Tale of the Lion Tamer

Former WWE wrestler Chris Jericho's autobiography, released today, talks about the art that makes choreographed entertainment out of a sport.

Pro-wrestler Chris Jericho must have a bucket of hyphens somewhere, since he seems to be setting new records for the term "wrestler-turned-". Since his "retirement" from the WWE, he's recorded successful heavy metal albums, gained a good rep as an improv comedian with LA's the Groundlings, become a VH-1/E-Network regular talking head, and now finally pumped out an autobiography.

But there is a long, dark shadow hanging over A Lion's Tale, and it is cast by Chris Benoit. Between writing this book and its publication, the grisly details of the wrestler's last days became public knowledge. It's hard to describe the impact of Benoit's murder/suicide on the pro-wrestling community, and especially to Chris Jericho, a.k.a. Chris Irvine. Benoit was his friend, his mentor, his role-model and, prior to the terrible events of his death, someone that everyone who knew him loved.

Rather than scrubbing all references to Benoit, in his autobiography Jericho talks about the man he knew before, and it's sort of fitting. After all, with Benoit, Jericho was the last of an era of world-traveling independent pro-wrestlers, who learned their trade in Japan, Mexico, Europe, and Canada, before returning to the US to find a big paycheck and TV exposure with the WWE.

Of course, Jericho's autobiography is one of the most keenly anticipated pro-wrestling books since the WWE started churning out ghost-written wrestler bios (excluding, obviously, the fabulously readable Mick Foley tomes). Not just because of his globe-trotting adventures, but because of the affable humor of Jericho. The note from his co-author, Peter Thomas Fornatale, that he added structure to the anecdotes, rather than wrote anything, seems plausible, since it reads like Jericho talks: giddy, entertaining, self-deprecating, and a lot more brutally honest about life on the road than some of the "state-sanctioned histories" churned out by the WWE.

Jericho's story is actually one of a day late and a dollar short. He came through the Hart family school of hard knocks after their legendary dungeon gym closed; toured Mexico when the peso collapsed against the dollar; became a star in Japan when there were so many promotions that wages were plummeting; and, most famously, signed to WCW as it started to lose the Monday Night Wars with the WWF. If his autobiography didn't finish with his debut for the McMahon family empire, it could have had some interesting chapters on how poor booking botched his big world title run.

Instead of throwing stones at other people for their failures, Jericho's tale reads like a man who remembers the good times with the aches and pains. There's also something of the perennial teenager at play, the kid who says, "I want to be a comedian. No! A wrestler! No! Gene Simmons!" Amazingly, in some way big or small, Jericho managed them all, and as the self-proclaimed sexy beast puts it, looked good doing it.

But with rumors circling that he will return to his former paymasters this coming week, there's another dark note. Along with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a lot of people thought that Jericho got out of the industry when the going was good. He's still healthy, whip-smart, and doing well financially (this book is currently the No. 2 bestseller on Amazon's biography charts). So the question is, why would he want to go back to an industry that put so many of his friends, as he admits, in hospital or the grave?

Then again, how can you hate any book that so determinedly tries to bring back the word "recockulous" into common usage?

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