The Undertaker: Dead Man Walking
Originally published on March 7, 2005
Written by Kirsty Quested
Author of The Best There Is, Was, and Ever Will Be, The King of Harts, and HBK Going the Distance
On November 23rd 1990, at Survivor Series, the collective intake of breath was audible throughout the arena, throughout living rooms across the world. Chills ran down spines as the gong sounded, followed by the mournful but sinister sound of the funeral dirge. Out of the shadows came a fearful presence – huge, brooding, and implacable. As the behemoth took his first measured steps towards the ring, fans worldwide caught a glimpse of the deathly pale face, the dark eyes shadowed by the brim of his hat. This was no colorful cartoon-like gimmick. As he reached the ring, the world was introduced to a man who would leave his indelible imprint on the world of professional wrestling in ways no other performer has, or ever will. The man from the dark side – The Undertaker.
The Undertaker is one of the most mysterious and private individuals to ever have a career as a public figure. Details which should be easily verifiable, such as his date of birth, remain under dispute. He is the very definition of an enigma, right down to the spelling of his real name – so please don’t post feedback telling me your version, I know there are many variations out there! Due to the lengths to which he has gone to keep his private life just that – private – researching him for this article presented a challenge, to say the very least. After hours of painstakingly trawling the internet, watching old footage and doing my best to verify everything you will read as fact, I have finally managed to put together as detailed a profile as possible. At no time do I seek to penetrate the carefully created wall of privacy the Undertaker has built to protect himself and his family – everything you read here I have verified as being said by the man himself, or in media he has endorsed, and is thus open to the public domain.
Mark Lucas Callaway was born in Houston, Texas, on March 24, 1962 – or so says the Internet Movie Database (which verifies personal details through an official agent). When the gangly youth began to show signs of a great height, basketball beckoned, as it has so many professional wrestlers. His natural athletic ability, prominent even then, won him a basketball scholarship to Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, where he undertook a degree in sports management and played center on the university’s basketball team.
Although he had been a fan of professional wrestling from a young age, Mark had never entertained the idea of actually performing himself. “I was just a mark like everyone else,” he said. “Back then, I had enough to worry about with study and basketball.” Mark would eventually attain the height of 6’8. Big with it, his sheer physical size caught the eye of wrestling promoter Fritz von Erich, who convinced Mark to enroll in an introductory wrestling class “just to see what it was like,” he said. “Curiosity got the better of me.” Mark attended classes run by one of von Erich’s instructors, Don Jardine, and eventually made his debut for von Erich’s World Class promotion in 1984. It soon became clear, however, that between basketball, study and wrestling, the young Texan had bitten off more than he could chew. Something had to go; now firmly in the grip of the wrestling bug, the choice was easy. Mark slam-dunked the basketball and signed himself over to the von Erich’s, who arranged his schedule to allow him to continue to study. He graduated in 1988 with a degree in Sports Management.
When Fritz von Erich’s promotion yielded to Jerry Lawler’s USWA, Mark bounced around the independent circuit, going from the CWA back to the USWA. Despite his ability – a natural gymnast, and quick with it, despite his size and height – Lawler seemed unwilling to give Mark a push. “He didn’t really want to let me go,” said Mark, “but at the same time it felt like he was holding me back too.” Frustrated, Mark got ready to walk when fate intervened in the shape of the WCW. The company that would eventually threaten the monopoly of the WWF was at that stage, in its infancy. It was on the lookout for new stars, and impressed with Mark’s size and agility, signed the carrot-topped giant into their stable.
“The first time I saw him in the WCW,” said WWF commentator Jim Ross, “I was blown away. Here was this young guy, around six foot nine, three hundred pounds, and extremely athletic. I just thought – this guy’s a phenomenon. And he doesn’t move like a Clydesdale. He moves like a real athlete.”
Mark debuted as “Mean Mark Callous”, and remained unimpressively stuck in the mid-card ranks until one half of the Skyscrapers, Sid Vicious, was sidelined with a punctured lung. “Someone mentioned me as a replacement for Sid,” said Mark. “So I got the call. Things were looking good at the start. Danny (Dan Spivey) and I hit it off, and we complimented each other’s styles well.” At that time, the WCW was making its transition into what would become the Ted Turner era, and Dan Spivey was dissatisfied with the direction in which the Skyscrapers were headed. “I don’t know,” said Mark. “Danny felt like they were making bad decisions for us. And then he just up and left one day. But by then, I’d realized what kind of organization it was too.”
Mark slipped back into relative obscurity within the WCW. “They told me I wouldn’t amount to anything in this business. That people would never buy tickets to see me wrestle. They really censored me and told me I had no personality.” Fed up, he started exploring his options – and every professional wrestler at that time dreamed of being part of Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation. Mark set about trying to gain an audience with Vince McMahon. “It was like trying to get an appointment with the Pope,” he said. When Mark was finally able to sit and talk with Vince, the outcome was disappointing, Vince remarking that they just didn’t have anything for him at that time. “I was like – whoa, what now,” said Mark. “I’d already left the WCW, so I was out of a job.” He would not remain unemployed for long. The young Texan had made an impression on Vince McMahon, who sat down to watch some of Mark’s old WCW tapes. He then had a change of heart – and an idea for a gimmick.
“One day the phone rang,” said Mark. “It was Vince, and he says ‘Is this the Undertaker?’ I just thought – what the hell is this???” Vince went on to explain his idea. Having always been a fan of the old Western-style undertaker look, he wanted to create a character based on it. Mark, always fascinated with death and the dark side, felt it was fate, and clicked onto the idea immediately. “The idea was Vince’s,” said Mark, “but as far as styling the character went, he left that pretty much up to me.” The Undertaker was initially dressed in a wide-brimmed bowler hat, pulled down low over his eyes. A black shirt, wide cravat, mortician’s gloves and full-length black trench coat completed the image – dire, creepy, and sinister. His face was made up to look deathly pale and his already dark eyes were enhanced with purple shadowing. His red hair was dyed almost dark brown. As a final macabre touch, Mark was able to roll his eyes back to show only the whites, a freaky trick that made him look more other-worldly than ever. The overall effect was eerie and very unique. At a time when the WWF was still in the throes of Hulkamania, colorful gimmicks and cartoon-like characters, it was a bold, risky move. The risks would pay off.
