“Is that the real Iron Sheik?”
Jorel Claudio, a 28-year-old pastry chef, weaves past slow-moving tourists on King Street West in Toronto, contemplating the rough-hewn, barrel-chested man with the black handlebar mustache and red-and-white-checked kaffiyeh lodged in the passenger seat of a BMW at the curb. Before Claudio can approach, Marc Lacoursière, a 34-year-old graphic designer, asks the Iron Sheik for a favor.
“Tell me to go fuck myself, like you do on Twitter.”
The Iranian native’s eyes flash as he rolls down his window. “Get the fuck out of here!” he booms.
Both Claudio and Lacoursière look on in wonder.
To reemphasize his point, the former World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) champion bellows again.
“Get the fuck out of here!”
The small crowd gathered around the vehicle gawks at the Sheik, then back at Lacoursière, who grins.
“That made my day,” he says softly. “As a matter of fact, it made my year.”
The Sheik has all but forgotten the exchange when his managers, 34-year-old identical twins Jian and Page Magen, help him from the vehicle to a yellow plastic chair on the sidewalk in front of the Belly Buster, a sandwich shop they own.
Resting on his cane (even after replacement surgery a decade or so ago, bone bulges from his left knee, the residual effect of more than two decades in the ring), the Sheik stares straight ahead, as if the coffee shop across the street were the red light on a camera at a WWF event circa 1985.
“Six year, nobody beat Mr. Bob Backlund!” he thunders, referring to the man he dethroned for the title in December 1983. “I beat him at most famous arena, Madison Square Garden! Everybody know I’m the real champion, and I beat Angelo Mosca at Maple Leaf Garden not far from here!”
Heads hang out of a number 510 streetcar as it winds off King Street West toward Adelaide. Not everyone understands his references, but nobody can look away.
“Without Iron Sheik, there be no Hulkamania!” he yells, assuming it’s common knowledge that he agreed to lose the title to Hulk Hogan one month after procuring it in order to provide WWF head Vince McMahon with a tanned, telegenic lightning rod who could expand the company from its Northeastern wrestling territory to an international conglomerate. Then, switching to a real-life grudge, he adds, “But I don’t have respect for jabroni Ultimate Warrior!”
In another age, the Sheik would be stuck venting his hostility on a street like this or in a gym or barroom, but social media has given the retired wrestler a wider audience—and an outlet where he can continue being the Sheik. He has more than 367,000 Twitter followers, who track his thoughts on everything from wrestling adversaries to the NFL, the NBA, the Premier League, pop culture and politics. When he approves of something, it’s the “real bubba” or even “Sheik class,” as in this December tweet: “Nelson Mandela god bless you forever you forever Iron Sheik class.” But when he disapproves (“jabroni” is one of his favorite insults), things really get colorful.
“Tom Brady wife need the #Obamacare after I suplex her.”
“Wednesday please go fuck yourself.”
“Miley Cyrus Ultimate Warrior sister.”
“Tony Romo play great tonight for dumb piece of shit raisin balls grasshopper dick motherfucker.”
A recurring theme: placing a rival facedown on the mat and bending him backward in the painful camel clutch—the hold the Sheik used to defeat Backlund—then “humbling” him by fucking him in the ass.
“Who talks like that?” Page Magen asks. “Adam Sandler doesn’t. Chris Rock doesn’t. He’s not gay. He’s not a rapist. It’s just an extreme way of saying you disapprove of another person.”
Yet it always gets a pop. “The Sheik’s popularity is based on his utter lack of any sort of social-media graces,” says Ed Zitron, a public relations specialist and author who has written about the Sheik. “He grandstands like wrestlers do. He isn’t perfectly worded. He is just the Iron Sheik, and he is fantastically passionate.”
And the Magens—Persian Jews who run a business that provides entertainment at Toronto-area weddings, bar mitzvahs and corporate events—are determined to make a brand out of the man they consider an uncle. (Their father, Bijan, a former table-tennis champion in Iran, and the Sheik are childhood friends.) In 2010 they brought the Sheik to the Grammys and introduced him to Jay Z and Beyoncé on the red carpet. “Beyoncé actually kissed his hand and asked to take a picture with him,” Jian claims. “I watched Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day walk past Tony Bennett because the Iron Sheik was there.”
