The year was 1987 and Ted DiBiase had recently made his way to the then-WWF, later renamed WWE. DiBiase was developing the Million Dollar Man character, a concept Vince McMahon personally handed down to him thanks to his articulate interviews and spot-on heel character portrayal.
The promotion taped weeks of programming and DiBiase was wrapping up an interview geared toward a market the WWE was travelling to. What happened next would alter his career, and help fully transform the Million Dollar Man persona.
“It’s funny the things that happen by chance. I’m doing an interview and I just happened to have ended the interview with a laugh like that. It’s an exaggeration, an extreme exaggeration of the way I really laugh,” DiBiase said in an interview with FanBuzz ahead of the release of his film, “The Price of Fame.”
McMahon heard it and stuck his head in the room.
“That’s it. That’s the Million Dollar Man and I want to hear that laugh on every interview,” DiBiase recalls hearing McMahon say.
“I had a 19, almost 20-year career. Everybody remembers the laugh. It became the trademark.”
The laugh, the money and the charisma took DiBiase to heights he never imagined.
And just as he was reaching the pinnacle of his career, the Million Dollar Man’s in-ring personality transitioned into his real life. He was a high-roller, living the premier ways of the rich and famous inside the ring. His status on the card showed the same, as he battled with the likes of top-tier stars such as Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage.
Out of the ring, he traveled around the world with money, sex and drugs — a true rock-and-roll lifestyle befitting a character who seemingly had it all. That was until his wife found out exactly what was happening on the road, and it all came crashing down for DiBiase.
In the film, “The Price of Fame,” due out in theaters nationwide on November 7th for a one-night only screening hosted by Fathom Events, DiBiase’s son, former WWE standout Ted DiBiase Jr., takes audiences through his father’s life from growing up around professional wrestling, immersing himself in it as an adult and eventually turning his life around while transforming into a Christian minister and motivational speaker. You can purchase tickets and see which theatres the film will be in by following this link.
Ted DiBiase growing up in the wrestling industry
The most impactful person in DiBiase’s life was his stepfather, “Iron” Mike DiBiase.
“My dad was my hero,” DiBiase said.
Mike DiBiase was a professional wrestler who had the respect of anyone who stepped foot inside the locker room with him. He was in Ted DiBiase’s life from the age of 5 until 15, when he suddenly and tragically passed away, suffering a heart attack in the ring.
It devastated the family, but DiBiase was able to hold things together in his personal life, excelling at football and earning a scholarship to West Texas State.
DiBiase’s love of professional wrestling remained strong through his college years, and he jumped at an opportunity to work with family friends and wrestling legends, the Funks ahead of his junior year.
“I wasn’t wrestling, but I was refereeing. You’re the third man in the ring and you sure can learn a lot being the third man in the ring. You learn a lot about the psychology of the wrestling business being that guy,” DiBiase said.
His true passion, pro wrestling, eventually forced him to walk away from college, leaving with only one year remaining before graduation to pursue his dream.
“The next summer, it was offered to me to come to Louisiana and try it out and see if I really wanted to do that. It ended up being a huge mistake. I did that and at the end of the summer, I chose not to go back to school and finish my last year. Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “Everybody said ‘Ted, what are you doing. Go back and finish.’ I was determined that I had found my love and that’s what I was going to do. There was no stopping me. Thank goodness I didn’t break my leg or have something that stopped my wrestling, I’d really be in a jam.”
DiBiase learned the craft on the road, bouncing around with Mid-South Wrestling and in Japan before taking Vince McMahon up on a big-money deal and a promise of a significant push if he jumped to WWE.
Ted DiBiase heads to WWE
The idea for the Million Dollar Man was Vince McMahon’s.
“If Vince McMahon is going to be a wrestler, this is his gimmick, this is his persona,” said WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross during “The Price of Fame.”
He brought DiBiase up north and gave him all the tools he needed to truly live the character. McMahon made sure DiBiase had only the best — custom suits, plenty of cash and first-class everything.
“Vince McMahon had this idea in his head for a while. he just had to find the right guy,” continued former WWE producer Bruce Prichard.
It was clear immediately that DiBiase was the right choice.
Early in his run, WWE paired DiBiase with Andre the Giant, which set up for what the Million Dollar Man calls his “finest moment.” After an “evil twin” referee resulted in Andre winning the title from Hulk Hogan, DiBiase used his money to “buy” the belt from the Giant. WWE proceeded to strip DiBiase of the title, setting up for a WWE Championship tournament at WrestleMania IV.
“I had been in the wrestling industry for 12 years. It was one thing to have one match (at WrestleMania), but I had three. The tournament had culminated with me wrestling Randy Savage. The other unique thing about it, it was the first time we had ever been in the ring together. We had never had a match before that night. It set the stage,'” said DiBiase.
“Randy Savage comes into the tournament a heel and comes out a babyface. The guy you thought was going to come out as champion didn’t. That’s when I created my own title and came out with the Million Dollar Championship. I traveled for almost a year in tag team matches against guys like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. It pretty much elevated me to that top tier. And that started at WrestleMania IV.”
As DiBiase’s career was taking off, he was living a lifestyle unfathomable from an outsider. Temptation lived all around him as he and other WWE stars hit different cities each night.
