January 2015 - Cover Story: Sergeant Slaughter
Written by Teresa Ewers
Oh, the memories I have watching WWF with my dad, screaming at the television when Rick Flair would fight with Hulk Hogan or watching Macho Man Randy Savage take on Rowdy Roddy Piper. But there was one character that stood out to me - covered in camouflage and barking in the ring. Sergeant Slaughter stood for America, taking down bad guys like The Iron Sheik who spoke badly about our country. I won't lie. When I heard that Sgt. Slaughter was making a stop in Albuquerque for the Albuquerque Comic Con I got giddy, and I was even more excited when I got a message on my machine from the drill instructor. I didn't know what do expect with this interview, but I learned that The Serge and I had something in common and I was surprised with how it ended.
Let's start from the beginning. Robert Remus was born August 27, 1948. He had the same memories I did when he was young when it came to watching matches with his father. “I used to watch wrestling with my dad and boxing on Friday nights - Pabst Blue Ribbon was the sponsor,” remembers Remus. “It was just one of those times in my life that I’ve never forgotten because it was time that I got to spend with my dad. He was a very busy man, trying to put food on the table. He was a farmer and a roofer. He did all different kinds of things to support us. But when it came to wrestling I always remember my mother saying “It’s Saturday night!” Wrestling was on and we got to pick out a TV dinner or pot pie of our choice. We would all sit in the living room with our TV trays and watch wrestling together, so I was a fan all my life.” Remus attended Eden Prairie High School in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where he both wrestled and played football. After high school, Remus decided to serve his country and join U.S. Marine Corps, becoming a Sergeant. While on leave, Remus, thinking of what to do next, was approached by a friend who was a sports writer; he invited Remus to join him on a story about a wrestling group. Remus was up for it and imagined what he was in for. “I imagined it was going to be a gymnasium somewhere with weights and all kinds of rings and trampoline - all the things you need to become a professional wrestler,” says Remus. “But we came up on this barn with cars out front, with wrestlers inside throwing each other and trainers yelling.” One of those trainers asked if there were any volunteers in the audience that would like to get in the ring. Remus took a moment on the decision “I’m in this barn with this boxing ring and chickens, and horses walking around,” jokes Remus. “Everyone else was a reporter with a pad and paper, so for a moment I thought to myself like that old movie, ‘You talking’ to me?’” So, Remus begrudgingly got into the ring and found himself taking part in a few fights, including one with a man who would become the infamous Rick Flair. The trainers, frustrated from Remus pinning everyone they threw in the ring with him, decided that they needed to take him on. “One of the trainers finally said ‘Get down on all fours, one of us is going to take you on.’” He took on Billy Robinson, who was the Britain Empire Champion and started the match by throwing his shin to the back of Remus’ foot, trying to break his leg, showing his disapproval of Remus embarrassing his training camp. Remus wasn’t having any of it. “That’s when I thought, ‘No more Mister Nice Guy’ - I came up swinging and he came up swinging and we rolled outside the ring and had to be broken apart.” Remus took a breath out and found himself having a conversation with one of the other trainers of the camp. Both Marines, they started talking and the trainer offered him the opportunity to fight with his organization. After Remus retired from the Corp, he took that opportunity and has been wrestling ever since.
To think that the day at the barn would lead to one of most memorable characters in WWF/WWE history. Slaughter reflected on that feeling of being famous and recognizable to the public. “It’s hard to describe,” explains Remus. “It took me awhile to adapt, making the ring my second home. I was very nervous and you almost lose your strength - I had to go into a zone, which worked with my career. I’ve wrestled in front of 30 people and I wrestled in front of 200,000 people, it was all the same to me because it was all part of my job to entertain them.” One of the things that was difficult at times was the talk - the talk of wrestling being fake. Remus shared his feelings on that topic. “It hurt your feelings because you work so hard to entertain them,” says Remus. “My other wrestling compatriots would be offended, go after them and get them in the ring, but I was the opposite. I would just nod my head and say, ‘Well, believe what you want to believe.’ I had that same question in my mind, until I got into that ring the first day and found out they were pretty serious. But now it’s grown into such an entertainment sport that people don’t question it any more. They just watch it, enjoy it, and follow the storylines.”