The Sheik’s crossover cult stature is based on something more than nostalgia, a concept the Sheik himself doesn’t fully grasp. When asked why his Twitter following continues to grow, the Sheik gives a tired look.
“I imagine they like it. No?”
“He thinks it’s all from wrestling,” Page says. “But he sees he’s getting a lot of attention, so he dials into it. He told me one day, ‘Even Ray Charles knows me.’ Does he not know Ray Charles is dead, or is he saying that because it’s funny? After living his gimmick for so long, it’s a little bit of the real-fake thing.”
“Even so-called normal wrestlers get lost in their character,” says Greg Oliver, author of The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. He mentions Dick “the Destroyer” Beyer, an international star from the 1960s, as an example. “The Destroyer is a well-spoken guy who has taught school and saved his money. Yet when he went to a large event, he still put on his mask, because that’s who he is. There’s a slippery slope to keeping your sanity when you’ve played a character for so long.”
1. Wrestling legend “Classy” Freddie Blassie managed the Iron Sheik, who dubbed him “Ayatollah” Blassie. 2. The Sheik with his old friend and tag-team partner Nikolai Volkoff. 3. In 1984 he agreed to lose the WWF championship to Hulk Hogan.
The man who would become the Iron Sheik was born Khosrow Vaziri in March, or maybe September. He isn’t sure. He believes the year was 1942 but is uncertain of his birthday, since his family often confused the Western calendar and the one used in Iran. He knows he was born in the ancient city of Damghan and was so dedicated to amateur wrestling that as a teenager he had 90 tattooed on his right forearm, for the 90-kilogram weight class in which he aspired to compete. The tattoo was done in a brothel despite the fact that Vaziri took his training and his Shiite faith so seriously he didn’t lose his virginity until he was nearly 29. By then he’d represented Iran at international tournaments.
Among the Sheik’s heroes: Shaban Jafari, who performed feats of strength for foreign delegations, and Gholamreza Takhti, a gold medalist in wrestling at the 1956 Olympics. Jafari and Takhti could hardly have been more opposite. Jafari won the favor of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, for organizing mobs to bust dissidents’ heads, earning him the ire of the people, who called him Shaban Beemokh—Shaban the Brainless. Takhti became an activist, capitalizing on his fame to cross police lines and bring food to demonstrators, until, in 1968, the government announced Takhti had committed suicide in his room at Tehran’s Atlantic Hotel.
Vaziri had a good thing going at the time. Because of his athletic achievements, he worked as an assistant cameraman for the national television network, reporting directly to the shah’s cousin, and was assigned to guard the royal family during the 10-day festival at Persepolis, the ancient Persian capital. Convinced by Takhti’s death that no one was safe in Iran, Vaziri fled, accepting a long-standing offer to join the Minnesota Amateur Wrestling Club, which has consistently fielded competitors on the U.S. Olympic squad for the past half century. Guided by coach Alan Rice, Vaziri won Amateur Athletic Union silver medals in 1969 and 1970, as well as the gold in 1971. The next year, he served as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team.
He also began training for professional wrestling with Verne Gagne, promoter of the then potent American Wrestling Association in Minneapolis. Gagne was particular about whom he admitted into the fraternity, and Vaziri’s class included U.S. Olympic weight lifter Ken Patera, former Miami Dolphin and San Diego Charger Bob Bruggers and the man widely regarded as the greatest professional wrestler who ever lived, Ric “Nature Boy” Flair.
It was Verne Gagne’s wife, Mary, who came up with the gimmick that transformed Khosrow Vaziri into the Iron Sheik. The promoter and his spouse were with the wrestler in a French restaurant in Montreal, where Vaziri was working as an assistant coach for the 1976 American Olympic team. Vaziri told Gagne he was unhappy. He was doing jobs—losing—to nearly everyone in the AWA, even manager Bobby “the Brain” Heenan. The problem, he said, was that because of his amateur background, the AWA was presenting him as a babyface, or fan favorite. The three bantered about possible heel personas, when Mary Gagne shouted out, “The Iron Sheik.”
