Pat Patterson Talks About Being First Gay WWE Superstar in New Book
Newsweek – As a teenager in the late 1950s, Pat Patterson packed up his belongings and left his family home in French-speaking Montreal, Canada, and moved to the U.S. to pursue his dream of becoming a top wrestler. The only problem was he couldn’t speak a word of English.
Patterson, with a little in-ring experience behind him in Montreal, hopped on a Greyhound bus to Boston, borrowing the $20 fare from his sister, and tried not to look back. “I was 19-years-old, had no plan and barely any money,” the star recalls in his new autobiography, Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE.
The French-Canadian quickly began to impress promoters in traditional wrestling towns like Boston and Portland, Oregon. He even gained the respect of all-time great Bruno Sammartino, who was as close as wrestling came to having a figure with the stature of Muhammad Ali.
Nearly 20 years after he first arrived in the U.S., Patterson reached the pinnacle of his career in 1979 when, aged 38, he was crowned the World Wide Wrestling Federation’s inaugural Intercontinental Champion. To this day, that championship remains one of the most prestigious in the organization that later became World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). What most in the wrestling world didn’t realize, however, was that the new champion was gay.
Patterson, 75, retired from the ring in 1984. He stayed employed by the WWE, producing matches and acting as a mentor to rookies like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has credited Patterson with helping him land a contract in the mid-1990s. In 1996, he was inducted into the WWE’s Hall of Fame, honoring his achievements in the sport as both a wrestler and producer.
Retirement made it easier for Patterson to be more open about his sexuality with his closest friends in the business, including WWE CEO Vince McMahon, to whom he remains a close advisor.
In 2014, Patterson came out on the WWE reality show Legends’ House, a Big Brother-style series in which he and other wrestling icons lived together in a California mansion. Now, he has written about his life in and out of the closet for the first time with the release of his memoirs.
Newsweek spoke to Patterson about his autobiography, Accepted, the changing landscape of gay tolerance in sports and the WWE product today.
Newsweek : Some of your close friends in wrestling realized you were gay and were supportive, but did you experience any homophobia in your career?
Pat Patterson: Never. My whole life in the business, years and years, I’ve wrestled just about everybody in the business. I’ve never had a problem. I turned out to be so good that they liked to wrestle with me because I made them look good. I had a reputation for being a good guy and friendly with everybody. The word “gay” or “queer” was never brought up.
Of course, I hid it too. I didn’t want anybody to know I was gay. All these years, I had to hide. I traveled all over the country. A lot of guys had girlfriends here, girlfriends there, but I was too afraid to go to a gay bar. I had to wear a hat so I wouldn’t be seen. I hid for years. I kept saying to myself, “One of these days, I’ve got to come out.” That’s what I did on Legends’ House. I feel like I’m free now after all these years of hiding.
How did the autobiography come about?
It was not my idea to write a book. I’ve been in the [wrestling] business 58 years… Vince [McMahon] kept saying to me: “One of these days you’re going to have to write a book about your life and what you have accomplished. It’s a great story.” [WWE] kept pushing me and pushing me, so I said, okay, I’ll write it.
The title of the book—Accepted—that didn’t come from me. I had no idea. They showed me the cover of the book and I just took it because it sounds good.
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Pat Patterson is one of those guys for as great as his in-ring career was, you have unknowingly felt his influence on pro wrestling for decades. He’s literally done it all from wrestling, to refereeing to commentating to producing to writing. He was a driving force behind The Rock’s character during the attitude era and still remains part of Vince McMahon’s inner circle. As it turns out, he did this while also blazing a trail as the first gay WWE Superstar. It takes a strong person to share this type of story and quite frankly it’s more positives like this that we need from pro wrestling. Kudos to you Pat Patterson and thank you for sharing your story. I can’t wait to dive into this book.