From Leather to Lace: The Gimmick Change of Adrian Adonis

Brian Damage

Few wrestlers character transformation was as big as that of Adrian Adonis, from rough and tough biker to a more effeminate heel, it would be a change that would make him a lot of money. Today we look at the WWF run of the late Adrian Adonis.

During the majority of Adrian Adonis’ wrestling career, he was known for a rough and tough biker gimmick. Adonis would always come to the ring dressed in leather from head to toe, wear sunglasses and simply have a nasty attitude. He hailed from New York City and had great success in tag team and singles wrestling everywhere he went.

As a part of the World Wrestling Federation, Adonis teamed with Dick Murdoch as the ‘North and South Connection’ and won the WWF tag team titles. He also challenged Bob Backlund and Pedro Morales for the WWF World and Intercontinental titles respectively. When Murdoch left the WWF to rejoin the NWA, Adonis stayed behind to focus solely on his singles career. He aligned himself with manager Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan and continued his tough guy persona.

In December of 1985, Adonis’ gruff image slowly began to change. He started with getting some blonde highlights in his hair and his physique started changing as well. While Adonis was never really a perfectly chiseled athlete, his weight started to balloon from a relatively slender 290 lbs to over 350 lbs. There are some who believe that this angered Vince McMahon, who always admired wrestlers with muscular bodies. It was rumored that McMahon decided to change Adrian Adonis’ gimmick as punishment for the severe weight gain.

In reality, however, McMahon was in the midst of his national expansion and wanted to create a sea of larger than life characters that would stand out. Many times, McMahon would “steal” gimmicks from other territories that he felt would get over in his national promotion. One of those gimmicks that McMahon admired was that of ‘Exotic’ Adrian Street. Adrian Street had an extremely flamboyant and semi effeminate gimmick that was successful everywhere he wrestled. The problem was, Street at the time was already in his 40’s and McMahon felt he was too old to bring to his new WWF.

The gimmick, however, was fair game to him and he chose his own Adrian for it. So, in late 1985, Adrian Adonis’ appearance began to change. He began carrying around a leather briefcase to the ring and to interviews. He had the words “Relax with Trudi” painted on this mysterious briefcase. The Relax with Trudi briefcase was believed to be Adonis’ more flamboyant persona trapped inside of it.

The next phase of Adonis’ transformation occurred when his manager Bobby Heenan “traded” Adonis and The Missing Link to fellow manager ‘The Mouth of the South’ Jimmy Hart for King Kong Bundy. This was actually done because while Heenan was a great manager, he simply wasn’t going to fit in with Adonis’ new look. The smaller stature of Jimmy Hart was more suited for the role. Soon, The Relax with Trudi briefcase disappeared and so did Adrian Adonis.

Jimmy Hart appeared on a Piper’s Pit episode where he introduced the new and improved ‘Adorable’ Adrian Adonis. Adonis came out with bleached blonde hair with bows in it and makeup. Piper looked all confused and asked Adrian what had happened to him. Adrian replied, “I have been rough and tough and mean all my life and I can wear exactly what I want! I did jump out of the closet and there were no brooms behind me.”

Adrian then took his leather jacket that he always wore to the ring and retired it and gave it to Piper as a gift. Roddy would then wear that jacket for many years after as a tribute to his real-life best friend Adonis.

‘Adorable’ Adrian would go on to wear women’s hats, dresses, pink tights and leg warmers. This was during a time when homosexuality wasn’t as widely understood or accepted. It was indeed very risque and controversial for its time. It was voted Worst Gimmick in 1986 by Dave Meltzer and the Wrestling Observer, but was it?

The ‘Adorable’ gimmick while controversial and widely panned by critics but made Adonis a lot of money. It gave him perhaps the biggest run of his career. While Adonis never won a title under the gimmick, he was one of the WWF’s top heels during that time frame. He wrestled most of the top babyfaces like The Junkyard Dog, Tito Santana and even main-evented several house shows challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF title.

After his match with Rowdy Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania 3 in which both Piper and Brutus Beefcake shaved Adonis’ head bald, the Adorable gimmick was about to get toned down. Adrian started wearing black tights and black robes again and was acting less effeminate. Adrian was fired not long before his new gimmick could take off. Apparently, it was due to Adrian’s poor behavior outside of the ring as well as not traveling under the WWF’s dress code.

Adrian would continue the Adorable gimmick in the AWA and was rumored to be headed to Jim Crockett Promotions and the NWA. He lost over 100 pounds and was getting back into top physical condition. That all ended on July 4th, 1988 when he and two other wrestlers were killed in a car accident in Canada. Adrian Adonis was just 33 years old.

6 thoughts on “From Leather to Lace: The Gimmick Change of Adrian Adonis

  1. Actually the rumors were Adrian AND Dick Murdoch were going back to the WWF. And several reports stated right after he died that Adrian had already signed his future WWF contract and was going to start appearing the upcoming Fall. Also a promoter was also arrested for stealing about $6000 in cash from the safe in Adonis’ hotel room right after he was killed.


  2. Pingback: Adrian Adonis Death – Wrestler Deaths

  3. Pingback: Adrian Adonis Death - Wrestler Deaths

  4. Pingback: Trading Places…On The Card: The Colossal Trade in The WWF | Ring the Damn Bell

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