Historical Accuracy (Q&A):
What is the Von Erich Curse?
In researching the true story, we learned that the curse refers to the fact that five of Fritz Von Erich's six sons predeceased him in death. Kevin Von Erich, portrayed by Zac Efron in the film, is the only remaining living son. At least three of Fritz's sons died by suicide, something that has been pointed to as a cautionary tale about the pressures parents can impose on their children and the potential pitfalls of being in the business of professional wrestling. Like in the movie, Fritz created a high-stakes environment of sibling rivalry among his sons.
Was Von Erich the family's real name?No. An Iron Claw fact-check reveals that the German name is a stage name that the father, Fritz Von Erich, adopted as part of his wrestling persona as a Nazi heel. Fritz's real name was Jack Barton Adkisson. He is portrayed by Holt McCallany in The Iron Claw movie. All of his children and grandchildren who became wrestlers used the name Von Erich.
The Von Erich men (from left to right): Kerry, Kevin (back), Chris (front), Fritz, David, and Mike. Photo: VICE
How did the Von Erich brothers die?
Below is a list of the five Von Erich children who passed away, as well as each son's cause of death (the list is up-to-date as of the release of the Von Erich brothers movie in December 2023).
- Jack Adkisson Jr.: The firstborn son, Jack Jr., aka Jackie, passed away on March 7, 1959 at age six while Fritz was away wrestling. Jack Jr. was accidentally shocked when he touched an exposed electrical wire while he was playing in the Niagra Falls trailer park where they were staying. He fell to the ground unconscious and drowned when he landed in a puddle of melting snow. According to D Magazine, his mother, Doris Adkisson, was so distraught after his death that she told her husband she wanted to die too.
- David Von Erich: Fritz's third son, David, died in 1984 in a Tokyo hotel room. While the US Embassy listed David's official cause of death as acute enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine), fellow wrestlers, including Ric Flair and Mick Foley, believe that David Von Erich died of a drug overdose.
- Mike Von Erich: While answering the question, "How accurate is The Iron Claw?" we learned that on April 12, 1987, 23-year-old Mike left a suicide note for his family and then overdosed on the sleeping aid Placidyl after drinking alcohol. His body was found in an old sleeping bag in heavy underbrush near Lewisville Lake in Texas. He had gotten married two years prior and hurt his shoulder while wrestling in Israel. He underwent surgery to repair his shoulder but a rare bacteria entered his body during the surgery. As a result, he suffered toxic shock syndrome with a 107-degree fever that reportedly caused brain damage. He also suffered severe weight loss. He tried to get back into the ring before recovering and found that he was too weak to compete. The damage caused by the toxic shock left him with coordination and memory problems, which further affected his performance in the ring.
- Chris Von Erich: In September 1991, Chris committed suicide at age 21 by shooting himself in the head with a handgun. Born in 1969, he was the youngest of the Von Erich brothers. Chris was only 5' 5", suffered from asthma, and had particularly brittle bones. He never achieved the level of wrestling success that his brothers did and became depressed over his failure to progress. He had also been devastated over the 1987 death of his brother, Mike, and had turned to drugs to help him cope.
- Kerry Von Erich: On February 18, 1993, the most well-known member of the Von Erich Family shot himself through the heart with a .44 caliber bullet. Kerry, 33, took his life on his father's ranch in Texas. Seven years prior, he had suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident that eventually resulted in his foot being amputated. He returned to wrestling with a prosthesis but ended up addicted to drugs and painkillers. According to Bret Hart's autobiography, Kerry had told Hart about his plans to end his life months before he carried it out. His marriage had broken down and he felt his late brothers were waiting for him.
