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McMahon eventually rescinded his pledge, likely due to a combination of the Sheik’s loyalty to the company and McMahon’s affection for the former champion.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?”