is a complex place. Very complex. Often you will find that the people you think are the good guys aren’t. And the people portrayed as the bad guys aren’t that bad. I’m not necessarily saying they’re good. But they’re not that bad. They’re misunderstood. [Esquire, 2005]

My dad should have been canonized. He was a wonderful man. I didn’t meet him until I was 12 years old, and I fell in love with him the moment I met him. It was like going from rags to riches when I’d go to Washington, D.C., to see him. [Esquire, 2005]

There was just an instant attraction that my dad felt and that I felt. He was just a wonderful, caring, bright man. [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

By the time I was 14, I was on my own. I was pretty much a man then. Physically, at least. In other ways I’m still becoming a man. [Playboy, 2001]

It’s frustrating for a child to know that you’re different and you don’t fit in. Maybe you’re not quite as bright and you’re made fun of. Kids will do that. I guess maybe I always resorted back to the one common denominator when I was terribly frustrated like that, and that of course would be physicality. [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

When [my son] Shane had alleged learning disabilities in high school, we put him on Ritalin. When I was in school there was no Ritalin. Attention deficit disorder hadn’t been discovered, so I was just a bad kid. [Playboy, 2001]

[I was] majoring in bad ass. [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

I was always in fights, too. They’d pull up and there we were, me and my group of guys, going at it with the Marines…It was a challenge. Most of them were in great condition, but they didn’t know how to pick a fight. I’m not saying they were easy pickings. They got their testosterone going and they were all liquored up. Some of them were real tough. But me and my guys were street fighters. I mean, maybe you’ve been through basic training and you know how to operate a bayonet. That’s different from sticking your finger in somebody’s eye or hitting a guy in the throat. [Playboy, 2001]

[I stole] automobiles. But I always brought them back. I just borrowed them, really. There were other thefts, too, and I ran a load of moonshine in Harlowe, North Carolina, in a 1952 Ford V8. That was a badass car at the time. [Playboy, 2001]

I could go to a state-supported institution, or I could go to military school. [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

It was reform school or military school. I went to Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Military school is expensive. My mom was still my guardian and she couldn’t afford it. So my dad was notified and he paid. [Playboy, 2001]

My dad was, in his words, able to "spring" for [Fishburne]. At 14, I had no reputation, so it was a new beginning, a great chance to start over and create a new reputation. [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

Maybe I didn’t completely reinvent myself. I was the first cadet in the history of the school to be court-martialed. [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

I was lucky and a little crafty — I wasn’t caught for some stuff that would have meant immediate dismissal, like stealing the commandant’s car. Colonel Zinneker had an old, green, beat-up Buick, and he always left the keys in it. He also had a dog he was nuts about. I love animals, but one day I couldn’t resist giving that dog a laxative. I put the laxative in some hamburger and the dog did his business all over the commandant’s apartment, which thrilled me greatly. [Playboy, 2001]

But I at least started to change. No one really knew who I was at Fishburne. I had no badass reputation to uphold. [Playboy, 2001]

The morning of graduation, I walked up to this old colonel we had and said, "You thought I was going to fuck up finals. But now, wait and see what I’m going to do." He recoiled, and then I said, "Just kidding." [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

That [my dad] was able and willing to send me to that school made an impression. It was a chance to start over. [Playboy, 2001]

It’s funny how you don’t know what you’re missing if you never had it. Then when I met my dad, I fell in love with him. We got very, very close, but we both knew we could never go back. There’s a tendency to try to play catch-up, but you can’t. You missed those years. There would always be something missing between us, but there was no reason to discuss it. I was grateful for the chance to spend time with him. [Playboy, 2001]

I would see him in the summertime and on the occasional holiday. [Playboy, 2001]

He would take me to [wrestling] shows at the old Uline Arena in Washington, and I remember the crowd response and these larger-than-life individuals. The passion was just so strong, I just knew that I wanted to do that as soon as I saw it … My dad always knew that I wanted to be in the business from the first exposure. [New York Magazine, 1998]

