CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Reid Fliehr had never looked happier.
He’d just spent two months wrestling in Japan under his ring name, Reid Flair. He was a budding star there – jump-starting his career in the same country as his father, wrestling legend Ric Flair, had done 40 years ago.
Now he was back home in Charlotte in late March, confident and excited about the prospects of tag-teaming two bouts with his father in Maryland. He planned to return to Japan weeks later for a second wrestling tour.
On March 28, Reid tweeted: “Two shows in Maryland this weekend with Pops. Good wrestling and even better times ahead.”
But a day later, Reid Fliehr was dead at 25.
Ric found him unconscious in a SouthPark hotel room, part of a suite where the famous father was temporarily living. Medics declared Reid dead on the scene. A police report said he was incapacitated due to drugs. Police have ruled out foul play and are awaiting the medical examiner’s toxicology report.
“He was doing so great in Japan,” Reid’s mother, Beth Fliehr, said. “His mind was so clear. He was healthy. Everybody loved Reid over there.
“For the first time, he was just Reid – not Ric Flair’s son.”
For years, Reid Fliehr had lived on the edge of addiction in a world of supercharged personalities. Japan took him away from the distractions – all the old habits. He had worried that returning to Charlotte might offer too much temptation.
“His worst fear,” his mother said, “was coming home.”
Even when he was young, Reid understood the privilege – and burden – of growing up the son of Ric Flair.
Once, at about age 6, his Charlotte AAU team was competing in Fayetteville when parents from the other team circled the mat where Reid was wrestling. They pounded the floor and chanted: “Beat Reid! Beat Reid!” recalled Beth Fliehr, Ric’s second of four wives.
“It broke my heart,” she said. “Everybody wanted to beat him so they could say they beat Ric Flair’s kid.”
Flair had been one of pro wrestling’s top stars for decades, known for his long, wavy bleached hair, wild blue eyes, gaudy robes, a trademark chant (“Wooooooo!”) and personal motto (“To be the man, you gotta beat the man”).
In 1974, after a stint in Japan, Flair arrived in Charlotte, where Jim Crockett Sr. and his family had been promoting professional wrestling for four decades.
The sport flourished under the Crocketts and their National Wrestling Alliance. Back then, its stars – whether they were scripted as heroes or heels – were celebrities.
Flair especially loved the TV cameras and the spotlight. His audience grew as the Crocketts syndicated televised matches and Charlotte became the epicenter of pro wrestling.
“The camera loved Ric Flair,” said David Crockett, Jim Sr.’s son, who was an announcer during shows. “He began to live Ric Flair 24 hours a day. The bleached hair. The robes he had made – those were $2,000, sometimes $5,000, robes. The cars he drove – Mercedes, Cadillacs. A Chevrolet didn’t fit his profile. But he was really good in the ring, too.”
In those days, they wrestled sometimes seven days a week, in small towns and cities throughout the southeast. At first, Flair was a bad guy in the scripted storylines, but then he became a hero. Either way, wrestling fans wanted to be near him.
When he was the bad guy, “people loved to hate him,” Crockett said. “They screamed and yelled at him. Threw things at him. But they were the first ones who wanted his autograph after the show.”
Flair would become a 21-time world champion in pro wrestling’s major brands. But success came at a cost.
No chance to ‘mess up’
Along with his stardom and constant life on the road, Ric built a party boy reputation.
He was married to his first wife, Leslie Goodman Fliehr, when he arrived in Charlotte. They had a daughter (Megan) and a son (David). The Fliehrs divorced, and soon Ric met Beth Harrell in Raleigh. They married in 1983.
Three years later, their daughter Ashley was born, and in 1988 son Richard Reid Fliehr II, named after his paternal grandfather, came along.
“They expected him to come out of diapers knowing how to wrestle,” said former pro wrestler and longtime trainer George South, who would later train Reid. “I cannot even imagine the pressure. No one gave him a chance to mess up.”
Ric was on the road for much of his children’s early lives. Beth drove Ashley to gymnastics and volleyball practices and contests and Reid to football games and wrestling matches.
Ric showed up for their events when he could. In 1998, World Championship Wrestling, then the highest-rated pro wrestling TV show, sued Ric for breach of contract after he skipped an appearance to see his son in an AAU national wrestling tournament.
Months later when the dispute was settled, 10-year-old Reid was worked into a wrestling storyline, by taking the place of his father in the ring. The boy wore a red singlet and his AAU medal, saying he was there to handle his dad’s “light work.”
In 2004, the Observer picked Reid, a 189-pounder at Providence High, as one of 13 area high school wrestlers to watch. His sister Ashley played volleyball on a Providence team that won two state 4A championships.
Ric was well-known around Providence High, often leading pep rallies or cheers. Opponents and their fans quickly figured out which kid was his.
Ashley, an all-conference volleyball player, got used to hearing spectators mimic her father’s famous chant.
“I feel like people are watching me because of who my dad is,” she told the Observer in 2003.