The wrestler was unimpressed. Sheiks are Arab, and he is Persian. And there was another problem.
“We already have a Sheik in Detroit.”
Vaziri was referring to Ed “the Original Sheik” Farhat, the Lebanese American promoter who played a crazed Bedouin, shooting fireballs at his foes and carving them up with a pencil he stashed in his trunks. Farhat did not appreciate gimmick infringement. After Frankie Cain portrayed a similar character called the Great Mephisto, Farhat slapped the hell out of him on a Japanese tour.
“Don’t worry about Farhat,” Mary Gagne countered. “He doesn’t pay your bills.” Likewise, the American public was largely clueless to the fact that Persians and Arabs had different customs.
“She was a smart lady,” the Sheik remembers of the woman who invented the character that would alter the rest of his life. “I love her forever.”
To get to the Legends of the Ring fan festival, I take a bus from the Port Authority in Times Square down the New Jersey Turnpike, past billboards, power lines and swampland to Monroe Township, an hour away. The bus overshoots the hotel by about half a mile, so I walk with a group of wrestling fans down County Road 612 toward the Crowne Plaza. As we pass an assisted-living facility, Louis Curry, 42, a technician at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, asks my birthday.
“May 5,” he repeats, calculating something in his head. A light goes on, and he smiles widely. “Cowboy Bill Watts!”
At the convention there’s no sign of Watts, whose birthday is also May 5 and who ran a pretty exciting promotion in Oklahoma as the WWF, with Hulk Hogan at the helm, was putting other regional territories out of business. But the hotel’s ballroom does have former WWF champion Kevin “Diesel” Nash, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and Marty Jannetty—Shawn Michaels’s partner in the late 1980s in a popular tag team called the Rockers—signing autographs next to tables covered with DVDs, WWE action figures and old wrestling magazines. Upstairs I sit down with Croatian-born Josip Peruzovic, who, as Nikolai Volkoff, performed as a Soviet heel and a tag-team partner of the Iron Sheik. Volkoff, 66, is a far cry from his Commie persona: In 2006, he ran as a Republican for the Maryland House of Delegates, but when he’s around wrestling fans he wears his gimmick, a fur hat with a Soviet army seal.
He probably knows the Iron Sheik better than anybody in the wrestling business. “I couldn’t speak good English, and he was worse than me, so we traveled together and became good friends,” Volkoff says.
Before early flights, the two saved money by sleeping in airport lots in a van Volkoff outfitted with a sofa bed. Sometimes they shared a hotel room. “We had different habits,” Volkoff says. “He liked to party. I’m allergic to alcohol. I always wanted to save money. If I could take the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, I’d do it. The Sheik hated that. He’d say, ‘Nikolai, you cheap bastard, I’ll pay for the taxi.’”
Hotels presented their own problems. Once, before an important singles match with Hogan, Volkoff ordered the Sheik to keep quiet. When Volkoff woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, he grew dizzy and stumbled. “I turn the lights on,” Volkoff recalls, “and I see the whole room is full of smoke. I had a contact high. It wasn’t just the Sheik in there. It was lots of wrestlers. Some have passed away—I don’t want to say who, God bless their souls. I said, ‘Fuck off. Party’s over.’ And I don’t like to curse. The Sheik could have gone to their rooms. Why does he have to bring everybody to me, to whisper and smoke and sit on the floor in the dark?”
Even when the Sheik was partying, he conducted himself as if he were back at the zurkhaneh, the traditional “house of strength” where he first learned to wrestle and juggle 75-pound Iranian exercise clubs.
“We’d be sitting around smoking a joint, and he’d start doing squats,” says King Kong Bundy, the 458-pound hairless behemoth announcers called the Walking Condominium. “And he’d do hundreds of squats. He’d be dripping with sweat. Just dripping. He was a beast, a real beast. He has the constitution of a rhino.”
