Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Once known to WWE fans as the vain Narcissist, Lex Luger replaced his purple tights with red, white and blue Zubaz in July 1993 and reemerged as an American hero. Positioned as a spiritual successor to Hulk Hogan — whose initial WWE run was coming to an end — Luger slammed Yokozuna on the deck of the USS Intrepid on Independence Day to announce himself as WWE’s new star. He then boarded a tour bus called the Lex Express and traversed the country for six weeks, exploring the United States while meeting WWE fans in cities from Baltimore to Chicago.
Luger’s journey ended on Aug. 30, 1993, when he pulled up to The Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan to challenge Yokozuna for the WWE Title at SummerSlam. The challenger defeated the champion by count-out that night, but he never set foot on the Lex Express again.
Twenty years later, WWEClassics.com called up The Total Package to talk about his unforgettable road trip and learn why you should never attempt to slam a sumo wrestler while wearing cowboy boots.
WWECLASSICS.COM: It’s been 20 years since you set off across the country on the Lex Express bus. Do you remember thinking it was a cool idea at the time?
LEX LUGER: I don’t know about cool, but it was a great opportunity. Obviously, you don’t look forward to being on the road for six weeks away from your family, but it was handled in a great way.
WWECLASSICS.COM: You were a bad guy early in your WWE run. How did your big patriotic turn come about?
LUGER: I was called into the office to meet with Mr. McMahon, which he doesn’t do very often. I walked in as The Narcissist and I walked out 20 minutes later as the red, white and blue good guy. How does that happen? I looked at Vince and said, “Vince, I know you’re really good at this, but how does a guy that’s been posing in mirrors as The Narcissist turn into an all-American good guy in one clean swoop? He said, “Lex, trust me. The people are going to love it.” As usual, he was spot on.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Were you uncomfortable with the transformation?
LUGER: Well, in my opinion, it was always more fun being a bad guy, because it’s easier to get people to hate you than it is to love you. You have to earn their trust and it takes time, so, if you want an instant reaction from the crowd, it’s always easier being a bad guy.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Your run as an American hero started on the deck of the USS Intrepid on July 4, 1993, when you slammed Yokozuna. What do you remember about that day?
LUGER: I was supposed to fly in on a helicopter in my red, white and blue shirt and blue jeans and cowboy boots and save the day. They had us standby down the Hudson River at this helicopter pad with this guy that was a Vietnam helicopter pilot. We just jumped in the helicopter. I wasn’t even strapped in. The helicopter pilot probably kind of wanted to show off to me. I was afraid I was going to fall into the Hudson River. I was holding on for dear life.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Once you landed, were you worried that you’d fail to lift Yokozuna and blow the whole Lex Express tour before it ever started?
LUGER: It was kind of nerve-wracking to think this was live. We didn’t have a do-over. I was trying to focus on that when I slid in the ring, but the cowboy boots I had on were worn on the bottoms and I felt like I was on roller skates on the mat. I had no footing! I was scared to death. You ever see those cartoons with The Road Runner where the refrigerator lands on top of Wile E. Coyote and he’s flattened like an ink spot? That’s what I pictured as Yokozuna came staggering out of the corner.
WWECLASSICS.COM: You pulled it off.
LUGER: I looked so excited after he got slammed, because I was so relieved! That was a combination of relief and excitement.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Hulk Hogan’s WWE run was coming to an end at the time and you were being positioned as WWE’s next great patriot. Did you feel like you were filling in for The Hulkster?
LUGER: I don’t think anybody would want to be the next Hogan — there will only ever be one of him. I was definitely excited about the tour and SummerSlam coming up. I didn’t know where it would lead, but it was definitely an exciting time for me.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Do you remember the first stop on the Lex Express tour?
LUGER: We went right out of Stamford, CT, to some gigantic hardware store just outside of Boston and more than 6,000 people showed up. They had me sign autographs for three or four hours and then I had to shake the rest of the people’s hands, because they had to get me to the next city. It was an incredible turnout.
WWECLASSICS.COM: You did autograph signings all over the country during your tour. Did they all blur together or do any of them stand out?
LUGER: We were in Denver one time and they had people lined up to get my autograph all around the Toys"R"Us store. Denver can get hot in the summer, believe it or not, and it was like 101 degrees. They had to call emergency services and bring these gigantic coolers of ice water so people wouldn’t get dehydrated and pass out.
WWECLASSICS.COM: You couldn’t hide on the Lex Express. Were you constantly hearing it from people on the highway?
LUGER: Oh, yeah, honking, waving and some even gave me the one-finger salute. We got all kinds of reactions.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Any scary situations?
LUGER: They wanted to get a photo of me posing with my shirt off in front of Mount Rushmore, but all these biker guys were out there. They surrounded the bus. We couldn’t get me outside, because all we had was the bus driver and my tour guy. We didn’t have security on the bus. So they had me climb out of the fire escape hatch and they got a picture of me standing on top of the bus in front of Mount Rushmore hitting a double bicep shot. It was very cool.
WWECLASSICS.COM: At any point, did you freak out and want to get off the bus and never get back on?
LUGER: [Laughs] There were times I’d rather have been at home, sitting poolside, getting a tan or hanging out with my family for a barbeque. But they kept me busy, which was actually good. We all knew the big picture — it was six weeks to SummerSlam and then I’d have plenty of time off. Vince told me I could take a couple of weeks to be back home, so I kind of had the carrot dangling at the end of those six weeks.
WWECLASSICS.COM: After the lengthy buildup to your WWE Title Match against Yokozuna at SummerSlam, you didn’t win the championship. Was that a big letdown for you?
LUGER: I wasn’t made any promises. I really wasn’t thinking about that at all. I was thrilled to be a part of it. I will tell you this: I think that Yokozuna was one of the greatest champions ever. When he walked into the building and came down the aisle, we used to call him the showstopper. For me, personally, I was honored to be in the main event against him at SummerSlam.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Looking back, how big was that summer of your career?
LUGER: Definitely one of the highlights along with The Four Horsemen and a WCW Title win on national television over Hulk Hogan. To this day, people constantly bring it up. The youngsters from then are now in their late twenties and early thirties and they act like little kids when they talk to me. “Man, I saw you at a shopping mall on your Lex Express tour!” It definitely has an impact to this day and it was great to be a part of it.
WWECLASSICS.COM: The Lex Express isn’t sitting in your driveway right now, is it?
LUGER: [Laughs] People ask me that all the time. You know I never did see it again. As far as I know, they turned it back in. They probably repainted it for some other kind of show, but I’ll always have fond memories of it. It served its purpose well.
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