Andy Kaufman vs. Jerry Lawler

The Feud Became a Blueprint for Professional Wrestling

Andy Kaufman wrestling Lena Home with referee watching
Three years before wrestling Jerry Lawler, Andy Kaufman wrestled Lena Home.

Bob V. Noble/Fotos International/Getty Images

The feud between Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler was one of the most successful uses of celebrity in professional wrestling and is still talked about to this day. It gave a tiny wrestling promotion in Memphis national exposure. The impact of this was huge on the wrestling business as Vince McMahon used the template that was created in Memphis to start the Rock-n-Wrestling era which turned his northeast promotion into an international entertainment powerhouse. He used Cyndi Lauper to get his wrestlers featured on MTV and then used Mr. T to garner international press to promote. 

Who Was Andy Kaufman?

Andy Kaufman was a star on the hit TV show Taxi and frequent guest on Saturday Night Live. As part of his comedy routine, he would wrestle women and declared himself the Intergender World Champion. In 1982, he took his comedy skit to the Memphis wrestling territory.

I'm From Hollywood

When he went to Memphis, he offered any woman in the crowd $1,000 and his hand in marriage if they could beat him. Local legend, Jerry "The King" Lawler was getting sick of seeing him humiliate the local women. He trained a lady named Foxy and after she lost and Kaufman wouldn't stop humiliating her, Lawler pushed Kaufman off her. Kaufman threatened to sue but later accepted Lawler's challenge to a match.

The Big Match 

They finally fought on April 5, 1982. After several minutes of stalling, Lawler allowed Kaufman to put him in a headlock. Lawler quickly gave him a suplex and two pile drivers (the move was banned in Memphis). Lawler lost by disqualification and Kaufman was in the hospital for several days. The match made headlines around the country and was even featured a few weeks later on Saturday Night Live.

Late Night with David Letterman

On July 28, 1982, Lawler and Kaufman appeared on Late Night with David Letterman to air their differences. As they were going to a commercial break, Lawler smacked Kaufman in the face. When they came back from break, Kaufman launched into a profanity-laced tirade that was so obscene that NBC threatened to never have him on the air again. Kaufman threatened to sue them for $200 million and then to buy the network with the money and turn it into a 24-hour wrestling network. This story was so huge, it was on the front page of ​The New York Times.

The Feud in the Ring Continues

Kaufman teamed up with manager Jimmy Hart and offered a $5,000 bounty to any wrestler that would give Lawler the piledriver. Eventually, Hart and Kaufman got into an argument leading Kaufman to ask Lawler for help. Lawler agreed to help Kaufman on the condition that Kaufman never wrestles again. Three minutes into the match, Kaufman threw powder into Lawler's eyes and The Assassins gave Lawler the piledriver.

The Aftermath

Andy Kaufman died of cancer on May 16, 1984. Jerry Lawler continued to be the "King" of Memphis and has been a commentator for the WWE since the mid-90s. Most importantly, while other promoters were happy to see a wrestler beat up a Hollywood star, a young Vince McMahon saw the publicity dealing with stars could generate and used this blueprint to start his domination of the wrestling world. This feud lives on through a documentary called I'm from Hollywood which airs frequently on Comedy Central and was revisited in the hit movie Man on the Moon starring Jim Carrey.