Pro wrestling great Mick Foley earned a robust following for portraying multiple characters and for his willingness to endure immense physical punishment
Who Is Mick Foley?
Raised in Long Island, New York, Mick Foley pursued a professional wrestling career as a college student. He began earning attention from larger promotions in the late 1980s as Cactus Jack, though his taste for dangerous stunts left him susceptible to injuries. Foley later debuted the characters of Mankind and Dude Love in WWE and continued delivering thrills to fans while emerging as a popular champion. Outside the ring, he became a best-selling author and embarked on a stand-up comedy tour.
Michael Francis Foley was born on June 7, 1965, in Bloomington, Indiana, and raised in the East Setauket section of Long Island, New York. An active if not overtly athletic child, he joined the Ward Melville High School football, basketball, lacrosse and wrestling squads, the last of which included future comedian and actor Kevin James as a teammate.
Foley also enjoyed watching professional wrestling to the point where he filmed staged matches with his friends. After hitchhiking to Madison Square Garden as a freshman at Cortland State University to watch Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka tangle with Magnificent Muraco, he determined he wanted to pursue a career as a pro wrestler.
Early Wrestling Career and Cactus Jack
Landing a job with a promoter’s ring crew, Foley got the opportunity to train under veteran wrestler Dominic DeNucci. He spent his weekends competing in independent matches throughout college and received a taste of the big time with an early showing for World Wrestling Entertainment that pitted him against top tag-team duo the British Bulldogs and left him with a dislocated jaw.
Foley eventually found a groove in the character of Cactus Jack, an unpredictable outlaw from New Mexico, and began drawing attention from the sport’s bigger promotions for his enthusiasm for absorbing punishment.
Foley joined the Continental Wrestling Association, where he formed a prominent tag-team partnership with Gary Young, and then moved to World Class Championship Wrestling, where he briefly assumed a Charles Manson-esque persona as Cactus Jack Manson.
By the time he arrived in World Championship Wrestling in 1989, Foley/Cactus Jack had carved out a reputation as a wrestler all too willing to get hit with a metal chair or slammed to a concrete floor. He also worked on the nuances of character development, honing a schtick as an uncooperative tag-team participant who read books during matches before pummeling his partner.
Losing His Ear
Foley eventually emerged as one of WCW’s top draws, though he clashed with his bosses over his increasingly brutal and dangerous ring theatrics. In March 1994, during a match against Big Van Vader in Munich, Germany, Foley attempted a “hangman” stunt in which he got his neck tangled in the ropes, only to rip his right ear off while scrambling to get free.
‘King of the Death Match’
Foley began spending more time in Japan, where he achieved a new level of notoriety by surviving explosive detonations and barbed-wire impalement to win the August 1995 “King of the Death Match” tournament. Back in the States, he found a welcome reception in Extreme Championship Wrestling, where he showed his unique storytelling abilities through creative promotional interviews that mocked his “hardcore” reputation.
Mankind and Dude Love
Foley’s 1996 arrival to WWE came with the introduction of Mankind, a demented figure who wore a leather mask, lived in a boiler room and finished off opponents by shoving his fingers down their throats. The combination of the horrifying persona and Foley’s versatility made him an excellent foil for both popular heartthrobs like Shawn Michaels and for more ominous figures like the Undertaker.
By summer 1997, however, Foley was showcasing another side of his personality to fans as Dude Love, a fun-loving hippie in tie-dyed t-shirts. He reintroduced Cactus Jack later that year and often took turns appearing as two or three characters at a single event.
‘Hell in a Cell’ Match
In a notoriously brutal “Hell in a Cell” match vs. the Undertaker in June 1998, Foley/Mankind subjected himself to being thrown from the top of the 16-foot-high cage onto a table, choke-slammed through the cage top and flung to a thumbtack-covered mat. The list of injuries accrued from the performance included a dislocated jaw and shoulder, a mouth wound that required 14 stitches and a dislodged tooth seen protruding from his nose.
Mr. Socko and WWE Championship
Following the Hell in a Cell beating, Foley turned Mankind into more of a comedic character who wielded a sock puppet named Mr. Socko. The transformation helped make the veteran wrestler a mainstream attraction, and in late 1998, he defeated Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to claim the WWE championship for the first time. Foley later paired with his former adversary to form the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection, the unlikely duo going on to win multiple tag-team titles.
Although he ostensibly retired after a loss to Triple H in February 2000, Foley continued to work with WWE as its acting commissioner. He then resumed wrestling a few years later and engaged in high-profile feuds with stars like Randy Orton, Edge and Ric Flair.
Following a three-year stint with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, Foley returned to the WWE fold in late 2011, though his oft-battered body limited his actions in the ring. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 6, 2013, and remained involved with the organization as the RAW division’s general manager.
Foley met his wife, Colette, while handing out flyers for a wrestling event in Long Island in 1990. They have four children: Dewey, Noelle, Mickey and Hughie.
Books, Comedy Tour and Activism
Foley saw his first memoir, Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, hit the top of The New York Times best-seller list in late 1999. He has since penned several follow-up books, including 2001’s Foley Is Good: And the Real World Is Faker than Wrestling.
No longer able to fully commit to his full-throttle stunts, Foley embarked on a new challenge in 2009 with the launch of a stand-up comedy routine, eventually shaping his act into more of a storytelling segment that riffed on his wild career in pro wrestling.
Foley has also been involved with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), for which he has logged numerous hours as a crisis counselor.