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Undoubtedly the most recognized personality to emerge from World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation), Hulk Hogan maintained enormous popularity as a professional wrestler throughout a long career that saw its share of dizzying highs and humiliating lows. Though wrestling had always been defined by absolutes - the morality tale of good versus evil - the story behind the scenes was far more complex, as personal tragedies entangled in an intricate web of a billion-dollar business. But initially Hogan managed to transcend brushes with scandal early in his career, unlike numerous contemporaries, to become not only the most famous professional wrestler in the world, but also the very face of the sport itself. With his trademark red and yellow headband, Hogan rode the wave of Hulkamania - which saw his face and flexed biceps on everything from posters to lunch pails - into pop culture iconography that translated to a career outside the ring with movies like "Thunder in Paradise" (1995) and later his own reality series, "Hogan Knows Best" (VH1, 2005-07). But eventually even Hulkamania began to show cracks in its façade when Hogan was embroiled in a series of scandals...
Undoubtedly the most recognized personality to emerge from World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation), Hulk Hogan maintained enormous popularity as a professional wrestler throughout a long career that saw its share of dizzying highs and humiliating lows. Though wrestling had always been defined by absolutes - the morality tale of good versus evil - the story behind the scenes was far more complex, as personal tragedies entangled in an intricate web of a billion-dollar business. But initially Hogan managed to transcend brushes with scandal early in his career, unlike numerous contemporaries, to become not only the most famous professional wrestler in the world, but also the very face of the sport itself. With his trademark red and yellow headband, Hogan rode the wave of Hulkamania - which saw his face and flexed biceps on everything from posters to lunch pails - into pop culture iconography that translated to a career outside the ring with movies like "Thunder in Paradise" (1995) and later his own reality series, "Hogan Knows Best" (VH1, 2005-07). But eventually even Hulkamania began to show cracks in its façade when Hogan was embroiled in a series of scandals that included infidelity, his son nearly killing a friend in a drunk driving accident and a leaked sex tape. Regardless of serious personal setbacks, Hogan managed to maintain a successful career while his place as wrestling's most recognizable and beloved personality was cemented into the cultural pantheon.
Born Terry Bollea in Tampa, FL to a construction worker dad and homemaker mom, Hogan was always athletic, wrestling and playing Little League in his youth. His fast-growing frame required more food than normal - a typical breakfast consisted of 10 eggs, 12-ounces of hamburger and a quart of orange juice. By the time he graduated Robinson High School, Hogan was 6'7" and weighed over 300 pounds. While in high school, he began playing bass in local bands, earning $300-400 per week at clubs and parties. He later attended Hillsborough Community College, then the University of South Florida, where he studied music and finance. But Hogan wanted to play music rather than study, so he quit college to focus on his band. Music, however, soon gave way to the humdrum life of bank telling, where Hogan routinely witnessed bruised and burly men with few teeth cashing rather large checks. When he later discovered they were wrestlers, Hogan contacted a local promoter, who challenged the upstart to an audition. Though he broke his ankle, he returned three months later, humbled and ready to learn. He even began working out to trim his bulky frame to a lean 220.
Hogan began his career under the persona Terry Boulder and earned $125 a week while sleeping in his car. He moved around - ending up in Minnesota, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia - and wrestling under different guises, like the masked Super Destroyer or Sterling Gordon, before eventually settling on Hulk Hogan. Meanwhile, wrestling impresario Vince McMahon saw him on television and invited Hogan to wrestle at Madison Square Garden. After 18 months with the growing WWF, he was given a note backstage from Sylvester Stallone asking him to appear in "Rocky III" (1982). Thinking it a hoax, Hogan ignored the request and went to wrestle in Japan for eight weeks. Upon his return, however, he received another message from Stallone: come to LA now. Despite warnings from McMahon, who had Hogan booked for a match in North Carolina, the young wrestler left for the West Coast.
After appearing in "Rocky III" as Thunderlips, a pro wrestler who challenges the boxing champ in a free-for-all match, Hogan became an overnight celebrity and helped the regional WWF become a national phenomenon. He also met and married Linda Claridge in 1983. Hogan's intense following was dubbed "Hulkamania," with his red and yellow bandanas, handlebar mustache and 24-inch pythons soon becoming widely recognized trademarks, even outside the wrestling world. To add to the brouhaha, on Jan. 24, 1984, Hogan defeated his arch nemesis, the Iron Sheik, at the Garden, earning Hogan his first world title. The following year saw the birth of the yearly Pay-Per-View event, "Wrestlemania," in which Hogan joined "Rocky III" co-star Mr. T in a tag-team bout against "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. But it was in "Wrestlemania III" (1987) that Hogan cemented his fame when he paired off against Andre the Giant, lifting the 500-pound wrestler for a winning body slam - perhaps the most talked about match in "Wrestlemania" history.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Hogan won and lost heavyweight championships, and was on the card for nine consecutive Wrestlemanias. Meanwhile, he ventured into acting with "No Holds Barred" (1989), playing an up-and-coming wrestling star forced into a match after his brother is injured by his nemesis - not much of a stretch for the novice actor. Predictably, the movie bombed at the box office. After a cameo in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" (1990), Hogan starred as an intergalactic hero stranded on Earth in the sci-fi comedy, "Suburban Commando" (1991). He then tried his hand at domestic comedy with "Mr. Nanny" (1993), playing a down-and-out wrestler who becomes a family's bodyguard for extra cash. Though he did all he could for laughs, including donning a pink tutu and singing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," the movie bombed.