The nearing 1990 Survivor Series would be Mark’s WWF debut. At a time when wrestlers were generally not introduced at a big pay-per-view, not given a gimmick and a push straight away (they almost always started as mid-card jobbers at house shows until they’d proved themselves), Mark was again breaking new ground. The Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase, had been trumpeting for some time a “mystery partner” to complete his 4-man team. “There was a huge build up over who the mystery man was going to be,” said Mark. “So I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I had a lot to live up to, just for my debut.”
The Undertaker was initially managed by the unctuous Brother Love (Bruce Pritchard), who led his new charge to the ring to the powerful sound of the organ’s funeral dirge. The impact was immediately stunning and electric. “When the Undertaker first started,” said the WWF’s Pat Patterson, “his presence and his look was really magic. There had never been anything like this before in the WWF.”
“The whole presentation of the character,” said Jim Ross, “was unique and very extraordinary. The music treatment was moving and gripping. The lighting arrangements were very novel for that time.” Mark debuted as a heel, but there had never been one like him before. So taken were the fans with this unique, mysterious new character, and growing increasingly bored with the cartoon-like gimmicks that made up most of the WWF’s stable, they embraced the man from the dark side and began cheering him as they would a face name. Mark’s skills as a giant who could move like a gazelle were finally on the international stage, and the young Texan did not disappoint. He built up an arsenal of signature moves which encompassed both his size and strength as well as his speed and agility. Among them were such unique features as the running DDT, the chokeslam from hell and the circus-like walking on the top rope, which he accomplished by using his opponent’s arm for balance after winding them into an arm bar. His finishing move, the tombstone pile-driver, was topped off by Mark crossing his opponents’ hands on their chest, coffin-like, for the pin.
When Bruce Pritchard’s substance abuse problems got the better of him, Mark was teamed with a new manager, Bill Moody, who Mark had known from his USWA days. Bill’s character, the strange, wheedling Paul Bearer, was a mortician who carried a golden urn, said to be the source of the Undertaker’s power. They made a strange but compelling pair. There had been a real danger that the fans would see Paul Bearer as laughable, with his rotund appearance and shrill voice, but Bill managed to convey the same macabre demeanour in Paul Bearer as Mark did in the Undertaker.
Despite being blasted onto the international wrestling stage in such a unique way, Mark never lost his head. He worked hard and learned from people who had been in the business a long time. “I think I learnt the most from Jake Roberts,” he said. At that time, Jake “The Snake” Roberts was possibly the only other performer around whose character had any similarities to that of the Undertaker. Despite the showy gimmick of a large, genuine python, Jake Roberts’ character was sinister and quietly controlled. He was tall and lean, with a laser stare. “He had, in my opinion, one of the best wrestling minds, as far as ring psychology and how to present his character to the audience went,” said Mark. “I applied some of that to what the Undertaker was going to be about.”
Despite his heel status, Mark was getting over with the fans so fast, Vince McMahon decided to capitalize on his popularity. Barely a year in, he launched Mark into a feud with the biggest name in the business – the legendary Hulk Hogan. “Here I am, still a rookie, and they put me against Hulk Hogan,” said Mark. The Hulkster himself eyed his new workmate with some trepidation. “I saw a guy who was bigger than me, but still very athletic,” he said. “I had never worked with anyone like him before.” A year to the day after Mark had entered the WWF, he defeated Hulk Hogan for the WWF World Title at the 1991 Survivor Series. In typical heel fashion, he had of course won with the help of some underhanded tactics, the most prominent of which was outside interference by the WWF’s new top heel, Ric Flair. Mark may have been over, but he wasn’t that over – not yet. Hogan regained the title a week later, but the Undertaker’s short reign had proved successful despite the negative reaction of the fans. “It was a good call in the end,” said Jim Ross. “It gave the Undertaker this unique notoriety.” Mark himself believes his brief stint with the strap spearheaded a new direction for the WWF. “I think it was a start of a change in the times, a move away from the whole lollipop, goody-two-shoes personas.” Winning the title meant something else too – a big boon on Mark’s paycheque. Flush with genuine wealth for the first time in his life, Mark treated himself to a brand new Harley Davidson, the motorcycle that is his passion, and a collection of which he would build up over the years.
The writers systematically worked Taker through the WWF face roster until there was no-one left. One option was to turn Taker face himself and have him double back through the ranks of the heels, but the WWF’s creative department was initially wary. Taker’s character was based solely on dark forces, death and destruction – how were they ever going to convince the fans that this necrocentric creature was, deep down, really warm and cuddly? Short answer – they couldn’t. Instead they played on the Undertaker’s cult following, with the intention of creating the impression that bad was cool – something that would become more and more common within the WWF throughout the 1990’s. The Undertaker’s face turn began at a Saturday Night Main Event in 1992, when he interfered while Jake Roberts was threatening Miss Elizabeth, coming to her aid and pummeling Roberts into the bargain. At the 1992 SummerSlam, Mark wrestled the giant Kamala in the first ever casket match (Then called a “Coffin” match).
While Taker had been popular as a heel, his face turn was, initially anyway, less successful. At that time in the early 90’s, the top faces were still those whose characters were “good” guys – Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior. For the first time since arriving in the WWF, Mark felt his career was beginning to stagnate. Compounding this problem were drug and alcohol addictions that were getting out of control. By this time, Mark had a young wife, Jodi Lynn, and a new son to think about. After several binges that left him depleted, exhausted, and on the brink of clinical depression, Mark took desperate stock of his life, admitting his problems to Vince McMahon and getting his priorities straight. He needed a break, and he needed help.
