Wrestling Superstar Looks Back - And Ahead

Mickey Rourke is up for best actor at tomorrow night's Academy Awards for his remarkable comeback role in "The Wrestler."

On his big night, he'll have the comfort of knowing that he has a real-life wrestler in his corner, CBS Evening News weekend anchor Jeff Glor reports.

Of all the models for Rourke's character, maybe the most famous is Ric Flair.


With Bravado, bleach blonde hair, and $10,000 robes, Flair helped make professional wrestling what it is today.

"I walked out the door I knew I had 'em once I was standing here," Flair told Glor standing in one of the wrestling rings he once ruled. "Bingo. Any woman I wanted just like that. You, honey!"

His 36-year career has been defined by hard blows and hard living. A 16-time heavyweight champion, Flair has been divorced three times. He has made, and lost, a fortune.

But today, at 59, he's still "the nature boy."

"Wooo! This is what I do if I'm lonely at night," Flair said, modeling one of his robes. "I put my robe on and I walk around."

"I'm not sure I can think of anybody who has put more miles on his body, literally and figuratively," Glor said.

"There's nobody alive," said Flair. "I bleed like nobody else."

Those miles include alcohol use, thousands of wrestling matches and all the scars that come with them.

Over the course of Flair's career, professional wrestling has become a billion-dollar, multimedia industry. The largest company, WWE, earned $485 million in 2007. Billed as "Broadway with body slams," WWE programming draws 15 million viewers a week.

"The audience loves to watch WWE because they like to escape," said Stephanie McMahon Levesque, WWE's executive vice president. "They want to see someone overcome the odds and triumph. Because I think people see themselves."

In a sport that often pits good against evil, Flair was usually played the villain.

"I was really good at being a bad guy," he said. "I like that role. Not being bad to people - just talking bad."

Part sportsmanship, part showmanship, pro-wrestling can get a bad rap because the outcomes are usually pre-determined.

"You guys are working against each other but you are also working with each other?" Glor asked Flair.

"Yeah, we're trying to. But it's always, it's that undefined, always to be kept locked fine box that nobody knows except the guys that are lucky enough to be involved with them. Everybody thinks they know but they don't," Flair said.

The Independent Wrestling Circuit - like the one portrayed in "The Wrestler" - is also thriving. It comprises hundreds of events across the country where young wrestlers hone their headlocks, and wait for a big break.

"This is all I want to do. Even if I can't make it to the big time, to the WWE," said one of those young wrestlers, Monkey Boy (aka Joey Genella),

To a generation of upcomers like Genella, Flair is still the man.

"Somebody could look at a Picasso painting and be like, 'You know what, I want to be a painter,'" said Corbis Fear of the National Wrestling Superstars. "That's what Ric Flair is for wrestlers."

"The Wrestler" tells the story of an aging man who can't let go. Flair retired last year.

"When you do something for 35 years it's hard to just walk away and say goodbye to it all," he said.

"I saw that photo of you sitting in the hallway with your head in your hands after one of your last events. Do you remember that?" Glor asked.

"Um hum."

"What were you thinking at that time?"

"That I had been there 64 times, and would probably never come back."

"Was that tough?"

"Um hum. The whole couple of months of buildup was hard for me."

Flair remains close to many of the top superstars today who consider him a mentor.

"They know that I ran wild and I had a real hard time settling down and I still have a hard time being Richard Fleiur," Flair said.

"It's different than Ric Flair?"

"Yeah. Big difference. Big. Richard Fliehr the father and all that, that's still balancing."

"Is it the transition then from Ric Flair to Richard Fliehr? Do you go back and forth or is it something you move over to or you move over and you don't go back?"

"Oh I go back and forth. I'm not ready to. Richard Fliehr does not make any money."
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