The "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Screengrab via WWE YouTube.

Cue Pomp and Circumstance. For a generation, few wrestlers were as beloved as Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage.

Savage captured the childhood imaginations of so many with his colorful costumes, outrageous personality, and memorable catchphrase (Oh yeah!). Whether he was a “heel” (wrestling parlance for a villain) or a face (a hero), Savage achieved stardom and crossover appeal in the 1980s and 1990s to become a pop culture icon. He appeared in commercials (Snap into a Slim Jim!), TV shows, video games, and the movie Spider-Man.

Savage is the subject of author Jon Finkel’s latest book: Macho Man, The Untamed, Unbelievable Life of Randy Savage. We caught up with Finkel to learn more about the late wrestling legend.

The book is available to order here

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Awful Announcing: What made you write about Savage?

Jon Finkel: “Everybody has their favorite wrestlers as a kid. Mine was the Macho Man for a bunch of reasons. You could imitate the voice, the flair, and the charisma. You could copy his flying elbow drop on your brother. I used to leap off the bed and put him on the ground. I could do the double axe handle off the side of the couch. He was the most athletic of all the wrestlers of that day. He was the most relatable. I wasn’t André the Giant. I couldn’t pretend to be Hulk Hogan. No one’s doing leg drops on the kitchen floor. He was my guy. When I started writing books—this was my 10th book—I always had him in mind as a bucket-list biography.”

Why should wrestling fans buy your book?

“This is the first and only definitive biography of the Macho Man Randy Savage. It was incredible to me that it hadn’t been written before. I take everybody on that nostalgic-filled 80s and 90s wrestling road trip. I take you behind the scenes, especially during his minor league baseball career, which most people may know as a trivia question or a footnote. He was an exceptional baseball player in high school. Everybody who knew him thought he was going to the majors.

“He got hurt and had to quit. Then he completely pivoted, changed his body, changed his mentality, changed his entire personality to become the wrestler we all know and love today. So, if you’re into any of that, this is the book for you. John Cena even endorsed it.”

How long did this project take you?

“It took about two years. There was a year prior to that. I wanted to make sure I could get his brother Lanny Poffo, who was alive at the time and available for interviews. I did not want to move forward with the book unless I talked to Lanny. He was his best friend and came up wrestling with him. Lanny was the last surviving member of that generation of the Poffo family. It took about a year to get a hold of him. We had a great early interview, spoke for a long time, and I was off and running.”

Who else did you interview?

“I interviewed everyone from his neighbors on his street growing up to his little league teammates to his high school teammates and high school coaches to his minor league baseball teammates and coaches, the wrestlers who people know as his contemporaries, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Paul Roma. Extras on Spider-Man. I talked to everybody I could.”

What’s the wildest story about Savage?

“Randy Savage, when he was wrestling in the 1970s, got into a fight at a Waffle House late at night. I found the police report and the article in the newspaper. It took three cops, two billy clubs, mace, and a German Shepherd to take him down. He ended up with canine teeth marks almost two inches deep into his butt, and he had to wrestle the next night. He had to get tetanus shots.”

How did the fight start?

“He had just finished a show and he wanted to eat. A regular came in and announced that he was getting married. Everybody dropped what they were doing to congratulate him. Randy at that moment did not care. He told him ‘Who gives a sh**?’ He just confronted this guy for no reason and they started to brawl.”

What’s something that surprised you about Savage?

“I never knew he was a smart guy. Most of these wrestlers are playing a character, but most people in the beginning even before he got to the WWE thought he might have been certifiably insane. His character was an insane person. As it turns out, Macho Man was an honor student. He was a card shark. He was an incredibly sharp player at chess. He was a very cerebral guy for someone who went around trying to act like a lunatic.”

How did he come up with the Macho Man persona?

“He first started wrestling as Randy Poffo, his family name. He wanted to break off from that so that he and his brother could wrestle each other and people wouldn’t know they were brothers. So he decided to pick “Savage” because he was wrestling like a savage, flying through the air. He had wild hair and a beard. (In the beginning,) he wasn’t great at promos. His brother was helping him. He needed that voice. One of his favorite wrestlers growing up was Pampero Firpo. He was a wild bull with crazy hair and a beard. He talked similarly to Macho. So, he kind of took that to the next level.”

Was it difficult for him to separate Randy Savage the performer from Randy Savage the person?

“There was no separation. Once he got into that character, everybody I spoke to, from kids who met him at signings to people who worked with him to wrestlers, said there was no other person. There was just ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage.

“Jim Duggan tells a great story. They would pull into a McDonald’s at midnight to try to get some food. Jim came in as Jim and said ‘I’ll have a Big Mac.’ Right after that, it was Macho Man, saying ‘Oooh yeah! Can I have some fries?’ He would do the whole thing. He was who he was at that point”

What were the latter stages of his career like?

“By the time he was in his mid-40s, he was half the athlete he was at his peak. His hips, knees, ankles, back, shoulders—everything hurt. So, by the time he got to that last few years at WCW, he was half as athletic and a third as fast. It wasn’t pretty, but he was always trying to reinvent himself. He tried a rap album, which he believed was going to be great. He was in Spider-Man, which (introduced him to) a whole (new) generation. He did a ton of philanthropy. He was always great with kids.”

What did you learn about his fatal car accident?

“I went to the tree that he hit after he crashed. I talked to the gentleman who lived at the property where the tree is on. He was home when that happened. That morning, (Savage) was having breakfast with his wife. He had been complaining about his chest being tight. They finished breakfast. He wasn’t feeling very good. I guess she offered to drive, but he’s Macho Man. It was only a couple of miles away. He got behind the wheel. He had a heart attack and slumped over on the wheel. When he slumped over, he leaned off to the left and crossed the median. His car was going basically into oncoming traffic and a bus. His wife reached over, yanked the wheel, and got them into the tree and off the road. She survived with some minor injuries. Had she not done that, there could have been a lot of fatalities. Most of the locals there look at her as a hero.”

What’s the one takeaway you hope people get from your book?

“Randy was the ultimate self-made performer who only cared about the audience. If you look at the biggest moments in his career that people remember, it’s taking a live snake bite in front of a live TV audience. It’s losing to Ricky Steamboat. It’s losing to The Ultimate Warrior. It’s losing to Hulk Hogan. But somehow, he became more beloved with all of those losses. His ultimate dream was to be the greatest wrestler of all time, the greatest entertainer of all time. He came close. He’s just one of the most unique, charismatic entertainers we’ve had, and it was all on purpose. He crafted this creation and we were all the better for it as wrestling fans.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.