The Undertaker adds dark poetry to rasslin' By Gemma Tarlach of the Journal Sentinel staff October 18, 1998 Madison -- The Man from the Dark Side. The Phenom. The Reaper. If you go What: The World Wrestling Federation's "RAW is War" and "War Zone" The professional wrestler known as The Undertaker, in Milwaukee tonight for "RAW," the weekly World Wrestling Federation show being broadcast live from the Bradley Center, has been called all this and more. At 6 feet 10 inches and 320-plus pounds, the Undertaker is one of the WWF's biggest stars -- in every sense of the word. He manhandles other wrestlers as if they were party favors and thrills fans with over-the-top-rope acrobatics. But right now, the Man in Black is dead tired. In Madison for a half-day media blitz, Taker enters the lobby of a local radio station to plug the WWF's Tuesday show at the Kohl Center. He moves as if rigor mortis has settled into his limbs. When he pauses on the threshold, filling the door frame, he lets out a groan that sounds like a rusty cemetery gate creaking open. A small crowd in the lobby waits for him to rumble his signature line: "Rest in Peace." "I'm just stretching," he says. He spies a coffee pot and pours himself a cup. "It's decaf," the station receptionist tells him. He jumps back like Superman from kryptonite. Someone runs to fetch him the real stuff. Taker groans again. "We've been up 22 hours straight," explains Jimmy Dodson, (yes, it is spelled wrong.) director of security for the WWF, who travels with the big man. Wait a minute -- Taker needs a bodyguard? Stalkers have been a continuing problem, Dodson says, and merely overzealous fans mob their hero everywhere. "Sitting around airports is a real drag," Taker says later in the day, after surviving radio promos at three different stations. "Whenever you get recognized, it turns into an impromptu autograph signing. You try to be as gracious as possible, but you're tired. If you say no, people don't understand and just think you're arrogant." At the moment, Taker is being gracious. He autographs a stack of glossy 8-by-10s for children of station personnel, frowning when he smudges a signature and then carefully redoing it. He answers calls from listeners during an on-air interview in his best Dead Man Walking voice. Once off the air and away from the crowds, Taker's native Texas drawlcreeps back into his voice. But otherwise his wrestling persona isn't much different from the man himself -- so much so that even his closest friends and co-workers call him Undertaker. "I'm very spiritual," he explains. "I have a real connection with what I talk about as The Undertaker. I've always had what some wouldcall a morbid fascination with the dark side. . . . I'm a little bit different that way." While Taker's size, natural athletic ability and business acumen (he went to college on a basketball scholarship and got a degree in sports management) made him a natural for wrestling superstardom, the early years of his career were rough going. Wrestling under a different name for World Championship Wrestling, the WWF's arch rival, Taker wasn't allowed to make his morbid views known. "They really censored me," he says of his days as a carrot-topped bruiser who rarely spoke. "They told me, 'You have no personality.'" Fortunately for both Taker and the WWF, when he joined the organization in 1990, WWF owner Vince McMahon let him run with his necrocentric ideas. Since then, he's consistently been one of their top draws. His legions of fans, nicknamed "Creatures of the Night," identify with his melancholy demeanor and tendency to wax poetic about communing with lost souls. His almost Byronic nature make him unique in a world dominated by big-mouthed blonds forever crowing about their greatness. The T-shirt-wearing, action-figure-buying Creatures have helped fund a comfortable existence for Taker, who now resides in Florida -- difficult as it is to imagine the Man from the Dark Side calling the Sunshine State home. On his rare days off, Taker can afford to design and tool around in his collection of custom motorcycles. But success has had its price. Just 36, Taker navigates a stairway with the care of a man twice his age, grumbling under his breath about bad hips. More than a decade of almost nightly poundings has taken its toll. A relentless schedule puts him in the ring about 250 nights a year, not including travel time and scheduled public appearances like his Madison media blitz. "Injuries are my only breaks," he said wearily. "Then I get some time off to recuperate." He keeps going simply because he is The Undertaker, and will always be -- until fatigue and chronic pain, hellhounds forever at his heels, catch him. "It's a very fine line between dictating to your body what it should do, and doing what your body tells you it should do," he says. "But I'll be around as long as I can deliver what people expect to see from me. I don't want to be out there as a shadow of what I once was." Has all the pummeling been worth it? "Yes," he says with absolute certainty. "I made a sacrifice when I made the decision to do this, but it's paid off ten-fold." The man in black has more than enough gray matter to articulate his many ideas about life -- and death -- but he's run out of time. A WWF publicist signals him to wrap things up. He's got less than half an hour to make a final stop and then catch a flight home for a whole day and a half off before hitting the road again. "Don't let people tell you that you can't achieve something because you're different. It's OK to be different as long as you do it without hurting anyone," he says as he stands, cracking a rare smile. "That's pretty ironic, coming from the Undertaker, since it's my job to hurt people."