What Happened to the Von Erich Parents From 'The Iron Claw'?

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As The Iron Claw hits theaters, the famous Von Erich wrestling dynasty is back in the news, thanks in part to the trio of handsome actors leading the film: Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White and Harris Dickinson, who play Kevin Von Erich, Kerry Von Erich and David Von Erich, respectively.

But before Kerry and his brothers became stars of the ring, their father, Fritz Von Erich, was a pioneer of the sport who launched his own promotion, World Class Championship Wrestling, and became a three-time world champion and a 20-time NWA United States Champion.

While trailers for The Iron Claw hint that Fritz was the sort of father who wanted his sons to succeed in sports no matter the cost, Kevin—who is the last surviving brother—says that’s not the case. “He loved us so much,” Kevin told PW Insider Elite in July 2023. “[Critics] talk about [how] he made us wrestle and it was all about the bottom line. No, never. He didn’t even want us to wrestle. I just want people to know my dad was a good, honorable man who I admire. I’d never say anything about him, and I won’t tolerate anybody doing it around me, either.”

Kevin ultimately thought The Iron Claw writer/director Sean Durkin did a great job with his portrayal of the Von Erich family. “I hope people take from that that we really loved each other,” Kevin told Fox 4 Dallas-Fort Worth in November 2023. “I loved my father. Things were just hard, but life is hard. You gotta get tough. Life is worth it.”

Keep reading for more details about Kevin’s father and mother.

Who is Fritz Von Erich?

Fritz Von Erich was born Jack Barton Adkisson on Aug. 16, 1929 in Jewett, Texas. As a student at Southern Methodist University, he played football and threw discus. He began wrestling in the early 1950s after meeting Canadian wrestling promoter Stu Hart. At that point, he took the ring name Fritz Von Erich and played one of a pair of evil German brothers (anti-German sentiment was high in the aftermath of World War II). His “brother” was Walter Paul Sieber, who went by the ring name Waldo Von Erich. During his wrestling career, Fritz popularized the “iron claw” hold, in which a wrestler grabs his opponent’s face with all five fingers and holds tightly.

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Why is Fritz Von Erich famous?

While Fritz Von Erich was a wrestler himself, he is perhaps famous today for fathering six sons, five of whom were also wrestlers. He was also a successful promoter, founding Big Time Wrestling, which later became World Class Championship Wrestling, in 1966. WCCW’s operations were based in Dallas, Texas, which was also home to the Sportatorium, a popular venue for wrestling events.

After retiring as a wrestler in 1986, Fritz continued running WCCW until 1989, at which point he sold the company to Jerry Jarrett, who merged his Continental Wrestling Association with WCCW to create the United States Wrestling Association.

How many kids did Fritz Von Erich have?

After their 1950 wedding, Fritz and Doris Von Erich welcomed six sons: Jack Jr. (born in 1952), Kevin (born in 1957), David (born in 1958), Kerry (born in 1960), Mike (born in 1964), and Chris (born in 1969). All Von Erich sons except Jack Jr. became wrestlers, with Kerry eventually becoming the most successful athlete in the family.

When Fritz died in 1997, however, all of his sons except Kevin had predeceased him.

Who is Doris Von Erich?

Fritz Von Erich married his high-school sweetheart Doris Smith on June 23, 1950. Their first child, Jack Jr., arrived on Sept. 21, 1952. They later welcomed five more sons between 1957 and 1969. She and Fritz divorced in 1992 after 42 years of marriage. Doris died in Oct. 2015 at age 82. For the last years of her life, she lived in Hawaii with her son Kevin and his family.

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What is the Von Erich curse?

The Von Erich curse is the popular term for a string of tragedies that befell the family starting in the 1980s (although one could argue that their bad luck began earlier). Fritz and Doris’ first child, son Jack Jr., died in 1959 in a freak accident after he was electrocuted by a live wire and subsequently fell in a puddle and drowned. Twenty-five years later, Fritz and Doris’ third son, David, died at age 25 from the effects of acute enteritis. His brothers Mike, Chris, and Kerry would all die in the next eight years, all three by suicide. Kevin, the second eldest Von Erich sibling, is the last surviving brother.

How did Fritz Von Erich die?

Fritz Von Erich was predeceased by five of his six children: Jack Jr. in 1959, David in 1984, Mike in 1987, Chris in 1991, and Kerry in 1993. Fritz died on Sept. 10, 1997 after lung cancer spread to his brain. He was 68. After his death, he was cremated and interred alongside his sons at Grove Hill Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas.

Who plays Fritz and Doris Von Erich in The Iron Claw?

In The Iron Claw, Holt McCallany plays Fritz Von Erich while Maura Tierney stars as Fritz’s wife, Doris. In November 2023, Kevin Von Erich said that his niece Hollie (the eldest daughter of Kerry) was blown away by McCallany’s resemblance to her grandfather when she visited the set. “When she saw him, she got a tear in her eye,” Kevin told Fox 4 Dallas-Fort Worth. “Hollie loved my father so much. And she got a tear in her eye, and when [Holt] saw that, he got a tear in his eye, and I thought, ‘These people are devoted.’ It’s gonna be a great movie.” 

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