Why Cyndi Lauper Deserves to Be in the WWE Hall of Fame
The WWE Hall of Fame's "celebrity wing" opened in 2004, and has a handful of high-profile inductees, including Snoop Dogg, Pete Rose, Mr. T, Mike Tyson and President Donald Trump. However, one celebrity curiously missing from this wing is Cyndi Lauper, who was heavily rumored to be inducted in 2017.
That honor never materialized, but the chatter did illustrate that Lauper's WWE Hall of Fame absence is a glaring omission. Not only is her wrestling c.v. far more impressive than other celebrity inductees — in fact, her mid-'80s storylines were crucial components in the lead-up to the first WrestleMania — but she helped bolster the reputation and legacy of the league's women wrestlers. From a pop culture standpoint, Lauper also helped the sport get a toehold at then-behemoth MTV and on late-night TV, which expanded the league's audience. And in 2012's Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir, she even credits her wrestling cross-promotions with breaking her blockbuster 1983 debut, She's So Unusual.
Watch Roddy Piper Smash Captain Lou Albano With an Award
"[Cyndi] gave us some great publicity out there for a different fan, the rock star fans," wrestler Tito Santana told CBS Sports in 2015. "We were evolving. We were becoming TV stars ourselves."
Her first major wrestling collaboration — which kicked off what became known as the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection period of the WWF — was with the late Captain Lou Albano, who was cast as Lauper's father in her "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" video and also appeared in the "She Bop" clip. "I met Captain Lou when I was in [early band] Blue Angel," Lauper recalled in Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir. "We were on a plane ride coming back from Puerto Rico. Originally they wanted the wrestler Gorgeous George to be in the ['Girls Just Want to Have Fun'] video, but I said, 'No, Captain Lou's the one.' I had kept in touch with him and had his number, so [Lauper's then-manager] Dave [Wolff] called him and he signed up immediately."
Watch Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun' Video
In the wrestling world, Albano was a heel who became a thorn in Lauper's side because of his penchant for sexist remarks. In summer 1984, the Captain crashed an episode of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's interview series Piper's Pit and insulted guest Lauper to her face. She responded by knocking over a table, pushing both men and hitting them with her purse. In a 2001 interview, Albano recalled, "She whacked me, hit me over the head with her pocketbook. I didn’t realize that she had a bottle of perfume in there — she almost killed me."
According to Lauper's memoir, Entertainment Tonight portrayed the clip as if it were a real fight, which only stoked the faux antagonism — and set up a pivotal WWF match. "The wrestling connection kept growing to the point where the executives from the label were in on it," Lauper wrote. "I was warned that I might have a fight with Lou on 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper's segment because he was saying a lot of stuff that I might not like, but I said that even though we were going to fight, I still wanted to promote women's lib somehow.
Watch Cyndi Lauper on 'Piper's Pit'
"Dave Wolff said, 'Just have him say women belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, and then we'll do a whole fight thing with female wrestlers,'" she added. "So the Fabulous Moolah was brought in."
The Fabulous Moolah (aka Lillian Ellison) was an interesting choice for a fighting opponent. She first won a wrestling title, the World Women's Championship, in 1956, and defended the title on and off during the ensuing years. However, in 1983, the Fabulous Moolah sold these championship title rights to the WWF and joined that league, bolstering her reputation and setting up a series of integrated pro wrestling matches.
For this initial fight, "The Brawl to End It All," Albano managed the Fabulous Moolah, while Lauper guided newcomer Wendi Richter, who looked like she could be in a New Wave band. "I don't know exactly who selected me [to wrestle], but it was wonderful because her song 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun' was my favorite song," Richter told CBS Sports in 2015. "So it was like a dream come true. She's a very, very good person. Very down to earth."
The July 23, 1984, headline match aired on MTV, and featured Lauper hitting Moolah with her yellow purse, a move christened "The Loaded Purse of Doom." Richter eventually won the fight — a stunning blow for the decorated Moolah. According to the 2002 book Sex, Lies, and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment, the match drew blockbuster viewership; in fact, it was MTV's highest-rated show to date.
Lauper's association with wrestling grew deeper. In late 1984, she appeared at Madison Square Garden to give her enemy-turned-ally Albano an award — a presentation that devolved into a massive brawl, thanks to Piper cracking a gold record over Albano's head. This led to another MTV-promoted fight, February 1985's "The War to Settle the Score," with several major matches featuring Lauper as a manager.
Naturally, MTV touted the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection in a major way for "The War to Settle the Score." The channel aired the match pitting Hulk Hogan — who was guided by a team involving Lauper, Wolff and Albano — against "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, and packaged it as part of a lengthy TV special. Tuxedo-clad VJ Alan Hunter provided match commentary with "Mean" Gene Okerlund, lending more legitimacy to the proceedings, while a bevy of rock stars — including Ted Nugent, Patty Smyth, Peter Wolf, Kenny Loggins, Greg Kihn, Tina Turner, Dee Snider and Duran Duran's Andy Taylor — gave passionate testimonials defending MTV and rock 'n' roll and trash-talking Piper.