Reid was 16 and pitted against a wrestler from South Mecklenburg High at the 2005 N.C. 4A Western Regional. His opponent won a heated bout, then performed Ric Flair’s signature strut and shouted: “Woooooo!” Reid tackled him and the crowd swarmed the mat.
Reid was charged with misdemeanor simple assault and both schools were fined $1,000. The assault was dismissed.
Classmates saw signs of privilege: Ric had food delivered to school for Ashley’s and Reid’s lunches. And a wrestling teammate remembers Reid had a trainer at practice who worked with only him.
Yet Reid was also thoughtful.
“He’d go out of his way to give me a ride home from practice,” former wrestling teammate Matt McMillan said. “No one else on the team even offered.”
It was also clear, even at a young age, that Reid felt compelled to look after “the bullied or ostracized,” his mother and others said.
Susan Beck, a family friend, said she was pregnant with her son, Landon, when Beth was pregnant with Reid. Their two boys were instant friends.
When Landon developed Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological condition characterized by physical and vocal tics, Reid made sure no one made fun of him.
“He was a protector, a nurturer,” Beck said. “He always – always – made sure Landon was included and felt comfortable.
“Reid had to grow up fast, because of the public life and flamboyant personality his father had.”
Troubles with police
By the time Reid entered high school, his parents’ marriage was breaking up, and much of their troubles played out in the media.
In Beth’s complaint, filed in May 2005, she claimed Ric had “publicly touted his extramarital relationships to the point that his children are aware of his infidelity.” In Ric’s affidavit, he claimed Beth “had absolutely no control over Reid.”
Beth could see that hurt her son. She believes now that their high-profile troubles turned him to drugs “to cope with it.”
As his parents struggled with their marriage, Reid’s run-ins with police began.
In July 2004, Reid was charged with assaulting a female – his mother. A police report said Reid pushed Beth and she fell to the floor, breaking her right arm.
Beth said Friday the incident was a “total accident,” that she was wearing high heels and one of the heels got caught and she tripped. Reid tried to keep her from falling, she said. She didn’t press charges and the case was dismissed.
Reid was also charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in March 2006. Those, too, were dismissed.
After Reid finished his sophomore year at Providence, Beth wanted her son to go to a boarding school, away from Charlotte and all the attention on his parents’ marital problems.
Ric chose Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., an exclusive private school known for its nationally ranked wrestling program.
“A lot of these people didn’t know who Ric Flair was, but Reid was like a rock star the first day we got there,” said a childhood friend and teammate at Blair who asked to remain anonymous. “Here was this great-looking, charming, hilarious guy who drew people to him.”
When Reid graduated in 2007, he decided against college to pursue a career in the family business. David was already a pro wrestler and Ashley would become one. She now wrestles with World Wrestling Entertainment’s NXT division under the name Charlotte.
Reid, then 19, began his training in Charlotte. He was charged with two counts of assault during a group fight outside a bar. Those charges were dismissed.
In November 2008, Ric sent him to Harley Race’s Wrestling Academy in Eldon, Mo.
“Reid was a really good amateur wrestler, and the number of years he’d spent around his dad made it easy for him to transition,” said Jason Jones, who trained Reid with Race, a longtime wrestler who also runs World League Wrestling.
Becoming Reid Flair
Reid made his pro debut on Dec. 6, 2008, at age 20, tag-teaming with half-brother David and wrestling the Nasty Boys at Vance High School in Charlotte. Ric managed the Fliehr brothers. Wrestling star Hulk Hogan refereed the bout.
The Fliehrs won by employing their father’s famous Figure Four leg-lock.
By then, Reid had adopted the family wrestling name and became Reid Flair. He continued to wrestle in independent shows, traveling from high school gyms to municipal auditoriums. But his troubles with the law got more serious.
In January 2009, he was found passed out at the wheel of a Porsche at a stop sign and taken to CMC Pineville. A police report said he’d overdosed on drugs.
That year, he was twice charged with driving while impaired. He pleaded guilty to both. He was placed on probation and ordered to attend rehab. In the second case, that April, he was also charged with possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia. Both drug-related charges were dismissed.
Charlotte lawyer Larry Hewitt, who represented Reid in many of the cases, said prosecutors didn’t give his client special treatment. “I don’t know why some of the charges were dismissed,” Hewitt said. “But it certainly wasn’t because he was the son of Ric Flair.”
Then, in 2011, police records show he twice overdosed. In January that year, medics responded to an apartment on Sharon Road after police were called. He was hospitalized. Police recovered a needle and spoon.
In September, Reid, 23, passed out after mixing alcohol and prescription medication, according to a police report. He was treated at CMC and released.
‘Best, worst of Reid’
His friends say he was trying to clean up and turn his life around in recent years.
Reid’s girlfriend, Whitney Burton, said she tried to help him in the nearly four years they dated.
She tried to keep him away from “situations or people” in Charlotte he needed to avoid. Because he no longer had a license, Burton drove him where he needed to go – mostly to train or wrestle, or to his job as a personal trainer at a local gym.