It pretty much elevated me to that top tier.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts discussed in the film arriving in a city where a limo was waiting for him. He hadn’t called for a limo, but someone sent it for him. He opened the door to see three naked women and a pile of cocaine. And it was every city, constant traveling that opened pitfalls like Roberts’ story.
“That’s what the documentary is about. The “Price of Fame.” You know what you’re getting into when you get in. You hear stories and you realize you’re going to be spending a lot of time away from home. The reality of it doesn’t set in until you’re in it. I’ve told people, on the outside, you watch guys walk into an arena and the crowd is cheering and yelling your name. What a thrill. But the game is over, show is over and you go back to the hotel and have dinner and go to your hotel room,” DiBiase said
“You have a TV and four walls. Your wife and children are not there — whether they’re 20 miles away or 2,000 miles away. The road can become a very lonely place. It’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Of course, it’s what you make it. I tell young guys, you need to build accountability into your life to avoid the pitfalls.”
For DiBiase, there was no accountability partner.
“We became like rock stars. We traveled the same way, nationally and internationally. You can’t blame that on anybody. You have to take responsibility for the choices you make in life. Ultimately, it’s your choice,” said DiBiase.
“Obviously, this is why I didn’t encourage any of my boys to be wrestlers. At the end of the day, they know my story. Teddy made it and was doing really well. He figured it out. That’s why when his contract was up, he didn’t re-sign. He said ‘it’s too much.’”
For DiBiase, his reality check came after a night of partying. He called back home to his wife, Melanie, after a night of partying a no sleep. She confronted him about his cheating ways. When DiBiase requested to wait until he got home to discuss, Melanie told him he didn’t live there any longer.
DiBiase immediately booked his flight home and working on his marriage became priority No. 1. It wasn’t a situation that resolved quickly, but with the help of pastor Sal Hantos, who DiBiase had met years prior at a wrestling show, the couple worked to strengthen their relationship.
Back on the road, Ted DiBiase took on a new role
After DiBiase got back on the road, he left WWE to continue his wrestling career in Japan.
That’s when after 19 years of taking bumps, his body told him enough was enough.
“Night after night, you take those bumps. Right at the top, where your neck meets your spine. There are so many other wrestlers who have had the surgery I had. I was about to turn 40, I had been through all of this with my family. I said it was time to get out of the ring. I was good at talking, so stepping into the manager’s role wasn’t difficult,” DiBiase said.
DiBiase’s wrestling career transitioned into staying mostly outside the ring as a manager for one up-and-coming young talent — Steve Austin.
Before he was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, DiBiase saw something in the budding star.
“I don’t think anybody could have predicted it back then. I saw his talent, and I told him that. Some of the producers at the time were encouraging him to do more. I said, no. I said, ‘you come across very believable. Sometimes less is more. You keep doing what you’re doing. It may take you a little longer to get over. But once you’re over, you’re over. And you can do anything you want,’” said DiBiase.
“He blew everyone out of the water. Nobody anticipated that. I don’t think anybody anticipated that with him, or with the Undertaker. The Rock, there’s another guy. When he first started out, he just evolved into this unbelievable character.”
Ted DiBiase remembers his biggest WWE moments
Looking back on his career, DiBiase relishes the big moments. He admits he would have loved to become world champion, but looks back fondly on wrestling at Wembley Stadium.
“It was surreal. I wasn’t at WrestleMania III. I didn’t see 93,000 people. I was at Wembley and there was 80,000 people there. That was the largest crowd I ever wrestled in front of,” he said.
As for WWE taking WrestleMania outside of the United States, possibly one day to Wembley, DiBiase isn’t sure if it’s something the promotion would ever consider.
“I don’t know,” DiBiase said. “I know that, outside of going to Canada, they’ve never done a major PPV anywhere else. It has to be logistics and money. I have no idea.”
Ted DiBiase on the true Price of Fame
The Million Dollar Man has had two discs taken out of his neck and both knees replaced. He deals with lower back pain and has to stretch constantly, but recognizes he “came out of it pretty well.”
He’s also at a point in life where guys he shared the locker room with have since passed. That was the case for Roddy Piper and George “The Animal” Steele, who were involved in the film, but shortly after passed away.
“It was pretty emotional (watching the film and seeing old friends such as Piper and Steele). Especially George Steele. He was one of the agents/producers that was with us in Europe when I got the word that I needed to fly home (to fix my marriage). I told him, ‘I got to go home. I’m probably going to lose everything.’ He said, ‘We’ll make that happen,’” said DiBiase.
“He had come to see me speak somewhere. As I continued to speak, it resonated with him and he realized I was being totally honest and open. It impacted his life and he became a Christian. I knew he had become a Christian, but I didn’t realize that’s where it started.”
With everything in life, there’s good and bad. Everything has a price. Including fame.
For DiBiase, the film takes many twists and turns laying out his life. He hopes audiences recognize that some things we chase in life really aren’t all that important in the long run.
“If I have security, make a lot of money, have a nice comfortable home, then I’ll be happy. It’s not there. Obviously some of those things help. At the end of the day, are they going to satisfy you? They won’t,” he answered.
“And fame. A lot of people look at fame. With everything in life, there’s good and bad. Everything has a price. Including fame.”
The film, “The Price of Fame,” will hit theatres on Tuesday, November 7th at theaters across the country.
You can purchase tickets and see which theatres the film will be in by following this link.