Cowboy Bob Orton Jr.—father of current WWE headliner Randy Orton—met the Sheik when the future champ still wrestled under his birth name, Khosrow Vaziri, with a full head of black hair. Orton remembers sharing a room with the Sheik in either Cleveland or Detroit and hearing an unusual quiver in the middle of the night: “I’m thinking, What’s this guy doing? I look over and he’s got this cooler of beer sitting there, and he’s drinking beer with his feet up against the wall, doing handstand push-ups. I say, ‘It’s four o’clock in the morning.’ And he goes, ‘The Sheik has to stay in shape.’”
It took a while for the Sheik gimmick to ignite. He tried a number of variations, sometimes billing himself as Lebanese, since at the time the shah of Iran was a U.S. ally. Then came the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which saw the shah replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini and a hostage crisis that involved 52 Americans held captive in Tehran for 444 days. Although the Sheik had served as a bodyguard for the shah’s family, he went on television and claimed to act on orders from the ayatollah, mentioning specific mullahs he regarded as mentors. Instantly he became the most despised man in the squared circle.
It was good for business.
“Everyone hated him because of what was going on overseas,” says Orton. “The arena would go quiet sometimes because the people were so mad they couldn’t get the words out. They’d have to put his match on in the middle of the card so he wouldn’t have to fight his way out of the building. But he relished the heat that he had.”
These were the innocent days of wrestling, when fans were not wise to the fact that winners were predetermined. A substantial number of audience members truly believed in—and hated—the man who came to the ring with a flag bearing the likeness of Ayatollah Khomeini.
At the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, New York, a fan dove into the ring, knocking the Sheik to the ground. “I go to hit the guy, and I see the Sheik get up,” Volkoff recounts. “The Sheik was ready to kill. So I grab the guy to save him. Man, the Sheik kicked him in the jaw harder than anything I’ve ever seen.”
Without breaking character, the Sheik looked at security and demanded, “Now, take this American piece of garbage and throw him out in the street where he belong.”
“Sheikie became Sheikie at some stage,” says Bruce Prichard, an industry lifer best remembered for his televangelist gimmick, Brother Love. “He stopped being Khos. The character became him. In fact, the Iron Sheik became a caricature of the Iron Sheik. I remember him watching the Saturday morning cartoon show [Hulk Hogan’s Rock ’n’ Wrestling started running on CBS in 1985], seeing the cartoon of himself on TV and saying, ‘Yessss, look at Sheikie.’”
Shortly after the Sheik locked Bob Backlund in the camel clutch and won the WWF championship, he received a phone call from his old friend and AWA promoter Verne Gagne. An athlete of the Sheik’s caliber did not deserve to lose his title to a showman like Hulk Hogan, Gagne allegedly said. Instead, Gagne purportedly offered the Sheik $100,000 to break the Hulkster’s leg and bring the belt to the AWA.
The Sheik respected his old trainer. After all, it was Mary Gagne who’d created the Iron Sheik gimmick. But he felt a greater affinity to WWF boss Vince McMahon. At his 2005 WWE Hall of Fame induction, the Sheik remembered his response like this: “Maybe you think Hulk Hogan is a jabroni Hollywood blond. But my boss, Mr. McMahon, is not jabroni. He is the real number one promoter in the world. God bless his soul. I love him forever.”
On January 23, 1984, the Sheik defended his title against Hogan in front of a ravenous crowd at Madison Square Garden. “The Sheik went out and put over Hogan like a million bucks,” Prichard says. “Not a lot of guys would have done that. Sheik could have tied Hogan up in a knot, but he didn’t. He did business. He did the right thing.”
History supports his decision. In 1991, the AWA declared bankruptcy. The association’s video archives are now owned by the WWE.
Wrestlers still tell the story about Gagne’s attempt to derail Hulkamania. “I think the Sheik believes it happened, and it probably did,” Orton says. “But who knows?”
In the backroom at the Warehouse, an event venue in Toronto’s Downsview Park, Phife Dawg, a member of the pioneering hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, is reclining on a couch when the door bursts open and the Sheik rolls in in a wheelchair. Phife looks up as a friend of the Magens sweeps in behind the ex-wrestler and locates a tote bag containing the Sheik’s AAU medals.
“Okay,” the Sheik says, tapping his cane as the medals are placed on his lap. “Let’s go.” And he’s gone as quickly as he arrived.
