Mick Foley is the last person that you'd expect to be honored at something called the Rally to Restore Sanity. In the world of pro wrestling, he's known for taking sports entertainment to its most masochistic extremes. He's lost an ear in the ring, and just a little over a week before his appearance at Jon Stewart's "Million Moderate March," Foley body slammed a half-naked, 61 year old "Nature Boy" Ric Flair onto a mat covered in very real thumbtacks on Spike TV's "TNA Impact." But there is a kindly Dr. Jekyll to Foley's grappling Mr. Hyde. Outside the ring, he helps build schools in Africa through his giving to Child Fund International and is a passionate supporter of RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), an anti-sexual violence nonprofit that Foley first learned about through his devotion to singer-songwriter Tori Amos. Yes, the man dubbed "the Hardcore Legend" in wrestling circles is one of Amos' biggest fans, both literally and figuratively.
Equally as extreme in his philanthropy as he is in a steel cage match, Foley donated the entire advance for his fourth memoir, "Countdown to Lockdown" (Grand Central Publishing, 2010), to his charities. Although Foley's previous three memoirs all hit the "New York Times" bestseller list and he still earns a living through wrestling, forfeiting his advance is no small tithe from a man nearing the end of his ability to sacrifice his body on the altar of sports entertainment. Foley writes about living at the twilight of his career in "Countdown to Lockdown" and intersperses stories of his philanthropy with the red meat of his pay-per-view comeback and his parting with Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment. In a recent phone interview, Foley discusses the Rally to Restore Sanity, how he got talked out of going on "The O'Reilly Factor," and how democrats can tap into their inner pro wrestler.
BOB CALHOUN: Did you ever think that Mick Foley, the hardcore legend, would get an award for sanity?
MICK FOLEY: I don't know about sanity. It was officially for "reasonableness," and I know that because I'm looking at it as it hangs around my neck. No, especially because one can argue that many of my actions in and around the wrestling ring were not all that reasonable so I think it's appropriate that Jon specified that the award is for being reasonable everywhere else but my day job.
BC: You're not losing an ear for your charitable work.
MF: No, but I'd be willing to.
BC: But that's almost reasonable--almost.
MF: You know I think that is completely reasonable. If the stakes were high enough I would lose a body part to end sexual violence.
BC: Being at Stewart and Colbert's rally, what do you think it accomplished?
MF: I loved Jon's speech at the end of the rally. I think almost everybody who watched could take the story of the cars passing one by one into a small tunnel only by working together to heart. When it's phrased that way, and when Jon mentioned that we actually do work together in this country everywhere but in congress and on cable television, it struck a chord with people.
BC: In keeping with Stewart's criticism of the 24-hour news cycle, in "Countdown to Lockdown" you write that you contemplated going on "The O'Reilly Factor" to address the Chris Benoit tragedy, but were talked out of it. (In June 2007, WWE wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his wife and two children and then committed suicide.)
MF: I was talked out of it by a woman at Child Fund International, formerly the Christian Children's Fund. I told her that I thought that Bill and I could have a good conversation and her quote was, "Yes, you could, but that's entirely up to him." I really thought about the coverage that the Benoit murders had received and I realized so much of it was sound bytes and knee jerk reactions. Despite the fact that the cable news channels ran 24-hours a day, there was almost no deep reflection on what may have happened. More recently, the chaos in Iran following the elections ceased to exist once Michael Jackson died. It seems amazing to me to think that the people in charge of the news don't think that the American people can concentrate on more than one issue at a time.
BC: How do you feel about the beating that your profession took in the recent Connecticut senate race? Was there a better way for Dick Blumenthal and Democrats to criticize Linda McMahon's tenure as a CEO of WWE?
MF: As someone who is close to the subject and who has fed his children through the business of professional wrestling for their entire lives (I've been in it for 25 years; I've had a family for almost 19), although Blumenthal won in Connecticut, I think the idea that people were criticizing a form of entertainment enjoyed by millions of people across the country was very condescending and may have led to the feeling Americans had of democrats being out of touch.
