This story originally published in 2012 by Greta Kaul. The youngest Von Erich wrestlers recently were in TNA wrestling and got a tryout with the WWE.
It's been nearly 20 years since Dallas crowds cheered on a brawny boy from Texas' first family of wrestling: the Von Erichs, whose story at times resembled a Greek tragedy.
Until recently, Kevin Von Erich's 1993 retirement seemed to have ended the dynasty built by his father, Jack Adkisson, known in the wrestling world by his stage name, Fritz Von Erich, a tough, make-believe Nazi sympathizer.
But now a third generation of Von Erichs is staging a comeback: Kevin's two sons, Ross, 24, and Marshall, 19, made their debut in April in Sedan, Kan., and are on a three-month tour in Japan.
They are well aware of their family's heartbreaking past. By the time their grandfather Jack died in 1997, he had outlived four of his five wrestling sons, their dad the only survivor. They've heard how three of their uncles committed suicide, how another died of an intestinal disease at age 24.
What they haven't heard is discouragement from jumping into the ring. Especially not from their 55-year-old father, Kevin Adkisson, who has receded from the spotlight to a quiet life on his farm in Hawaii.
"You can't stay gun-shy and avoid contact or avoid disaster to the point of living your life any different," Kevin said. "We pull out all the stops and give it our best shot."
Of course, the specter of Fritz Von Erich and his signature "Iron Claw" are never far away, fueling the young wrestlers' desire to carry on the family name.
"My grandfather's always been my hero since I was little," Marshall said. "I was always with him, always hanging out with him. He was kind of feared as a bad guy ... but really he was a big teddy bear. He was big like a giant."
The next gen
Ross and Marshall have been playing in the ring since they were babies, Kevin said. As kids, they loved watching tapes of old matches from World Class Championship Wrestling, which their grandfather produced.
Kevin's been teaching his sons wrestling moves, like the never-gets-old Iron Claw, since they were tiny.
"What I'm doing is just getting a good hug, but they're wrestling," he said.
But Kevin didn't want his sons to grow up too fast. He hid the weights in the barn at their Denton County farm so they'd focus on being kids. That still didn't deter Ross, who said he found them at age 12.
Their boyhood wrestling dreams faded as they found other athletic outlets. Ross became a football star and Marshall excelled at the discus throw -- like his uncle Kerry.
Last year, the two decided they wanted to give wrestling a try. They attended Harley Race's wrestling camp in Missouri, where they caught the eye of NOAH scout Ken Hirayama.
"Without knowing they were Von Erichs, [I] saw a lot of potential," Hirayama said. Most notably, he said, they were well-conditioned athletes.
In January, Ross and Marshall found themselves on a plane to Japan, where they trained for three months. The training and endless exercising was rough.
"When we first started, both me and my brother were coughing up blood. I [couldn't] believe people do this for a living," Marshall said.
"We came home really beat up, but we got a lot stronger."
Home is now Hawaii. Kevin and his wife, Pamela, moved their family to Kauai, the state's northernmost island, about seven years ago.
They built their dream house on seven acres in the shadow of Mount Namahana, about a mile from the rugged northern coast.
Texas, though, will always have a place in Kevin's heart.
"There's no place like Texas, and I always will consider myself a Texan," he said.
Far from the lights of wrestling, Kevin is a farmer and a fisherman. His family grows coconuts, guavas, star fruit and papaya; they raise chickens, goats and ducks.
When time allows, he goes diving, spearing rainbow runners, tuna and parrot fish to cook for dinner.
His goal is to barter for his needs. He's traded tuna for propane and swaps his crops for his neighbors' yields.
"My dad's as happy as could be," Marshall said.
Like his father, Marshall wrestles barefoot. He relishes the comparison made between his aggressive style and that of his grandfather's.
Ross wants to develop his own approach.
"I don't really like being compared to my family too much," he said.
But with a wrestling legacy stretching from the 1950s to the early 1990s, from Texas to the Middle East to Asia, some comparison is inevitable.
Tragedy stalks family
Jack Adkisson was born in Jewett, Texas, in 1929. He had a promising football career in the early 1950s at Southern Methodist University and with the Dallas Texans until injuries turned him toward wrestling.
It was later that decade he became known as bad guy "Fritz Von Erich," the picture of a post-World War II villain.
Dressed in a cape emblazoned with the German Iron Cross, he goose-stepped into matches and vanquished his foes with the "Claw," wrapping his big hands around his victim's skull and digging in hard with his fingertips.
"You squeeze the temples and you kind of lock your hand on there, and then you can kind of relax," said Marshall, who's been learning the family move since he was little.
Jack and his wife, Doris, had six sons. The first, Jack Jr., died of accidental electrocution at age 6.
As Jack stopped his frequent tours to spend more time with his growing family, the crowds saw a change in his wrestling persona.
"He didn't want his little boys to think he was a bad guy," said Bill Mercer, a family friend and former play-by-play announcer for WCCW.
In the mid-1960s, Jack changed from villain to hero, making way for his boys to join him in the ring as they grew up: first Kevin and David, then Kerry. They were crowd favorites.
"They were all-American," Mercer said. "David was tall and blond. Kevin was athletic and beautifully sculpted -- he had the ability to be like a gymnast around the ring. I called him the barefoot boy. Kerry was the hunk."
Syndication of WCCW wrestling shows from Dallas' Sportatorium and Fort Worth's Will Rogers Memorial Center made the Von Erichs famous around the world, especially in Japan and Lebanon.
Later, Mike and Chris, the youngest brothers, joined the family business.
But family tragedy struck again. David died of an intestinal disease while on tour in Japan in 1984.
Three years later, 23-year-old Mike was found dead in a sleeping bag by Lewisville Lake. He overdosed on sleeping pills, and his death was ruled a suicide.
Mercer said Mike had never been the same after a shoulder surgery and his slow recovery from a case of toxic-shock syndrome.
Chris, the youngest and smallest brother, had asthma and could never quite live up to his brothers' legacy. He put a gun to his head at his parents' ranch in 1991.
Amid a failing marriage, imminent arrest for cocaine possession and a sea of debt, 33-year-old Kerry fatally shot himself in 1993. (Kerry's daughter wrestled as Lacey Von Erich until recently).
"It was sad, it was very sad," said Mercer. "They were strong, but there was something missing. ... They just didn't seem to have the ability to withstand adversity."
Faith keeps Ross and Marshall grounded as they tour Japan. Most of the other wrestlers don't speak English well, but they have each other and their Bibles for support.
And if wrestling doesn't work out, that's OK, too.
"I'm just going through doors as they open," Ross said. "If it ends up not working out, something else will work out, just like it always does."
THE VON ERICHS: In and out of the ring
1953: Jack Adkisson, later known as Fritz Von Erich, makes his Dallas wrestling debut.
1959: Jack Adkisson Jr. is accidentally electrocuted at age 6.
1977: Kevin and David Adkisson make their tag-team debut using their father's stage name.
1984: David, 24, dies of an intestinal disease while on tour in Japan.
1987: Mike Adkisson dies of an overdose of sleeping pills at age 23.
1991: Chris Adkisson fatally shoots himself at age 21.
1993: Kerry Adkisson, 33, fatally shoots himself.
1993: Kevin Adkisson retires from wrestling.
1997: Jack dies of cancer.
2006: Kevin and wife Pamela move to Hawaii.
2012: Ross and Marshall Adkisson make their wrestling debuts.