Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Remembering Guy Coffey by Brian Tramel

----RRO remembers Memphis legend Guy Coffey.

Guy Coffey
----In the middle of a day of editing Yearbook 2010, I get a text that simply says, “Mr. Coffey killed himself.” As I said, “Oh me,” and laid my head down, my girlfriend knew something was wrong.  She had no idea who Mr. Coffey was, but she knew by the tone of my voice that he must mean something to me.  And as the day went by and I talked to several people, it really dawned on me what Guy Coffey was to me. 

----Guy Coffey was the gimmick man.  He was part of my childhood.  I have a whole folder full of photos I bought - $1 each - from Mr. Coffey’s gimmick table.  He was always really nice and would answer all the questions of a 12 year old boy wanting to know EVERYTHING about wrestling.  He would later on in my life be the man who actually helped me get into the matches for FREE.  He was nice and a very kind man, and that is what everyone said that I talked to that day. 

-Steve Crawford sent the following history of Mr. Coffey.

From the Ellis Auditorium to the Mid South Coliseum.  From Nick Gulas to Jerry Jarrett.  From the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll to the King of Professional Wrestling.  From the 1950's to the modern era, Memphis professional wrestling changed venues, changed promoters, and wrestlers came and went.  The one constant fixture throughout those times was one Mr. Guy Coffey.

As everyone knows, no matter how great a quarterback is, he can’t succeed without an effective offensive line.  No politician can be successful without an effective staff operation.  Every business needs dedicated, loyal employees that attend to the details of the operation.  Mr. Coffey took care of many of the operational details for the Memphis cards, allowing Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler to focus on the in ring product.

Often Mr. Coffey worked quietly behind the scenes.  When Elvis Presley attended wrestling cards in the 1950's, it was Mr. Coffey that would provide a private entrance for The King.  (Elvis was not only a big fan of the action in the squared circle, but he also went on several dates with wrestler Penny Banner).  Guy Coffey effectively executed many of the functions required for the wrestling cards during his long career, to include overseeing the concession sales, working as the timer and ringing the bell.  During the glory days of the Memphis promotion, during the late 1970's and early 1980's, Mr. Coffey and his wife Bonnie were best known for overseeing the sales of the merchandise/”gimmick” table, which was a major source of revenue for the boys.  At times, he also worked as the payoff man for the Monday night cards.

Guy had a successful career serving as the manager for both the Ellis Auditorium and the Cook Convention Center, prior to working full time for Jarrett.  He also worked as a member of the Tennessee Athletic Commission, which gave him influence on the regulating body that oversaw the promotion.  However, he loved professional wrestling so much, he would do any required task to help the promotion, to include selling tickets or setting up chairs at spot shows. 

Guy developed a strong, lasting friendship with Jerry Lawler and continued to travel with Lawler, selling the King’s merchandise, at shows in the Memphis area until his passing.  He was universally admired and respected by everyone in the Memphis wrestling community.  His occasional television appearances and low key demeanor did not reflect the scope of contributions to Memphis wrestling.  In the words of The Mouth of the South, “Without him, there would have never been a Jimmy Hart.” 

----Mr. Coffey, along with his wife Bonnie, were good friends with a friend of mine.  She helped them on the gimmicks table, and when I started my journey “inside” the wrestling business, she introduced me to Mr. Coffey.  His wife and he were always very nice to me, and even when my friend was not at the matches, Mr. Coffey would wave to the ticket office that it was OK for me to walk through the door for FREE.  Even in the days that Jerry Lawler had asked for them to not let me backstage anymore, Mr. Coffey had no problem letting me in.

-Dusty Wolfe shared a funny story about Mr. Coffey in his book, Journey of a Journeyman.  When he went to the Memphis territory, he was asking around to find out who paid them after TV tapings.  Ken Wayne was quick to help and tell him that it was “Mr. Coffey”, and Wolfe thought it was a rib – he thought Wayne was telling him to get his payoff from the coffee machine – “Mr. Coffee”!

----Mr. Coffey was also instrumental in helping me see many live Memphis Wrestling TV tapings.  During the summer before I went to college [1985], my friend Lynn and I went to many tapings.  The problem was that we never really knew when we were going to be able to go.  In those days, you got into the tapings for free, but had to request the tickets.  So we would start out to go to tapings at 8:00 AM, when they started at 11:00 AM.  Mr. Coffey would always answer my request at the desk at Channel 5 and wave us on to the studio before all the other people came in.

----Mr. Coffey was seen by many in the business and some of the guys that I talked to didn’t even know what his official job was.  As Steve says, he was primarily the “gimmicks man”, and was considered “Lawler’s guy,” because even up to his death he always traveled with Jerry Lawler to the matches.  Lawler was very close to Mr. Coffey and always tried to make sure he was happy and taken care of. 

