The Bizarre, Convoluted Career of Ed Leslie, Wrestling’s Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake
Reinvention in the Squared CirclePhotos via YouTube, WWE network Wrestling Features
On some extremely basic level, pro wrestling is defined by a constant cycle of reinvention, recycling and a glib disregard for continuity. With very few exceptions, performers simply don’t keep to the same shtick or even the same basic identities for all that long unless they become icons of the sport—otherwise, the core of their on-screen identity is always free to be changed at a moment’s notice at the the whims of whoever is calling the shots at the time. Because wrestling is subject to so much unpredictability (injury, contract disputes, real-life drama), it’s simply a place where everything is always in flux and nothing is certain.
This is the industry that coined “The Seven Year Rule” as an ideology, after all, the perception that the storytellers are able to reinvent or completely re-use gimmicks, characters or whole storylines once a period of roughly seven years have passed—the implicit assumption being that the audience is generally too oblivious to notice or care. But in the case of some notable wrestlers, The Seven Year Rule doesn’t even come close. Some guys were lucky if each identity managed to last seven weeks, or seven days.
Case in point: Ed Leslie, a career wrestler who, over the course of about 20 years as a regular in the industry, took approximately 19 different names for all the largest companies of the day. Although best-known to old-school WWF fans as Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, that one outlandish identity barely scratches the surface of what became a fascinating, intensely complicated career arc marked by constant, often inexplicable transformations. Pick any year in the ’80s or ’90s, and the chances are excellent that Ed Leslie debuted a new character at some point, if he wasn’t on the injured reserve list.
An obvious question is of course why Leslie, a not particularly skilled technical wrestler, was constantly given more chances to reinvent himself and strive for an audience connection, and the answer is nepotism. The real-life best friend of WWF (and later WCW) golden boy Hulk Hogan, Leslie had a reputation for riding Hogan’s coattails his entire career, following him from promotion to promotion and benefitting from their association. Armed with a perpetual foot-in-the-door wherever he performed, Leslie therefore had the freedom to constantly reinvent himself, and what follows is one of the craziest strings of character and alignment changes in professional wrestling history. I’m going to do my best to concisely take you through the entire string of names and characters, in an attempt to show just how complicated one career in pro wrestling can be.
The Early Period
In 1977, Edward Harrison “Ed” Leslie makes his professional wrestling debut, immediately teamed with an also brand-new Hogan (then “Terry Boulder) as his storyline brother/partner Ed Boulder. From the first moment that Leslie arrives, he finds himself in Hogan’s shadow, which is the position he’ll continue in for practically his entire career. Together, they feuded against various territorial villains of the day, with Leslie sporting the most ridiculously feathered, Farrah Fawcett-style bleach blonde hair you could possibly imagine. Already, his career-long fascination with hair is in full effect.
Ed Leslie for Pantene Pro-V
Without straying too far, Leslie eventually took a few other short-lived names: First Eddie Golden and then Dizzy Golden, presumably in reference to those cruelly teased golden locks. By this time, however, “Terry” had officially taken the “Hulk Hogan” name for the first time, so Leslie returned to his side and adopted his name (per usual), first as Eddie Hogan and then Dizzy Hogan, because why name yourself only once when you can do it twice in rapid succession? If Hogan’s last name had been changed to “Dizzy” at this point, Leslie probably would have ended up as “Dizzy Dizzy,” somehow.
This whole promo is literally just him saying “My brother Hulk Hogan is coming and then you’re gonna be in trouble, man.”
Hogan, however, eventually left for the greener pastures of the nationally expanding WWF, which led to a few more short-lived Ed Leslie personas: First the generic Brute Force, which sounds more like a mid-’90s tag team name or straight-to-video action movie, and then Baron Beefcake, which certainly hinted at his later characters to come. I’m not going into more detail on any of these characters because there’s very little historical record to draw from, owing mostly to their total irrelevance.
The Big Leagues
With his meal ticket exploding into superstardom in the WWF via the birth of Hulkamania, it was of course only a matter of time before Leslie also got the call from Vince McMahon, who naturally had his star attraction, Hogan, whispering in his ear. Thus, when Leslie arrived in 1984, he was immediately pushed to near the top of the card and given a new character—Brutus Beefcake.
