William Moody, who, as the macabre Paul Bearer helped elevate The Undertaker into becoming the most successful gimmick performer in wrestling history, has died, according to WWE.
Moody, who personified pro wrestling’s over-the-top theatrics like few others, was 58 years old.
As Percy Pringle, Moody began making a name for himself as a loathsome wrestling manager during the 1980s in various southern territories, including World Class Championship Wrestling, where he managed Rick Rude to the WCCW world title.
But it wasn’t until 1991 that Moody adopted the character that would define his wrestling career. Late in 1990, WWE signed a young prospect named Mark Calloway, repackaged him as The Undertaker and gave him Brother Love as a manager. That marriage was short lived, and a few months later WWE unveiled ‘Taker’s new manager, Paul Bearer.
With his shoe polish black hair, ghostly pale skin, and dark circles around his morbidly wide eyes, Bearer instantly became one of the most unforgettable and unsettling characters in wrestling history. He led The Undertaker to the ring holding a mysterious urn that was said to give “The Dead Man” his powers.
Part of the reason Moody portrayed the Paul Bearer character so well was because it was, at least in part, based on reality. Moody had a degree in mortuary science and was a licensed funeral director and embalmer who had worked in various funeral homes after leaving the U.S. Air Force in 1976.
As absurd as it all may sound, the dynamic between The Undertaker and Paul Bearer was pure money, even after the two turned into fan favorites in 1992. With his high-pitched caterwauling, Bearer did most of the talking for The Undertaker during his early WWE years. He also hosted a memorable talk show segment, The Funeral Parlor, which was the setting for many memorable WWE moments, including The Ultimate Warrior being locked in a casket by the Undertaker, and the first-even face-to-face meeting between Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair.
“As I was standing there with these two legends on either side of me, I thought to myself, ‘Where do I go from here? This is the top of the mountain,” Moody told WWE.com in 2007. “I'll never forget it.”
Bearer’s character may have been creepy, but it also helped humanize The Undertaker—giving him a friend and ally to protect and defend from his foes. And when Bearer betrayed The Undertaker to take up with his enemy, Mankind, in 1996, it was particularly shocking.
In 1997, WWE introduced another lasting wrestling character who would be inextricably linked to Bearer and The Undertaker. According to WWE mythology, Kane is the son of Bearer, and younger half-brother of The Undertaker. Thanks in large part to Bearer’s acting and speaking skills during the earliest days of the storyline, the tale of the “Brothers of Destruction” has been one of WWE’s most lasting and successful storylines, stretching over 15 years and two WrestleMania clashes.
Moody portrayed the Paul Bearer character on-and-off for more than 20 years. As recently as last April he reprised the role during Kane’s feud with Randy Orton.
Moody suffered from various health issues in recent years, and battled weight problems, leading to gastric bypass surgery about 10 years ago. In 2009, Moody lost his wife, Diana, to cancer.
“WWE is saddened to learn of the passing of William Moody, aka Paul Bearer,” WWE said in a statement. “Moody made his WWE debut in 1991 as the manager of The Undertaker and went on to become a memorable part of WWE over the course of the next 20 years. Our deepest condolences go out to Moody’s family, friends and fans.”