At the 1994 Royal Rumble, Taker was defeated by Yokozuna in a casket match after Paul Bearer lost possession of the urn. From inside the casket, which had seemingly begun to smoke, the audience had a view of Taker and listened as he promised that he would not “rest in peace.” The casket exploded, and Taker was gone… at least for now. It was the writers’ way of releasing Mark for a six month stint of rehabilitation for his substance abuse problems. The elaborate storyline was more within the realms of fantasy than reality, and signified a new direction for the WWF in which crazy storylines and dangerous gimmicks would become more and more commonplace. In order to keep the Undertaker’s character alive, Ted DiBiase began appearing with a wrestler who claimed to be the Undertaker, but was in fact Mark’s cousin Brian Lee. Although obvious to the audience that the new Taker was a fake, it nevertheless served the purpose of maintaining interest in the character, and kept the fans wondering when the “real” Taker would return to claim his rightful place.
Meanwhile, Mark was struggling with very real demons of his own. Substance abuse problems had him in their grip; his marriage was crumbling and he succumbed to depression. “I don’t even know how it started,” he said. “I was always tired. I literally couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t felt exhausted.” Professional wrestling, especially at that level, is high profile, high pressure and comes with high demands. Mark was not the first performer to turn to drugs and alcohol to help him deal with the relentless lifestyle, and he would not be the last. It is testament to his strength of character that he not only exorcised his demons, but that he never allowed them to return.
While Mark battled his addictions, the writers in the WWF were having a marvelous time preparing for his inevitable comeback. Storylines were becoming more and more grandiose, and nowhere was this more apparent than in the bizarre resurrection they had planned. In a ridiculously “National Lampoon-ish” manner, a detective played by Leslie Neilsen charged round the countryside following “Taker sightings” and setting the stage for Taker’s return. This he did at the 1994 SummerSlam, defeating his impostor and diving headfirst into a new feud with his old nemesis, Yokozuna.
The evolution of the Undertaker’s character has been a vital factor in its continual success over the past fifteen years.
Over time, Taker’s look began to change. As he battled Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation, his image slowly evolved. Gone were the bowler hat and the cravat, to be replaced by a full length, bat-like leather costume. Longer hair, more tattoos covering his limbs and darker eye makeup completed the new image, that of a demon more than an undertaker. As he entered the arena, the lighting would darken, then flash purple and blue. As he made his slow, deliberate entrance, dry ice machines gave the impression Taker was causing the arena to chill. Upon reaching the ring, he would raise his arms as the crescendo of his entrance music reached its climax, seemingly the instrument that returned the arena to blazing light.
Mark’s natural flair for the dramatic, combined with what was no small amount of acting skill, created more opportunities to have the Taker character engage in increasingly fantastical storylines. His feud with the giant Diesel (Kevin Nash), saw him revealing the corpse of Diesel in a coffin, and emerging from under the mat of the ring during a cage match with Bret Hart and pulling Diesel down into the “depths of hell,” allowing Bret to escape the cage and win the match. The Taker character played mind games with the uncomplicated Diesel, leading up to their clash at Wrestlemania 12. Continuing his “undefeated-at-Wrestlemania” streak, Taker defeated Diesel in an exciting and high energy match, something rarely seen when a match involves behemoths the size of Mark and Kevin.
It was around this time that Taker and Paul Bearer parted company. It had become clear that while Mark was able to mould his character to suit his babyface status, the spectra of an eerie manager (a gimmick generally reserved for heels in any case) was detrimental to Taker’s cause. Beginning with Mankind (Mick Foley) Paul Bearer began to build a stable of sinister heels and Taker branched out on his own, beginning with an intense feud with Mankind and Paul Bearer. And at Wrestlemania 13, Taker defeated the psychopathic monster, Sycho Sid, for the WWF title. After six years, Mark finally had WWF gold back around his waist.
1996/1997 would see a general shift in the direction of the WWF’s storylines and characters. The advent of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, a character designed to be a super-heel, was so over with the fans that Vince and the writers turned him babyface. Coinciding with his face turn, traditional and highly popular babyfaces Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were turned heel. Mark’s Taker character helped facilitate both. Bret had begun his heel turn at Wrestlemania 13, by kicking an unconscious and bloody Steve Austin while he was down, followed by interfering in the title match between Taker and Sid at the same PPV. At the 1997 SummerSlam, Bret, who had begun an “anti-American” gimmick with his newly formed Hart Foundation, was on the card challenging Taker for the title. Capitalizing on the heat between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, the Heartbreak Kid was scheduled to referee the match. After he and Bret got into a slanging match, Shawn made to belt Bret with a steel chair – but the Hitman ducked and Taker received the blow full in the face. His title, so newly won and so vigorously defended, was lost to Bret’s “Hitman.”
Upset at losing the title due to Shawn Michael’s incompetence, Taker was primed to begin a feud with his fellow Texan and in doing so, facilitate Shawn’s heel turn. At Badd Blood in October 1997, Shawn and Mark performed in the very first “Hell In A Cell.” The old blue steel cage had been replaced, for the very first time, with a steel mesh cell, complete with roof, and set further back from the ropes. This created an area in which the cameramen could operate and lent itself to the performers hurling each other outside the ropes. “It was an opportunity to be innovative and break new ground,” said Shawn. “Mark and I had done a ‘lumberjack’ match the week before, so the next logical step was the cage. The first thing I thought when I saw it was – oooh, can we maybe do something off the roof?” Mark liked the idea too, and they realized it when Mark sent Shawn flying from the side of the cage into the announcer’s table. “It’s one of the matches I’m most proud of,” said Mark, “even though I lost.” Just how he lost the match would prove to be the catalyst for what will probably be Taker’s most memorable feud, that with his long lost “brother,” Kane (Glen Jacobs). Kane appeared for the first time at Hell In A Cell and interfered, causing Taker to lose to a bloodied and exhausted HBK. The loss meant little to the character compared to the appearance of a brother he had thought was dead.
