Chris Klucsaritis got to live a major part of his lifelong dream. As a professional wrestler, Klucsaritis was on television every week, in the ring playing a larger-than-life persona, Chris Kanyon. But outside of the ring, Klucsaritis struggled with his sexuality. Eventually, he came out in 2004 but was let go of his contract with the World Wrestling Entertainment shortly thereafter. Klucsaritis continued to vocalize the importance of being out and even teamed up with writer Ryan Clark to pen a memoir. Unfortunately, Klucsaritis did not live to see the book on shelves — he committed suicide in April 2010, a year before the Wrestling Reality’s release. Co-author Clark talks to The Advocate about his experience with Klucsaritis, and the complications of being a gay wrestler.
The Advocate: How did you come to find and want to write about Chris Kanyon?
Ryan Clark: I was a journalist for a local paper in Kentucky and I was going to cover a speech given by Chris, and this was National Coming Out Day, either four or five years ago, I can’t remember. We had heard in the paper that this guy had an interesting story, so we decided to cover the event for that day. I’ll tell you what, I sat there, and I am not a wrestling fan per se, and I’m not gay, but it was such a good story that I didn’t want to let it go. I felt like it could probably do a lot of good for a lot of people. I approached Chris and I asked him where his book was, and he kind of laughed, and said, “Well I’m working on a few things but nothing concrete.” So I gave him my business card and told him I’d like to throw my hat in the ring. So I wrote the story for the newspaper and I talked to his manager. And over the course of the next several months we kind of came to an agreement and it kind of went from there.
What were some of the main things that you learned from your experience with Chris?
One of the main things is that in many ways, people can relate to this story, because whether they are gay or not, we have all had a time when we have felt uncomfortable because we are a minority. Whether that is you are non-religious and you’re in a religious situation, or you’re gay and you’re afraid to come out, or you’re of a different race, and you’re a minority that way. Everybody can relate to the feeling of being afraid of being honest of some aspect of who they are. One of the themes of the book is that Chris wanted people to be honest with who they were, and to not go through what he went through for more than two decades and holding that in. Psychologically we’re not sure what that did to him over the course of his life. He just went through life, feeling paranoid, uncomfortable; you don’t wish that on anybody. He really wanted people to come out and be comfortable with who they are, because his own experience with coming out was a really good one. Another thing was that I learned a lot about the wrestling industry and how cutthroat it was, and how really antigay it is. Another thing that Chris wanted was an openly gay wrestling character. And they’re not ready for that. He hoped that it would be.
While he was wrestling, was he expressing his identity that way?
He did but he was afraid. He would be the first to tell you the ways he went about it weren’t the best. There was some confusion when he did come out, as to whether he was actually coming out, or whether he was playing a character. He made it vague on purpose, because he was afraid that if he did come out 100% in real life, as well as in his job, that he would be let go. And ultimately he was. I mean it's debatable, but the fact of the matter was that he came out and he was let go. Injuries may have played a role. But he came out, and he got released. He would have loved to be the first openly gay wrestler who was playing a gay character in the WWE, he would have loved that.
Do you see the different professional sports accepting openly gay athletes?
We keep hearing a little more about athletes who, for whatever reason, feel like they can come out. John Amaechi is one of them. I actually read Amaechi’s book, and that book came out while I was working with Chris. I’m not sure if Chris read the book, but I did, and it was touching. But are we accepting of the gay athlete right now? I don’t know if I can answer that question. I think we need more people who are keeping that secret to come out, because there was a young man in the audience the day that I met Chris who came up to me afterwards and he told me, I’m going to come out to my parents, because of Chris’ speech. And he did. He talked to me about how much he appreciated to see somebody like Chris, to see somebody who had achieved so much, to have him as a role model. Athletes today who are gay need those kinds of role models in sports. All the major sports, to be able to look up to them and say, yeah I’m a gay man or I’m a gay woman and I have role models too in these sports, and I can be anything I want to be. Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I can’t succeed in the macho world of pro-football. It would be nice to have somebody, even if it was just one person, an active athlete who would say I’m gay and I’m a professional athlete and can be a role model for those kids who are out there.
Can you speak about the binary within the wrestling world between the masculine character and the feminine aspects?
[Chris and I] did talk a little about this. Before he came out, he would come home from his work, and he would leave his Chris Kanyon character, and he would be Chris the heterosexual man to his friends, which was playing another role. But it goes deeper than that because it’s like you’re playing a different person, and then when you step out of the ring, if you’re not honest with who you are, you are continuing to play another person. That was probably something that was very attractive to Chris because he could play something that he was not. That was something that he enjoyed. He was confused about who he was, but when he would have to go out and play another role in his private life, it further confused him because he was like, who am I really then? And it only became something that he could deal with after he came out. Because then at least he could be honest to himself and other people about who he really was.
Do you think that confusion ultimately led to his decision to commit suicide?
Well there really is no way to know, but I think there is no way to say that it couldn’t. It had to. Chris was in sports entertainment. It’s not really sports. It's not really a play, you know, it's sports entertainment. Yes, it’s scripted, but the things that you do are very real. When you get hit by a chair, the chair is very real. He was bi-polar, manic-depressive, he had held this secret about being gay for more than 20 years. He had taken steroids for a period of time—we still don’t know what those do to you. And he’d gone through the sports entertainment industry where he had taken repeated shots to the head, which caused multiple concussions. So you had all of these things that could have added up to what could possibly have affected him to take his own life. Do we know [completely]? No. But for me, I have to think all of those things must have had an effect.
What is one thing you would want readers to take from the book?
You know, we’re walking a tightrope here because we wanted to write a book for all people. The audience is Chris’s wrestling fans, and readers who are gay but not into wrestling. So what we want to do is not alienate any of those people. We want to write a book for everybody. And at the same time, for somebody like me who was a wrestling fan and is not a gay man, and doesn’t know what it's like to go through that, I was interested in it as well. So what I want to put out there is that you don’t have to be a wrestling fan, you don’ t have to be a gay man or a gay woman to be interested in this story. This story is something that can appeal to everybody. Like we said, whether or not you have felt you are a minority in some way in your life, if you’ve felt like you’re on the outside looking in, or whether you have doubted yourself, this story is inspirational because Chris had a one in a million shot. He actually reached his goal of being on TV once a week, he was a millionaire, he had an action figure made out of him, he was on video games. He was a national iconic figure every week on television. He was a professional wrestler. He lived his dream. But he also had these demons, and I think we can all identify with that. So it is a very real story, it is a tragedy. But Chris wanted people, especially gay people, to read this and be inspired to come out, to be honest about who they are. I think he hoped that somehow, in the world of wrestling, people would read this story and we would get a little bit closer to having a society that is accepting of a gay character.