Air Force Veteran William Moody performed in the professional wrestling for over a decade as Paul Bearer, the manager of The Undertaker.
William Alvin Moody was born in Mobile, Alabama, in April 1954. He had two childhood dreams: to either be a professional wrestler or a funeral director. The former sprung from attending wrestling shows in Mobile in his youth; the latter was due to the death of Moody’s grandfather and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, both of which occurred the same year. Attending his grandfather’s funeral and watching television coverage of Kennedy’s memorial service caused the young Moody to become fascinated with death and how people responded to it, so much so that he would hold funerals for deceased pets and other animals.
“So God help anything that died in my neighborhood,” Moody said in an interview. “[If] a dog got hit by a car, if I saw a frog laying on the ground, they had funerals. I’d make them a little casket, had a little cemetery out behind my house. If it lived and died, I gave it a funeral.”
Moody enlisted in the Air Force in 1972 after graduating high school. He completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. During his off-duty hours, he worked part-time for an ambulance service in Mobile and wrestled on the independent circuit under a variety of names. Moody was honorably discharged in 1976 and spent an additional two years in the Air Force Reserve. He also received an Air Force Good Conduct Medal.
In 1978, Moody created the character of Percival Pringle III, a flamboyant, loud-mouthed wrestling manager. His friends and associates would call him by the nickname “Percy” for the rest of his life. After getting married and having children, Moody realized he couldn’t support his family with an unstable, low-paying wrestling career. He began studying mortuary science at San Antonio College in Texas and eventually became a licensed mortician, but he never lost his passion for wrestling. Moody returned to the ring in 1984, working for Texas-based promotion World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW). During this time, Moody managed performers who later became some of the biggest wrestling stars of the 1990s, including “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Lex Luger, The Ultimate Warrior, Mick Foley and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. But his greatest partnership was yet to come.
When WCCW closed its doors in 1990, Moody believed that his wrestling career was over and considered returning to the funerary business. However, Rick Rude advised Moody not to retire and referred him to Vince McMahon, owner of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Impressed with Moody’s wrestling experience, McMahon invited him to WWE’s offices in Connecticut for a job interview. While reading Moody’s resume, McMahon saw that he was a trained mortician and suddenly burst out laughing. Unbeknownst to Moody, McMahon was looking for a new manager for wrestler Mark Calaway, who performed as “The Undertaker.” Moody, a manager who was also a real undertaker, was the perfect fit.
Calaway’s character was an Old West-style undertaker dressed in a duster and wide-brimmed hat. The Undertaker was tall, imposing and rarely spoke; Moody, as “Paul Bearer”—a pun on the term “pallbearer”—was his companion, a short, ghoulish figure who wore pale makeup and a dark suit, spoke in a shrill, wailing voice and carried a mystical funerary urn.
“I felt naked that I didn’t have anything in my hands,” Moody said. “When I was Percy Pringle, I carried a walking cane, so I had to have something in my hands, and all of a sudden, an urn popped in my head.”
Urn in hand, Moody debuted as Paul Bearer in 1991 and served as Calaway’s manager for over a decade, singing The Undertaker’s praises and taunting his opponents. Over the years, the pair became two of WWE’s most recognizable stars. Although health issues in the 2000s made his appearances less frequent, Moody was still under contract with WWE at the time of his death.
“He added a great deal to us,” McMahon said in a memorial tribute to Moody. “I’d guess he was probably the most unique manager in the history of the business.”
Moody died on March 5, 2013, at the age of 58.
We honor his service.
Writer: Stephen Hill
Editors: Alexander Reza, Annabelle Colton
Researcher: Carl Wesseln
Graphic Designer: Kiki Kelley