BC: Do you think that the Democrats need to get in touch with their inner pro wrestler?
MF: I think they need to make Jim Webb the senate majority leader and attempt to shift the image of democrats from liberal weenies to tough-talking, straight-shooting Americans. I really respect what Harry Reid has done and I think Nancy Pelosi is a great congressperson, but I do not think that people can connect with them at all. If every liberal in the country was willing to give up lattes for two years, you could put those republicans in the unenviable position of having to talk about those "damned whiskey drinking liberals."
BC: In your new book you have your own criticisms of WWE like the fake McMahon memorial.
MF: I openly criticized them and I thought that a couple of storylines that (the Blumenthal campaign) trotted out to hurt Mrs. McMahon were indeed terrible storylines, but I don't think that they're indicative at all of the type of program WWE is. It reminds me of reading Joe Lieberman's memoir, "In Praise of Public Life," (Simon & Schuster, 2000) where he warned that with senators who make thousands of votes over the course of their careers, that one or two votes can serve as fodder for political attack ads. As an American citizen watching the fifth game of the World Series, I was just irate over the sheer number of political attack ads coming from both sides. The only person who serves to gain from that is the guy doing the voice-overs.
BC: There's another part of "Countdown to Lockdown" where you're cheered by an entire village in Sierra Leone and this isn't for running your body into exploding barbed wire.
MF: It was such a surreal feeling. I had been on the flight from the US to the UK, and then from the UK to Freetown. I knew that nobody in the country was really was familiar with wrestling at all. I took a ferry from the airport area to Freetown proper. Out of the six or 700 people on that ferry, not one person knew who I was. They looked at me because I was a large white guy with long, unkempt hair, but that was the only thing remarkable about me. Yet when I got to these small villages, child after child was yelling my name. They even had songs they sang in unison, and it turns out that I am known and very well liked solely because I contributed money to help build schools in the area.
BC: How did that change your outlook on things?
MF: First of all I realized that I did not have to commit so many reckless acts to earn the acceptance of people I'd never met. But I also, on a serious note, I came to identify Africa, at least the part of Africa I was in, as a place of hope and joy and not just despair. I really believe education is a key to bringing this continent out of the situation it's in.
BC: Has Tori Amos been getting more attention from wrestling fans since your book hit the shelves?
MF: (Laughs) Honestly, I do not know. I have not had contact with her since the book was published. The people I know at RAINN who know her, say she's still very flattered. I imagine that there's been a lot of people Googling her or checking out the links to certain songs. If she knew that it's drawing people to a cause like RAINN that she holds so dear, I can't imagine her minding.
BC: You've written four memoirs. Other memoirists write about cooking Julia Childs recipes, or they don't use toilet paper for a year, or they write about their tawdry sex lives. Do you worry that the success of your writing is too closely tied to getting choke slammed off of steel cages and would you rather have the tawdry sex?
MF: I do write about my sex life, but because it's mine, I can't use the adjective tawdry to describe it. I really enjoy telling stories. This book is not doing as well as the others have, but the people who are reading it are enjoying it. Because 100% of the advance was donated to the causes I care about, it's always seemed like a labor of love to me.
BC: What's next for Mick Foley?
MF: I've got a lot of things on the horizon. I've got a movie based on parts of my life that I'm writing along with director Christopher Scott. It's a movie being produced by Jeff Katz ("Snakes on a Plane") who's had great success in the motion picture industry. I may dabble in fiction again. I intend to talk RAINN when the opportunity lends itself and hopefully try to make a difference where I can while simultaneously being a dad who's home a little bit often.
NOTE: Mick Foley will be Jon Stewart's guest on "The Daily Show" tonight at 11pm EST.
Bob Calhoun is the author of the punk-wrestling memoir "Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling" (ECW Press, 2008). He is currently working on a book about conventions, tradeshows and other gatherings. You can follow his convention adventures on Twitter at twitter.com/bob_calhoun