Beefcake was the first Leslie character that managed any kind of resonance, and for once he wasn’t exclusively working alongside Hogan, although he did quickly end up in a feud against him. Rather, the character he played was a heel (a villain)—a sort of vain, baby-oiled pretty boy/Chippendale character of the sort that had been a common stock bad guy ever since Billy “Superstar” Graham. He teamed up with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, another wrestler who had pretty much the same gimmick, and together they marched to the ring in sequined robes, proclaiming themselves “the prettiest and the best,” and were named “The Dream Team.” This they were most certainly not, although they eventually managed to pry the tag team titles away from The U.S. Express. Much of this was not pretty stuff—while researching this piece, I watched a tag title match where The Dream Team managed to retain after Valentine collided heads with his opponent and accidentally fell on top of him for the three-count. “Beefcake,” on the other hand, essentially did nothing of note except celebrate afterward.
As one half of The Dream Team.
After the break-up of The Dream Team, and subsequently having his hair forcibly cut by the villainous Adrian Adonis, Leslie turned face (a good guy) and was able to get revenge on Adonis by completely shaving his head, which earned him a new full-time name and persona: Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. In this, the most meaningful character of his career, he would occasionally render bad guys unconscious with the dreaded sleeper hold before using a comically oversized set of shiny steel hedge clippers to lop off chunks of their hair. Fans naturally loved this, cheering for Leslie to shower them with clumps of the fallen villain’s follicles (really). This was the ’80s, when having a chunk of hair thrown into your beer at a wrestling match was considered an integral part of the business.
Imagine waking up one morning to see this, standing over your bed.
This period is the closest that Leslie’s career ever really got to permanence, and he enjoyed considerable success portraying The Barber from 1987-1990. In this period he feuded with the likes of The Honky Tonk Man, “Outlaw” Ron Bass and the “Macho King” Randy Savage, before once again joining up with Hulk Hogan in a tag team called the “Mega Maniacs” to feud against Savage and the incredibly out-of-his-element Zeus, a non-wrestler portrayed by Tiny Lister of Friday fame. This is also probably the apex of the “bug-eyed, cocaine-fueled wrestling promo” period in WWF history, and Leslie/Hogan had no shortage of classics. BUCKLE UP, folks:
YIKES. And yet, there’s no doubt that this was the highlight of Leslie’s career, which was about to be derailed. In 1990, a freak parasailing accident resulted in a friend’s foot essentially kicking Leslie in the face with such force that his whole facial skeleton was crushed. It took dozens of small metal plates to repair his facial damage, and he was outside a wrestling ring for almost two years.
WWF Return From Injury
In 1991, Leslie returned to the WWF portraying a completely new character who never received an official name—fans refer to him either as Mystery Man or Fur Face, the latter because of the fuzzy-looking, star-covered mask he was wearing at the time, presumably to hide his lingering facial injury. This bizarre character would run to the ring during matches, attack various heels and then beat a hasty retreat, but the point behind it was never discovered, as the WWF canned the character after only a few appearances. This of course left viewers with burning questions such as “What’s a fur face?” and “What the hell is that thing on his chest, some sort of body armor?”
I legitimately have no idea what that is on his chest. This is not a joke. I have no clue.
After this idea was aborted, Leslie returned to playing The Barber later in 1991, although it wasn’t as an active wrestler. Rather, Leslie took to a sideline role, hosting a talk show called “The Barber Shop” that would literally see him interviewing the top faces and heels of the day from a barber shop set—presumably this was to give him still more time to recuperate and get back in ring shape following the accident. He didn’t actually return to in-ring action until 1993, in a series of singles matches against the likes of “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, who spent all his time trying to re-injure Leslie’s face, because by this point, “My face got messed up real bad” had become his main character trait, to the point that he wore a protective facemask in the ring.
After that, The Barber decided to try something fresh by teaming up with Hulk Hogan to reform the Mega Maniacs. Hogan’s WWF star, however, was somewhat waning at this point, given that he had been playing pretty much the exact same character for going on a decade, so the team’s reunion didn’t come to much anything of note—oddly enough, they never actually held the WWF’s tag titles.
Soon after, Leslie was back to wrestling meaningless singles matches at house shows, and by the summer of 1993 he was released from the WWF. But there were still so many crazy characters to come.