Von Erich brothers Kevin, David and Kerry are pictured with their father, Fritz (bottom). At right, actors Zac Efron, Harris Dickinson, Jeremy Allen White and Holt McCallany (bottom) recreate the photo for The Iron Claw
movie. Photo: Kevin Von Erich Instagram / A24
What is the Iron Claw?The Von Erich movie's title refers to a trademark professional wrestling finishing maneuver that was popularized by the patriarch of the Von Erich Family, wrestler Fritz Von Erich. He mastered the Iron Claw maneuver, which involves placing one's bare hand over an opponent's face, particularly the temples, and pretending to squeeze so tightly that it gives the impression their skull is about to be crushed. When Fritz wrestled in Japan, he was known as "Tetsu no Tsume," which means "Claws of Iron" in English. Other members of the family, particularly son Kevin Von Erich, were known for utilizing the maneuver as well.
The real Fritz Von Erich is pictured on the left. Actor Holt McCallany (right) portrays him in the movie.
Was Fritz Von Erich tough on his kids because he had a tough upbringing himself?In researching The Iron Claw true story, we learned that Fritz, whose real name is Jack, was the son of the town sheriff in Jewett, Texas. To toughen up his son, Fritz's father arranged bare-knuckle boxing matches with other children in the town. Fritz grew up to play football in college. He was then briefly part of the NFL's Dallas Texans. He struggled to make it as a pro and ended up trying out for the Canadian Football League. While playing in the league, he met and began training with wrestling legend Stu Hart, the father of future wrestling stars Bret and Owen Hart. Fritz, who stood at an imposing six feet four inches, rose to prominence as a heel (wrestling villain).
Son Kevin Von Erich said he's glad the movie captures the love between himself and his father. "That was definitely there," he told Extra at the premiere in Dallas. He said he was glad that the movie didn't make Fritz a tyrant. "He was strict on us. He was hard on us, but we're men. We were boys in Texas. He was born in the Depression. He instilled strength in us, but discipline, and I can only be grateful to my dad for the great job he did being a father. But there were times when we got cross."
Are all of the Von Erich brothers featured in the movie?No. As revealed in the cast vs. real people section at the top, The Iron Claw includes four of the six brothers: Kevin (Zac Efron), David (Harris Dickinson), Mike (Stanley Simons), and Kerry (Jeremy Allen White). The movie does mention Jack, the firstborn who died decades earlier in a tragic accident when he was six. The film altogether omits the youngest brother, Chris, who suffered from health issues throughout his life and never achieved the same level of success in the ring as his father and brothers. As stated previously, Chris Von Erich committed suicide when he was 21.
According to Entertainment Weekly, director Sean Durkin said that he did have Chris in his original script but painfully had to cut the character because he could only fit so much in the movie. Instead, he blended elements of Chris into brother Mike Von Erich's storyline, depicting Mike as the sensitive youngest brother who couldn't reach the same level of fame as the others.
Was Kevin Von Erich involved in the making of The Iron Claw?
Kevin told TMZ that he talked to the movie's director, Sean Durkin, and that "he seemed like a very nice guy." Durkin reassured Kevin that the movie would be faithful to the Von Erichs' true story. "He said, 'Everything I'm puttin' in there is somethin' I've heard you say or read that you've said,'" Kevin explained to Extra.
Kevin doesn't appear to have had much direct involvement in the making of the film, conveying that he didn't give Zac Efron advice on how to portray him. He first met Efron when they had dinner the night before the movie's premiere in Dallas. Kevin praised Efron and said that "he did a great job" in the film (Fox 4 News).
Zac Efron (left) portrays Kevin Von Erich, the only surviving brother. Photos: A24 / Instagram @thekevinvonerich
Does Kevin Von Erich believe in the Von Erich Curse?No. The real Kevin refutes the notion that the family was cursed. "There was talk about there being a curse on the family," he said in Dark Side of the Ring. "It's ridiculous. A curse. What happened was just a terrible thing, but no curse."
When asked what he wants people to take away from the movie, he told Extra, "Life is tough and things happen, and there are a lot of people who have had it worse than I have, but mine was public. But just don't give up. Fight hard. Fight harder, and go with God. That took me right through it. But it's not easy, but you can do it. Fight for it."