The Iron Claw Zac Efron via A24

Let’s Talk About Who the Von Erichs Are in ‘The Iron Claw’

The Iron Claw is a film that tries to do what years of wrestling fans have as well: tell the story of the Von Erichs. A family that is legendary in the world of professional wrestling, their story is one that also is followed by tragedy.

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Content warning for discussion of suicide.

When you go into a story like theirs without knowing anything about them, you might be (at first) captured by their dedication to the sport. But slowly, you see the cracks in this once great family and see just why so many fans of professional wrestling have become obsessed with the Von Erich family and want to know as much as possible about the brothers.

So what exactly is the story that The Iron Claw is telling? Well, it starts first with their father, Jack “Fritz Von Erich” Adkisson. Jack Adkisson changed his name to “Fritz Von Erich” when he joined professional wrestling and changed his family name to the same, making the last name of all his sons Von Erichm as well. When Jack didn’t make it in professional wrestling, that desire for a championship title didn’t exactly leave him, and he just switched the who of the desire to his boys. It turned Jack into somewhat of a monster, forcing his boys into a sport they didn’t necessarily want to be a part of.

That’s how each of the Von Erich boys ended up becoming professional wrestlers (with the exception of Jack Jr., who died as a child). In order to understand the story of the Von Erichs, you have to understand the boys, so let’s dive into who the brothers are and why they were so dedicated (to a degree) to their father but more importantly to their brothers and their love for one another.

Kevin Von Erich

Zac Efron holding up the belt in the Iron Claw
(A24)

The second oldest of the family, Kevin Von Erich (played by Zac Efron in the film) became the most dedicated to wrestling and the first in the sport. At first, it seemed like the plan was to make Kevin take on the legacy of winning the championship belt and becoming the first Heavyweight Champion in the family.

Kevin, for the most part, did whatever his father and mother, Dottie (Maura Tierney) asked of him, but the version of Kevin we see in The Iron Claw is of a brother who constantly wanted to check in on his brothers. This plays into the rule that the real Kevin Von Erich asked director and writer Sean Durkin to follow on set, which was to make sure the movie made it clear how he felt about his brothers.

In real life, Kevin Von Erich became famous for wrestling both with his father’s promotion, World Class Championship Wrestling, as well as being part of a wrestling team with his brothers, David and Kerry. The real Kevin has more of a connection with the WWE (which changed in the 2000s from the WWF) than is shown in the film, which does not go that far into the future. Kevin is part of the WWE Hall of Fame with the rest of the Von Erichs.

David Von Erich

Harris Dickinson doing the Iron Claw on Ric Flair in the Iron Claw
(A24)

As shown in the movie, David Von Erich (Harris Dickinson) was just slightly younger than Kevin, so when the time came to see who would end up taking the title belt for the family name, Jack gave David the chance over Kevin. For whatever tension that might have brought up in other families, The Iron Claw shows how much these brothers loved each other because that tension is directed towards Jack and not necessarily between the brothers.

David, who had to start a rift with Ric Flair in order to have a shot at the title, had a match in Fort Worth against the then-Heavyweight Champion of the world.

As David was preparing to travel the world as part of his campaign to win over the fans of wrestling and get them on his side, he suffered an injury that would eventually be the cause of his death. David Von Erich died of acute enteritis, which is the inflammation of the intestines. There are many theories as to what could have caused this, many insinuating that there could have been drugs hidden away that David was taking for the pain he was enduring from the matches. David Von Erich died in February of 1984.

One of the people who insinuated this was Flair himself, stating in his memoir that Bruiser Body helped to hide the evidence. We don’t know if any of this is true, but it is the beginning of a series of tragic events in the lives of the Von Erich brothers that does not stop.

Kerry Von Erich

Jeremy Allen White on a motorcycle looking to the side
(A24)

A track star who lost his chance at the Olympics when the United States boycotted the Moscow games, Kerry Von Erich may be the Von Erich with the most fame within the WWE, but he is one of the brothers with the most pain. Much like his brothers, Kerry was brought up to be part of his father’s legacy in the WCCW. Kerry, who was part of a team with David and Kevin, would go on to win the title for his family but would also suffer from a motorcycle accident that would take his right foot.

In 1984, Kerry won the title championship from Ric Flair, something that David never got the chance to do, and in the same year had his accident that he kept from the public and even those he wrestled with. There were some that claim they were close enough to Kerry that he was open with them about his injury, like Roddy Piper, who wrote in his autobiography, “We were the best of friends. In fact, he felt comfortable enough to sit with me in a hotel and shoot the breeze with his prosthetic off.”

The injury continued to weigh on Kerry, and eventually, Kerry left the WWE in 1992 when Ric Flair beat him in Royal Rumble. His reasoning for leaving the WWE is documented as a number of reasons including the accident leaving him less than at his peak, addiction issues, and more. The following year, in 1993, Kerry Von Erich would kill himself on his family’s ranch in Texas.

Mike Von Erich

Stanley Simons singing with his band in the Iron Claw
(A24)

In the film The Iron Claw, Mike is representative of two of the Von Erich brothers. Sean Durkin used Mike to represent both Mike Von Erich and Chris Von Erich (the youngest of the brothers). The reality is that Mike’s public persona is not a long one because Mike’s wrestling career was limited because of his injury and what happened quickly after.

Mike Von Erich began wrestling in 1983. In 1985, Mike would suffer from an injury that would result in him going into toxic shock syndrome. The surgery, which was for his shoulder, led to brain damage. The following year, he was in a car accident, and Kevin often talked about Mike’s frustrations over his status of having to be his brother David in the eyes of his parents.

Eventually, by 1987, Mike died by suicide.

The two brothers not really included

The Von Erich family in a huddle in The Iron Claw
(A24)

Jack Jr. was featured briefly in the movie, but he wasn’t heavily involved, which makes sense as he died as a child. There is a scene with Jack Jr. later in the film. But there was one brother completely erased from the film: Chris Von Erich.

While Chris aspired to be a wrestler, he was the smallest of the Von Erichs and he suffered from having brittle bones, making wrestling extremely dangerous for him, on top of having asthma. He would not debut as a fully fledged wrestler until 1990 and then died by suicide in 1991 after talking to his brother Kevin about his suicidal tendencies. Kevin has talked about his conversations with Chris in the past.

I love The Iron Claw a lot, but I think it would have been nice to have honored Chris Von Erich by including his story, as well, instead of just including him and Mike as the same person, but for now, here are the brothers who made up the Von Erich family.

(featured image: A24)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.