The WCW Years
Leslie’s departure from the WWF illustrates exactly how tied to the hip he was with Hogan, because after his departure, the former Barber chose to simply sit at home for the better part of a year. World Championship Wrestling, hereafter referred to simply as WCW, had risen in the early ‘90s into a legitimate competitor to the WWF thanks to its national television deals on Turner networks, but despite their typical glee at poaching any former WWF talent, it doesn’t seem like anyone was particularly interested in Leslie. And so, he sat at home and waited for his meal ticket to arrive, as Hogan also appeared to be nearing the end of his initial WWF run. The biggest name in wrestling history finally jumped ship to WCW in in the summer of 1994, and suddenly—can you believe it?—the company didn’t mind having Ed Leslie join alongside him.
In WCW, Leslie made his debut right alongside Hogan, but never truly got a chance to introduce himself—he mostly stood behind Hogan trying to look tough while Hogan referred to him as Brother Bruti, which was apparently just a pet nickname that Hogan had for the guy ever since their WWF days. The WCW officials presumably were saying “Well, Hogan gave this warm body a nickname, so I guess we’ll go with that.” However, it didn’t stick, and the company decided to give him a new name that would hearken back to his success as The Barber. Unable to use those exact words thanks to the WWF’s ownership of the character, though, they instead came to a supremely silly-sounding compromise: “The Clipmaster”. I can’t help but suspect this is the only time in history that a barber has been described as a “clipmaster.”
Brother Bruti, literally in Hogan’s shadow. Also in Gene Okerlund’s shadow.
This name, however, was as short-lived as Brother Bruti before it—in very short order Leslie turned heel after being revealed as the masked man who had been plaguing Hogan, and he was summarily renamed The Butcher, which was combined with a new haircut and dark sunglasses—you know, like butchers wear. The name itself seems to have been chosen just so the WCW announcers could wail that Leslie had “BUTCHERED A FRIENDSHIP!”, which might be the only time in wrestling history that a character has received a new gimmick just so one of the announcers could spout off what he thought sounded like a really cool line.
“THIS MAN HAS BUTCHERED THE GOOD NAME OF STARRCADE!”
As The Butcher, Leslie joined up with fellow heels Kevin Sullivan and Avalanche to form “The Three Faces of Fear,” and immediately found himself shooting to the top of the card. This culminated in his highest-profile WCW match, a title bout against Hogan at Starrcade 1994, the significance of which cannot be overstated. Starrcade was like WCW’s Wrestlemania, a venerable NWA-era annual event considered one of the most cherished wrestling platforms of all time. The fact that it was main-evented by Hogan vs. Ed Leslie is the single most nepotistic moment of his entire career. Of course, Leslie was naturally just there to make Hogan look good, so he took the loss.
Following that loss, The Butcher’s dissatisfied allies decided that perhaps Two Faces of Fear would be easier to keep track of, and they turned on him. The resulting beat-down from Kevin Sullivan turned Leslie back into a face, and was so traumatic that it also transformed him into, I shit you not, The Man With No Name, an amnesiac character that only lasted for a few weeks before also being called The Man With No Face. I ASSUME this was some sort of callback to Leslie’s history of facial injuries, but you can see why the audience would be confused—given, you know, that he still had a face and all. Regardless, Leslie’s character had clearly run into a dead end, and he took a little time off from WCW.
Descent into Madness
Being “The Man With No Face” somehow made more sense than what happened next, because when Leslie returned from his hiatus in 1995, he received yet another new character and rejoined Kevin Sullivan’s new stable, The Dungeon of Doom. To repeat: Leslie redebuted by joining the stable of the same man who put him on the shelf, because this is wrestling and continuity be damned, even if it only happened a few months earlier.
In the Dungeon of Doom, Leslie was called The Zodiac, and this is when the innate goofiness of his career really kicks into high gear, right alongside the cartoon lunacy of WCW, which was approaching its zenith before the launching of a much grittier era in the late ‘90s. The Zodiac looked like some kind of demented Chia Pet with wild, stringy hair, a seemingly random black and white facepaint pattern and trunks strategically cut to reveal portions of his upper thigh for no discernable reason. He really has to be seen to be believed:
So yeah … there was a lot of yelling in The Dungeon of Doom, no doubt about that. You may also have noticed that all Leslie says is “YES!” and “NO!”—this is the only dialog that The Zodiac ever spoke. For months. For the better part of a year, Ed Leslie’s only WCW lines on camera were “YES!” and “NO!” as he competed alongside The Dungeon of Doom in their quest to destroy Hulkamania. Believe it or not, they were not successful.
