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Dark Side of the Ring: “The Double Life of Chris Kanyon” Looks at the Tragedy of Chris Kanyon

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Dark Side of the Ring - ‘The Double Life of Chris Kanyon’

Dark Side of the Ring: “The Double Life of Chris Kanyon”

Chris Kanyon, also known as Mortis, Kanyon, and Positively Kanyon, was a mid-card wrestler in the late 1990s and early 2000s, most prominent for his turn with WCW and later with WWE, for a few years on either end of the close of the Monday Night Wars. 

Kanyon was a respected wrestler who showed flashes of success in those years, but his life and career were hobbled by a pair of demons: He was battling bipolar disorder, and he was a closeted gay man, at a time when being gay far from widely accepted in professional wrestling. He died of suicide in 2010, at age 40. 

The life of Kanyon is the subject of the latest episode of Dark Side of the Ring, which debuted Thursday night on Vice. Between the exploration of a mostly untold story from wrestling’s recent past, the benefit of hindsight, and framing that makes Vince McMahon and WWE look quite bad in retrospect, the episode is a natural fit for what Dark Side of the Ring does. 

In addition to Kanyon’s partner-turned-opponent Diamond Dallas Page, the primary talking head here is James Mitchell, who managed Kanyon in WCW under the name James Vandenberg. The episode explores Kanyon’s upbringing, as a Catholic in Queens, New York, before going into wrestling in the mid-’90s, a rare male wrestler trained by The Fabulous Moolah. He ended up in WCW within just a couple of years of beginning his training. 

Image: VICE

In typical Dark Side fashion, it largely speeds through the story of Kanyon’s wrestling career; for some reason his fantastic “Positively Kanyon” character, in which he imitated Page while feuded with him, is omitted nearly completely. 

There’s a bit of somewhat revisionist history too-  the Glacier/Mortis “Blood Runs Cold” feud was hot until the NWO came along and eclipsed it? The Ready to Rumble movie was beloved?  I always assumed both of those things were remembered as embarrassing failures. 

The doc also treats Kanyon being gay with sensitivity, even as it shares a humorous story about how the wrestler was moving and a box fell off his U-Haul, leading to dozens of gay porn DVDs pouring out. This was how Kanyon came out to Mitchell, even as he attributed the porn DVD to wrestling’s notorious culture of pranks and “ribs.” It also notes that traditionally, gay people in professional wrestling were treated either as villains or as subjects of ridicule; even Pat Patterson, a legend of the business and a “made man” of WWE, was the subject of frequent gay jokes on wrestling shows, even into the 21st century. 

WWE, meanwhile, is somewhat shamed by the moment in which they asked Kanyon to imitate Boy George, before taking an unusually brutal beating by the Undertaker. And then, in the second week in a row in which Dark Side of the Ring makes Ric Flair look like a horrible human being, we see Howard Stern Show footage of both Flair and John Cena declaring that Kanyon wasn’t fired from WWE for being gay- he was fired because he wasn’t a good enough wrestler. 

There’s also a brief exploration of Kanyon’s final days, which included multiple suicide attempts, as well as a brief period in which Kanyon came out, then implied that he was doing so as part of a wrestling angle, and then came out for real. 

Like so many wrestling stories, that of Kanyon ended badly. But he’s been given mostly fair and compelling treatment by Dark Side of the Ring. 

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Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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