It’s why Angle chose to start telling his story now.
“I went through a lot of turmoil in my life and I want to help others,” Angle told Fox News Digital in a recent interview. “Having a problem with addiction and being in recovery for the last nine years, I was told in the recovery center to tell your story, and I’ve been pretty open about my story. And I wanted this documentary to come out to help anybody. Anybody that’s in trouble. Anybody that’s dealing with addiction. Anybody that’s trying to overcome obstacles. … It’s more about redemption and overcoming.”
“Biography: WWE Legends” will feature Angle’s life from growing up as a high school wrestling phenom, to his days as an Olympic champion and WWE star, and to his struggles with painkillers. His episode will air Sunday on A&E at 8 p.m. ET.
Angle won a gold medal for Team USA at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and worked his butt off to get to that point. While dealing with a broken neck, he ended up beating Iranian Abbas Jadidi in a victory by points for the gold in the men’s freestyle 100 kg category.
It was one of 44 gold medals the United States took home in 1996. Angle won the event just days after a pipe bomb was detonated at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, killing two and injuring more than 100 others.
“I would hope it was a proud moment for everybody,” Angle said about winning the gold during that time. “It was the proudest moment of my life besides having kids and getting married. You know, you’re never guaranteed any kind of success in life, and when you win an Olympic gold medal, you’re the best in the whole entire world. And that sends a message to everybody that you’re very special, that you stand out.
“I think in that particular time, the bombing happened and people needed something to cheer about. And you know Kerri Strug did the dismount and landed it perfectly and won for Team USA Gymnastics. That was a great moment, my moment was great. There were a lot of great moments in the Olympics in 1996 that the USA had to be very proud of.”
After some skepticism about joining the pro wrestling ranks, Angle signed with WWE (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) in 1998 and got to work training in a bit of a different way than he was used to. Angle told Fox News Digital he trained for about eight months before he made his debut.
Angle’s gimmick was that of an Olympic hero. He was a milk-drinking athlete who made clear to everyone in the audience just how much hard work he put into his craft — even with a “broken freaking neck.” He began to tout the three I’s that made him such a success in life: “Intensity, integrity and intelligence.”
Angle said it was Vince McMahon’s idea on the three I’s after hearing it on a TV show.
“He thought it was perfect for me to be an Olympic gold medalist. He wanted me to be this clean-cut Olympian that preached the three I’s and motivated fans. And actually, he knew it would backfire,” Angle told Fox News Digital. “He was pretending to push me as a baby face knowing that the fans would crap all over me because I was so clean cut, it was like, give me a break, this guy can’t be that good.
“It worked extremely well and it turned me heel. Even though I would preach the three I’s, I would still cheat and win. That also gave me a lot of heat.”
Angle joined WWE in the throes of the company’s so-called Monday Night Wars with World Championship Wrestling. He said he talked to pro wrestling icon Ric Flair about joining the rival company and “The Nature Boy” threw him off that path.
“I met Ric Flair before I signed with WWE and I said, ‘Hey, Ric, do you think I should go to WWE or WCW?’ Ric was in WCW at the time. He said, ‘Do not come to WCW. They’ll annihilate you. They will crush you. Go to WWE because Vince McMahon would take care of you.’ And he was absolutely right. That’s what Vince McMahon did, he took care of me.”
Angle speaks glowingly of McMahon in the episode. He told Fox News Digital he was “sad” to learn of McMahon’s retirement amid misconduct allegations.
“I’m sad because Vince was the Achilles heel of WWE. He’s what made it roll, he’s what made it happen. If it weren’t for Vince, the WWE would not exist,” Angle said. “I’m not saying he’s perfect. He didn’t do everything perfectly. He made very few mistakes from a business standpoint.”
Angle went on to become a four-time WWE champion, the 2000 King of the Ring winner, and had incredible feuds with John Cena, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, Brock Lesnar and Eddie Guerrero, to name a few. He also had some iconic WWE moments, including bringing a milk truck out and spraying superstars in a WWE ring with it.
But several neck injuries took their toll on the WWE superstar.
Angle wrote on his website that he became addicted to painkillers in 2003 after he was prescribed them when he broke his neck. At the height of his addiction, he admitted to taking 65 Vicodin per day. He wrote how the pain of losing his sister to a drug overdose also contributed to his pain.
By the middle of 2006, he was released by WWE. He would perform in Total Nonstop Action wrestling for about 10 years and become a six-time heavyweight champion in that company. He was arrested a few times between 2007 and 2013, and by his final time he had decided to enter a rehab center.
Angle told Fox News Digital it was his family — his wife, Giovanna, and their children — that helped him break the cycle of taking painkillers.
“It came down to this: my wife was going to leave me if I didn’t go to rehab. And she’s everything to me and so are my kids,” he said. “And knowing I could [lose] them, it was more important to me to get rid of my addiction and stay clean and be with my wife and kids than it was for me to continue to be addicted.”
When WWE fans tune into the episode on Sunday night, Angle said he hoped his story could inspire others.
“I want them to know that this documentary is about overcoming everything — all obstacles, addiction, injuries, death of family members, personal things in your lives. It’s about redemption and gaining back your reputation after you lost it,” he said. “And I want everybody to know that it’s possible. Even at the worst point in your life, you could still come out of it and come out shining.”