Man of Letters
06/11/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT
Like Van Gogh, Mick Foley gave up an ear for his art. Not that Foley severed his intentionally; the 6'4", 290-lb. behemoth got his head entangled between the ropes of a wrestling ring in a 1994 match and left most of his right ear behind. The referee picked it up and gave it to the ring announcer, who gave it to someone else, who put it on ice. But the bloody appendage could not be saved. Still, says Foley, it hasn't been all that difficult living with only one ear. "I just can't wear glasses," he says. "And I can't put a pencil behind that ear." When he puts pencil to notebook, though, Foley, 36, is a phenomenon. A year after retiring as one of the World Wrestling Federation's most popular performers—his character, the stringy-haired Mankind, was a deranged but surprisingly, likable fellow in a shirt, tie and Hannibal Lecter mask—Foley has his work on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list again. His second volume of memoirs, Foley Is Good: And the Real World Is Faker Than Wrestling, posted at No. 1 in its first week there. His first irreverent collection of wrestling stories and life insights, 1999's Have a Nice Day!, also topped the list, while a children's book, Mick Foley's Christmas Chaos, was a bestseller last year. (A follow-up, Mick Foley's Halloween Hijinks, is due this fall.) Not bad for a guy who made a living hitting grown men with folding chairs. "Even today, as a bestselling author, I'd probably do miserably on the SATs," admits Foley. "I think it's ridiculous that they ask you to learn words you will never use."
Not that Foley is, by any measure, nonverbal. He is, after all, capable of forgoing ghostwriters and crafting his straightforward, accessible books himself, setting him apart from fellow WWF author The Rock. What's more, his latest unlikely literary triumph—written, he says, in two months "on planes, in hotels and on the kitchen table after the kids went to bed"—contains not only whimsical lists of his favorite roller coasters and water parks but also a reasoned defense of wrestling as family-bonding escapism. "His ability to convey his innermost thoughts and feelings is nothing short of remarkable," wrote a reviewer for the Sunday Gazette Mail in Charleston, W.Va.
Foley's upbringing on Long Island prepared him for both of his careers. His father, Jack, then the athletic director for a local school district, kindled his interest in sports, while mother Beverly, a retired government worker, "was a big reader and storyteller," says Foley. Mick began wrestling in high school and, while earning a communications degree from the State University of New York at Cortland, joined an independent wrestling circuit in 1986, grappling in armories and parking lots and making as little as $10 a night.
Signing with the WWF in 1996 and christening himself Mankind—a grotesque creation inspired in part by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which he had just read—Foley became a star. His infamous battles with the likes of the Undertaker and The Rock helped the WWF's TV ratings soar and earned Foley $1 million a year. Yet the stunts that were his signature ravaged his body and frightened his two children, son Dewey, 9, and daughter Noelle, 7. (He also has a 4-month-old son, Mick Jr., with wife Colette, 40, an ex-model he met at an-auto race and married in 1992.) "My kids," says Foley, "knew the difference between Dad doing his job and Dad getting hurt."
The multiple concussions, dislocations and broken bones he suffered have left Foley unable to walk without pain (two of his missing teeth were lost in a car accident). Still, says his father, "Mick is a great dad. The other day his knees were hurting from playing soccer with the kids." Retirement has also freed Foley to hang out in his Christmas Room, a permanently Santa-themed basement room in his 4,500-sq.-ft. Long Island home. "He's the biggest nerd of all time," confirms Colette. "It's like a little boy was dropped in a big, tough man's body."
And while he can no longer stow pencils behind one ear, Foley needs only a little peace and quiet in the kitchen to hammer out his next potential blockbuster, a novel. "There are better writers, and there are better wrestlers, but there's no better combination of both," he says proudly. "I'm the most successful wrestler-writer of all time."
Fannie Weinstein on Long Island