In November 1997, at the Survivor Series in Montreal, Mark witnessed Bret Hart’s betrayal at the hands of Vince McMahon in what will be forever known as the “Montreal Screwjob.” Disgusted with his boss’s underhanded tactics, Mark followed Vince to his makeshift office and hammered on the locked door, threatening to break it down, until Vince opened it. In no uncertain terms, Mark told Vince to go to Bret and explain himself. Justifiably concerned that Bret would thump the living daylights out of him, Vince quailed in fear. “Whatever he does to you is no more than you deserve,” Mark is reported to have said to Vince. Mark then threatened to refuse to appear on RAW the next night unless Vince agreed to go to Bret. “What happened to Bret was not… necessary,” Mark said in a low rumble, but has never elaborated further on the subject.
As 1997 drew to a close, Mark was forced to deal with a nagging knee injury that refused to heal. He needed some time off, and the writers facilitated it during the 1998 Royal Rumble, in which Taker battled Shawn Michaels in a casket match. In a gimmick reminiscent of the 1994 Royal Rumble, Taker was again bundled into the casket, this time by his brother Kane, which was then set alight. Mark escaped the casket through a false bottom and took a month off to allow his knee to recuperate. When he returned during a RAW taping, his feud with Kane began in earnest. They clashed at Wrestlemania 14, Taker continuing his undefeated streak and winning the match. This set the scene for the infamous “Inferno” match, to take place at the April Unforgiven pay-per-view. “They told me the ropes would be set alight, and we’d wrestle until one of us caught fire,” Mark said, rolling his eyes. “Real good idea.” The Inferno match underscores the lengths the WWF were beginning to go to for ratings, despite the obvious and very real danger to the performers. “I can’t even begin to describe how hot it was,” Mark said. “There was no air. The flames were burning up all the oxygen.” It was not, however, all bad. Despite the terrible working conditions, Mark proved again his versatility and agility, not to mention his incredible stamina. “What was so impressive wasn’t the heat or the flames,” Glen Jacobs said. “It was the sight of Taker, at six foot ten and three hundred pounds, flying over the top rope, through the flames, onto me.” For his part, Mark has nothing but admiration for the man with whom he has worked for so long. “He has so much raw talent. Physically, he’s one of the strongest guys ever to work in this business. And he’s not even close to peaking yet.” Taker won the match when Kane’s arm caught fire – an extremely risky stunt and an example of the stupidity of the WWF powers-that-be, a stupidity that would eventually cost Owen Hart, brother of Bret Hart, his life.
Because Kane was part of Paul Bearer’s stable, it meant that Taker would feud not only with him, but with other Bearer charges. At the 1998 King Of The Ring, Mark would perform in his second Hell In A Cell, this time with Mankind (Mick Foley). Mick, who had come from a hardcore background, was not adverse to pushing the envelope when it came to taking a bump. But no-one expected to see Mark throwing Mick literally from the top of the cage, 20 feet down and crashing through the announcer’s table. Although it had been planned, standing on top of the cage Mark gazed down at Mick, hardly able to believe what he had just seen. “I’m thinking that he’s possibly paralyzed,” said Mark. “I’m thinking that I’ve just been involved in this man’s career coming to an end. He hit with such a violent impact that… well it was amazing.” Mick, expert in knowing how to fall, was nevertheless stunned and winded, to say the very least. “Not many people know this,” said Mark, “but he was out on his feet for probably a good five minutes after the match restarted. He was just out. I was saying to him, ‘let’s end this thing, OK? Let’s just go.'” Whether or not he was too dazed to understand what Mark was saying, Mick refused and the match continued, with Mark eventually choke-slamming Mick through the top of the cage and onto the mat. “It was,” said Mark, “a display of one man’s body being taken to the limit. It was the only time in my whole career that I think I had an out of body experience.” To those watching, even WWF officials, the spectacle was no less horrifying. “I had no idea Mick would be tossed off the top of the cage,” said Jim Ross. “It legitimately shocked me and scared me.” For Mark, it has understandably gone down as one of the most violent and gruelling matches of his career. “You can’t comprehend the magnitude of what that was, unless you’re actually standing there on top of that cage, and seeing how high it is, and then the impact with which he hit. The tape just does not do it justice.”
1999 heralded the beginning of many changes for both Mark and Taker. He now had two children with his wife, Jodi Lynn, but for reasons that have never been made clear, they divorced in June of 1999. Whether or not his new love, Sara, had anything to do with the split is also unclear. Mark met Sara during an autograph signing. They clicked immediately, sharing the same passions for UFC, boxing, football and Harley Davidsons. “I don’t want to say Sara’s unladylike,” Mark said, “but her interests are very male oriented. It’s like having a buddy and a wife. Football, anything physical like that, we sit and watch together. And she’s knowledgeable about all of it, you don’t have to sit there and explain things to her. In fact, we get into arguments about who knows more about boxing, me or her. She tells me she’s forgotten more boxing than I’ll ever know. She’s all woman, but she’s very much a tomboy. She’s been a real turning point in my life.”
Professionally, the Undertaker gimmick was evolving yet again, this time into a satanic-type character complete with a hooded cowl, Lucifer-style goatee and black nail polish. Reconciled with Paul Bearer and his brother Kane, Taker began recruiting other dark-minded characters for his new stable, aptly named The Ministry. Members would include the former Mabel, now named Viscera (Nelson Frazier), Farooq (Ron Simmons), John Bradshaw Layfield, Mideon (Dennis Knight), Edge (Adam Copeland), Christian (William Reso) and Gangrel (David Heath). At that time, Steve Austin had been feuding with Vince McMahon’s new character, that of a heel promoter, “Mr.McMahon.” Their storylines were growing stale, and the Ministry was thrown into the mix, antagonizing both characters and steamrollering all opposition. It was the Ministry’s feud with Vince McMahon that would, for the first time, introduce Vince’s daughter Stephanie McMahon to the public as an active character. The WWF creative department, clearly having watched too much Days Of Our Lives, came up with storylines that involved Stephanie being kidnapped by Taker and then forced to participate in a “Dark” wedding with her father’s nemesis (although it must be said, not even that would top the embarrassment generated when Stephanie and Vince eventually locked up in the ring after a feud of their own).