She described Reid as a genuine, caring and funny person. “I saw the best and worst of Reid,” Burton said. “Obviously he had some struggles. I just felt like he needed a lot of support, and so I tried to stick it out with him, even when things were tough for him.”
For most of 2012, Reid wrestled with Xtreme World Wrestling, a Matthews-based operation that typically drew fewer than 100 fans. He twice won the XWW’s U.S. title belt, beating Jose Rodriguez in his final match in America.
He had befriended Rodriguez, whose ring name is Eric Adamz, in September, and Rodriguez called Reid the “most loving, giving, caring 25-year-old” he’d ever met.
“He was trying to get better,” Rodriguez said.
Wrestling in Japan
In mid-January, Ric took his son to Japan, where pro wrestling, called puroresu, is a popular sport.
Ric was booked with All Japan Pro Wrestling for a tag-team appearance that month. He was 63 and still a draw to Japanese audiences. But a blood clot developed in his leg and he had to sit out the main event. His son filled in.
It would be Reid’s only main event there. For two months, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder wrestled in the second or third match of the event, learning and getting healthier. And he was building a following, his mother said.
Reid hoped he would one day make it to the WWE, America’s top-tier wrestling division where his father was once champion.
Burton, his girlfriend, joined him in March for his final two weeks in Japan. She found him happy, healthy and motivated.
Reid was invited back to Japan for a late April tour. He loved the country and didn’t want to leave. He was also worried about returning to Charlotte and old temptations.
“He was fearful about coming home,” Beth Fliehr said. “If you know anything about addiction, the worst thing you can do is come home. The drug (rehabilitation) people described it to me. There are heavy triggers to bad habits at home.
“Anything, anybody, can set them off.”
‘I’ll be back’
Reid and Whitney came back to the U.S. late Sunday, March 24.
Reid had arranged to live with his mother until he returned to Japan. Beth found her son radiant, full of confidence. The next day, Burton twice drove him to the gym to work out.
“He was going to work out every day,” Burton said. “He was like, ‘I want to buckle down and focus and get through this month so I can be ready to go back to Japan.’ ”
Monday night, Reid ate at Kennedy’s in Charlotte with Rodriguez, and then they went to a ring to work out. Reid demonstrated new techniques he’d learned in Japan.
“He was going to the gym, he was working out in the ring, he was happy and joking, ” Rodriguez said. “I’m glad that’s my last memory of him. … I saw him on top.”
Reid went to the gym again Tuesday. That afternoon, Beth took him to a Walmart to buy “lots of food. Lean things. Chicken. Fish. Almond butter. He wanted to be in the best shape he could be.”
Wednesday about 7:30 a.m., Ric showed up to pick up his son, Beth said. Reid hugged his mother. “I’m going to spend some time with dad,” Beth said he told her. “I’ll be back this afternoon.”
He never returned.
Whitney said Reid worked out again that day, then joined his father, who was staying at the Residence Inn on Fairview Road at SouthPark. Ric was in between moves and had reserved a two-bedroom suite.
Thursday night, Ric and Reid ate at nearby Del Frisco’s restaurant. They both stayed that night in Ric’s hotel suite, according to Ric’s agent, Melinda Morris Zanoni.
Ric was scheduled to fly to an autograph signing Friday and had planned to take Reid with him, she said.
At 10:30 that morning, March 29, Ric found his son unconscious in the room. Five minutes later, medics responded and pronounced Richard Reid Fliehr II dead.
Condolences poured in.
In an online memorial, Cody Parish of Raleigh wrote that he met Reid at a wrestling show in Clayton. “He was such a nice guy to be around and was so loyal to the fans.”
Leslie Michael of Winston-Salem wrote that she and her daughter met Reid at a Legends Fanfest in Charlotte and became “instant friends.”
At Reid’s funeral Wednesday, friends came from great distances. Beth said they talked to her about Reid’s smile, his strength and his compassion.
At the funeral, Ashley spoke of how close she was to her brother. “He’d send me text messages all the time saying, ‘I’m so proud of you Stinky Winky’ … I really wanted to be like Reid. Everyone loved Reid... I want us to remember that he was happy. That’s all we ever wanted for Reid. I feel like I’ve lost the only person who truly understood me.”
Then Ric spoke for 10 minutes to the crowd at Forest Hill Church. He said he wanted Reid to know that the hundreds who had gathered didn’t come for Ric, but for Reid “because of who he was and who he affected.”
He said he wondered if he’d pushed his children too hard. He thanked a Charlotte-Mecklenburg policeman “for getting (Reid) out of trouble every time you did.”
He talked about giving Reid a new Dodge Magnum the day he got out of “his first rehab” stay, then getting a call from Ashley later that night saying that Reid had been arrested. “He had 19 beer cans in his car,” Ric said.
He said he would always love and miss his youngest son.
“I can honestly say I blamed myself the first couple days, but after talking with people I think he’s in a better place and he’s at peace,” Ric Flair said. “Because this had gone on a long time – and something happened that we didn’t have control over.
“But he’s a wonderful guy. I was so proud of him.”
Staff reporter Cameron Steele and researcher Maria David contributed.