The medals are among the Sheik’s most valued possessions. He wore them while cutting promos in the WWF and worries about them obsessively. He blames this on Volkoff, who once blurted out their room number in a Newark hotel lobby.
“What you think happened?” the Sheik asks disdainfully. “Some motherfucker broke in and took everything.”
Volkoff wasn’t happy his hot plate was missing—he hates spending money in restaurants and would cook in the room—but the Sheik was inconsolable.
“Sheik was maaaaaad,” Volkoff says. “He was mad. Oh my God, he was so mad, he was crying, ‘Oh, Nikolai, they stole my medals.’ I said, ‘What you worry about your medals? They took my hot plate. You can go to any 10-cent store and buy another medal.’”
That’s when Volkoff realized the Sheik traveled with his genuine medals—the AAU later replaced them—rather than the facsimiles a wrestler was expected to use.
Phife Dawg wasn’t allowed to watch wrestling back then—his grandmother was a strict Seventh-day Adventist who disapproved of such frivolousness—so he had to sneak over to his friends’ homes if he wanted to see the Iron Sheik on TV. All these years later, he finds it difficult to grasp that he’s at the same event as the Sheik. But it is Jian Magen’s bachelor party, and the Sheik’s co-manager has invited his favorite celebrities. As a DJ transitions from Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” to 2Pac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love,” former major league outfielder Jose Canseco—remembered as much for winning the American League’s most valuable player award as for chronicling his steroid abuse in a 2005 tell-all book—plays cards at a red-velvet poker table.
The Magens’ friends monitor him closely. “He’s big,” says one.
“He’s got a great tan.”
For most of the night, the Sheik is subdued, his replica gold belt draped over his shoulder as he sits with the Magens’ father, Bijan, and speaks Farsi with white-haired men. When one of the 250 guests approaches and mentions that he’s Israeli, the Sheik, known for his diatribes against “cheap Jews” on The Howard Stern Show, smiles politely.
Yet even when he does nothing, the Sheik captivates. Dave Keystone, a veteran of Canadian reality show The Lofters, holds a drink while watching the Twitter sensation. “Most of his fans today probably don’t give a shit about wrestling,” Keystone says. “It’s his diction, the delivery, an old man ranting in choppy English.”
In fact, even the two strippers hired to lap dance in an adjoining room stick their heads past the curtain to look at the Sheik as he poses for a photo with an invitee who lingers too long. Page hustles the man along. “What, are we here to make friends?”
The Magens have yet to run out of uses for the Sheik. For the past seven years, they’ve been making a documentary about their idol, subsidized in part by an Indiegogo campaign. Some have accused the pair of pimping the legend, but Jian insists, “This is a passion for us. We love him, and he loves us.”
The bachelor party culminates with Jian stepping into the ring for a series of comedy matches against local wrestlers. His mother interferes at one point—before Jian is thrown ringside and the Sheik places his nephew in the camel clutch.
The morning after the bachelor party, the Sheik shambles toward the kitchen in Jian’s home, clad in a red button-down shirt and blue cap. Gripping his cane with one hand, he reaches forward to be helped down a set of steps. As Bijan pours his friend orange juice and spreads cream cheese across a bagel, the Sheik pulls a medal—this one from the WWE Hall of Fame—from his pocket and asks me to place it around his neck.
He spots the replica championship belt on the table. “You find the belt?”
“It was never missing,” Jian answers, explaining that, the night before, a friend hid it as a gag. The Sheik appears relieved.
The Sheik takes a call from his daughter Tanya. “When you know the guy, you realize he’s a loving father, grandfather, a loyal friend, a smart, caring guy who watches CNN and talks about the world in a serious way,” Jian says. “But you don’t see that because his verbal presence will move you out of a room.”
The twins remember when they first became aware of the Sheik: Jian was watching wrestling, and his mother rushed into the room, asking why the man on TV was cursing in Farsi. When the family discovered it was Khosrow Vaziri, arrangements were made to meet him the next time he visited Toronto.
“My mother cooked for 10 days,” Page says. “We picked him up from the airport. We had a big party on the block, and the Sheik and Nikolai came.”