“The Ministry was kind of the last facet of the dark side stuff,” Mark said. Capitalizing on the soap opera-like feuds taking place within the McMahon family, the Ministry eventually joined Shane McMahon‘s Corporation, becoming the entity Corporate Ministry. “I’m not sure it was such a good idea to have the Ministry join with the Corporation,” said Mark. “It was all about the McMahon’s, and meant that the Undertaker was no longer leading the pack.”
In May of 1999, the world of professional wrestling was rocked by a real-life tragedy when Owen Hart was killed performing a stunt at the Over The Edge pay-per-view in Kansas City. Mark was one of the last people to speak to Owen that day, and heard Owen voice his fears about the stunt he was to perform. “I had lunch with Owen,” said Mark. “I was there when the riggers showed him the harness and the quick release.” Mark, who was good friends with both Owen and his brother Bret, sympathised with the young Canadian’s trepidations over the stunt, which would involve him descending to the ring from rafters high above the arena. “I could see where Owen was coming from,” he said. “After the Inferno match, I could fully believe that he was being forced into something stupid.” Corporate Ministry had their hands full that day attacking Vince’s “Mr. McMahon” character, and Mark did not witness Owen plunging to his death. When Owen was wiped off the mat, Vince, in an appalling display of mercenary insensitivity, insisted that the show continue. Mark knew that Owen had been taken to hospital, but was not aware until afterwards that he had been killed. He performed in his match against Steve Austin, in which both Corporate Ministry and Vince McMahon interfered until Taker pinned Austin and captured the title. Back in the locker room, Mark learned of his friend’s death and his victory could not then have been further from his mind. Grief-stricken, Mark did not appear on the RAW Is Owen tribute, choosing instead to fly straight to Calgary to console his old friend Bret Hart. Mark attended Owen’s funeral on that grey day in Calgary, joining many other sports entertainment figures to farewell one of the best-loved men ever to set foot in the squared circle.
Late in 1999, with the bones in his hips turning to powdered glass, it became clear that Mark would need an extended break from wrestling to undergo surgery, rehabilitation and recovery. It also seemed like a good idea to ditch the demonic Taker gimmick and the Ministry, which had truly done its dash, thus setting the stage for something new upon his return. He “quit” during a SmackDown! taping and took a much-needed break.
During his hiatus, Mark married his new love, Sara. As a wedding gift, he had her name tattooed on his throat. “Yeah – that tickled a little,” he said. “It was pretty intense. It’s a good thing I have a high pain threshold.” Mark pauses to consider that last sentence. “Actually, it’s a good thing there’s no “H” in “Sara,” he amends, with a grin. After his hip and knee surgery, Mark relaxed by pottering with his collection of Harley Davidsons, joined by Sara, who shared his passion for the big bikes. It was during this break he began giving some creative thought to what Taker’s image would involve on his return. “The injuries I had, they were serious enough to make me contemplate retirement,” Mark said. “I took a long ride, to think it all through. Everything that’s happened to me over the last ten or eleven years is brought me to this point. I didn’t want to go out in the midst of self-doubt and whether my body would hold up anymore. And the thought just came to me – I knew I’d make a comeback. I’d be the big dog in the yard again.”
When considering his new image, Mark considered what his fans might enjoy most. “For years, people have wanted to know, what’s the Undertaker really like? What’s he like when he’s at home or on the street, and not on television?” Mark decided that on his return, the fans would get to see just that – the real Mark Callaway. “The old school Undertaker is very much a part of what brought me to where I am,” he says. “And I don’t want to insult the die-hard Taker fans by evolving my character, because the old Undertaker is still a part of me, still a part of who I am.” Mark’s new image would simply be himself – what you see is what you get. Bandanna over his long red hair, wraparound shades, cut-off shirts and a giant Harley Davidson completed the new Taker – a bad-ass biker. “I’ve always been fascinated with death and darkness,” he said, “and I still am. I may not dress like Satan anymore, but I’m still down with the devil. It took me to where I am, and now it’s time to move forward. But everything the old school Undertaker was, that’s still very much a part of me.”
Mark returned to the WWF with a bang in May 2000, at the Judgement Day pay-per-view. In full “American Bad-Ass” attire, astride one of his own enormous Harley’s, and now entering to Limp Bizkit’s thumping “Rollin'” track, Taker cleared the ring and clobbered every McMahon in sight. Still retaining the name “Undertaker” Mark nevertheless stunned fans with his new look and persona. “Mark could have stayed in the original Taker persona and still be doing well,” said Jim Ross. “But he had the confidence and the belief that he needed a change. And the American Bad Ass presentation is a close to what he is really like as he could be.” Others who know him agree. “Taker truly is an American Bad Ass,” said Kurt Angle. “Not just in character, but in real life too.”
