The Woman Who Launched Wrestlemania

Wrestlemania season is upon us. Since 1985, WWE has presented an event that bridges the worlds of professional wrestling and pop culture like no other. Celebrities making their Mania appearances has become a Hollywood rite of passage. Whether waving to the crowd from the stands, doing interviews, commentary, skits, or even getting in the ring, appearances from pop culture stars are the bedrock of Wrestlemania. Hulk Hogan was the top drawing wrestler of the era, selling out arenas. But what set Wrestlemania apart from the Wrestling Star Wars and Starrcade’s, was the presence of Muhammad Ali, Liberace, Billy Martin, and one particular young woman whose brand was the reason the show existed. Cyndi Lauper was the lynchpin of the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection. Without her participation in the WWF, the face of Wrestlemania would be tremendously different.

Cyndi Lauper and Blue Angel

In the early-80s, Lauper was the lead singer of a little-remembered New Wave/rockabilly band called Blue Angel. While critics enjoyed their first album effort, Lauper’s vocals, particularly, sold poorly. After firing their manager, who went on to sue the band, Blue Angel broke up. Due to financial instability, Lauper was forced to take odd jobs in retail and waitressing while doing nightclub singing on the side. After one particular performance, Lauper met David Wolff. Wolff became Lauper’s manager (later boyfriend) and helped sign her to Epic Records subsidiary. Portrait Records. The duo would work on Lauper’s solo debut album, the aptly titled, She’s So Unusual. A chance encounter on an airplane coming back from Puerto Rico changed the course of Lauper’s career and eventually, professional wrestling.

Cyndi Lauper and Lou Albano

On that fateful plane ride, Lauper and Wolff met Captain Lou Albano. Wolff had grown up a lifelong pro wrestling fan, following the WWWF where Albano was part of a triumvirate who terrorized the New York territory for a decade. Along with Classy Freddie Blassie and The Grand Wizard (Ernie Roth), Albano managed virtually every heel that came through the promotion. Heels would arrive and align themselves with one of the three and eventually challenge Bruno Sammartino and later Bob Backlund for the WWWF World Title. All three were exceptional characters on the mic who knew how to stoke the fanbase. With his slovenly appearance and rubber bands pinned to his face, Albano managed a plethora of heel tag champs.

In the early 1980s, a look was more important than ever due to the rising popularity of MTV. An artist’s visual presentation became paramount to their success. One hit video could change a career. Wolff and Lauper knew they had the right single. They just needed the right foil for Lauper’s babyface video character. The pair cast Albano in the role of Lauper’s overbearing father in the hit video Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

The song became a girl-power rallying cry, and Albano was perfect in the role. The video launched Lauper’s career, making her one of the top stars on MTV. The She’s So Unusual became the first female album to launch four top-five singles, making Lauper the breakout star of 1984. Wolff and her album understood Lauper’s unique appeal, believing her bubble gum punk look would fit in perfectly with the burgeoning pro wrestling scene. Vince McMahon brought Lauper in for a special television appearance on the hottest segment on WWF Television, Piper’s Pit. 

In 1984, Roddy Piper was a ten-year veteran who had huge runs as a top heel in the old Los Angeles territory and became a beloved babyface in Portland. In the early-80’s, Piper became one of the top wrestling stars in the country thanks to his appearances as both a wrestler and( the first) heel commentator on Georgia’s World Championship Wrestling program. Piper split time between Georgia and the Carolinas.

After being the hottest heel in both promotions, he turned face for an epic run against Greg The Hammer Valentine for the US Championship. The two faced off in a brutal Dog Collar match at the first Starrcade, and by the following spring, both jumped to the WWF. Due to the injuries accrued in the match, Piper spent most of 1984 on the sidelines, managing Bob Orton, David Schultz, and Paul Orndorff. McMahon and booker George Scott were smart enough to keep Piper on the air by giving his own interview segment. It was the first WWF talk show, but it’s most fondly remembered.

