By Chuck Carroll
It's a book two years in the making and filled with a lifetime of memories. Long before the release of Second Nature: The Legacy of Ric Flair and the Rise of Charlotte, Richard Fliehr and daughter Ashley knew they wanted to authentically share their journeys, in their words, together. "We want this to be the real story of our lives," they thought. So, the Fleihr's left the Flair's in the ring.
True to concept, Second Nature delivers with an insightful and sometimes heart-wrenching glimpse into the emotional highs and lows of two-time WWE Hall of Fame inductee Ric Flair and Charlotte Flair who is proving she doesn't need to ride her famous father's coat tails. In just two and a half years, she has cemented herself as a top name in not only the women's division, but in all of WWE. Her father couldn't be any prouder.
Letting their guard down and showing rare emotional vulnerability took a series of late night phone calls, cross-country interviews and a lot of faith in a New York-based father and writer. Brian Shields is no stranger to WWE, having previously authored 30 Years of WrestleMania and The WWE Encyclopedia.
Shields didn't quite know what to expect when publishers agreed to his concept for the book. Until then, he had never met either wrestler. All he knew was Ric and Charlotte Flair from the squared circle. What he quickly learned is that there is a genuine love and a father-daughter bond that extends into the best of friendships. The connection they share turned Shields' difficult task of somehow integrating both their stories into an almost effortless process.
Almost effortless. There is nothing easy about writing about the death of a beloved son and brother. Both father and daughter bared their souls while discussing Reid Fliehr who died tragically of an overdose at the age of 25. He battled addiction for a long time before it finally claimed his life. The struggle is well documented in the book where the family conveys his desire to get better.
"It was incredibly brave for Ric and Charlotte to approach this project the way that they wanted to from the beginning," the co-author Shields said. "They easily could have done something much different that would have been much easier for them personally and professionally, but that's not what they wanted to do. Those were definitely difficult conversations."
The latest chapter in the Flair story isn't included in the book. It could very well have been another heartbreaking tragedy in late summer when Richard Flier came within a whisper of death as he nearly succumbed to complications brought about by years of living real life as his on-screen persona. Distinguishing between the two identities could be difficult at times and some have suggested that Fliehr, himself, even struggled to discern the difference. During the writing process, he showed no signs that a lengthy battle for his life was coming, according to Shields. The book had been put to bed long before doctors gave Fliehr a 20 percent chance to survive as he laid in a medically induced coma. Naturally, the Nature Boy wasn't ready to tap out. With the support of his family, including Ashley who took time away from WWE to be by her father's side, and prayers from millions of fans all over the world, he beat the odds. He emerged from his hospital bed not in an iconic flashy robe, but in a t-shirt that said it all: "I ain't dead yet mother - - - - - -." Perhaps that would have been the name of the chapter had the book not yet been finished.
With the book fresh on store shelves and the highly anticipated ESPN 30 for 30: "Nature Boy" documentary scheduled to air next week, I had the opportunity to speak with Second Nature co-author Brian Shields. The book allows us to peel back the curtain and look in on their lives, but he had the unique opportunity to actually become part of them for a time. For that, we should be grateful. For without him, we may still only know Ric and Charlotte, not Richard and Ashley.
WWE was familiar with your work before this project, but what about Ric and Charlotte? Had you met them before?
No, I hadn't. But they're so incredible as people and inviting and welcoming that I felt like I had known them for years. As a writer, that is an incredible gift to feel that comfortable with the people you're going to be working with. And also with them saying to me that they wanted it to be collaborative. 'We want to know what you think. We want to know where this should go and how this should be told.' It's an incredible gift to receive that as a writer, especially with someone with the fame and notoriety of the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair and his daughter, Charlotte, who has been one of the top names in the business for two years running.
What was the process of actually putting the book together? Did you get them both in the room at the same time for lengthy interviews?
I met with them together in person on a few occasions. Everything else was done in person with them individually. Their work schedule is unreal and they were helping to keep me on track. I don't even know how many. Countless phone calls, texts, emails, several in person interviews whether it was in New York, New Jersey, Boston, Baltimore, Orlando, Atlanta, it was very exciting and an amazing project to be part of. When I look back on my 19-year career working with WWE on a variety of projects and last 11 years as a writer, it seems that everything was a dress rehearsal to having the honor of working with Ric and Charlotte Flair.
All of the calls and texts, were they during business hours? I know wrestlers can keep pretty interesting hours themselves. Were you having a lot of midnight conversations?
For me, the business hours are their hours. So, whenever they are available, you are available. They couldn't have been more considerate of me and my time, but I was so happy to be working with them on the project. Yeah, there were definitely some late nights in terms of when we were having discussions on the phone, but that's par for the course and part of the job.
When you get the two of them in the room together and you're conducting interviews, what was their dynamic?
You learn how close Ric is with all of his children. It's something that I saw right away. He and Charlotte have an incredible bond and a true life father-daughter and best friend relationship. It was something wonderful to see. It just was.
I would imagine that Ric has a great deal of pride about Charlotte and everything that she's been able to accomplish in such a short time in WWE. As a father and legend in this business, he must be busting his buttons.
You can't describe the glow of pride that comes over Ric when he starts talking about Charlotte. I think that when people read the book, they will understand the roots and the foundation of that relationship and its ups and downs. There were some times along the way when they didn't have the best relationship or didn't speak all that often. But they were able to reconcile and get back to the incredibly strong and close relationship that they had so many years prior to that.
Did you get a sense that Charlotte feels a great sense of pressure to live up to her father's legacy? Is that what drives her?
It was especially when she was starting out. That Hall of Fame weekend in 2008 gave her an idea of just how much her father meant to not only the millions of fans around the world, but also to all of the people who have worked in the wrestling business. That was when she really had an idea of how large the shoes were that she had to fill.
I have to ask. Was the "Nature Boy" the "Nature Boy" during the interviews or was he more the man most fans don't get to see.
He was definitely more Richard Morgan Fliehr, the man people saw at the 2008 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. But at the same time you see the Rolex watch and he's in a wonderful suit or business outfit. So, you know the "Nature Boy" isn't far behind. Let's put it that way.
Ric had a nearly fatal and intense health scare recently. Did you get the sense while having conversations with him that he was sick or in poor health?
No, but we were done with the book before that. I remember speaking to him a few weeks before he went into the hospital. I was shocked like everyone else. I had no idea that any of this was going on. He's on the road almost 300 days each year like he's still a full-time performer. His appearance schedule between Fortune 500 companies, autograph signings, Comic Con, and WWE events is unreal.
One of the more difficult chapters dealt with the death of Reid. How were those conversations between the three of you?
They were difficult. You get a sense right away of how much he meant to Ric, to Charlotte, their family and friends. It was incredibly emotional learning about him growing up as a child in North Carolina and a beloved brother, family member, friend and son. He was someone who loved his dad and the wrestling business. In the book you learn about that, but you also learn along the way about his battle with addiction. He fought hard for a long time. People will read that in the book — how he truly wanted to get better.
One of things that really struck me was the burden of guilt that Ric feels over the death of his son. He blames himself and has stated that he will never be able to forgive himself for that. That's heart wrenching.
It is and it's something that he feels. We wanted to make sure Reid Fliehr was a major part of the book because he was such an important person in their lives. When you hear that from Ric in the later chapters, it's just an incredibly real look into his life and thoughts.
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