The two men met about three years ago in the Cobb County Adult Detention Center. One man, the Rev. Steve Baskin, stood on the side of freedom. The other, Lex Luger, was serving a three-month sentence for outstanding felony charges.
“I heard he was in and introduced myself,” said Baskin, a chaplain with the Cobb County Sheriff’s Department. “We made friends and then when he got out, we continued our friendship.”
Luger, whose real name is Lawrence Pfohl, is most famous for his professional wrestling and football career. He and Baskin recently visited Columbus so Luger can share his testimony. Upon Luger’s release from jail in February 2006, Baskin led him to faith in Jesus and began teaching him the tenets of the Christian religion.
By all accounts, Luger had done an about-face, not only from his imprisonment but from a steady dose of drugs and alcohol and running with friends whose lifestyle was consistently rough-and-tumble like his.
“He’d never had any Christian friends,” Baskin said in a recent interview from Cobb County where he is the pastor of Western Hills Baptist Church in Kennesaw. “Usually, pastors don’t hang around wrestlers, and wrestlers don’t hang around pastors.” For awhile after his release, Luger roomed with Baskin but now lives in the Brookwood Hills area of Atlanta, near midtown.
Luger was born June 2, 1958, in Buffalo, N.Y. He attended Penn State on a football scholarship but transferred to the University of Miami to play for the Hurricanes after his freshman year. He started the 1979 season as an offensive guard, but his scholarship was taken away for disciplinary reasons stemming from a hotel-damage incident in Atlanta, while the Hurricanes were there to play Georgia Tech.
Luger had a short-lived football career with the Canadian Football League, a brief stint with the NFL, then landed with the now-defunct United States Football League. He played for Memphis then Tampa Bay. He stopped playing football in 1984.
The next year, Luger would begin making his mark in wrestling, notably with the National Wrestling Alliance. His stage name then was “the Total Package.”
Early in his athletic career, he was introduced to a pill called Dianabol, a powerful anabolic steroid.
“I had to gain weight quick — the unethical, cheating shortcut. Guy in the gym said, ‘Buddy, these little blue pills are called Dianabol.’ And I took four a day, five milligrams apiece,” he told Mike Fish for espn.com in 2007. “You get on these steroids and you train better, eat more. And you retain water from them. So I gained 15 pounds in about two months. I jumped on it and it worked.
“And it is the same old thing: Once you do something one time, it leads to another. And then I started in the offseason, where I would do one cycle for 12 weeks. A friend of mine was an exercise physiologist. She monitored my blood (levels). I never took it in-season. I’d just take it in the offseason to build as much strength as I could.
“It’s the ends justifies the means in sports,” Luger continued. “We are taught that since we were little. The old, ‘Do whatever you got to do to win, to be the best. Step over, step on and step through.’ So that is how all this performance-enhancing drugs got into our culture. And that leads to guys wanting to take shortcuts. And then, cheat until you get caught, and then lie.”
The wrestling career of Luger, who was also known as “the Narcissist,” spanned 11 years. It took him from the NWA to World Championship Wrestling to the World Bodybuilding Federation to the World Wrestling Federation.
Even if you’re not a wrestling fan, you’d likely know Luger’s name as he was frequently paired with Hulk Hogan of wrestling — and now reality television — fame. “To millions of wrestling fans,” his pastor said, “he’s like Elvis Presley.”
Before his conversion in 2006, however, the steroids and the pills had long been second-nature.
“If you snort it, spray it, shoot it, inject it, I did it, buddy. Or I was around it. That was my life. Alcohol? I abused it all, buddy. I took a lot of pills. I was a pill popper,” Luger told Fish of ESPN.
DEATH AND JAIL TIME
Tragedy struck his life in 2003. On May 1 that year, his girlfriend Elizabeth Hulette — aka “Miss Elizabeth,” a wrestling personality herself — died in their Marietta townhouse after mixing five different pills with vodka. Luger himself was arrested later that day after police found illegally obtained drugs, including Oxycontin, in the townhouse.
He was charged with 14 counts of drug possession; 13 counts were felonies.
He received a $1,000 fine and five years’ probation. He wouldn’t have gone to jail had he not violated the terms of his probation in 2005. Luger was picked up on a Minneapolis flight headed to Canada. (Under the terms of his probation, he was not allowed to leave the country.)
Part of Luger’s testimony is that drugs aren’t worth going to jail for, or dying for. As for TV appearances, he’s traded wrestling rings for talk show programs including “Praise the Lord” — part of the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Life since conversion, while in most ways better for Luger, has not been trouble-free. In October 2007, Luger suffered a nerve impingement in his neck, which led to temporary paralysis.
He’s had treatment and surgery and rehabilitation at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, across from his apartment. He hangs out often with new friends, including his pastor.
“We’re a team now,” Baskin said. “He wants to use his influence to speak out against his old lifestyle.”