His snarling crescendo "oh yeah" summoned a generation to mayhem. But Randy "Macho Man" Savage, who died last week, wasn't just a professional wrestler; he was a singular talent, embodying the ambitions and sexual politics of the 1980s and 90s.
Born Randy Poffo, Mr. Savage - the Macho Man - gained notoriety in the World Wrestling Federation as a "heel" - a bad guy who'd cheat and lie his way to victory.
Macho Man's outsized charisma was apparent with each procession to the ring, kitted in rainbow-coloured cowboy hats, to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance. In interviews, his threats and denunciations swelled and receded like an opera. In the ring, he displayed both an improbable musculature and a high-flying athleticism. With such brute force, poetry and camp, Macho Man bucked the
storylines, and was one of the first heels to become a "good guy."
There was a dark side, too. Macho Man had a female manager, Miss Elizabeth (Elizabeth Hulette), and she was an object of both abuse (from other wrestlers) and leering admiration. In other words, she represented many women who find themselves in male-dominated subcultures. Toward Miss Elizabeth, the Macho Man was gruff, but protective. It was all very problematic, to say the least.
But even in the spotlight, Miss Elizabeth appeared to maintain her dignity. That her love affair with the Macho Man was not just a storyline, but, for a time, a real-life one, showed that even pro wrestling's crude stereotypes could not consume individuals entirely.
Many will remember Hulk Hogan, whose positive thinking (advising his "little Hulkamaniacs" to "eat their vitamins") made him the Oprah of wrestling. But Macho Man showed that professional wrestling was more than entertainment; it could aspire to be art, with many of the passions that move the human heart and body.