The interview took a two-part turn with Remus when I asked him about “the moment.” Every celebrity figure has one; that moment when you realize that you made it, that you’re a star. This question led to one answer and then a second phone call with a follow-up. “When I was in Madison Square Garden for the first time.” shared Remus. “Back when Vince McMahon’s father was running the company [WWF], when you were coming in to challenge the champion, all you did was television. So when I stepped into Madison Square Garden for the first time I thought about all the stars of entertainment that have sat in that same locker room that I was in. I walked out before the crowd was there and walked into the ring. It was so quiet and I turned myself around in the ring and imagined the crowd.” That night they sold out the Garden and Forum next to it. “When you do something like that, you know you’ve done something right.” says Remus. “When you have other wrestlers that you know from days past coming up thanking you for putting asses in the seats, that was the one moment. Other than seeing yourself as an action figure or a cartoon character on G.I. Joe. I was the first living and only living hero on G.I. Joe! As I go through Comic Con, I realize what I created.” After more thought to the question, Remus realized that there were other moments that made him realize that he really made it. “Another point in my career is when seven Presidents asked to meet me,” shared Remus. “It kind of let me know that I was on the map and people knew who I was.” I just had to put him on the spot and asked him if he remembered the seven Presidents. “This is like Jeopardy,” laughed Remus. “I should know these like the back of my hand.” Remus shared that Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. & George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Barack Obama asked to see him personally. “Reagan actually invited me to the White House, and flew an American flag over the Capitol in my honor,” remembers Remus. “He invited me to a dinner with around 200 celebrities.” After what seemed like a quick photo with the President, Remus was surprised to be ushered by Secret Service to another room where Remus found President Reagan saluting him. “He wanted me to put him in a Cobra Clutch and Secret Service didn’t think that was such a good idea,” says Remus. “So, he said why don’t I give you a push-up and the Secret Service didn’t think that was a great idea either, so finally they said just take a picture with you and his wife.”
With celebrities and Presidents asking for his attention, I wondered if there was that one person that had him star-struck. “Not only President Reagan, who I was a big fan of, but Paul Newman,” shared Remus. “Camouflage was all a part of my wardrobe. I was having a jacket and tuxedo in camouflage made by a tailor where I lived in Connecticut and my attorney was at the tailor when Paul Newman walked in to get some work done. He saw one of my camouflage jackets, held it up to his body and saw that it was three times his size and asked ‘What kind of animal would wear something like this?’ My attorney said, ’Sergeant Slaughter’ and Newman said, ‘Oh I heard he lived in the area.’ I asked my tailor if there was enough camo to make a jacket for Newman, which there was, so I had one made and put a note in the pocket and it said, ‘Dear Private Newman, I heard you were wondering what type of animal wears camouflage. Well, men wear camouflage. Welcome to the club.’” About two weeks later, Remus received a beautifully handwritten card from Newman and they were friends until his death on September 26, 2008. “I was always awe struck, even though we were friends, about how great an actor he was and his life. I truly, truly miss him.”
In 2004, Slaughter’s power, honor and courage in the ring led to his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. Despite his brief span as an Iraqi sympathizer as a new angle for the WWF, and working with The Iron Sheik, which lead to disappointment from his fans, Serge saw the light and wanted his country. Besides, the Cobra Clutch is so much better than the Camel Clutch! Slaughter’s patriotic spirit could not be matched and truly made him The Great American Hero (yes, there is your G.I. Joe pun). The honor of being inducted in the Hall of Fame was a wonderful moment for Slaughter. “That was a real honor because you were chosen by your peers,” shared Remus. “It’s a moment when you let down your guard and you thank those that voted you in and you’re looking at all the past and present superstars that paved the road for you and who you paved the road for. It’s a very emotional time. It’s one of those nights you want to say everything and thank everyone - it’s the Academy Awards® of Wrestling - so you just don’t want to walk up there with a piece of paper, you want to do it from your heart. It was a very emotional night and my family was there. I got to thank them for allowing me to follow my dream. It was a really incredible night.” Remus also reflected on how wrestling has changed over the years, becoming part of the digital age and using social media to expand its presence. He expressed that he just hasn’t become part of that age, enjoying meeting face to face with the fans. “Everything is so different now with social media.” shares Remus. “I am not a social media type person, so I enjoy going to the events and meet my fans personally. I don’t see much, the tweeting and the texting and everything. It’s not very personable to me and it’s just great to have someone come up to you, salute you, give you a hug and say ‘Thank you, I’m a huge fan’ and know, by the way, that they’re there and how they’re acting that they are - waiting for an autograph, or a picture or putting them in a Cobra Clutch; they watched all those years. There’s nothing like meeting your fans and your fans meeting you. It’s a great time.” With this advance, bringing wrestling to new generations, when it comes to his legacy Remus was happy to share. “I guess my legacy would be that people were entertained by me and when I’m gone they’ll miss me. Not only the fans, but everyone. I hope I’ve done things in this world and in my life that will make people miss me when I’m gone.”
When a celebrity tells you that this interview and the questions asked will keep him up for a few hours, thinking about what a 30 year long history has meant for him, his family and his life, it really leaves an impression. The name Sergeant Slaughter will continue to resonant in my heart and mind and in the hearts and minds of his fans. Whether he’s putting them in a Cobra Clutch or ordering them to “drop and give him 20”, he is grateful for the love and praise his followers bring and looking forward to what the future holds - in and out of the ring.
Listen to the full 2-part interview at https://soundcloud.com/NMEntertains or on our Podcast Page.