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The Misunderstood Von Erich

Cousin Lance only appears briefly in A24's new film, The Iron Claw. But to understand the famous wrestling family, you need to know the full story of the man who was asked to pretend he was part of it.
lance von erich
Lance Von Erich, aka William Kevin Vaughan.

Let’s begin with a history lesson.

Thirty-five years ago, as the Von Erich family trudged through the tragedies that would come to define them, this magazine published a story by Skip Hollandsworth called “The Fall of the House Von Erich.” It is, without exaggeration, one of the greatest magazine stories you’ll read. More pertinently, as someone who has consumed a lot of Von Erich-related media this year, I can tell you it’s the best story ever written about them.

So when we first caught wind more than a year ago of a movie being made about the first family of Texas professional wrestling, there was no debate that we’d do another Von Erich story. How could D Magazine, of all publications, not?

The question was what story to tell. The broad strokes have been documented many times over, and too many who lived through those days in World Class Championship Wrestling—Von Erichs or otherwise—have died before their time. But there was one man whose name is known to anyone who paid a decent amount of attention to Von Erichs history, yet so little is known about: Cousin Lance.

His name comes up in most retellings of the Von Erich story, and never with much depth. At best, it was an oddity. Why did the Von Erichs bring in a ringer, and whatever happened to that guy? More often, William Kevin Vaughan, the man behind the character, is portrayed as a symbol—and a scapegoat—of the time period when the family’s grip over the wrestling world began to loosen.

Thing is, beyond a book that was quietly published two years ago, plus a handful of accompanying interviews to promote it, no one had ever heard Vaughan’s side of the experience.

That was the story we wanted to tell. And after tracking him down over the phone in Baja, Mexico, plus speaking with a host of other names from World Class Championship Wrestling including Kevin Von Erich (the only surviving Von Erich brother), Michael Hayes (the leader of the Fabulous Freebirds, the Von Erichs’ archrivals), and David Manning (Fritz Von Erich’s longtime right hand and the man who discovered Vaughan on a golf course in Arlington), that’s the story I wrote.

I came away from it having learned plenty, and having rethought what I thought I knew about one of pro wrestling’s best-known curiosities. I bet you’ll walk away having felt the same.

The story is online today, and it features some incredible design, too. You can read it here.


Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

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