Watch MTV's 'The War to Settle the Score'
In an undercard that nodded to "The Brawl to End It All," the Lauper-managed Richter lost to the Fabulous Moolah-managed Leilani Kai. But in the MTV-broadcast match, Hogan defeated Piper and kept his WWF World Heavyweight Champion title. As the match unfolded, the scene was pure rock 'n' roll: The defiant Lauper team strode to the ring to the strains of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," and weathered a late-match fight in which Piper's crew attacked them.
All of this drama eventually came to a head at the first WrestleMania, which took place on March 31, 1985, at Madison Square Garden and featured a slew of celebs, including Liberace, Mr. T., New York Yankees manager Billy Martin and Muhammad Ali. More than 19,000 people watched as Wendi Richter — who was again managed by Lauper — avenged her "The War to Settle the Score" loss to Kai and reclaimed the WWF Women's Championship. Hogan, meanwhile, defended his WWF World Heavyweight Champion title against Piper.
Outside of the ring, Lauper also didn't shy away from giving wrestling a boost. Manager Wolff cut a deal so the WWF would air her videos in exchange for her talking about wrestling on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Lauper's 1985 "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough" video starred a troupe of wrestlers, including Albano, Piper, the Iron Sheik, and Freddie Blassie. Also on the TV side, Lauper and Wolff are credited with the title concept for a CBS Saturday morning cartoon, Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling, which ran for two seasons starting in September 1985.
And she participated in The Wrestling Album, a cult classic 1985 LP co-produced by Wolff and musician Rick Derringer that featured WWF wrestlers dabbling in music. Lauper assumed a secret identity, Mona Flambé, to contribute backing vocals and produce Albano's song, "Captain Lou's History of Music/Captain Lou." The pop star also went undercover to help promote the album: She donned a dark wig and affected a Southern accent to perform Junkyard Dog's "Grab Them Cakes" on American Bandstand. (Also in the band? Derringer, drummer Carmine Appice, singer Vicki Sue Robinson and Wolff.)
Watch Dick Clark Interview Junkyard Dog
For good measure Lauper also went incognito while filming the video for "Land Of 1.000 Dances," which Derringer told Rolling Stone in 2015 was "quite an experience" in part because so many wrestlers were involved.
"They envisioned it as being their centerpiece, their big hit, with all these guys in it – so it was outrageous," he recalled. "I remember Cyndi Lauper showed up in disguise, wearing a wig, doing her Mona Flambé character. There were wrestlers everywhere. Meat Loaf was there. Roddy Piper pulled me aside and gave me some advice: 'If I have to knock ya down, stay down. Because being in character, if ya get back up, I'm going to have to go to work on ya. That's the nature of what I do.'"
With so many obviously influential achievements, why isn't Lauper in the WWE Hall of Fame? Perhaps her association with Hulk Hogan, who was fired and banned from the WWE in 2015 over racist remarks, is one factor. After all, it would be tough to induct her without mentioning the former wrestling star, and the WWE has distanced itself from him. Sexism could also be a factor: Although the WWE Hall of Fame itself regularly recognizes the accomplishments of legendary female wrestlers, the celebrity wing has inducted zero women.
Plus, although Lauper is well-respected in wrestling circles, not everyone was enamored with the way the sport itself evolved during the celeb-driven '80s. "Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper didn't do nothing for me because I was a wrestling fan," Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff told CBS Sports in 2015. "I wasn't into that kind of stuff. Was it good for wrestling? I don't know. Did it hurt it? I don't know. Do I care? Not really."
The WWE today is a global juggernaut in large part because of its '80s heyday. "That whole Rock 'n' Wrestling thing was unbelievable," wrestler Brian Blair told CBS Sports in 2015. "When we started doing that, we knew that wrestling went from being a blue collar kind of sport to an All-American, all-encompassing sports entertainment machine."
By 1986, Lauper's wrestling participation had waned. "'We had a great time,'' she told The New York Times in September of that year. ''We did it for a while, and now we're doing music.'' However, Lauper valued her time in the wrestling world — and, in 2012, she returned to the ring for the first time in more than 25 years on WWE Raw, appearing with her former charge Wendi Richter, the brash Heath Slater and her one-time frenemy, the late "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.
Watch Cyndi Lauper Bash Heath Slater Over the Head With a Record
The latter apologized to Lauper for hitting Captain Lou Albano over the head with a gold record back in the '80s, and gave her a new award as a mea culpa. "On behalf of the WWE Universe, you're the best lady that I know that has ever been paired with our business — and you are gold to us," Piper said, quite sincerely. "And we love you for what you've done." The segment wasn't all sentimental, however: Lauper later got her revenge on the skeptical Slater, who wasn't a fan of the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection redux, and hit him over the head with the award.
Although this appearance was headline-grabbing, it's long overdue for Lauper to receive an even bigger award: induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. Here's hoping that someday this well-deserved honor becomes a reality.