It’s Monday. You know what that means.
One of my favourite wrestlers died yesterday. He was only 41. I went to bed a little sad, I woke up the same, and I’ve spent the day thinking about Jonathan Huber BKA Luke Harper/Brodie Lee.
When you get deeply into any subculture you start to notice the ones that have talent aren’t necessarily the biggest names (in fact let’s face it, the biggest names often are far from the ones with the best craft). As Luke Harper, he was one of those guys; there was a charisma that betrayed a real intelligence behind the Deep South Alligator-wrestling, good ol’ boy, cult-member persona that WWE gave him to play.
That same intelligence led the Harper character to elevate a worn stereotype into something weird, unpredictable, and slightly unsettling – staring into the middle distance, bellowing “YEAH YEAH YYYYEAAH” at odd times, never really speaking otherwise. As wrestling acting goes it was as good as it gets.
For nearly four-and-a-half years, every day he tweeted “It’s *insert today’s day*. You know what that means” – no other explanation ever given, and rarely did he post anything else other than the occasional retweet. It’s the little things like that which fleshed out the character, taking the unsettling feeling up to unhinged.
People dug the whole package – the two times I actually saw him perform in the flesh people chanted for him, which is a decent metric in wrestling to figure if someone is popular as opposed to who WWE want to be popular. (Harper was the epitomé of the joke that WWE spend more effort holding back performers they didn’t plan to be a success than they do pushing the ones they did. He sat in this weird purgatory in your head next to Damien Sandow, The Revival, Big E, D’Lo Brown, AoP: the section marked “amazingly talented but unlikely to be allowed to win the big titles”.) He joined a long list of former WWE stars who left the company to join rival AEW, where he was finally given the status he deserved. (Not before giving a tell-all interview with Chris Jericho that like others had an overall message of “I tried with WWE till I couldn’t try no more.”
Looking on wrestling twitter/instagram today, there’s a huge outpouring of grief amongst friends, peers, and fans.
The main thing from all those who worked with him is that he was the complete opposite of his in-ring persona – he was kind, thoughtful, funny, wise; the first person you could expect to check in if things weren’t great.
I keep thinking of Andrew Weatherall to put it in a way that non-wrestling fans might appreciate. I’m not saying he was “the Andrew Weatherall of Wrestling” because that would be trite and professionally the metaphor isn’t quite right. For instance, I don’t think anyone could say Wevvers was held back in any way or didn’t get the fame that he deserved.
But “a very nice, clever, sarcastic man with a big beard that made him look like a wizard, left the big time to go off and do what felt right inside, and whose early demise has led to a huge swell of love from every single person who worked with him, knew him, or even just appreciated his work” could be written about either…
In both cases it strikes me that having so many come out to say “he was a good person, and I feel better for having known them” seems to me the best legacy anyone can leave behind, way more than having made a fortune, or built a billion-dollar company, or whatever.