Raw Magazine

WHAT HAPPENED TO AL SNOW? Or...How it all finally went to his "head"  -- By Kevin Kelly

 He has "Help Me!" written backwards across his forehead. He carries a mannequin's head in his hands that he calls "The Head." He is constantly carrying on a conversation with this "head." He refers to it as "They," meaning he hears more than one voice.

For his own good he was sent to the Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW).

The renegade operation known for its employment prerequisite of suicidal tendencies sent him back. He was simply too dangerous.

What brought the man once known as Leif Cassidy, who also competed in the World Wrestling Federation as Avatar and Shinobi, to this desperate mental state? He may have suffered for his art too long without appreciation.

In many respects, professional wrestlers are artists. They are craftsmen who work on canvas, not with paints or oils, but with blood, sweat and tears. However, some calling themselves artists work primarily for mass consumption, simply looking to recreate the emotion associated with a once original piece time and time again. Instead of displaying creativity and new works of art, they simply hold up a painting first done in 1984 and expect cheers.

Despite changes in styles or the audiences' tastes, the appreciation of fellow artisans is often the most sought after, but the most difficult response to attain. At any event, both critics and fans of the artists' work peer through curtains or stare into television monitors as the craftsmen display their latest offerings. As an eyewitness to these public showings, the critics can be brutal. Praise, when given, is truly earned.

A man who consistently earned praise from his fellow artists throughout his career, Al Snow's career began in the humblest of settings. Who would have thought, with the gallery of work he now possesses, his career very nearly never got started? Right after high school graduation in 1981, Snow sold his car for bus fare and the registration fee to try out for the Anderson Brothers in North Carolina.

In his own words, Snow has described the ordeal as "barbaric." A group of about 20 young men from all over the country wanted to learn the art of professional wrestling from a renowned veteran. Instead, they paid $250 each to get their asses kicked.

After what seemed like thousands of Hindu squats and push-ups and an agonizing array of sprints and dashes, it was time to get into the ring.

The 18-year-old Snow just wanted to be a wrestler. He would now finally have his chance. With his legs quivering from having run the arena steps thousands of times and a lactic acid burn in every muscle of his body, Al Snow would soon lock up with Gene Anderson.

First, he witnessed several other wannabes get a chance with one half of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew. Anderson punched, kicked, clawed and bit until each young man had had enough.

With the ring cleared, it was Al Snow and Gene Anderson. Following the brutal pummeling, Snow went to take a shower. He saw Gene, who told him he'd never make it.

With no money, he had to walk five miles to get to the bus station and back home to Lima, Ohio.

Why, 16 years following this incident, did he finally snap? It wasn't the struggle to become a pro; it was the fight for recognition. He lived for his art and suffered because of it. He'd been called "the greatest wrestler you've never heard of" on numerous occasions and was voted the most underrated wrestler more times than he could count.

His peers spread the word of his skill in locker rooms throughout the country and he found himself with more work on the independent scene than he could handle.

That is, however, like being the richest of poor men. How many $50 pay days does it take before you begin to starve for your art? When you have a wife and two young children, it's faster than you think.

Each opportunity was "the big one." His wife had heard it hundreds of times.

An offer to work in Tennessee for the Smokey Mountain promotion was his biggest break. It was still a regional territory, but it was a chance to display the body of his work for a company that was a critical success.

However, like the independent film, if no one sees it does it really make a sound? His artistic struggle continued. 1996 would be a turning point in his career.

With Smokey Mountain down for the count, an offer to work fro the World Wrestling Federation came on the heels of his contemplating retirement. Who would have guessed that the thought of quitting would bring about his life-long dream?

They said, "We've got an idea that you're perfect for!"

First it was the masked Avatar, which never saw the light of the ring. Next it was Shinobi. Another meaningless mask. Two strikes for the "office" with Al Snow. What about the artistic respect that was now in jeopardy? The third strike would be Leif Cassidy--take a great wrestler and put a goofy grin on him and add a never fully explained love of 70's music.

That is what Al Snow did to his pride and his art in order to be in the World Wrestling Federation.

Slowly, the losing and humiliation started getting to him and Al began to unravel. He was labeled a "malcontent." For a laugh, the "boys" would come over and get him started. He would flip out, retelling the story of the "Carrot and the Stick," a tragic tale of use and misuse by the front office of the World Wrestling Federation a million times.

The final straw was the night he flipped after losing on television and got in Jim Ross's face.

For his own good, Al was loaned by Vince McMahon to Paul Heyman of ECW. Despite the fact that Philadelphia is only 140 miles from Stamford, Connecticut, there is an entire world separating the two companies.

Al was isolated and alone. Just like when Gene Anderson told him in 1982 that he'd never make it, Al knew deep down inside that he couldn't quit.

Since he didn't work for Paul, he wasn't one of "Paul's guys", the inner circle that controlled the power in the outlaw group and Vince thought he had seen the last of Al Snow the night he made the call to Heyman.

Al trusted no one and harbored ill will toward both companies.

One night, he says, he heard a voice--several voices, in fact. He found "The Head" amongst the trash in one of the nondescript locations in which ECW conducts business.

He finally found someone on his side. Someone who appreciated his art.

When Al Snow returned to the World Wrestling Federation, he screamed about wanting to meet with Vince McMahon. It seems that the man who throughout his career had lived for the appreciation of the audience and fellow competitors now wants to know why he wasn't appreciated here before. Perhaps he wants to recapture the self-respect he'd sacrificed in 1996.

Perhaps Al wants revenge for the mistreatment that culminated with casting him off to hell on earth. There was never anything wrong with his work in the Federation--it was merely hanging out of the public's view and it was poorly lit.

When a painter's work doesn't sell, does he blame the gallery? In Al Snow's case, the World Wrestling Federation treated his Picassos like "Dogs Playing Poker," and then blamed him for their not commanding a higher price.

Now halfway through 1998, front office personnel adjustments under Vince McMahon will prevent that from happening again, hopefully.

In any case, has irreparable damage been done to one of the greatest artists this sport has ever seen?

Raw Magazine Aug 1998

Kevin Kelly