Jeff Jarrett is truly The King of the Mountain. As the Founder of the TNA (Total Nonstop Action Wrestling) empire, Jeff is a superstar – and super dad! — both in and out of the wrestling ring. Celebrity Parents met up with Jeff and his three daughters, Joslyn, 12, Jaclyn, 8, and Jeryn, 5, at the TNA studios in Orlando, Florida. Humble and soft-spoken, Jeff talked with us about his TNA kingdom, the passing of his beloved wife Jill, and why today he feels extremely blessed.
How did you become involved in wrestling?
My family is 3rd generation in the wrestling world. It began with my grandmother, who did everything except wrestle. She did promotion back in the 40’s here in Tennessee selling tickets. She worked her way up from selling tickets to owning the promotion business. She was a single mom; my dad worked with her, and he started promoting shows. In high school, my dad married my mom and then he actively got into wrestling in the ring. My grandmother broke off as a promoter and started their own promotion business.
I spent my summers doing everything from taking tickets, to setting up the ring, to selling popcorn. My first match was on April 6, 1986, which was the same week that I had my first date with my wife, Jill.
I wrestled for 7 years around the world. In 1993 I went to work for the WWF, and I went back and forth from the WWF to the WCW, from 1993 to 2001. A year later, on June 19, 2002, TNA was born.
Did you ever think that you would have this empire?
I always envisioned having my own company. Wrestling is in my blood; it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. There was a huge void in the marketplace and I wanted to get in the game; it was time. TNA is about to celebrate its 7 year anniversary. It’s been seven long, hard years, full of lots of ups and downs, both personally and professionally. Life is good now, though, and I’m blessed to be a part of TNA.
How is TNA different from other wrestling organizations?
It’s different in so many ways. First, we have a six-sided ring as opposed to a 4-sided ring. TNA also prides itself on being innovative. That goes from marketing, to promotion to every aspect of the business. We create a family-friendly program that parents and children can watch together.
We also deal with our talent in a respectful manner. Being a wrestler first, I’ve seen both sides and I have a great amount of respect for the wrestlers.
I think that having a wrestling background would make you a better boss.
It does. I’m blessed to have that opportunity of having been on both sides; I know what it’s like to travel 300 days a year working and at the same time trying to keep you, your wife and your family happy. Everyone works very hard in our organization. We expect a lot out of our people but the results are worth it.
How would you describe the wrestling world?
It’s unlike any other world I’ve seen! It’s filled with larger than life superstars. It’s a male soap opera, and some people have likened it to Shakespeare for the masses! Interestingly, the people who like us are the masses. Some people don’t get it, but middle America sure does; the ratings dictate it. From action figures, to t-shirts to video games, wrestling is extremely popular. TNA is syndicated in over 100 countries in the world, which is something we’re proud of.
We’re not your average sport. We have a little Hollywood in it. There’s a little sitcom feel to it, and of course the sporting aspect. We’ve got plenty of characters. There’s something for everyone!
Where do you see TNA going?
From a short term basis, Spike TV has been phenomenal to us. The plan is to grow domestically and internationally in all facets of our business. When I was growing up, there wasn’t cable, so you had to watch wrestling once a week on a Saturday morning or a Saturday night. Today, it can be seen almost every day of the week. Our website continues to amaze me; you can download our show through iTunes. The age of information and technology has developed so rapidly; our goal is to stay ahead of the curve to deliver our content. I think in the near future you’ll be able to watch TNA live every night of the week.
What do you say to those people who believe wrestling is scripted and choreographed?
There’s a saying that I love: “For those who believe, no explanation is needed. For those who don’t believe, no explanation will do.” I say it in all sincerity. It’s very real when a guy picks up a chair and hits another guy over the head with it! Sometimes you get hit harder than other times. It’s all part of the sports entertainment show we put on. I could tell you stories that would make your head spin.
What is the most serious you’ve been injured?
I had a slipped disc once that was an ongoing injury from all the bumps and bruises. It was excruciating pain. If you’ve ever had back pain, you know it can bring you to your knees. A lot of guys have neck, shoulder and back injuries. It’s part of the sport.
What are some of your signature moves?
I think the most popular one is the guitar. I’ll hit guys over the head with it.
Why did you choose a guitar?
Well, being from Nashville, Tennessee, it’s the home of country music. It was a pretty natural connection and it stuck with me as a signature move. There’s a move I do that’s affectionately called The Stroke. That started in 1999, when a guy said, “You got the stroke all around you.” The King of the Mountain is another moniker.
Speaking of kings, let’s talk about your queen, Jill.
Jill and I were high school sweethearts. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 1997. We already had our first daughter, Joslyn, and Jill was pregnant again. We went to the doctor to confirm the pregnancy and found out that she had a tumor on her left breast. The results came back, and it was the worst of the worst. We had to abort the baby, and Jill had to have a double mastectomy. She went through a year of chemo and radiation and was given a clean bill of health.
We had Jaclyn and Jeryn after that. Everything was great, and we couldn’t have been happier. Jill was being tested every year to make sure the cancer hadn’t come back. We went for our final visit, after ten years, which would have meant that Jill was cancer-free. They found a spot, and it was a tiny spot, the top of a ball point pen. The doctor said, “Let’s be safe than sorry” and wanted to treat it immediately. We were so upset; in 1997, they had removed 99.9% of her breast tissue, and then it came back on a bitty piece of breast tissue all the way up on her collar bone. It was devastating.
We chose to treat it naturally. I thought I’d seen tough guys in this business; I thought I was a tough guy. But I’ve never seen anybody fight or have that will to live like Jill. She fought it tooth and nail.
What is life like today for you and the girls?
Life couldn’t be better. The girls are healthy. Jill is where she wants to be; she won the race to Heaven. We all grieve in different ways. I don’t think I’ve grieved for Jill because she did everything possible to fight to stay here. God wanted to take her, and God took her. I’m sure she accepted it the second she passed.
It’s been tough at times, though. The first year was living hell. Jill and I had been together 21 years. She supported me to start TNA. Had it not been for her drive and will, I don’t know if I would have started TNA. She backed me 100%. It’s been tough, but my girls have adjusted.
What are some of the girls’ interests?
They’re into soccer, dance and the arts. Joslyn is incredibly athletically gifted. She can shoot a basketball right or left-handed. Jaclyn is also into soccer but she’s the artist of the family. She’ll steal your heart when she dances! And Jeryn is a mix of the two. She’s got a lot of rhythm when she dances but she’s a little bulldog on the soccer field!
The good thing is that I have a nanny and a wonderful support group. Jill’s parents are still very active in the girls’ lives. I shoot TNA in Orlando twice a month, but I’m only gone about 10 days. When I’m home, I get to take the girls to school; we have a pretty good routine down. But with three girls, everyone has an opinion and so I’m always outnumbered!
Can you imagine when they start dating?
(Whistles) Oooh, I can’t wait for that! It’s going to be interesting! I’m looking forward to Little Johnny trying to pull a swerve on me! I’ll be able to call him out pretty quickly. As long as you’re honest with me, I can deal with anything. If I catch a mistruth, that’s when things will go south very quickly!
You’re giving them a normal life.
Absolutely. It’s tough enough that kids in their school are seeing their dad on TV and making comments. I lived it with my dad being a wrestler. It can be a help and it certainly can be a nuisance, especially if you get the bully from a couple of grades higher who doesn’t like wrestling. I know they’re going to run into that and I’ll be there for them and help them through it.