On the June 16th episode of All-Star Wrestling, Piper interviews Lauper, revealing that Albano was taking credit for all of Lauper’s success. The Captain claimed to write the lyrics to both Girls Wanna Have Fun and Time After Time. Lauper tries to keep her cool until Albano swings hard and claims that women have no place in music and should be “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” Lauper responds by smashing him with her pocketbook, which would be nicknamed “the Loaded Purse of Doom.”

Albano would continue to mock Lauper on WWF programming, which surprisingly led to not a match between the singer and the overweight manager but to them choosing surrogates to fight for them. Albano chose the Fabulous Moolah, who controlled a version of the NWA Women’s title. Lauper selected a Moolah protege named Wendi Richter. Richter had been wrestling for years with a cowgirl gimmick and had even been a member of Jim Cornette’s Midnight Express in Mid-South. However, Richter changed her look to match the pop stars once teamed with Lauper. The pairing made for box office success.

Cyndi Lauper, Wendi Richter, David Wolff Credit: WWE

At The Brawl to End It All, a Madison Square Garden show main evented by Moolah and Richter, the feud between Lauper and Albano boiled over. Moolah dropped the belt, which they claimed she held for 28 years, to Richter, who celebrated with Lauper and Wolff. The event was a smash that sold out the Garden with more than 23,000 seats. The main event was broadcast live on MTV, drawing a 9.0 rating, the single highest rating ever on the network. Cyndi Lauper and the WWF, dubbed the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection, meant major business.

Eventually, the WWF tried to use Wolff’s real-life credibility to add to the aura of the Federation’s newest signees, The Fabulous Freebirds. Micheal Hayes, Terry Gordy, and Buddy Roberts were a major heel act, selling out the Superdome in 1980 for a match with the Junkyard Dog for Mid-South. The trio’s feud with the Von Erich brothers launched World Class into another stratosphere, making international stars of all six men. When the Birds came to the WWF, the home of Rock n Wrestling, they were placed with Wolff. Hayes fashioned himself a rock star, having pioneered rock music in wrestling. Using Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic of the same name, Hayes eventually recorded his own theme, Bad Street USA. The trio was horribly miscast in the WWF, and their run only lasted a few weeks.

Lauper and Wolff remained a presence on WWF television while her star continued to rise. She appeared on the covers of Time, Rolling Stone, People, and Newsweek magazines. As 1985 began, Lauper was nominated for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (Girls Just Want to Have Fun), and Song of the Year (Time After Time) at the Grammy’s while winning Best New Artist. 

After teaming with Albano to raise over $4 million for Muscular Dystrophy research, the WWF honored both at a Madison Square Garden show. The duo was presented with awards from the legendary radio DJ Dick Clark, thus turning Albano face. However, Roddy Piper, like Albano, wanted credit for everything. He smashed a framed gold record over Albano’s head, body-slammed David Wolff, and kicked Lauper, who tried to protect the downed Captain. Eventually, the trio was saved by Hulk Hogan, setting the stage for another major card on MTV, The War To Settle The Score.

Much like The Brawl before it, The War To Settle The Score’s main event, a WWF World Title Match between Hogan and Piper, was broadcast live on MTV. On the undercard, another Moolah trainee, Lelani Kai, defeated Richter for the WWF Women’s Title with Lauper in her corner due to chicanery. The main event ended in a Piper disqualification after Orton and Orndorff interfered. This forced Lauper to jump in along with Hogan’s guest Mr. T. The ensuing fight sets the stage for the main event of the first Wrestlemania, which was the next MSG card.

The War To Settle The Score became the first event to feature more celebrities than just Lauper. Her involvement and burgeoning fame allowed the mainstream to take an honest look at professional wrestling. Cyndi Lauper made it okay for people to admit they liked and regularly watched pro wrestling. The Rock n Wrestling doesn’t happen without her participation, and while a show like Wrestlemania probably happens, does it get mainstream accessibility? Do Hogan and Mr. T have the chance to host Saturday Night Live the evening before? Probably not. In a sense, the entire Wrestlemania brand owes itself to Cyndi Lauper.