-Randy Hales was called by Jerry Lawler.  Hales went on to contact many wrestling personalities from the past. Hales contacted Brandon Baxter, Eddie Marlin, Jeff Jarrett, Bill Dundee, Frank Morrell and Dave Brown.  Lawler had contacted him and ask him to call some of the people for him.  Everyone was upset that someone they called a friend had passed away.  Hales commented about Coffey, “He was somebody you liked.  He was always on time and would do anything you asked with no trouble.”  Hales went on to say, “Coffey was buddies with Fargo and helped him out a lot, then he went on to help Lawler.  He was known by everyone as “Lawler’s guy".”

----When someone commits suicide, as everyone knows, the question is always “Why?”.  Mr. Coffey lost his wife a few years back.  He was going through some problems with his son and grandson recently, with his son attempting suicide and ending up as an invalid. The stress of all of this is what the people I spoke to speculated was the reason why he shot himself.  Apparently the gun and a note lay by his side when he was found. 

-Dutch Mantell said on Facebook, "a nice man, a respectful man and one who worked very hard."

-Matthew Mullins sent in the following,
When I first had the pleasure of interacting with Mr. Coffey at least 30 years ago, the world was a totally different place.  First and foremost, wrestling was "real".  You heard rumors about the "good guys" and the "bad guys" arriving at the show together...but I personally never saw it.  There was no internet, very few wrestling magazines, and Memphis Wrestling was one of my favorite things. You would see Mr. Coffey on TV on Saturday mornings, then...he just might take your money when you bought your ticket at the National Guard Armory on Saturday night.  Then during the show, he might make some management decision on the mike in the ring.

In that trademark powder blue leisure suit that I can see so vividly in my mind, hell, he might have secretly owned the whole show. In those days the "bad guys" were mean.  You couldn't catch one after the show for an autograph.  But if you were smart and you were nice, this wonderful little man who was behind the curtain could even take your sign or program back stage and get you that cherished autograph.  In all those years I saw him as a child, I never witnessed anything but kindness and professionalism from Mr. Coffey.

And one lesson I think Mr. Coffey would want us all to take from his shining example, is that professionalism will always be recognized whether you take the people's money for their ticket or you're in the ring making corporate decisions about the championship match. Maybe we should all try a little harder for what is in my mind called, "the suspension of disbelief".
-Jimmy Blaylock sent the following,

Mr. Coffey would tell me about how he would meet Elvis at the back door of the Mid-South Coliseum to let him in to watch wrestling...He said Elvis would sit at the top where people couldn't see him.  He said Elvis loved wrestling...It was so amazing to listen to some of his stories that only Guy Coffey could tell...he will be missed....Guy Coffey was a first class person and the man loved professional wrestling.

-Downtown Bruno was not lost for words talking about Mr. Coffey with a few stories.

In Forrest City at the Civic Center everybody dressed on the big theater stage because the dressing rooms were very small and congested.  One Friday night back in 1986, as about 20 wrestlers, referees, managers and such were all in various stages of undress and in other compromising positions (discussing business, etc..), suddenly somebody said, "Oh my God, somebody opened the curtain!” There was a big Orpheum style stage curtain that obviously would be opened up for concerts, plays, and other performances that would take place on the stage.  For some reason, Mr. Coffey thought pulling the ropes and opening the curtain was a good idea!!!  I never saw so many guys run around in different directions in my life without the police being involved!  Lawler asked Coffey why he opened the curtain, and he said, "I thought you wanted it open, Jerry."  Who knows why he thought that, but the story lives on!!! 

I got in trouble for DWI in Memphis back in the early 80's and got arrested and booked at 201 Poplar on a Sunday night.  I had to be at the Coliseum the next night for the regular Monday night event.  I had two fears, #1:  that I wouldn’t get bonded out in time to be at the Coliseum, and #2:  that Lawler would find out.  Well, my first fear didn’t materialize, because Eddie and Doug Gilbert and Zeek Rivers all came and got me out Monday morning.  BUT, when I got to the Coliseum, Lawler was furious and wouldn’t even let me work that night!!!  When I found out that Coffey told him, since he found out through a jailer he knew or something, I asked him, "Mr. Coffey, why did you tell Lawler I was in jail last night?"  He answered, "Oh, I didn't tell him; I just asked him if he knew about it!"....classic Coffey.

People that knew him well like me will always remember the necktie that he wore in a unique fashion without a knot, the notebook with all the houses and advances for the past umpteen years at the Coliseum, the walkie talkie, and his meticulous hair."

----I’m not sure of the actual age of Mr. Coffey, because I have been told 81 and 86.  The only thing that was revealed to me in his note was that he wanted to be cremated.  His wishes were granted as a graveside service was held on 1.12.11 at Memorial Park in Memphis, TN. 

Steve Crawford who helped with this article would like to add thanks to Memphis wrestling historian Mark James.  He provides additional information on the contributions of Guy Coffey in his superlative book Memphis Wrestling History Presents 1982: A Legendary Year from the Golden Era.  Some of the details in this article would not exist without Mark’s fine work.