Although the Sheik and his Minnesota-bred wife, Caryl, had three daughters in the Atlanta suburbs, he rarely brought his family to the arena, fearing the reactions of wrestling’s true believers. In Toronto, though, he walked the Magen boys into Maple Leaf Gardens, holding their hands and threatening not to wrestle if security failed to grant them access.
“Page’s real name is Pejman,” Jian says. “And Pejman and Jian were not Ryan and Matthew. We didn’t go to school with PBJ and a juice box. We’d open our lunch box and rice would go flying all over. But we had the Iron Sheik, someone to relate to, someone who got us not only acceptance but status.”
At one event, the Sheik sang the Iranian national anthem—the version praising the shah’s dynasty rather than the ayatollah.
“My dad looked over at us and said, ‘Stand,’?” Page says. “I was so sick of being called a terrorist all the time that I put my hand on my heart and sang along. Everybody was booing the Sheik and booing my family. But he represented us.”
In 1987, however, the twins were shocked when the Sheik and his in-ring enemy, flag-waving Hacksaw Jim Duggan, were busted while riding together on the Garden State Parkway. Duggan was carrying less than an ounce of marijuana, the Sheik an eight-ball of cocaine. Even worse to those within the wrestling industry, the arrest highlighted the fact that babyfaces and heels—even those with violently divergent political perspectives—didn’t mind sharing a joint once in a while.
The arrest occurred as the WWF was experiencing unprecedented visibility, less than two months after Hogan faced Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III in front of a reported 93,173 spectators at the Pontiac Silverdome. Vince McMahon vowed that neither Hacksaw nor Sheik would ever work for the company again.
“It was bad for me that day I travel with Hacksaw,” the Sheik reminisces.
McMahon eventually rescinded his pledge, likely due to a combination of the Sheik’s loyalty to the company and McMahon’s affection for the former champion. But within a few months the Sheik’s career with the WWF was over. He bounced around smaller organizations in Houston and Dallas until, in 1996, the WWF brought in the retired ex-champion and a now-evil Bob Backlund as co-managers of a masked character called the Sultan. When the Sheik failed a drug test, he was released. Fans at small indie wrestling shows, where his name was generally at the top of the poster, frequently gave him drugs. The Sheik’s not sure of the exact day, but he remembers the feeling of gloom in the room when an enthusiast first offered him crack.
“I liked it,” he remembers.
Then, in 2003, his 27-year-old daughter Marissa, a stunning amateur weight lifter who contemplated following her father into the wrestling business, was partying with her boyfriend, Charles Reynolds, and a group of friends in her apartment. An undercurrent of tension plagued the gathering. Reynolds could be controlling, the Sheik’s family says, and Marissa was thinking of leaving him. But when the guests went home, no one was particularly worried.
The next morning, Reynolds, 38, called his minister. After the cleric arrived at the couple’s apartment with two other church members, Reynolds led them to the bedroom, where Marissa lay in the bed, strangled to death.
“It’s my fault,” Reynolds told police. “Take me. I’ve done wrong. You hear me?”
The tragedy intensified the Sheik’s drug and alcohol use. He smuggled a razor into the courtroom during Reynolds’s trial, determined to kill the man who’d murdered his daughter. In 2005 the Sheik’s family signed papers committing him to rehab, an attempt sabotaged by a fan who worked at the facility and smuggled in an eight-ball of cocaine. Depressed and bitter, the Sheik erupted from time to time; videos from this period are still viewed with regularity on YouTube.
Much of his fury was directed at Eric Simms, the bald, bespectacled onetime truck driver who arranges autograph signings for wrestling veterans. Simms has a Borat ringtone on his phone, squawks out unsolicited opinions and tells jokes too schmaltzy for the borscht belt. (“I’m bisexual,” he says at the beginning of our interview. “I buy sex.”) But he cared about the Sheik and would wait at parties for hours to ensure his often belligerent charge arrived safely at the hotel.
“I felt like leaving, but I never did,” Simms says. “I’m a glutton for punishment.”