Upon his return, Mark continued to work with Kane (Glen Jacobs) and also Triple H (Paul Levesque). As 2001 progressed, the writers introduced a new element to Taker’s storylines – his real-life wife, Sara. “At first, I was hesitant to involve her, to make her a public figure,” Mark said, demonstrating again his craving for privacy. “But I really enjoy her company. We get along so well. And being able to spend more than two days a week with her, that was the deciding factor.” Sara began as her husband’s valet, then the writers kick-started her storyline involvement by having Triple H, who was teamed at that time with Steve Austin, give Taker a prank call to say Sara had been in a car accident. Austin taunted Taker with graphic details of Sara’s injuries, eventually admitting it was a hoax and infuriating the huge Texan. Shortly afterwards, at a RAW taping, the storyline evolved to show that Sara was being stalked by an anonymous assailant. The stalker would eventually be revealed as Diamond Dallas Page (Page Falkinberg) who was fresh out of the WCW and diving headfirst into a feud with the biggest dog in the yard. “I used to kinda kid Dallas about pro-wrestling and how fake it was,” said Page’s long-time friend Jon Bon Jovi, lead singer of rock band Bon Jovi. “Then I watched him wrestling this huge monster, the Undertaker. After that I kidded him a bit less – I wouldn’t want to cross that guy!” For Sara’s part, she greatly enjoyed her brief stint in the spotlight, at her husband’s side. “The best advice he ever gave me was just to relax and have fun,” she said. “And I did – it wasn’t like work to me. It was fun.”
In 2002, at Wrestlemania, Taker was initially drafted into RAW when the RAW and SmackDown! brands became separate rosters, but was later switched to SmackDown! where he remains to this day. At the 2002 Judgment Day pay-per-view, Taker captured the Undisputed WWE championship title from Hollywood Hulk Hogan, beginning his fourth reign at the top of the heap. Mark had a double reason to celebrate – late in 2002 Sara gave birth to their first child, a daughter.
Mark continued to work storylines with Triple H, Steven Austin, Kane and Brock Lesnar, among others. In March 2004, at Wrestlemania 20, Mark ended months of speculation concerning rumurs that the Dead Man gimmick was returning, by entering the arena with his old manager Paul Bearer. The gong sounded – the organ filled the arena with the funeral dirge as the Old School Undertaker again took his slow, measured steps towards the ring, eyes shaded by the brim of a hat. “The key to longevity in this business,” he said of his return to the old gimmick, “is keeping what it is that you’re doing fresh. Evolving as a wrestler, and evolving as a character. I think that’s one of the keys to my success – the Undertaker has evolved from when he first came here. I continue to expand people’s minds and expectations of what they’re going to get from the Undertaker. I am the same person, I believe in the same things, I have a lot of the same characteristics, but what people have watched through this past decade is the evolution that has brought us to where we are today.”
The Undertaker once again evolved into a combination of all his past incarnations.The Undertaker battled his brother Kane at Wrestlemania XX.
Taker refers to the wrestling ring as “my yard.” This statement holds true not just for the physical ring itself, but for the WWE as a whole, and perhaps most of all, in the locker room. Without exception, his peers describe him as a locker room leader, a veteran extremely generous with his time and experience. “When he says it’s his yard, it really is,” says Edge (Adam Copeland). “Backstage, you KNOW that he’s the man.”
It is no exaggeration to say that the WWE is both the Undertaker and Mark Callaway’s yard – and he is the biggest dog in it. “I’m not bad,” he says, “but the bad don’t mess with me.” His legacy encompasses not just his skill, agility, size and longevity in the world of professional wrestling, but his reputation as a genuine leader among his many peers. As much as the fans will remember the many faces of the Undertaker and his enormous contribution to sports entertainment, it seems that the locker room will remember Mark Callaway, the man, even more.
Written by Kirsty Quested (March 7, 2005)
Author of the following amazing columns:
The Best There Is, Was, and Ever Will Be,
The King of Harts
HBK Going the Distance
John Knott wrote: Thank you for doing an article on Taker he deserves it greatly..
Phil T. wrote: First, just read your Taker column, AWESOME. Loved reading about the early years again, great job. Did you catch the Taker’s WresleMania promo yet? Taker in a wig, PRICELESS.
Jeff Barna wrote: Unbelievable. Another great composition, and I believe that it does nothing but justice to the Undertaker. Somebody cut this girl a check, she’s churning out bestseller material! :) Seriously, you have made my day by choosing the Undertaker to write about. Miss Quested, I applaud you.
Brad Dykens wrote: Unbelievable. Awesome. Amazing. Brilliant. Best. Fantastic. Impressed. “Another one knocked out of the park”. These are just a few of the words used to describe Kirsty Quested’s articles since she began writing for OWW six months ago. And this latest masterpiece encompasses all of those words, and more! I could never thank Kirsty enough for bringing such a high level of class to OWW.com. It will be my continuing mission to make Ms. Quested FAMOUS!
Erkka Järvinen wrote: So why people don’t try to say something about the column and not Kirsty. Yes she is a great columnist but still, praising her is not gonna tell people what did you think of this column. I have never been a big fan of Undertaker’s gimmicks. He is a great wrestler but i don’t like super natural things so the only gimmick i liked of the Undertaker was the american bad ass.
Billy Bob wrote: Hey this was a great column and stuff, but from what i’ve read in Hulk Hogans book, Mark Calloway was working in WCW when he signed on to do an early movie of Hogans (Suburban Commando) as a bounty hunter. Hogan was impressed and had him meet up with Vince McMahon, Vince took one look at him and said, we’ll call him The Undertaker. I guess theres alot of different storys out there, but commin straight from Hogan i’d have to believe that one. Anyway, great column, it’s nice to see people take actual time to do something like this, it was an enjoyable read.
Brad Dykens wrote (Reaction to Billy Bob): I mean no offense by this but are you saying you believe HOGAN’S BOOK OF FICTION over hearing it straight from The Undertaker’s mouth? Let me tell you something about Hulk Hogan’s book. 90% of it is FICTION and LIES. His version of every story is ALWAYS different than every other account, no matter how many other accounts there are.. Hogan is trapped in his own world and he creates his own recolections no matter how skewed. I would never take Hogan’s word over someone elses…
Kirsty Quested wrote (Reaction to Billy Bob): There is always different versions of different events and there always will be – my information regarding the start of Taker’s career comes from the WWE DVD “Undertaker – This Is My Yard” where Mark Callaway himself describes how he came to be in the WWE…. Additionally, ‘Suburban Commando’ was released in 1991. Mark Callaway had already been in the WWF for a year by that stage, so your timing is out.