In reality, the opposite was true, and Leslie’s cyclical relationship with Hogan took its next step in the spring of 1996 when the Hulkster revealed a bombshell: The Zodiac was an inside agent who had been working for Hogan THE WHOLE TIME. (cue dramatic music) Did it make any sense at all? Nope. But it did allow Leslie to leave the Dungeon of Doom and turn face once again.
Leslie’s new face character was The Booty Man, a callback of sorts to the original Brutus Beefcake, although the subject of his infatuation was, for some reason, his own ass, which he would shake around during his entrance, accompanied by a valet called his “Booty Babe.” Excerpt from Booty Man entrance song lyrics: “Put your hands together, I’ll show you the way, come and get some booty where the big boys play.” Booty Man finisher name: “The Hi-Knee.” He was somehow more ass-based than later WWF character “Mr. Ass”—don’t ask me to explain how. Unbelievably, this character didn’t resonate with the WCW universe, even after he was re-paired with Hogan, who rechristened him Big Brother Booty because anything having to do with Hogan has to have a “brother” in there somewhere.
Not pictured: Booty.
Big changes, however, soon came to WCW with the formation of the New World Order in the summer of 1996. This group, which featured Hogan as a heel for the first time in his main event career, redefined the wrestling landscape and ushered in an era of unpredictability and kayfabe-bending reality. Its other effect was that goofier characters such as The Booty Man had become increasingly obsolete.
So naturally, Leslie wanted a slice of that Hogan pie, per usual. On the night that Hogan won the WCW title in August of 1996, Leslie, in character as The Booty Man/Big Brother Booty, attempted to turn heel and join the fledgling NWO, in an almost-meta moment of the organization parodying his relationship with Hogan and constant attempts to live off the superstar’s scraps. After Hogan’s victory, The Booty Man strolled down to the ring in an NWO shirt and presented Hulk with a birthday cake, clearly seeking entry into the group. Hogan and his NWO allies, however, were having none of it, and they beat The Booty Man down so badly that he was forced to leave WCW entirely. Thus passed The Booty Man.
One Final Gimmick
Remember when Ed Leslie got beaten up by his friends, left WCW and then immediately rejoined those same people when he returned? Well, what if I told you that exact same thing happened again? Although to be fair, this time did take a bit longer.
After getting the crap kicked out of him by the NWO, Leslie took an extended hiatus, leaving WCW television for nearly two years. He finally returned in Feb. of 1998 as The Disciple, Hogan’s new biker bodyguard, once again in a subservient role to the person who had previously sent him packing. Of note is the fact that audience members weren’t actually supposed to recognize Leslie this time, and he did look quite different, with long hair, a dyed beard and black sunglasses.
The pairing we were all begging for finally comes to fruition.
The Disciple’s primary role was to assist in administering the post-match beatdowns that were the NWO’s specialty, and he continued in this role until Hogan’s ill-fated feud with a returning Ultimate Warrior, when Leslie was “brainwashed” by the Warrior into turning on Hogan. This happens to be one of the only times in his career that a heel/face turn by Leslie did not coincide with a new character, as he remained The Disciple until his final departure from WCW in Nov. 1999.
And there you have it. That was the end of Edward Harrison Leslie’s pro wrestling career in major federations, although he continues to book occasional “legend” appearances in indie promotions to this day, at the age of 58. Few performers can say they wrestled for so long, for so many notable federations, while simultaneously making such a small relative impact in the history of those organizations. In this, Leslie is fairly unique. He’s like the King of the Warm Bodies.
He was always a fixture in the background, a fly on the wall. Where Hulk Hogan led, he followed. He embodied the necessity of reinvention in pro wrestling, the way a man is simply seen as a vehicle for a character or a gimmick. He apparently seemed like the ideal person, wherever he went, to test out new, poorly conceived characters. In the course of a career, he went from “Dizzy Hogan” to a greased-up Chippendales dancer, a maniacal barber, to a “butcher,” an amnesiac, a raving madman, a posterior-obsessed lovable goof and a surly biker, and that’s like half the characters.
If Ed Leslie had one virtue, it was being in the right place at the right time to witness magic unfolding. The man knew how to stick around, and how to reinvent. And sometimes in pro wrestling, that, along with a powerful friendship, is really all you need.
Here seen with his benefactor, imitating his favorite animal, the pufferfish.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and he’s glad he doesn’t have to watch any more Ed Leslie matches, now that this piece is done. You can follow him on Twitter.