Dark Side of the Ring: The Many Faces of Luna Vachon – What We Learned

Dark Side of the Ring Luna Vachon

Another week, another dark look into the troubled life of a professional wrestling legend. Last week’s Dark Side of the Ring focused on the double life of Johnny K-9; a pro wrestler whose wrestling fame was overshadowed only by his life in the criminal underworld, where bikers, bombs and bedlam were let loose in Canada. This week’s episode of Dark Side of the Ring takes a look at the many faces of Luna Vachon; a trailblazing women’s wrestler who has done as much for the progression of women’s wrestling in the United States as perhaps any other performer, past or present – though was tormented by both substance abuse and her own personal battle with mental health during a time when mental health was not talked about nearly enough. Let’s take a look at what we learned from this eye-opening episode.

Background Information

Luna Vachon, real name Gertrude Elizabeth Vachon, was born January 12th, 1962. In 1985, she began her career in professional wrestling, having been trained by the controversial legend, The Fabulous Moolah and her own adoptive family, professional wrestling legends Paul (her adoptive father) and Vivian Vachon (her adoptive aunt). Luna hailed from professional wrestling royalty and was therefore always destined to enter the family profession.

A Troubled, Unique Persona

The episode begins with friends and family (including Hell’s Kitchen legend Van Hurd, who is apparently Luna’s son?!) describing Luna as the wild, pioneering performer she was. “Wild”, “satanic” and “schizophrenic” are just a few of the words used to describe Luna as both a character and as a real, living person. Van mentions how she would be “self-medicating” with drugs every day and Gangrel, ex-husband of Luna, follows up with how he’d have to remind her the day after a drug and drink binge that she had been “punching this guy and this guy”. This sets the scene for much of the episode.

Luna The Mother

Van begins the post-intro by talking about his mother and how he saw her. To Van, he grew up seeing her as “real”; and her craft, professional wrestling, always seemed “real” to him, too. He brings up how he remembers her once bringing a snake around her neck (a staple of her early wrestling persona) to school one time and how she once gave him a hug – with the snake around her neck – and the snake “almost got me”. He describes it as both embarrassing and normal, “that was my Mum”. Throughout the episode, however, Van acknowledges that his mother was hardly around – with life on the road taking most of her time.

Gangrel’s First Meeting

Gangrel describes his first meeting with Luna at a Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) show. He was in the locker room, she “booted the door open” and in her trademark, growl-like voice, she pointed at him and shouted “fresh meat” before exiting again. “I didn’t want anything to do with her after that… but we became friends”. They both agreed that they would never “go out with someone like you” and what do you know, they eventually got married. That comes later.

Tragedy at Four Years Old

Luna’s adoptive father and pro wrestling legend, Paul “The Butcher” Vachon, recalls how he first met the young girl who would become his adoptive daughter and a professional wrestling icon in her own right. When Luna was just four years old, her real father committed suicide by gunshot at the motel he owned. Paul had, by chance, been staying there that night. Luna’s mother knocked on his door, frantically informing Paul of the news. Eventually, Paul would marry the widow; adopting Luna in the process. “I was the only father she knew”. She would soon fall in love with the Vachon family profession and desire to become a pro wrestler herself, much to the chagrin of the family.

Mad Maxine’s Account of Luna

Women’s wrestling legend, Mad Maxine (real name Jeannine Mjoseth) – who, like Luna, trained at Moolah’s women’s wrestling school – says that when encountering Luna in her early days in wrestling, she was “sweet” and looked every bit the part of “babyface”. She recounts how Luna would get mad if she was told she looked like a babyface, as she only ever saw herself as a heel. Maxine and Gangrel both describe how Luna, wild extrovert that she was, would always be the complete opposite around Moolah; Gangrel says she’d act “beaten and shaken”. Despite the dangers of working for Moolah, now infamous for the way she treated fellow women’s wrestlers – especially under-aged trainees looking to break into the business – Luna told Maxine that “Moolah was the only show in town” and was willing to put up with the negative aspects to proceed with her career.

Championship Wrestling From Florida

Luna got her big break in Championship Wrestling from Florida during a time when the promotion was dominated by the satanic, grizzly character of Kevin Sullivan. Her gimmick, initially, was that of a local reporter. However, much like comic book villain Harley Quinn, she descended into insanity; becoming the maniacal, Luna Vachon character we all know and love. Mad Maxine says the “Luna” in her name was actually short for “lunatic”.

Immediate Troubles

Friends of Luna describe how she was “doing one hundred pills a day” and that she was raped, possibly more than once. Luna quickly fell into the dark side of pro wrestling; where countless amounts of drugs, sex and problems arose almost daily. It is also mentioned here that Luna was possibly abused by her aunt, professional wrestler Vivian Vachon. Gangrel admits that he believes some of these stories with regards to Vivian Vachon, whereas Paul Vachon states that “I don’t believe it, knowing the family she is from”.

Mental Health Troubles

Narrator, Chris Jericho, says here that much of Luna’s character was derived from her own personal battles with mental health issues. Gangrel describes how she was being tested from the age of two years old for a number of conditions, most notably dyspraxia, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He also states how she had a number of different personalities which could change within as little as ten minutes. Luna’s son, Van, says how there was definitely a “chemical imbalance” and that she was certainly bipolar.