Rhey Higgins wrote: Wow…I’m nearly speechless after reading that amazing article. The Undertaker is wihout a doubt one of the best wrestlers to ever step into the squared circle, and a documented history of him (especially a well-documented one) was long overdue. I tip my hat to you.
Patrick wrote: Thanks again for a splendid piece of writing. I’ve seen Taker’s debut when I was about 19 years old. And I’ve never forgotten how much I was in awe when I first saw him. Your column is truly a worthy tribute to his legacy. Who’s your next subject? Are you going to go down the list from the poll? If not… think about doing a column about Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts. Still my all time favourite, and he’s had a bit of an interesting life.
L()U wrote: The undertaker would have been my second choice, the article is amazing as i expected it to be. Congrats on yet another top job. please keep mr Foley in mind for your next article as he is the true Hardcore icon.
Jason Littlejohn wrote: The Undertaker maybe the greatsest wrestler of all time, and this column by Kirsty has done him justice…job well done I Say Kirsty !!
chris peacock wrote: I just wanted to say that was a very well written artical. You helped me out on knowing some of the stuff I wanted to know about one of my personal favorites in the bussiness. Thank you, It was well worth reading. I also wanted to add as a side note for people that don’t know that the Undertaker is so respected and trusted in the locker room that he is one of or the only person left in the WWE that is still allowed to perform a version of the piledriver when it has been ban as a move to most of the superstars.
Thomas Daley wrote: A Fantastic article, by a Fantastic writer. Much better than the crap most of the magazine’s are selling. It was great to learn about the Undertaker’s early day’s in the WWF. I never knew that he was big into the supernatural, but it show’s he does a excellent job with that character. Thank God the real Undertaker is back and not that D.O.A reject.
W D wrote: AWSOME JUST AWSOME I mean when i started reading i was like OH GOD another person that thinks they know everything about the Undertake but know nothing and you know it i mean it was awsome and when writting about the Undertaker it is hard to do cause he is such a complexed chracter i mean WWE has a hard time doing his Chracter cause if they dont watch FCC can get at them and it has before cause of the Undertake but just like they have kept it AWSOME so have you with all your articles AWSOME and thank you for writting a Awsome thing about the Undertaker i mean out of all the superstars ever to come from the WWE he is one of the most loyalaist ever and i think he will be like that untill he dies and hopefully everyone will pay him the same amount of respect as you have AWSOME JUST AWSOME
Glenn wrote: I would just like to say that your column on the Undertaker is about the best read I’ve had on the internet in a long time.
victry77 Lodge wrote: I’m confused at how a column choc-full of inaccuracies concerning basic personal information about Mark Calaway (ie, his middle name, spelling of surname, number of children, birthdate) can also be so certain of other very private information (ie, drug/alcohol rehab) that has never been officially documented on the internet or elsewhere. Kirsty may be privileged to personal information, but this information has never been released by Mark Calaway or anyone else and is essentially the kind of rumor fodder (although I’m not necessarily doubting it’s truth) you’d find on message boards and the like. If she feels able to talk of such private details that Calaway has never even spoke of himself (he may have loosely referred to a shady past but has never at all gone into any kind of specifics publically), then surely she can go out of her way to do a little more research on such simple things as his real age and his middle name, etc, which is all very much common knowledge on UT sites and forums and has been for a very long time.
Kirsty Quested wrote (in her defense): First and foremost, I got Mark’s real name – first, middle and last – from the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com). This is a commercial websites that verifies ALL personal details through the person’s agent – who is listed on Mark’s profile, so that is official information that is verified by Mark’s own agent as being correct. I’m not at all sure what you have in mind that is more official and accurate than that. Or what additional research I should have done. You’re saying that Taker forums and fansites are more accurate than a website in which details are verified by Mark’s own agent??? Please tell me that’s not what you’re suggesting, because that would make you an idiot. In addition to that, IMDb also verifies who Mark has been married to, for how long, and how many children he has. Again, these details are all VERIFIED through MARK’S OWN AGENT. Mark himself has made reference to his substance abuse problems in several interviews, including how long he was out for, and how the WWF’s creative department engineered his departure. There are too many references to list here, but if you want them I’ll send them to you. How do you think I got his quote referring to his substance abuse problems? Do you think I made it up? What makes you so sure he’s never referred to it? I have proof that he has. As I said in the second paragraph of my article “At no time do I seek to penetrate the carefully created wall of privacy the Undertaker has built to protect himself and his family – everything you read here I have verified as being said by the man himself, or in media he has endorsed, and is thus open to the public domain.” Did you skip this? Did you just skim read the article? If so then I suggest you think again before making broad sweeping statements of which you back up with NO PROOF whatsoever.
Ariondys wrote: I went looking for personal data on Mark, believing before I even tried it would be difficult to find a birthday I would feel confident in. I was not disappointed in my expectation. I thank you for sounding so convincing. I am an astrologer, and have been going over his chart and looking at dates and such. What I sought to discover was whether or not he has Orcus Rising. Previously known as 2004 DW before receiving a name. The end product is that I believe he might. Mar 24, 1962, at 11:51:00am Houston, TX has potential as a real birthtime. I have briefly investigated(meaning I spent hours and not days) a few dates, such as jul 22 2003–death of his father, and nov 22 1990 — debut, and nov 22 1991 — great success/pay raise and some other vaguer dates, such as birth of first child, knee problems, general time of drug problems. These can be seen. The odds I would be able to find some astrological signature for all of this leads me to conclude the odds are in favor of this being his birthdate(and birthtime) … Note that every survivor series, the Sun will square his Jupiter. And that should be a good day in his life quite often.
Oliver Newman wrote: AGAIN! Your are an Incredible Journalist! Didn’t know about Taker’s drug addiction causing him to leave the business! Taker is a Legend especially with his respect for my FAVOURITE Wrestler of all time Bret Hart classy that he travelled to Calgary after Owen Hart’s Death rather than be on Raw! You should be getting paid for this! The BEST Writer on the Net! P.S. You deserve a BIGGER Audience so you can showcase yourself!
