"The Patriot" Del Wilkes has been very open about his substance abuse problems and said he was taking up to 120 painkillers a day at one point. Those problems peaked when he joined WWE in 1997 as his injuries and drug use continued.
Wilkes talked about joining WWE as already damaged goods when he spoke to Wrestling Inc. on our WINCLY podcast.
"When I signed that three-year deal with Vince, I was damaged goods," Wilkes said of joining WWE in 1997. "I didn't get injured in a WWF ring. I went to work for Vince a damaged man; my body was shot."
Wilkes said the highlight of his career wasn't working for WWE, it was working for Japan beforehand. All Japan would always have clean finishes and no DQs, so that style lent itself to being a more physical style and was more taxing on his body.
"I started getting hurt quite regularly. I tore a tricep, had it repaired and went back to work too soon and tore it again. I had a staph infection. I blew my knee out. When I got to Vince I was already on borrowed time and I tried to cover it up the best I could. I felt if they knew the kind of condition I was in, it could cost me money or years on the contract," admitted Wilkes.
"It eventually caught up to me and I couldn't continue to go. So, I didn't get hurt while I was there as when I arrived there my body was shot."
With all of those injuries, Wilkes turned to drugs to help deal with the pain but soon things began to spiral out of control.
"I was in a bad place when I got there not only injury-wise but with the drug issue. I had gotten into a mess with these prescription drugs," said Wilkes.
He then talked about how he was on the road in 1991-1992 with Curt Hennig and he gave him a Percoset which Wilkes had never taken before.
"It took the pain away and allowed me to work and do what I was paid a lot of money to do," said Wilkes. "Fast forward to 1997 and I've got many more injuries and much more serious injuries. My pain pill intake was going from two (a day) to up to 120 a day. And you mix all of the other muscle relaxers and sleeping pills, it's a wonder that I lived through that.
"It did get worse after I retired as it even got worse than that. It got to a dangerous, dangerous level of narcotics I was using."
Wilkes was then asked about Vince McMahon and WWE's attitude toward drug use.
"To my knowledge, when I was working for Vince, no one knew I had that problem," revealed Wilkes. "Those problems didn't come to light until I confessed that I was dealing with these injuries and a horrible addiction at the time. I felt I covered my tracks pretty well.
"I remember the podcast I did with Steve [Austin] on the number of pills I was taking, and he was taken aback by it because I don't think anyone there would have looked at me and thought I was a junkie."
Offering health insurance to performers has always been a hot topic in wrestling and Wilkes was asked if WWE should offer it to its talent.
"I think it's a good thing to offer those and yes, they should be offered. But honestly, I don't think it would have had an effect on me. I had health insurance and just don't foresee a difference with me no matter what they would have done at that point in time," stated Wilkes.
"Now maybe if they would have drug tested me and threatened to take me off the road, maybe that would have done something. I don't know."
Before ever stepping foot into a wrestling ring, Wilkes was an All-American football player at South Carolina. Football and wrestling are two of the worst sports for your brain and Wilkes revealed what he learned about CTE and concussions.
"Well it's a very real, serious issue. Big time. I was contacted by the lawyer that had the suit against the WWE and Vince on these concussions. I initially signed up to be a part of the lawsuits, but then after reflecting on it I contacted the guy and said I want no part of this. Any injury or concussion I suffered never happened in a WWE ring, so why would I hold Vince McMahon responsible and sue him," asked Wilkes who added that no one felt they needed to sue Vince because they knew the risk when they signed up.
"Having said all that, it is a real serious issue. So I think anything we can do to make football or pro wrestling safer, I'm all for it."
To purchase Del Wilkes DVD "Behind The Mask" please visit delthepatriotwilkes.com. Wilkes full interview with Wrestling Inc was included as part of a recent episode of our WINCLY podcast. It can be heard via the embedded player at the bottom of this post. In it he discusses his relationship with Vince McMahon, feuding with Bret Hart, the Montreal Screwjob, his issues with drugs, if WWE should offer health insurance, the legacy of The Fabulous Moolah, the current WWE product, his memories of a young Eric Bischoff, AEW, Johnny Ace's creativity and more.