Truth is stranger than fiction in this biographical film about the ‘cursed’ Von Erich family.

Text: Jedd Jong Images: © 2024 House Claw Rights LLC; Claw Film LLC; British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Professional wrestlers and wrestling fans bristle at the accusation that the sport is fake. Yes, what most people believe about it is true: pro wrestling is scripted and features manufactured storylines and characters. But it also possesses elements that are raw and real, especially the emotions it evokes and the physical toll it exerts on athletes.

When it comes to the ‘cursed’ Von Erichs, the truth is more dramatic than ring theatrics. Which is why The Iron Claw, an acclaimed biopic chronicling the wrestling family’s triumph and tragedy, manages to stay riveting while staying close to real-life events — though it does take a few creative liberties. Here’s a look at what’s real and what’s not in the movie.

Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich

FACT: Von Erich is not the family’s real name

Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron) explains to his girlfriend (later his wife), Pamela (Lily James), that Von Erich is not the family’s real name. The family patriarch Fritz (Holt McCallany) was born Jack Barton Adkisson and took on the name Von Erich, inspired by his mother’s maiden name, Erich. Fritz’s sons adopted the Von Erich moniker when they joined the family business. The movie leaves out that Fritz Von Erich’s gimmick as a heel (villainous character) was that of a Nazi officer, hence the German name.

FACT: There were multiple deaths in the Von Erich family

The movie depicts the chain of misfortunes that would come to be known as the ‘Von Erich curse’. Jack Adkisson Jr, Fritz’s first-born son, died at age 6 in 1959 after touching an electrical wire and drowning in a puddle of melted snow. David (Harris Dickinson), Fritz’s third son, died in 1984 at age 25 in a Tokyo hotel room. The official cause of death is a ruptured intestine, though some believe he died of a drug overdose. Mike (Stanley Simons), the youngest son, committed suicide in 1987 at age 23 after suffering brain damage from toxic shock syndrome. Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), the fourth son, shot himself in February 1993 at age 33. Kevin is the last surviving Von Erich brother.

FICTION: There were five Von Erich brothers

The movie features Kevin, Kerry, David, and Mike, and makes mention of Jack Jr. It entirely omits a sixth Von Erich brother, Chris, who shot himself in 1991 at age 21. He suffered from health problems, including asthma and brittle bones, and was shorter than his siblings, never achieving their level of success in pro wrestling. The Iron Claw’s depiction of Mike incorporates elements of Chris. “The movie just couldn’t withstand another brother’s death,” writer-director Sean Durkin tells Vulture.

Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich

FICTION: Kevin found Kerry’s body after Kerry killed himself

One of the most dramatic moments in the movie is when Kevin finds Kerry’s body on the family’s ranch after Kerry shoots himself under a tree. Kevin then has a charged confrontation with his father, Fritz, accusing him of not protecting Kerry. In real life, Fritz found Kerry’s body. Kevin did find Chris’ body, and the movie apparently combines elements of Chris’ and Kevin’s deaths; both committed suicide by gunshot.

FICTION: Kevin and Pamela’s first two children are sons

Kevin and Pamela’s two sons, Ross (Leo Franich) and Marshall (Sam Franich), are part of an emotional scene in which they comfort their father and tell him that they will be brothers to him since his own brothers have died. In real life, Pamela gave birth to two daughters, Kristen Rain in 1981 and Jillian Lindsey in 1985, before having Ross in 1988 and Marshall in 1992. The real-life Ross and Marshall are currently active as a wrestling tag team and were involved in the production of The Iron Claw as additional background wrestlers.

Movie Listing
The Iron Claw

Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach, the Von Erich brothers seek larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports.

View Details
◀ Go Back