A new movie starring Zac Efron and “The Bear” actor Jeremy Allen White is based on the true story of the Von Erich wrestling family, including a tragic beginning in Upstate New York.
The first trailer for “The Iron Claw” debuted Wednesday, featuring Efron and White as wrestlers Kevin Von Erich and Kerry Von Erich, respectively. The biopic cast also includes Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich, Stanley Simons as Mike Von Erich, and Holt McCallany (“Mindhunter”) as their father, Fritz Von Erich, a 23-time world champion who pioneered the “Iron Claw” wrestling move.
“Based on a true story, the film follows the rise and fall of the Von Erich family, a dynasty of wrestlers who made a huge impact on the sport from the 1960s to the present day,” the official synopsis from A24 says.
According to D Magazine, Jack Adkisson was a football star at Southern Methodist University who briefly played for the then-Dallas Texans of the National Football League. In the 1950s, he started wrestling as a Nazi villain character named “Fritz Von Erich,” and came up with Iron Claw, spreading his hand over an opponent’s face and then squeezing. As his popularity grew, he switched from a heel to a “face,” or a good guy in the ring, while keeping the name.
But the family still struggled financially, living in a trailer park in Niagara Falls, N.Y., where two of their six children were born. Their youngest, Jackie, died at age 7 when he touched a live wire while playing in the trailer park; he was electrocuted, fell face-first in a puddle of melting snow, and drowned. Fritz was away on a wrestling trip at the time.
Jackie’s death was the beginning of what became known as the “Von Erich Family Curse.” The family moved back to Texas and all five of Fritz’s other sons eventually went into wrestling, adopting the Von Erich name. Four of them died under their own tragic circumstances.
According to NBC, David Von Erich died suddenly from enteritis, an intestinal infection, in a Tokyo hotel in 1984. Between 1987 and 1993, Mike, Chris, and Kerry Von Erich each died by suicide; Mike Von Erich of a drug overdose at age 23, Chris Von Erich by gunshot to the head at 22, and Kerry Von Erich, the WWF’s “Texas Tornado” who was also born in Niagara Falls, by a gunshot to the chest at 33. Fritz later died of brain and lung cancer at age 68 in 1997.
“After all of this I went a little crazy,” Kevin Von Erich told ESPN in the 2019 “30 For 30″ episode “Wrestling the Curse.” “I wanted to die, but I wasn’t going to kill myself. I wanted to go to prison and get in fights, and I wanted to be punished like I had done something. It was stupid.”
According to NBC, Kevin — the sole surviving Von Erich brother — retired and moved to Kauai, Hawaii, where he raised two sons and two daughters. He recently relocated to Texas and his sons, Ross and Marshall Von Erich, continued the family legacy by joining Major League Wrestling in 2019; they are the longest reigning tag team champions in MLW history.
The Von Erich family was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.
“The Iron Claw,” written and directed by Sean Durkin (”The Nest”) and also starring Lily James and Maura Tierney, opens in theaters Dec. 22.