In the early 1990s, Hogan became entangled in a drug scandal that rocked professional wrestling to its core. He was first accused by former wrestlers, including "Superstar" Billy Graham, of abusing steroids throughout the 1970s and 80s, while Barry Orton claimed that Hogan did cocaine. To mitigate the damage, Hogan went on "The Arsenio Hall Show" (syndicated, 1989-1994) and explained away the accusations, claiming that he was prescribed steroids to treat an injury and had used them only a few times. But in 1994, he proffered testimony to the contrary after being granted immunity in Vince McMahon's trial for illegally providing steroids to his wrestlers. Hogan admitted what others had previously claimed; that he had used the illegal substance for almost two decades. Meanwhile, he left the WWF for Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling, where he adopted the bad-guy persona, Hollywood Hogan.
Hogan stayed with the WCW for the next 10 years while he continued acting, albeit in much lower-profile features. Most titles - "Thunder in Paradise" (1993), "The Secret Agent Club" (1996), "Santa with Muscles" (1996) and "McCinsey's Island" (1997), all riffs on his tough guy image - went straight to video. He then joined former "Rocky III" co-star Carl Weathers for "Assault on Devil's Island" (TNT, 1997), playing a retired Navy Seal who leads a special commando team to rescue a gymnastics team kidnapped by a South American drug cartel. He returned for the sequel, "Shadow Warriors 2" (TNT, 1999), in which his character, Mike McBride, is injected with a deadly serum by Middle Eastern terrorists. Meanwhile, Hogan dipped his toe into episodic television, appearing on "Suddenly Susan" (NBC, 1996-2000) and "Walker, Texas Ranger" (CBS, 1993-2001).
In 2002, Hogan made a triumphant return to the WWE when he faced another wrestling star-turned-actor, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, in a special Pay-Per-View event. But despite his return, wrestling was rapidly losing television viewers and live audiences due to accusations of fakery, over-saturation and weak storylines. Hogan left wrestling in 2003, supposedly for good, before he was inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005. But an impassioned chant from fans during the ceremony at the Universal Amphitheater for "one more match" induced Hogan to return once again. In the Pay-Per-View show, "Backlash," he participated in a tag team match with Shawn Michaels and notched another win on his belt. Meanwhile, Hogan joined the reality show craze, allowing cameras to intrude upon him and his family for "Hogan Knows Best" (2005-07), VH1's answer to "The Osbournes" (MTV, 2002-05). Viewers found the famous wrestler's overprotective ways with his attractive daughter Brooke particularly, amusing, especially when male beaus came calling.
But while the series was in production, Hogan began an extramarital affair with Brooke's friend and recording partner, Christine Plante, who was 21 years younger than him. The affair was revealed in 2007 at a time when the show was courting other controversies and potential cancellation, leading to Linda filing for divorce immediately. Plante was the one to publicly confess Hogan's infidelities and confirmed that both husband and wife were in the midst of divorce, while praising him as a good man and good father. In August 2007, the family ran into further difficulties when son, Nick Hogan, was involved in a serious car accident in Clearwater, FL. Nick crashed his Toyota Supra while intoxicated and drag racing, resulting in near-life threatening injuries to friend and passenger, John Graziano, an active duty Marine. Graziano was put on life support with serious brain injuries that required him to spend the rest of his life in a nursing home. Nick was charged for reckless driving involving serious bodily harm and underage drinking. Though released on a $10,000 bond, Nick later pled no contest and was sentenced to eight months in prison and five years of probation. He was released in October 2008 and was granted early release from his felony probation in 2012. Because of the bad press over his son's incarceration and his own infidelities, Hogan's series was canceled and left his reputation in serious tatters. In fact, the depression caused from his divorce and other family problems led to his contemplating suicide, as he admitted in his autobiography My Life Outside the Ring (2009).
Meanwhile, daughter Brooke landed her own series, "Brooke Knows Best" (VH1, 2008-09), which focused on her life after she moved out of her parents' house. Now in a new relationship with Jennifer McDaniel, whom he married in 2010, Hogan stepped back in front of the cameras to host the revamp of the 1990s hit series, "American Gladiators" (NBC, 2008), though ratings were woeful and the series was canceled after eight months on the air. Turning back to what he knew best, Hogan stepped into the ring with TNA Wrestling in 2010 and reignited his long-time feud with old WWF nemesis Ric Flair. Over the next couple of years, Hogan enjoyed renewed vigor in the ring with an ever-changing storyline that resulted in him eventually returning to his famed red and yellow outfit that became his trademark at the height of his 1980s fame. He also worked as a voice actor on animated features "Little Hercules" (2009) and "Gnomeo and Juliet" (2011). Meanwhile, Hogan ran into further public embarrassment in 2012 when a sex tape of him and Heather Clem - the estranged wife of radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge - was leaked. Hogan claimed the tape was made in 2007 during a personal low point, and that he felt devastated and hurt by its release. He filed a lawsuit against both Clem and Love Sponge for invasion of privacy. Hogan later filed a lawsuit against the gossip website Gawker for posting a segment of the video. In July 2015, audio from another part of the tape surfaced, in which Hogan repeatedly uses racial epithets and claims "I am a racist, to a point." On the same day that the tape surfaced, WWE terminated Hogan's contract and scrubbed all mention of him from their website. Hogan apologized for the tirade, stating "Eight years ago I used offensive language during a conversation. It was unacceptable for me to have used that offensive language; there is no excuse for it; and I apologize for having done it. This is not who I am. I believe very strongly that every person in the world is important and should not be treated differently based on race, gender, orientation, religious beliefs or otherwise. I am disappointed with myself that I used language that is offensive and inconsistent with my own beliefs."
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