Luke Edhouse wrote: This was a very good column and I enjoyed reading it immensely, however, I feel I have to contribute to this discussion over the accuracy of factual information. I actually contacted the IMDb last year to question the date of birth and surname spelling and the response I got was rather rude and abrupt. Just to clear up the issue, despite general belief that information on IMDb is provided and verified by celebrities’ agents, for the most part, this is true but in Mark Calaway’s case, the information provided is information which was sent in and added by a fan when Calaway’s IMDb page was first set up, meaning that it hasn’t been verified by anyone official at all. I have asked IMDb to change all surname spellings to “Calaway” as this is the correct spelling but they refuse to do so, also, they say they will not change his date of birth from March 24, 1962 to 1965 unless they receive information from Mark himself or his agent to do so but I find this absurd considering that the original information was provided neither from Mark or an official agent of his. Information which I received by e-mail from Richard Lipham informs me and verifies that The Undertaker’s real name is spelt Mark Calaway and that his date of birth is March 24, 1965. Richard Lipham is the Webmaster of the Waltrip High School website, Calaway’s old high school, not only this but he also taught Calaway in metal shop class when he was there. Mr Lipham checked and verified from official records that Mark’s family surname is indeed spelt Calaway and that his date of birth is March 24, 1965 and that he graduated from senior high year at Waltrip in 1983, aged 18. This information is also in the public domain as it is posted on the Trivia page of the Waltrip High School website. I don’t mean to come across as bursting anyone’s bubble but this attempts to just serve as a warning to not always trust what you read on any website, in particular in this case, I am referring to IMDb.com. Many people, including myself assume all information on the IMDb to be factual and verified but I think tnis example disproves that this isn’t necessarily always the case.
Britny W wrote: I loved the article. I’m a big fan of ‘Taker. I didn’t know he had a drug problem. ( poor baby ) I know what he went through. I had a drug problem too. Let’s just say I had a very bad childhood and I turned to drugs to take away the pain.Like him I went to rehab and now i’m doing just fine. I also like the high school photo. I can imagine what some of his year books are like.Mark graduated high school in 1980 not 1983. He was born in 1962. (maybe he needs an interview w/ Diane Sawyer he’ll tell us eveything we need to know).
Luke Edhouse wrote: Britny W, I find it absurd that people continue to argue over this issue with ill-informed information. Mark Calaway did not graduate from high school in 1980, where did you get that “fact” from, where is your verified source? Calaway graduated from Waltrip High School, Houston, Texas in 1983, I’ve even had an e-mail from the school to confirm the records of his age, the spelling of his surname and the year he graduated. If you don’t believe me on the year he graduated, then just look for yourself on the Waltrip High School website’s Trivia Page, where they have even put the information in the public domain. This isn’t the only verified information source I have on the details of Mark Calaway’s surname spelling and date of birth etc. but it’s one of the more publically available ones.
Darke Bryde wrote: Just jumping into the fray over the “inaccuracies” of the otherwise very well written biography of the Undertaker. Those who say the IMDB database is inaccurate are correct. I did my own searching a couple of years ago because of all the conflicting data found on fan sites and sites that claim to “verify” info such as IMDB. Most of their information is indeed sent in by fans. I limited my search to official state records and according to the vital records databases of Harris County (where Houston is) it is indeed Mark William Calaway, born March 24, 1965.
John Towler wrote: I’d watched professional wrestling in passing on and off through the years when I was growing up, but never made a concerted effort to catch a particular event or match until I happened to be watching at a friend’s house when the Undertaker made his debut. I was hooked. This guy was something different and his whole persona was both compelling and ominous. Of all his “moves” (the rope walk, the Tombstone, etc.), my favorite was always one that wasn’t exactly a wrestling finishing technique. I loved it when he would get laid out by some overconfident opponent who would commence to prancing around the ring and then suddenly the Undertaker would slowly (or sometimes quickly) do a straight legged sit-up. His “resurrection move” I guess you’d call it. I tried it myself and never could figure out how he managed to do a sit-up like that, but anyway, it was awesome. I’ve drifted away from professional wrestling but still flip over to see what’s going on in the squared circle every once in awhile. Just a few months ago, in a moment of unbelievable coincidence, I was trying to explain to my wife about pro wrestling and describing some of the wrestlers. I mentioned how much I enjoyed watching the Undertaker and turned to the station that carries the wrestling shows to let her see some of the action herself. I got goose bumps the moment I heard the baneful gong announcing the entry of the Undertaker into the ring. I told her “I can’t believe it, that’s HIM!” I can’t even remember who he was fighting, but it was a good match and ended in an Undertaker victory. Frankly, I thing my wife was less than impressed, but I was thrilled. Today I found myself between projects so just decided to surf around the internet on random topics and decided to see what the Undertaker was up to. That’s when I found this site and found Ms. Quested’s article. I enjoyed reading the background on Mr. Calaway and learning a bit about the man behind the hooded hat. It was a good article and I don’t understand the fuss about whether he was born in 1962 or 1965 and other similar disputed facts in her piece. I respect that she presented an enjoyable article pulled together from sources she felt comfortable using and forewarned the reader that not everything could be verified 100%, but that she went with the best information she had that she believed to be accurate.
Sara Burkhart wrote: This is the BEST article that I’ve found so far about The Undertaker, Although I’m jealous of her, I’m very glad to see that Mark and Sara are happy together! I’d love to see more of their private life with their kid’s, I’m sure that they live in a great house.As a tribute to the greatest wrestler of all time(in my opinion), I used the front part of my body as a canvase to tattoo a head to toe portrait of him.Getting my left breast inked was not so bad…..untill they got to the rib cage(I would do ANYTHING for love).Keep up the good work!!!!!!
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