The greater Washington metropolitan area [was] where my dad really began his start as president of Capitol Wrestling Corporation. [Wrestling 86, 1986]

Washington, D.C., that summer of ’59 … I was 14 years old, and my favorite wrestler was naturally a villainous type, Doctor Jerry Graham. [New York Magazine, 1998]

I would say that I idolized [him]…He was a persona non grata as far as the fans were concerned. And maybe that gives you some insight into my personality. [Wilmington Star-News, 1986]

We’d be at a party — my dad, Jerry and a couple of the other wrestlers. Jerry and his girlfriend would be arguing and pouring drinks over each other. It was sheer entertainment. I was learning that you can be drawn to people for their charisma, but that’s not all there is to them. [Playboy, 2001]

I’m thinking, "This is the life." So I’d try to smoke cigars when I was a kid, and I’d cough and sputter and spew. But it looked so cool the way Jerry handled it — something to do with his hands. Cigars were a big deal — performers, the booking office, heck, you could cut the smoke with a knife. Cigar smoking was a manly thing to do — if you could afford it. [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

He spent more money than anybody I know. He was a 300-pound guy with platinum blond hair and a thick, heavy beard. [Playboy, 2001]

He would … run red lights, curse anybody he wanted to curse. And I just thought he was the coolest guy. He was a wild man, he would do anything he wanted to do. [New York Magazine, 1998]

My dad was very upset when he found out I was sneaking around town with Jerry Graham, because he didn’t think he was a very good influence on me. That same summer, at a place right outside of Atlantic City while my dad was away, I talked my stepmom into peroxiding my hair, and of course when my dad got back he blew his stack. That same summer, Dr. Jerry Graham gave me my first set of weights, called Healthways. I had the red shirt, red pants, and also I bought the red shoes. I think my dad was probably a little afraid. [New York Magazine, 1998]

Damn, Jerry, he loved to drink. There was a time when I thought Jerry Graham walked on water, but he could be a mean drunk, and that turned me off. [Playboy, 2001]

My dad was incredible. I wanted to be part of his world. I loved the promotion business. I’d hang with him at the wrestling; it was like being the kid in the candy store. I liked the roar of the crowd. I liked the charismatic people. I liked the entertainment. I liked all of it. [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

My dad didn’t want me to work in the wrestling business. [The New York Times, 2008]

My dad was pragmatic. He remembered the bad years he’d had. He’d say, "Get a government job, so you can have a pension." [Playboy, 2001]

[At East Carolina University, I learned] that I hated economics. Sat in the back row, didn’t like the subject. It’s about numbers, not people. Wasn’t wild about statistics, either. [Playboy, 2001]

I didn’t do well scholastically. Had a grade point average of 2.001. You needed a two-point average to graduate. [Playboy, 2001]

My dad thought if I got married it would stop me from graduating. I knew that marrying Linda would ensure that I’d graduate. … She’s more structured, she’s more disciplined. All I’d learned from military school about discipline was how to get around it. [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

I walked into the church and as soon as I did you could feel the foundation start to shake, like "what the hell are you doing here." In any event, I sat down in the pew and immediately saw these beautiful blue eyes and it was like, "Wow!" And then the choir stands up to sing, and then I saw this statuesque, relatively buxom young lady and I said "Yeah, OK … we’ve got some promise here." [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

I had no idea what a family was until I met Linda, and saw how [her family] lived. It was an Ozzie and Harriet life. There wasn’t screaming and beating. "You see," I thought, "there’s something else." I wanted some of that stability and love. And then I wanted more of it. [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

Pretty well what you see with Linda is what you get. She has always been my right-hand man in business and in life. The best move I ever made was marrying her. [Toronto Sun, 2002]

