What We Learned From: Dean Malenko on Talk is Jericho

Image Credit: Westwood One

AEW producer and former wrestler for WCW, ECW and WWE Dean Malenko recently appeared on Talk is Jericho. Dean discusses what it has been like living with Parkinson’s disease for the last 6 plus years, from the initial diagnosis to living with it today. They also discuss him being a producer in AEW and praise for the current roster. The most notable points can be found below.

On deciding to sign with AEW:

“It took all of 2 minutes to make a decision. It was time for me to leave my past place of employment [WWE], and from a mental standpoint and just wanted to try something new and something different. I’m trying to be challenged again, work with a bunch of young kids that are on the cusp of making it and just need that one little step forward a little bit and I thought I could do that here. There’s a bunch of talented guys here, just got to move them up to the next level.”

On what has been like since joining All Elite Wrestling:

“Anytime you jump on ship to a start up company, you take a risk. I’ve taken them before, I’ve left one place to another 2 times already, so third times a charm. I really like what Tony was about, his thought process and what he was trying to deliver. He had a great crew of guys, and this last year has been a lot of fun. There have been a lot of growing pains, but one thing I do like is that the locker room has gelled together to work towards a common goal, which is to get this company over.”

On what it is like teaching talent in AEW:

“I think everybody has started to gel together and started to trust each other. Talents are working a lot harder and getting smarter with stories, getting the psychology aspect of the business. What Tony’s expectations are, understanding what Tony wants. I think we’ve come leaps in bounds in the year that we started. I get to work with a lot of different people, that’s been a lot of fun. Working with guys like Darby and Jungle Boy, these guys are nothing but sponges, they just want to learn every single week. They are very polite, very thankful and very respectful to the guys that have been there and paved the way for them.”

Dean then discusses living with Parkinson’s disease and how he is handling it:

“What happened was I’m 60 years old, so they say that around 60 is the age that you start to get it [Parkinson’s]. I got it about 6 or 7 years ago. About a year ago I was at Starrcast in Chicago, and I was asked to do a Q and A session with Tony Schiavone. I got a little nervous and a little scared because I was going to be out in front of people. I haven’t really been in front of crowds a lot, of course at work but that’s a different environment. But you get nervous sometimes, because you don’t want people to know what you got, you’re trying to hide it. Parkinson’s is a very difficult thing to cover up. It looks like you’re freezing cold, or you’re drinking, and I don’t want people to think that. That’s one of the reasons why I asked you to do this [appear on Talk is Jericho]. That day when I started talking, I realised the microphone was really light. What I mean by that is things that are very light, like silverware, if there’s no weight to it I will shake more. It’s very interesting the way that works. So I had the people there to get me a stand, so I didn’t have to use my hands. I almost felt like Stevie Wonder leaning in on the piano. I just blurted out ‘Damn Parkinson’s.’ And a couple of people heard it. It got onto social media and ran a bit, but nothing really big.

Parkinson’s is one of those things where it’s a very odd disease, there’s no cure for it and the secret is to try and find things to slow the progression for it so you have a quality of life. My family knows about it, they have been extremely supportive. My kids don’t make a big deal about it, we have fun with it. My wife will never let me feel sorry for myself, which is really easy to do. You go through a gamut of emotions when you have it. You’re p*ssed off at the world, it’s the why me? Then you get upset when you try to button your shirt and you can’t do that. But I’m on pills and medication that have been really helping as of late. It started out with my left hand trembling, and I went to a couple of different doctors. There is no blood test, no urine test, nothing that actually says you have Parkinson’s. One thing I noticed was when you’re walking, one arm doesn’t swing, which is usually my left. That’s a big sign of Parkinson’s. When you are clicking your middle finger and thumb together, you are off timing, it was always my left hand, never my right. When you put all these things together, it’s pretty much yeah you have Parkinson’s. I was at 3 different doctors that acknowledged it at the same time. So it’s been a little bit of a difficult ride, the hard part is just trying to live every day.

I compare having Parkinson’s to having a room mate that never leaves. Because every morning you wake up, you have this other person with you. They’re not going to let you get out of bed easy, they’re going to make you shake, it takes over your body. It can be crazy at times but I am getting used to it. I try to just laugh things off. If I’m shaking my 15 year old will put her hand on me and she will start shaking, just have fun with it. There’s nothing you can do about it. I’m not going to get rid of it, it’s always going to be there. Hopefully with modern medicine going forward, they can slow this down at one point. If not, I will deal with it whenever. When you write, you start to write smaller than you used to, because of the disease affecting your motor skills. Sometimes it is hard to get out of bed in the morning, but I don’t know if that’s Parkinson’s or the business. It’s hard to figure that part out. My big thing is that if you see me and I’m shaking, I’m not cold unless it’s cold outside. I don’t want people second guessing, I don’t want people feeling sorry for myself, it’s just one of those things that I have and it’s just another obstacle in my way.”