In 2007 Simms brought the Sheik to an event also attended by the Ultimate Warrior. “Evidently Warrior had put out an edict that he didn’t want to interact with any of the boys,” Simms says. “I didn’t know, so I brought the Sheik over to take a picture with him. Warrior says, ‘Sheik, go away. You’ve been bad-mouthing me.’ The Sheik says he’s sorry, and the Warrior says, ‘I don’t accept your apology.’ You tell the Sheik to fuck off, is he going to go away? No. He’s the Iron Sheik. He starts to fire up on the Warrior, and I see it’s a bad situation. So I apologize to the Warrior’s people, and the next thing I know—poom!—I get a slap in the face.”
“You’re a fuckin’ asshole!” the Sheik yelled. “You bring me here, he treats me like that! That was your fuckin’ fault!”
The video of the altercation received nearly a million hits. Howard Stern brought the Sheik on his program to relive the episode and chronicle his animosity toward other former colleagues.
Hulk Hogan earned the Sheik’s ire, he said, by refusing to assist the wrestler who so selflessly dropped the title for him. “I’m going to fuck him up,” the Sheik announced to Stern during one interview, “beat the fuck out of him and suplex him, put him in the camel clutch, break his back and fuck his ass and make him humble.”
According to Stern, that would qualify the Sheik as gay.
“Instead I fuck his ass with my dick, I’m gonna fuck his ass with a beer bottle,” the Sheik clarified. “Yes, sir.”
“Oh, that’s not gay?” co-host Robin Quivers questioned.
“Exactly. Thank you, Robin.”
Today, the Sheik is not beyond making similar remarks. But it took his wife moving out and his family banning him from fraternizing with certain associates for the Sheik to abandon his most destructive vices. He still likes his cold beer—and tweets about it often—but claims he has resisted cocaine for more than five years. He’s now back with his wife and adored by his grandchildren, who call him Papa Sheik.
Despite his experiences, he appears strangely unsympathetic to public figures in similar situations. When Toronto mayor Rob Ford admitted sampling crack in November, the Magens rushed their uncle to City Hall.
“What kind of role model is for Toronto city?” the Sheik shouted to the press horde covering the scandal. “I just want to know, is he a real man or no?”
The next day, the Toronto Sun splashed a picture of the former wrestler on its front page, and the Sheik issued the following tweet: “Saddam Hussein dead better mayor than Rob Ford.”
At Jian’s, the Magens are helping the Sheik compose his tweets, watching the news on a big-screen TV and gauging his response.
“Mick Jagger is 70 today,” Jian mentions.
The Sheik considers the information. “Mick Jagger. He’s singer. He’s dancer. For his job, he’s in Iron Sheik’s class. And he’s very popular.”
Page remembers another exchange at the beginning of the Sheik’s Twitter run. “I called him up and he said, ‘Leave me alone. I’m watching Oprah. Fuck you. Fuck Oprah.’ Well, Twitter’s about what people are doing, so that’s what I put up.”
For a while, the Sheik watches television by himself, then drifts off to sleep on the couch, waking up after a few minutes to check his medals, adjust his kaffiyeh and twirl his mustache. When he closes his eyes again, Jian hurls a fluffy Ultimate Warrior toy at him. The Sheik ponders it a moment, then responds with mild annoyance. “I don’t care about that jabroni.”
“You can use it for a pillow.”
“I have a good pillow. Get out of here.”
Jian grins and throws a Hulk Hogan toy. The Sheik glances at it and shrugs.
“He’s okay now.”
The two reconciled last spring, after Hogan apparently admitted that, by laying down for him in the Garden, the Sheik helped launch Hulkamania. “I kiss him,” the Sheik remembers. “I hug him. We have a friendship now.”
The memory seems to infuse him with an enthusiasm that carries over when the twins put him on Skype to thank fans who contributed to the Indiegogo fund for the documentary. Proud and buoyant, the Sheik holds up his belt and points at his medals, reminding a donor in southern California to say hello to everyone in “Tehran-geles.”
The admirer tells the Sheik that he hopes to speak with him soon on Twitter.
“Inshallah,” the Sheik replies. God willing. He raises a finger and repeats a phrase he’d use to rile up crowds. “Iran! Number one!” Then he improvises. “Ya Allah!” (Dear God!) “I love you guys! Shalom!”
He gazes over at the Magens, beaming. “You like?”