I had to go back to a couple of professors to get them to change me from a B plus to an A, or I wouldn’t have made it. … I guess they didn’t expect a knock on the door from a student who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Someone who was saying he’s been here five years, and his wife’s been here three and she’s graduating and she’s pregnant. Now they figure this kid has either made up a hell of a story or maybe it’s true. Either way, it didn’t hurt them to change the grade. … I delivered it with lots of conviction, because it was true. Not that I couldn’t have delivered it with conviction had it not been true. [Playboy, 2001]

I [wasn’t] good [selling] fucking machines. They have no personality. I went from there to a job selling cups and Sweetheart ice cream cones for the Maryland Cup Corp. in Owings Mills, right outside Baltimore. [Playboy, 2001]

One day I’m at a Tastee-Freez talking about cups and cones and plastic seal, and the guy’s looking right through me. And I say, "You don’t care, do you?" And he says, "No, I don’t. Now is this going to be a good deal or what?" And I realized I didn’t really care, either. [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

All this time I’d been pestering my dad to let me work with him: "Come on, Pop. You know I love this stuff." [Playboy, 2001]

I always wanted to be in the promotion business. You have certain genes, I guess. [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

My grandfather started promoting. He’s first-generation Irish. His dad came over and opened a saloon. You had one or two options if you were Irish and you landed in New York: you could either open a saloon, or you could be a cop. [Wilmington Star-News, 1986]

[He] was promoting boxing and wrestling back in New York City, principally in one of the old Madison Square Gardens. And, from there, my dad, having helped his father promote wrestling and, more boxing in those days, putting show cards up and selling tickets and whatever it may be, and sort of got in my father’s blood. [Wrestling 86, 1986]

[My grandfather] did business with some pretty tough customers, such as Frankie Carbo, but kept his integrity. My father did some boxing, too, and was more or less New York–based, then opened up in Washington and did wrestling and some rock ’n’ roll back when that was first starting. He founded the WWF in 1963. [Sports Illustrated, 1991]

Promoters didn’t do much [back then]. Some were still doing studio wrestling, where you’d bring a crowd of 60 people into a studio. Magazines were on a cheap paper, all filled with blood and guts. I had this instinct wrestling could be better, bigger. [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

We had a promoter in Bangor, Maine, who was stealing too much money. [The New York Times, 1999]

[My father] said "OK, if you make it in Bangor then you have a future, If you don’t, I’ll give you six months." [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

He told me, "If you don’t make it, don’t ever ask me again." [New York Magazine, 1998]

I went to Bangor, the northernmost outpost of my dad’s territory. Now I’m hustling, promoting a product I love. People cheer and boo and have a good time, and I leave with some money in my pocket. Goddamn, life is good! Started making my way south, promoting areas that hadn’t been promoted before. First thing you know, half my dad’s business is in New England. [Playboy, 2001]

[The company] was making more money than it had ever made, and so my dad was thinking it just can’t get any better than this — and he was looking to get out. My dad was retiring, and it scared me to death. [New York Magazine, 1998]

When people would say, "Do you think can you follow in your old man’s footsteps?" I would immediately say, "No, and I don’t want to, and I can’t fill my dad’s shoes. I have to do things my own way." [Forbes, 2014]

In the old days, there were wrestling fiefdoms all over the country, each with its own little lord in charge. Each little lord respected the rights of his neighboring little lord. No takeovers or raids were allowed. There were maybe 30 of these tiny kingdoms in the U.S. and if I hadn’t bought out my dad, there would still be 30 of them, fragmented and struggling. I, of course, had no allegiance to those little lords. [Sports Illustrated, 1991]

I knew my dad wouldn’t have really sold me the business had he known what I was going to do. The vision of an international point of view of our business was nothing new. I wanted to do that from day one. My dad thought I was nuts, and he was right really, but I didn’t know I was nuts. And then we just went about doing it. [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

It was a balloon payment situation, so if I didn’t make the last payment they took the business back and kept the cash. [Forbes, 2014]

So it was a tremendous gamble. But then after I made that gamble, I had to keep right on gambling. [Off the Record, 1998]