On his message for those also living with Parkinson’s:

“If there’s somebody out there that’s listening and going through the same thing, as far as being embarrassed, you shouldn’t be embarrassed. It’s kind of like a man/male thing I guess. I’m not saying women don’t get it, just feels like a male thing from a standpoint of ‘Hey I don’t shake.’ or ‘I couldn’t have that disease.’ No, I have it, and the thing is to learn how to deal with it.

Chris asks Dean were you embarrassed by having Parkinson’s at first:

“Oh yeah, big time. I didn’t want anybody to know that I had it, the problem is that my hand was shaking, and I didn’t know it was shaking and other people can see that. I seriously doubt that they think he’s practicing jazz hands, or he’s cold or an alcoholic. There’s other things that are connected with tremors, like MS [Multiple Sclerosis]. I just keep going day by day, and when it gets worse, try to find something that helps with the progression of it. The real secret of it is life quality, making sure that the quality of life is the best that you can make it.”

On praise for AEW star Rey Fenix:

“He’s really understood the art of selling, and letting things digest with the audience. When I first came here, he was all over the place. Slowly but surely, he’s starting to grasp that when you are writing something, every sentence there is a period and a comma. So you can stop, digest and go onto the next thing. Before, it was like one long book with no periods, all the words just got jambled together. To me, he is one of the top guys we have in the company. Every week I watch him and I’m amazed more than the previous week when I see him.”

On his first experiences with Rey Mysterio:

“I saw him on a tape, and he was working Psychosis in a match in Japan I’m like holy crap who’s this kid? Kevin Sullivan at the time was looking to broaden the scope of the cruiserweight division and bring in people from all over the world. I talked to Eddie or Konnan and said the kid Rey Mysterio, is there any chance of him coming here. I would love to work with him, it was such a different, diverse style. I’m an on the mat guy and he’s the flyer. The funny story is when we were in Baltimore it was The Great American Bash [1996], he thought that he was having a try out match. He had no clue that he was going to be on a pay-per-view until after the fact. I remember walking in the locker room and Sting and Lex and all the big guys were laughing being like ‘ who is this kid has he got a drivers licence. He’s like 12 years old and 100lbs.’ But when he came back through the curtain after the match, it was the first time I saw a standing ovation. At that time, Rey was the guy.”

On Eddie Guerrero:

“Eddie was like a chameleon, he could play a lot of different roles. I’ve heard you say this too but it’s the truth. The only other guy I could think of is Shawn Michaels. Eddie was just as hot as a babyface as he was as a heel. That’s extremely hard to do, you can be booed but nothing like the kind of heat that Eddie could generate. Then in 2 seconds all he had to do was smile and now he’s a babyface. He knew how to play both roles to the top, he was that gifted. And he could wrestle, he had a bit of an amateur career in high school. He had that Mexican blood in him, fuel and fire in the ring. That was great he made it real, he was not shy about showing emotion. The only thing that used to drive me nuts was that every time we went back he was like ‘oh that match was bad.’ In the end I would just walk away. Sometimes I think he didn’t enjoy the business, because he was so critical of himself. That’s just all about being a perfectionist. But when he was on, there’s no one better.”

“The only conflict we had was in Germany. For some reason the German crowd can be a little rough. For some reason they don’t like Eddie, who was the babyface and Bradshaw was the heel. Eddie got p*ssed off because they weren’t cheering for him. So Eddie did what Eddie does, in the middle of the match, he rolls out, grabs a mic and tells everybody to go F themselves, they are sons of bitches and he hates Germany. He hopes he never comes back blah blah blah and turns himself heel. Walks out of the ring I said Eddie? He goes ‘Not now! I’ll talk to you later.’ Walks right out and I get a knock on my door about 3am. It’s the apologetic Eddie. I said Eddie? He goes ‘Sorry Dean.’ I say ‘Go to bed Eddie, I’ll talk to you in the morning.’ That was it, I just see him walking away hunched over.”

On his relationship with Vince McMahon:

“It was fine. I thought we had a great relationship in the beginning and in the middle. It didn’t really go bad in the end it’s just thought it was time for me to go and join someone else. But Vince is very stern, it’s his show and we get that. I don’t think he expected anything less than perfection, I think he trusted me a lot to go out there, help talent, get the best camera angles and just teach guys a little bit and help them out. Kind of like what I am doing here now.

We were at the Hammerstein Ballroom and Vince said ‘From now on there are no agents. I don’t know what agents do, you’re now a producer because you help produce the matches. So from this day forward you’re a producer.’ I raise my hand and say ‘Do producers make more money than agents?’ He goes ‘No, pretty much the same.’ It’s a very taxing job, there are expectations for you to succeed every night.

The full podcast audio can be found here.

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