2008’s The Wrestler resuscitated Mickey Rourke’s career, proving that the aging, once-handsome leading man could act the hell out of a scene, giving him a second life as a character actor.
The Wrestler is, of course, a fairly realistic portrayal of the pitfalls of pro-wrestling, which (though staged) is still hell on the body. Add to that steroids and rampant drug abuse, and you have an industry that chews up its stars and spits them out.
Enter 73-year-old Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, once known as the Iron Sheik. In the days of my extreme youth, when I occasionally watched the WWF, the Iron Sheik was my second-favorite “heel” (pro-wrestling villain). (My favorite heel being — of course — Andre the Giant, due in large part to The Princess Bride.)
(I was young enough — 11 or 12, as I recall — to argue over whether pro wrestling was real or not. “No, stupid” was my position, though I couldn’t prove it.)
I watched Vaziri cheat his way to a title victory over Hulk Hogan, using iron weights hidden in his flamboyantly Persian boots. I only watched 2 or three WWF shows, but I still remember that match.
Vaziri was, at one time, one of the most popular athletes (Greco-Roman wrestling) in Iran. He fled to America after the most popular athlete, and close friend, was murdered by the government. After a stint as assistant coach to the US Olympic wrestling team, he eventually joined the WWF.
A real life The Wrestler, Vaziri is today wracked with pain, thanks to all the damage his body suffered during his long career. This article discusses his alternately tragic, heroic, and self destructive life story in more detail.