I really don’t believe any of us thought I was gonna make that last payment, or even second payment, but I did it by using mirrors. [New York Magazine, 1998]

We began to compete [with all the other promoters], which had never been done before in professional wrestling. … It was us against the world. And all the other regional and local promoters still maintain their alliances and allegiances and I would say perhaps somewhat monopolistic tendencies, and we then decided we’re gonna break the mold and we’re gonna compete with all of them. [Wrestling 86, 1986]

The local guys were lazy. They weren’t listening to the marketplace. We were so consumer-oriented. We never lifted our ears from the ground. We gave the public what it wanted. We broke the mold. [Sports Illustrated, 1991]

Ninety percent of the major promoters flew to Memphis for a big meeting. So one day [former WWE announcer] Jim [Ross] was sitting on the throne in the men’s room when a few of the elder guys come in, and they’re saying, "How are we going to stop this kid?" Meaning me. They’re plotting to do me in. [Playboy, 2001]

My dad would get these phone calls from his cronies who had these little fiefdoms. "Hey Vince, what’s your kid doing? He’s coming into my territory. He’s gonna wind up dead. I’m gonna crush him like a grape." [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

It’s like "God, that damn kid, what the hell’s he doing? He’s coming to Kansas City, sonofabitch is gonna wind up in the bottom of a river." [Off the Record, 1998]

I’ve been supposed to wind up at the bottom of so many rivers, it’s ridiculous. [Esquire, 2005]

Some of it was probably bravado from a pseudo-tough-guy. Some of it was real. They were the last vestige of the old school, and I wanted to change the whole deal. I had to go national. [Playboy, 2001]

My dad’s phone started ringing, but he didn’t really have any control then — now he was working for me. I got so tired of hearing threats on my life. I said to one guy, "If you wanna blow me away, you’re way far behind; somebody might beat you to it." [New York Magazine, 1998]

[My] dad was very, very concerned. Once he saw that we were succeeding in head-to-head competition with them, my dad began to think, "Maybe this is going to work after all." [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

Years ago, the promoters tried to tell the world that this was 100 percent sport. It was an insult to the audience. Professional wrestling has always been a show. When Abraham Lincoln wrestled, it was a show. [Esquire, 2005]

It’s the greatest form of sports entertainment in history, and the audience loves it for that, but at one time, this industry was lying to the public. [Raw Magazine, 2001]

When I took over, I said, "Why don’t we just let the audience know what it is? An exhibition." Are these athletes? Without question, they’re some of the greatest athletes in the world. But l wanted to reposition who we were. It was the right thing to do. It was being honest with the audience. It was showing respect. And it didn’t hurt business at all because they already knew. [Esquire, 2005]

We coined the term "sports entertainment." People love it because it’s an escape from the drudgery and stress of their regular lives. They get charged by the action and the humor, and caught up in the drama, like a soap opera or reality show. [The New York Times, 2008]

I’d like to discourage you from being a pro wrestler. It’s a very, very tough life. There’s hardly any family life to it. [Wrestling 86, 1986]

The only time my dad told me he loved me was when he was dying of cancer. [Esquire, 2005]

I went to the hospital and I kissed him. I’ve always been demonstrative. If I don’t like you, I’ll tell you. If I love you, male or female, I’ll hug you and say I love you. But my dad was old Irish. The old Irish, for some reason I don’t understand, they don’t show affection. That’s not how I live my life. … I started to go. I hadn’t quite gotten through the door when I heard him: "I love you, Vinnie!" He didn’t just say it, he yelled it. [Playboy, 2001]

He screamed it. Because he felt it was the last time he’d ever see me. [Esquire, 2005]

I’ll never forget [my son] Shane when he was just a little kid, he tugged on Linda’s dress — and I happened to be home that day because I traveled so much trying to build the foundation for this business — and said, "Mommy, can Dad and I go out to play?" That was a rough one for me because of the way that he was looking at me. I’m not trying to say, "woe is me" by any stretch of the imagination. These are sacrifices that people in the world make every day, in one way or another. [Toronto Sun, 2002]

