Former wrestler Marc Mero, aka “Johnny B. Badd,” led a deeply self-destructive life for a long time. Family members tried to convince him to change his ways, but all to no avail. Drug addiction, drink problems, health issues and personal tragedies dogged the ex-WWF star. And it seemed like there was no way out until a painful revelation rocked his world. It changed him forever. Now, Mero is a motivational speaker who tries to convince young people not to let their own realizations about their life choices come too late.
Mero, a native of Buffalo, New York, had an interest in sports ever since he was a child. His family’s poverty was a millstone around his neck, however. He grew up wearing second-hand clothes, some of them bought from yard sales that his richer schoolmates would hold. The other kids in his class would bully and mock him, but Mero never spoke out about it. Instead, with the support of his loving mother, he channelled his anger into sport.
He started off playing hockey and then football, before turning to boxing. He went on to win four New York State titles, but it was another sport that ended up being his calling. In 1990 Mero became a professional wrestler – and he was extremely good at it. By the following year, in fact, he’d been signed to a contract, and his ring name was a nod to a famous Chuck Berry song: Johnny B. Badd.
As Johnny B. Badd, Mero had a seriously successful – and seriously lucrative – wrestling career. He fought big names such as Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker and The Rock. He married another wrestler, Rena “Sable” Greek, although the pair amicably divorced in 2004. And despite the injuries he picked up in the ring, which were numerous, Mero seemed to have it all. Like many sporting superstars before him, however, the champion wrestler had fallen prey to drug addiction.
The wrestling life, unfortunately, contributed to Mero’s drug problems. He spoke out about these issues in an interview with World Wrestling Insanity in 2011. “You find yourself doing things that you shouldn’t be doing health wise – keeping your body strong through anabolic steroids, taking pain medication way beyond the doses you should be taking just to get through a wrestling match without looking like you’re limping or hurt,” Mero revealed.
Mero’s addictions made him push his family away, but he couldn’t avoid the difficulties that his lifestyle was causing him. During his whole career as a wrestler, however, he was tested only a couple of times for drugs, making his addiction easy to hide. But over time he saw many of his fellow wrestlers and good friends die from steroid abuse, overdoses and suicide.
Throughout it all, however, Mero’s mother remained steadfastly by his side. She supported him in his career, never lost faith in her son and would even wait up for him while he stayed out till 4:00 a.m. partying. Mero, though, repaid her only with selfishness. Sometimes, he’d see her in the audience at his football games and pretend that he didn’t know her. On other occasions she would corner him and beg him to talk to her about his problems, but he never did.
Though Mero loved his mother, he continued to push her away and treated her badly. When he was a child he’d dreamed of one day being able to give her a large house for herself, spurred on by hearing her crying alone in her bedroom after working long hours to provide for her family. But during that dark time in Mero’s life, it seemed that the only person he really cared about was himself.
“My Mom built an amazing foundation for her children. I only wished I realized it sooner,” Mero lamented on Facebook in May 2017. Unfortunately, he was never able to properly thank her for her love and support. While Mero was on tour in Hiroshima, Japan, in April 1995 competing in sold-out wrestling matches, he received a 3:00 a.m. phone call. It was terrible news.
His mother had passed away from a stroke, aged just 58. Mero was devastated by the news. “I ran out into the streets of Hiroshima and just looked to the heavens and shouted, ‘Mom, I’m so sorry,’” he recalled on Facebook in 2017. He was subsequently racked with guilt for not having appreciated her enough and for pushing her away when she just wanted to help him.
That guilt changed Mero’s life, however. At her funeral, he reflected on all the life choices that he’d made so far and vowed to do better. That revelation later formed the basis of a viral motivational speech that he gave in 2015. “I flew home for her funeral and I was so nervous to walk up to her casket, so I just stood away in the back,” he later recounted “And then I finally got the nerve to walk up to her. As I got closer, I could see my mom for the first time. She was so beautiful.”
“I just stood over and I said, ‘Mom, you are my hero. Everything I am, everything I hoped to be, it was because of you… you loved me so much, you gave me a life, you’re the only one that ever believed in me.’” he continued. “How did I repay her? By getting drunk, by getting high, by getting stupid, by hanging out with losers? For what? All she ever wanted to do was talk to me. I wish I could talk to you now, Mom.”
That particular speech of Mero’s – delivered on Mother’s Day, no less – swept the Internet. It wasn’t the only speech he’d ever made, however. While putting his life back together, Mero had formed a charity called Champion of Choices in 2007. This was a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping young people make the right choices in life, avoid substance abuse and avoid the bullying of others.
Mero’s motivational speeches, delivered at high schools around the U.S., described the journey that he’d taken after deciding to improve his life. It hadn’t always been an easy quest. Horrifically, just two weeks after losing his mother, he lost his brother Guy as well. Guy, who was about to become a father, died in a freak accident. He fainted at a doctor’s office, hit his head on the floor and never regained consciousness.
After those horrific events, so close together, Mero had actually considered suicide. In 2003 he picked up a loaded gun in his Florida home and considered the logistics of shooting himself in the shower. He chose the shower instead of the bedroom, he told the website Syracuse in 2010, because he figured that would be easier and less messy for the people who would eventually find his body.
But he couldn’t go through with it. “I had this vision of hell,” he told the interviewer. “I mean, it was a vision as clear to me as you are sitting across this table. And I fell to my knees and prayed to God to change my life. The next morning I decided to become the happiest person on Earth. That was seven years ago, and I haven’t had a bad day since.” Indeed, Mero often credits his Christian faith for helping him overcome so much tragedy.
It seems incredible that Mero could decide to be happy after experiencing so much tragedy. In addition to the deaths of to his mother and brother, his half-sister Andrea had died of cancer when she was 21, and his father had also passed away from the same disease. But ever since he’d looked into his mother’s coffin and decided that he needed to stop self-destructing, he’d wanted to try to encourage others to take the same path.
Mero’s high school speeches have proven to be very popular. “I get letters all the time from moms and dads. They email me or send me a message and tell me ‘I don’t know what you said at school today, but my son or my daughter came home today and they were different,’” Mero told the Dothan Eagle in 2015. And he himself is finding great fulfilment in motivational speaking.
“I made so many bad choices and I finally learned from them,” Mero continued. “I want these kids to get it right the first time. I should have been dead. I believe I was kept here for a reason.” In addition to speaking about himself and his mother, Mero also talks about teenagers who have taken their own lives and makes suggestions as to how students can stop suicides from happening.
And, best of all, those suggestions seem to work. In August 2017 Maro received a Facebook message from a teen who’d been planning to take her own life, but had decided not to after clicking on a video of Maro’s famous speech about his mother. Maro posted the message anonymously on his own Facebook page. “A message I will never forget,” he wrote next to it. “My mother is saving lives from beyond the grave.”