In 1987, wrestlers and fans learned in an instant that Lex Luger was “The Total Package.” As the replacement for Ole Anderson in The Four Horsemen, the tanned, chiseled newcomer thrived. Luger won his first of five United States Championships with The Four Horsemen, while also providing added muscle for the popular faction, before ultimately choosing to fight his own battles. In fact, a number of these came against his Horsemen running mates, including a showdown with Barry Windham at The Great American Bash 1991, in which Luger captured his first WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
Following Luger’s celebrated stint in World Championship Wrestling, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan unveiled him to WWF fans at Royal Rumble 1993 as “The Narcissist.” Surrounded by full-body mirrors, Luger posed with unbridled self-admiration. Fans loathed him for his vanity, but not for long.
That summer, Luger shocked the world on America’s birthday. After many WWF Superstars and professional athletes failed to slam WWF World Heavyweight Champion Yokozuna, Luger arrived via helicopter on the deck of the USS Intrepid to answer the call. In a Herculean display of strength, Luger lifted and slammed the 600-plus pound sumo wrestler. As fans rejoiced, “The Narcissist” was gone and the World Wrestling Federation’s “All-American” had arrived.
Covered in patriotic decor, Luger embarked on the “Lex Express,” a nationwide bus tour during which he campaigned for a shot at the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Lex ultimately received his opportunity at the title at SummerSlam 1993. While he emerged victoriously, it was due to a count-out, which meant the WWF World Heavyweight Championship stayed with the giant sumo. As co-winners of the 1994 Royal Rumble Match, Luger and Bret “Hit Man” Hart both earned a chance to unseat Yokozuna at WrestleMania X. Unfortunately for Lex, the WWF World Heavyweight Championship wasn’t in the cards as he got disqualified in his match against Yokozuna, while Hart ultimately emerged victorious in his later match as the new WWF World Heavyweight Champion.
In September 1995, Lex suddenly left the World Wrestling Federation, making a shocking appearance on the debut episode of WCW Monday Nitro, one of the first major salvos of the Monday Night War. “The Total Package” collected more WCW gold — including the WCW World Heavyweight Championship — and stood with fellow WCW stalwarts against the nWo’s insurgency. He would, however, complete another defection in 1998 when he joined the New World Order splinter faction, nWo Wolfpac.
The World Wrestling Federation would emerge victorious in the Monday Night War, buying out WCW in 2001. For Luger, it signaled the end of his own longstanding wrestling career and ushered in a dark time in his personal life — a period that ultimately resulted in legal problems and incarceration.
On April 19, 2003, a domestic disturbance emanated from Lex Luger’s townhouse in Marietta, Georgia. Cobb County police arrived on the scene and found that Luger’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Hulette, had suffered a bruise above her left eye and a contusion under it, a swollen right eye, a bump on her head, and a busted lip. According to the police report, Hulette said their dog caused the marks by playing too roughly. Her claim, however, didn’t prevent officers from arresting Luger for misdemeanor battery. He was later released on a $2,500 bond.
Two days later, Luger got arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) after his 2002 Porsche rear-ended another car near his home. According to the police report, he had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and couldn’t find his driver’s license. Police also found a handgun in the car (it is not known if Luger had a permit for the gun). Hulette, who was a passenger in the vehicle, got sent home by police in a taxi. Luger was driving with a suspended license for not appearing in court on March 5, 2003, for a hearing on offenses of driving with expired tags and having no proof of car insurance.
On May 1, 2003, Hulette died in the townhouse she shared with Luger in Marietta. According to Luger, Hulette drank two glasses of vodka, took medication for back pain, sat on the couch, and began choking on food. Luger tried frantically to remove the food from her mouth with some napkins and shook her to create an airway but was not successful. She turned purplish and Luger called 911. Hulette was unconscious when rescue people arrived on the scene. She got pronounced dead on arrival at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta.
During a search of Luger’s townhouse immediately following Hulette’s death, Cobb County authorities reported finding 1,700 pills, leading to 14 drug possession counts, 13 of which were felonies. The substances warranting felony charges included Xanax, OxyContin, anabolic steroids, testosterone, hydrocodone, and several others. The sale and distribution of Saizen, a synthetic Growth Hormone, accounted for the one misdemeanor charge. Luger got arrested after the search but released the following day on $25,000 bail. Luger pleaded guilty to the charges and was given a $1,000 fine, sentenced to five years probation, and required to submit to periodic drug testing.
