For over two decades the words ‘Rest In Peace’ became synonymous in the wrestling world with William Moody, as one of his catchphrases under guise of popular character Paul Bearer. Today those same words are being widely repeated by the industry due to the sad passing of Moody on Wednesday morning, aged just 58.
On a week when WWE celebrated an Old School theme to their flagship Monday Night Raw show, celebrating the life of Paul (as I’m going to refer to him from now on in my own eulogy) fits very much into that same era the company were harking back to. And perhaps poignantly so does the Undertaker’s return to WWE programming this week, the superstar so closely linked to Paul’s career in wrestling. In fact you almost now wish we’d seen Bearer walk the Deadman down that isle one more time.
It was with the Undertaker that WWE fans were first introduced to the character Paul Bearer. Moody himself had already been circulating the independent scene as character called Percy Pringle III, but it was Rick Rude who mentioned him to WWE owner Vince McMahon. Using his real-life degree in mortuary science and certification as a funeral director to come up with the new character to manage The Undertaker. Taker had debuted at the 1990 Survivor Series as a fearsome ‘un-dead’ character hailing from Death Valley and looking like a mortician from an old western movie, thanks to his long trench coat, hat and gloves. Under his deadman persona, he was portrayed as impervious to pain and a character very much from another world. A year later, WWE added Bearer to Undertaker’s successful act as the superstar’s manager, taking over from Brother Love. Bearer’s ghostly mannerisms and ability to portray the deathly character, added a genuine eeriness to Undertaker’s gimmick and pairing would become one of wrestling’s most iconic wrestler and manager partnerships.
Throughout the initial run together, fans will recall Bearer ‘controlling’ the Phenom through a mysterious urn that he used to carry to the ring. Using it to help his star gain a mystical power from it by just lifting towards him during the match. While Paul could often be heard from ringside, shouting ‘Ohhhh yyesss’ in his customary horror-film like way. The pair’s success also led to talk show segment called The Funeral Parlor, where Bearer and The Undertaker invited rivals and guests on it a spot that used to frankly scare the bejesus out of this writer as a nine-year-old fan. Especially when my hero The Ultimate Warrior was locked in a casket during one memorable segment on the show.
Bearer and Taker’s relationship continued throughout the 1990’s, with Paul’s protégée wining the WWE Championship and through memorable feuds with the Warrior and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts. That was until SummerSlam 1996, when Bearer turned heel on his long-time associate and aligned himself with Mankind, the Executioner and Vader. A year later the pair were involved in what was ultimately their most memorable angle together, as Taker’s younger brother Kane was introduced to the WWE under Bearer’s tutelage. The story went that Bearer had been involved with the Undertaker’s mother and as a result Kane was born, only he was shunned by his family and as a result Kane had burned down his family home and suffered burns so bad they had to be hidden under a mask. Kane made his debut at the 1997 pay-per-view In Your House: Badd Blood, costing Taker a Hell in the Cell match with Shawn Michaels. This led to an intense, bitter feud between the two ‘brothers’ with Bearer very much at the centre of it.
By 1998 Paul was back in unison with The Undertaker, as the Deadman transformed into what has been his darkest persona yet as along with Bearer, they formed the Ministry of Darkness, and later the Corporate Ministry with Vince McMahon at the height of WWE’s attitude era. Bearer then briefly left WWE, and enjoyed a short spell in TNA going back to his Percy Pringle III guise. Yet, he was never far from the Undertaker’s reach, and returned both in 2004, in yet another feud with Kane and then with the Dudley Boyz - that actually saw Bearer buried in a crypt full of cement, and in 2010 when another Kane-Undertaker feud was enhanced by the manager’s involvement. He was last seen on WWE screens just last year, during Randy Orton’s angle with Kane, being kidnapped by the Viper and locked in a freezer while being strapped to a wheelchair. Sadly that would be his last act as a character that has transcended the industry, and remained fresh for over twenty years.
Whether it was with the Undertaker or Kane, and through the most ridiculous of storylines, Paul Bearer never failed to entertain. He’s been set-alight, buried alive, kidnapped on three occasions and even force-fed pizza, and always done it in a style befitting the Paul Bearer character. A character that should have really been a joke, but through his dedication has remained over with the crowd since 1991. We’ve laughed, winced, and be frightened with Paul but today we are just sad, as the wrestling industry has lost a true legend and icon.
One last time and for William ‘Paul Bearer’ Moody, may you Rest in Peace.