Potential Domestic Abuse Victim

Luna dated fellow professional wrestler, Dick Slater. It is around this point in the episode where friends and family bring up the stories surrounding the rumors that Dick Slater domestically abused Luna. “She would come to work covered in bruises”. However, Van, who describes Slater as his “first stepdad”, says he never saw anything. This does not mean it didn’t happen, however.

Marriage to Tom Nash

Gangrel was involved in a relatively prominent tag team with Luna’s second husband, Tom Nash. Gangrel mentions how the three of them (Luna was the manager of their tag team) would travel on the road together. He admits that he was terrified of Luna, but they became best friends after an incident where Luna caused a giant scar on his back, after biting him. Van says here that “Tom would go to work and Dave (Gangrel) would come over… that’s some shady s**t right here”. Nash and Gangrel had a big fight over Gangrel’s affair and the tag team, as well as Luna and Nash’s marriage, fell apart. She would go on to marry Gangrel.

Debut in the WWF

On April 4th 1993, Luna would debut in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) at WrestleMania IX. She would accompany then-Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels to the ring for his match with Tatanka. Van said how this moment was a dream come true for his Mum, admitting that “she did it, she did it”. He acknowledges here that she was the first female wrestler to be in a WWF video game. Van also mentions how he would see his mother “maybe once or twice a year”, as he lived with his grandmother.

Relegation to Valet Status

Friends and colleagues of Luna, including Mick Foley, Madusa and Max Maxine, refer to the tragic waste of talent of relegating Luna to “valet status”. She was a legitimately talented women’s wrestler during a time when, as Foley acknowledges, there was not a lot of emphasis on women’s wrestling “in the WWE or even in the United States as a whole”. Madusa refers to professional wrestling in the US at that time as being akin to a “men’s committee” and “men circle-jerking around a round table”. Madusa also recounts a situation where she wanted to drop the WWF Women’s Championship to Luna, so that she could finally show off her in-ring talent, but Luna refused. Luna’s frustration at not being recognized as a wrestler saw her strike up a friendship with fellow ultra-talented wrestler demoted to valet status, “Sensational” Sherri Martel.

Problem with Drugs

Gangrel recounts how Luna would be asleep constantly, often as much as three days on end. If he confronted her about the drugs, she would snap at him. Luna’s voice is used here to describe how she was fired from the WWF, with the reason being she was sent to rehab and let go from the company “for her own good”. Van states here that he grew up learning “don’t do drugs” from what he knew of his mother’s own experiences with substance abuse.

Time in ECW

In the mid-1990s, Luna Vachon joined Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). It was here where Luna was allowed to showcase her talent; being able to go toe-to-toe with the men in the ring. Mick Foley says that she was believable in the ring and because of how she presented herself, there was “no doubt in the fans’ mind that she could kick Stevie Richards’ a**”.

Return to the WWF

The provocative, adult nature of the Attitude Era saw Luna Vachon brought back to the then-WWF. However, she would once again be assigned to the role of supporting act, as a valet/manager. During this time, women’s wrestling was demoted further – excessively sexualized to the point where the top women’s “wrestlers” in the promotion were supermodels with little-to-no experience in the ring. Luna would finally get to have a big time match, but would be defeated by former model, Sable.

Luna’s voice is used again, where she talks about Sable, who admitted to her “I don’t have to learn how to take bumps because Vince [McMahon] said I am going to be Women’s Champion”. Kim Sacks, ex-wrestler and friend of Luna, says how Sable was a model who didn’t want to take a scratch or a bruise, whilst Luna states in the audio that she had to pay her dues; grow up without her children (who grew up without her) and stop talking to her family, just to lose to Sable. At WrestleMania XIV, she had to put over Sable strongly and was told by Vince McMahon “if you bruise or scratch her, you will be fired”. Successfully putting over Sable to strongly and not being acknowledged backstage afterwards “hurt her”, according to both Foley and Gangrel.

Final Release from the WWF

The increasingly sexualized nature of women’s wrestling in the WWF, and her refusal to comply with its direction, led to Luna being released by the company for the final time in 2000. Her substance abuse went out of control following her release and, on one occasion, she wrote out “f**k you, Vince” with her cocaine, before taking it. She would return to waitressing and Foley offers a theory that a lot of the drug abuse post-her WWF release was a sad attempt to re-live some of her wrestling years, as well as to mask the pains of her life. Van says that even after Luna left wrestling, they didn’t talk that much and Luna’s mental illness prevented her from meeting her granddaughter, as she felt she wasn’t good enough.

Luna Vachon’s Death

Luna Vachon battles with addiction and mental illness led to a tragic death from an overdose on August 27th, 2010, at the age of 48 years old. Mick Foley had spoken to her a few weeks prior to her death, where she had told him that she was in a “good place”. Foley recounts a beautiful quote from Luna here: “In a world full of butterflies, it took balls to be a caterpillar.” Gangrel admits feeling some regret over the divorce and her death, feeling it was selfish of him in some ways to get out of the relationship and look after himself. “I miss her”, he says.

Luna’s Regrets

At the end of the episode, a clip of Luna is played where she admits some of her regrets in life: that she couldn’t change things for women’s wrestling more, that she was never there for her family like how she wanted to be and that she never won the WWF Women’s Championship. As Mick Foley says, though: women’s wrestling has come so far in the United States in recent years and some of the best wrestlers in the world, period, are now recognized as being women. Luna helped pave the way for that and her contribution should never, and never will be, forgotten.

More From LWOS Pro Wrestling

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. Catch Dark Side of the Ring on VICE, with new episodes airing each Thursday at 9 PM EST.