According to the autopsy report from the Cobb County Medical Examiner, Hulette died from a lethal combination of booze and prescription drugs. The coroner determined that her death was an accident resulting from “acute toxicity-multiple drugs.” A toxicology screen found evidence of anxiety, muscle relaxation, nausea, and pain drugs in Hulette’s system. Her blood alcohol level measured at a whopping 0.299, more than three times the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle in Georgia.
In December 2005, Luger got denied access to Canada and then arrested at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport as he stepped off a flight from Winnipeg, Manitoba. He got charged with violating his probation by failing to get permission to leave the United States. After remaining in Hennepin County Jail in Minneapolis, Minnesota for two weeks, he got extradited to Georgia to stand trial. Luger got sentenced to four months in jail at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Georgia, with one month credit for time served.
Luger considers his legal problems the opening of a door that allowed him to see the error of his ways and change his life completely.
“I made a lot of regrettable, bad decisions in my life,” Luger admitted in a 2009 interview with WWE.com. “Many times, the decisions we make affect and hurt your closest friends and family the most. I have a lot of regrets, in that regard. But God has forgiven me, which I am very thankful for. It has enabled me to forgive myself and move forward one day at a time.”
Luger credits the start of his personal redemption to “a jail chaplain who came into my life. When I got out [of jail], he chased me down.” The chance meeting would change the two-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion’s outlook on life completely, starting him on a path to reform his life for the better.
“He shared the Sinner’s Prayer and the Plan of Salvation in a hotel room on April 23, 2006,” Luger said. “My life from then on has been a supernatural transformation. At that point, I had pretty much given up hope. But now I know that, by God’s grace and mercy, none of us have to.”
Devoting himself to God, Luger began trying to help and pass his experiences to others in need. Unfortunately, the path ahead would be just as challenging for him. Just a short time later, he would face one of the toughest setbacks in his life.
On October 18, 2007, Lex Luger was on a flight to San Francisco, California when he began having difficulty moving his neck. Thinking it was simply a case of having sat in an awkward position for much of the cross-country flight from Atlanta, Georgia, he tried to jar his neck back into place, only to make his predicament worse.
Luger arrived in San Francisco in much pain but still able to move. He awoke the next morning, however, paralyzed from the neck down and unable to even call for help. A desperate Luger maneuvered on the hotel room floor, where he remained for more than four hours.
Doctors at Stanford Hospital and Clinics noted massive swelling of his spine from the C6 to T5 vertebrae, attributing the damage to the many disc injuries and bone spurs he’d collected during three decades of football and professional wrestling.
“I injured my neck on an airplane from Atlanta to San Francisco,” he explained in a 2009 interview with WWE.com. “The way I had turned my neck while sitting on the plane had basically cut off my blood flow. It was just a freak accident, but it caused massive swelling from my C6 [vertebra], at the base of your neck, to my D5 in my chest. It paralyzed me from the neck down.”
Luger remained a complete quadriplegic for more than two months, without as much as bladder or bowel control when he got transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2007.
The incident was tragic, and the prognosis bleak. Luger, however, did not lose faith. Through his determination and belief of his newfound convictions, he worked incredibly hard to overcome his debilitating condition, surpassing what many believed he’d ever been able to recuperate.
“I was in a hospital in Stanford, California, where they ran every test on my heart and brain,” Luger said. “They told me that I was a healthy 49-year-old, though I’d be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of my life and need 24-hour medical care. But my recovery has been just phenomenal. Now I live on my own, I’m walking and I’m thankful for that. Nobody knows if I’ll make a 100-percent recovery, but I’ve gotten so much back already … more than anybody would ever have thought.”
These days, Lex Luger is enjoying a much simpler life in Buffalo, New York, living with his mother and spending most of his free time helping others at local schools and churches.
“One of the things I do is try to get a positive message out there in the local schools and tell my story,” he told WWE.com. “I also do a lot of faith-based speaking, sharing my story and testimony, to help show what God has done in my life and what he can do in others’ lives.”
The past several years have presented difficult times for Luger and he is unfortunately wheelchair-bound. But he has done more than progress throughout his recovery and road to redemption. And through it all, he has never forgotten his fans, with whom he continues to reconnect at wrestling conventions and on Twitter @GenuineLexLuger.
“I love going back to those events and seeing the fans. I try to schedule those every few months as I have a blast,” Luger said.
“I want to thank the fans so much for their support through the years. Even as undeserving as I was, they were a big part of my being able to move forward and put my life back together. They’re the greatest. They’re the ones who make the stars. For their support throughout my career and today, I love them and thank them.”