"350 Days" star Lanny Poffo on watching baseball, meeting Damien Sandow, his WCW run & more
A second-generation professional wrestler who got his start in the early 1970s, Lanny Poffo is best known to wrestling fans as The Genius. Employed by the WWF for nearly a decade -- initially as Leaping Lanny Poffo -- he was popular for his pre-match poetry, which often skewered audiences and wrestlers alike. After leaving the WWF, Poffo signed with WCW, where he was under contract for a few years. Post-WCW, he made independent appearances, which he continues to do on a part-time basis.
Lanny Poffo is one of the performers featured in the new documentary 350 Days. While many of the other participating wrestlers -- including Bret Hart, "Superstar" Billy Graham, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, Marty Jannetty and J.J. Dillon -- were partying and living hard as full-time talent for the WWF, Poffo opted for "health, wealth and freedom." In turn, he looks great for his age and maintains the wit that he has been associated with for decades.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Poffo about his past, present and future on behalf of Sportskeeda. Poffo can be visited online at www.geniuslannypoffo.com, a website which includes rarely-seen photos of his brother Randy "Macho Man" Savage.
More information on 350 Days -- which hits American theaters for 1 night only on July 12th via Fathom Events -- can be found on the Fathom Events website at www.fathomevents.com/events/350-days-legends-champions-survivors.
What exactly is retirement like for you? What is a day in the life like as a retiree?
Lanny Poffo: I get up in the morning, I go to the gym. I have some hobbies on the computer. I like to do poetry still. I just try to do a lot of fun things. I have a lot of friends, we have some good times. The thing is, when you have friends you have to be careful. Just because they're your friends doesn't mean you have to eat what they eat or drink what they drink. Just because I was with people doesn't mean that I had to do what they did. Sometimes a lot of people become alcoholics from social drinking. I'm not bored, I have plenty to do. I also have MLB.com, so I watch any baseball game I want, including out of market games.
Who is your team of choice in baseball?
Lanny Poffo: I don't follow teams, I follow players. For example, if Justin Verlander is pitching I want to watch that. Sometimes Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees, they've got an embarrassment of riches going on. Whatever team is going to have a great game, I like to watch.
Your brother was known to have been a stand-out baseball player. Did you have that talent as well?
Lanny Poffo: No, I wasn't anywhere near as good as Randy. He signed with the Cardinals in 1971, and 4 years later they released him for the third and final time.
Were there any sports that you excelled at growing up?
Lanny Poffo: I wouldn't say "excelled," but I wrestled and did gymnastics, which helped me in my professional wrestling career.
That character, The Genius, did so well that WWE has used it since with Damien Sandow and Aiden English. Are you up on those other characters?
Lanny Poffo: Actually, I got a phone call from a guy named Joe Gomez that told me to come to the training center in Tampa. There's this guy that wanted to talk to me and wanted permission to use my gimmick. I said okay, I went down there and I'm glad I did because I got to see Dusty Rhodes and he had expressed condolences for my brother. Steve Keirn was there, fantastic person. All these really nice people were there.
Then they introduced me to Damien Sandow. He said, "Would you mind if I used your gimmick?" I said, "Look, I stole the gimmick, too. I'm not the first person to wear a cap and gown, and I'm not the person first to point to his head. If I had 21-inch arms, I would have pointed to my arms. It's just that you've got to work with what you've got."
Like I said, when you think about it, Bobby Heenan was already "The Brain." If he wanted to, he could have gotten mad that I was The Genius because it's a little close. But he was nice enough to let me be The Genius, and he was confident in the fact that he was still The Brain. But if he wanted to be a jerk, he could stopped me, like "Hey, that's too close to my gimmick." I've seen pettiness in wrestlers before!
So I said, "Look, I wish you the best of luck. You use it, whatever gimmick you've got." Besides, a part of the gimmick that was not a gimmick was that I wrote my own poems. These were all original, even the lousy ones. It was all me.
Speaking of characters, for people that followed the WWF in the 1980s, you were the first person a lot of people learned to hate. Everyone knows you as such as nice guy out of the ring, so was it ever difficult or painful to have to portray a heel?
Lanny Poffo: No, it was the biggest break in my career to become The Genius. I was on the chopping block to be fired. I had been there for 5 years as Leaping Lanny, the babyface. They were about done with me. You have a shelf life as a wrestler, as soon as they are bored with you and new people are coming in. The Genius character, next thing you know I'm in 4 months of main events with Hulk Hogan. I made 27 appearances at Madison Square Garden, but I got 2 main events in Madison Square Garden, thanks to Hulk Hogan. He enjoyed my gimmick, he thought it was humorous, it was the best 4 months of my career.
But when I was a bad guy, I was still nice to the fans. I never refused an autograph. That's my theory, you have to treat the fans very nicely, otherwise, you're no better than Art Linklater.
You mentioned a variety of people in the business when you went down to the training center. Are you still in touch with a lot of people from wrestling?
Lanny Poffo: No, I've still kept some friends and see people sometimes. If Hulk Hogan were to call me and he needed me for any reason, I would come running and I would drop anything. Even this interview. I refuse to be not appreciative just because he hasn't done anything for me since 1990. He changed my life and he gave me a sip of the silver chalice of success for 4 months.
I'm still friends with "Tugboat" Fred Ottman, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Jimmy Hart, Rick Martel, Tito Santana, these are excellent people. There's very few of us left because everyone's dying.
Some of the people you mentioned were also in WCW when you were. Your WCW run is very mysterious. Is it true that you were contracted for years but they never contacted you to show up?
Lanny Poffo: Yeah, my brother told me he's got an idea, he's going to make me Gorgeous George. He bought the name, this and that, but I had to do my part. What was that? He said, "I'm going to call you every time and see if you're working out." I started working out twice a day, I was suntanning, I was using the sunbed, I bleached my hair blonde, getting ready for the gimmick, got blue contact lenses, I wrote a few songs to enter the ring with. I had these songs produced by good singers and things. I had my own theme music, I did it myself. I was ready and ready and ready and finally, the phone never rang.
A couple of years later, my hair, I had bleached it so much, instead of looking like Gorgeous George, it looked like The Scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz. Ric Flair and Buddy Landell had beautiful blonde hair, but me, it was very bad hair.
That's the reason that Vince McMahon defeated WCW because Vince is in the trenches. He knows everything, he wouldn't be like Ted Turner and let other people handle it. Vince would not let one check go to a guy that wasn't pulling his weight. That's the reason Vince McMahon defeated Billionaire Ted and became a billionaire himself.
As you're a hard worker, do you feel disappointment over earning all that money without appearing? Pride that you made all that money? Regret that you had not been working for another company in that period?
Lanny Poffo: I wish they would have let me be Gorgeous George. But I was not raised to be on welfare, you know? I wanted to earn my money, but I never refused cashing the check. I never spent anything, I just invested everything. I've read all the books by Robert Kiyosaki and the Richest Man In Babylon all that stuff, I'm very prudent with my money and my hero is Warren Buffett.
Yet again, it's proven that The Genius was not just a character.
Lanny Poffo: The thing is, everybody has something they can do. It's amazing, people that have a reputation for being dumb, everybody's got a gift I've found. One of my gifts is I'm good at fasting. Even if I'm hungry, I know it's good for me. That doesn't mean that I'm not going to drop dead tonight, but I'm acting as if it's going to help me. The truth is I could get whacked out today on a heart attack, but I'd want you to say, "At least he tried." So health and wealth and freedom, but sometimes wealth is not about how much you have, but how much you need. That's a heavy thought.