I’m not good at all at looking back. I’m not good at that at all. I just don’t do that. It’s what’s tomorrow, what’s next year. How am I going to leave this to the next generation, although I don’t plan to die. It may take a while for that. I don’t know. I could have a heart attack right here. [Orlando Sentinel, 2016]

I have a voracious appetite, for life and everything in it. To a certain extent I will die a very frustrated man because I didn’t do this or accomplish that. [Forbes, 2014]

No regrets. None. Not even the beatings when I was a child. I used those to learn and grow and benefit. I saw how dysfunctional marriages work and was not going to have one. And I don’t. Linda and I have probably had five or six arguments in our 38 years of marriage. [Esquire, 2005]

You make mistakes in life and you need to be man enough to apologize for your mistakes and recognize your mistakes first of all, which is sometimes difficult for us as human beings to do. Recognize when you’ve been a jackass, if you have been a jackass, and say, "You know what, I realize it now, I was a jackass, but I’m not going to be a jackass anymore." [Toronto Sun, 2002]

Some would say I’m still a teenager as far as certain aspects of my brain. It’s like I refuse to grow up. I don’t want to grow up. Now I’m old enough to say I’m not going to grow up. So what are you going to do about that? [Orlando Sentinel, 2016]

We’re all just little boys here. It’s just a blast to go out and be a kid in a certain environment. [New York Magazine, 1998]

After [the Montreal Screwjob] occurred I was summarily booed out of the building — this was in Canada — and so then I said, "Hmm, maybe we’re on to something here." [Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer, 2001]

We realized then we could put me in a venue where the public could express its anger. [Cigar Aficionado, 1999]

On television, I play this demagogue who’s so powerful. Some people say I’m one and the same. [The New York Times, 1999]

I always wanted to be an in-ring performer, and my dad, who preceded me, wouldn’t allow me to because he felt you couldn’t be an objective businessman and a performer at the same time. [Muscle & Fitness, 2016]

The older I get, the longer it takes to recuperate. Sometimes we affect pain when there isn’t any. Sometimes we feel it and embellish it, if it’s part of the story line. [Playboy, 2001]

Who in God’s name would get in the ring at 50-something years old? But I’ve never asked any of our performers to ever do anything I wouldn’t do. And I’ve done a lot through the years. [Muscle & Fitness, 2016]

My god. Some of the things I have said and have done. [Mr. McMahon is] the most reprehensible individual on the planet. … Uncaring, a powermonger, manipulative, very manipulative, always trying to get what I want and being very clever about it. Art imitating life and vice versa. It’s fun because some of it’s true, you know what I mean? [New York Magazine, 1998]

I don’t consider myself a rich person. I know that I am, but it’s not like I belong to any country clubs. … I have a car that goes very fast and a motorcycle that goes extraordinarily fast. I love speed … [But] I don’t really have anything in common with anyone in Greenwich except zeros. [Forbes, 2014]

If a cameraman is scampering and the cable puller’s not keeping up, I’ll pull the cable. There’s no job too menial. [Playboy, 2001]

I can’t imagine me doing something to earn someone’s respect, to be legitimate. I could care less what they think. [The New York Times, 1999]

After you really get to know me, you’ll see that Stone Cold is really playing the part of Vince McMahon. [New York Magazine, 1998]

In case you guys don’t know, I got an attitude. I like guys with attitude. ["Byte This!" 2002]

You do the best you can every day. It may be on a different level, but it’s still the best you can. After that, you can’t worry about it. You’ve got to let go. After you’ve done the best you can, there is nothing more you can do. [Raw Magazine, 2001]

I don’t think we escape our experiences. Things you may think you’ve pushed to the recesses of your mind, they’ll surface at the most inopportune time, when you least expect it. We can use those things, turn them into positives — change for the better. But they do tend to resurface. [Playboy, 2001]

All these story lines basically have a shelf life. [Toronto Sun, 2002]