Disclosure: “Flowers for Adrian: The Life and Death of Adrian Adonis” author John Ellul has contributed to Voices of Wrestling in the past.
The name Adrian Adonis might conjure up a series of images, primarily those of his time in the WWF as “Adorable” Adrian Adonis, the over-the-top gay character that is controversial no matter the era and how his body was during the biggest run of his life. The “Adorable” gimmick is one of those examples of the past that pro wrestling is ashamed about, but Adrian Adonis was more than this. John Ellul tells the tale of Keith Franke, real-life name of Adrain Adonis, in “Flowers for Adrian,” a biography about his life, a career retrospective, and an analysis of his contributions to pro wrestling with added commentary by his family, friends, and peers in the industry.
When I went into the book, I admit that I barely knew the man. All I knew was his Adorable gimmick, his WrestleMania 3 match against Roddy Piper and subsequent head shaving, and how wrestlers like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin on his podcast and Bret Hart in his book cite him as an influence and a great pro wrestler. He has always been on the list of “Vince screwed him up, but he was actually good” wrestlers. This is possibly what most modern fans know, if they actually know of him, since Adrian Adonis has been obscured in the discourse of pro wrestling’s past when compared to his peers.
Ellul has some arguments about why this is.
Adonis as a pro wrestler had a great career and pedigree. He wrestled all around the US, with memorable stints in the AWA, Southwest Championship Wrestling, in Amarillo with the Funks, in Portland for Don Owen for Pacific Northwest Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling, and of course the WWF. He also had memorable runs for NJPW and even toured Canada.
Not only did he get around, but he had memorable moments in many of those promotions. He had a tag team with Jesse Ventura called the East-West Connection, which ran roughshod of the AWA and was such a business mover that Dave Meltzer added it as a candidate for the WON Hall of Fame in 2022. He had another memorable tag team with Dick Murdoch which even won the WWF Tag Team titles and dominated Japan called the North South Connection. In Amarillo, he had a shoot “beat me in 5 minutes, and I’ll pay you” gimmick since he was actually a great grappler until one day, it almost blew up on his face. He feuded with Roddy Piper before the WWF and established a great friendship with him.
Adonis also had a couple of interesting tidbits about his career. He was in Bruno Sammartino’s last match in Madison Square Garden and Jack Bricoe’s last match of his career. Adonis had a main event in Madison Square Garden against Bob Backlund in the WWWF for the world title. He, alongside Dick Murdoch, were Vince McMahon Sr.’s last signings before handing the company to his son. He used the DDT, the Sharpshooter, and the Sleeper hold before being the definite finishers of Jake Roberts, Bret Hart, and Ted DiBiase on WWF TV. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels credit some influence from him at the beginning of their careers since he took care of them and advised them.
As can be seen, the man had so much more than being the “Adorable” one.
Another point of discussion in the book is the interesting comment that in the nostalgia-ridden world that is WWE, Adrian Adonis must be one of the few old-school wrestlers not in their Hall of Fame, video games, or even barely mentioned on TV or in retrospectives. It can be argued that the reason was due to his “Adorable” gimmick, which is something that WWE doesn’t want to touch with a twenty-foot poll, especially in this era. It was indeed a very offensive gimmick, one that when it is studied closely like it is in this book and is seen how it went, it’s even worse in hindsight. You can’t even apply the “it was like that in the past ” because even for the 80s, it was worse than it seems at first glance. One interesting chapter in the book is the legacy of this gimmick and the idea that some wrestlers and fans had about it.
I honestly think that if it wasn’t for the over-the-top gay paranoia gimmick and how he gained so much weight, we would have a better memory of this man. I am happy that this book exists because while his career wasn’t long and ended tragically in a car accident while trying not to hit a moose (really), Adrian Adonis left an undeniable stamp on pro wrestling.
Adonis made himself known in every territory, he had memorable opponents and stories everywhere he went, and everyone applauded his wrestling ability. He was known for being agile for his size and his bump-taking abilities, the type of crazy bumps that a Shawn Michaels would take. His was a template for a big agile man in pro wrestling. Most importantly, he was over and knew how to be over no matter what the promoter gave him. He even had his own tone and promo style littered with pop culture references since he was obsessed with TV and films.
John Ellul did a great job not only telling his story but analyzing his impact on the wrestling business. No stone is left unturned, and I liked how he even addressed rumors about Adonis’ life and even death, like when they say that after the car crash a ring crew stole from his body. Everything he did for the different promotions, storylines, and opponents is detailed. Another thing that I appreciated is that the last chapter is one of recommended matches with their contexts, so you can watch them with those in mind. This is something that would be interesting to add to more wrestling biographies.
“Flowers for Adrian” is successful in honoring the life of its subject, both the good and the bad. It invites you to explore one interesting wrestling career and its effect on the business. It will make you meditate about the lives of pro wrestlers, especially those forgotten by time. But Adonis had the kind of magnetism that it was impossible to forget him, and I suspect that this book is the beginning of a career retrospective of the man by the fans.