Pat Patterson: Being WWE's First Gay Wrestler, Vince McMahon Retiring and Mentoring The Rock

Pat Patterson
Pat Patterson, WWE legend, at WrestleMania 31, San Francisco, 2015. He tells Newsweek why he feels free after coming out to his fans and colleagues. WWE

As a teenager in the late 1950s, Pat Patterson packed up his belongings and left his family home in French-speaking Montreal, Canada, and moved to the U.S. to pursue his dream of becoming a top wrestler. The only problem was he couldn't speak a word of English.

Patterson, with a little in-ring experience behind him in Montreal, hopped on a Greyhound bus to Boston, borrowing the $20 fare from his sister, and tried not to look back. "I was 19-years-old, had no plan and barely any money," the star recalls in his new autobiography, Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE.

The French-Canadian quickly began to impress promoters in traditional wrestling towns like Boston and Portland, Oregon. He even gained the respect of all-time great Bruno Sammartino, who was as close as wrestling came to having a figure with the stature of Muhammad Ali.

Nearly 20 years after he first arrived in the U.S., Patterson reached the pinnacle of his career in 1979 when, aged 38, he was crowned the World Wide Wrestling Federation's inaugural Intercontinental Champion. To this day, that championship remains one of the most prestigious in the organization that later became World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). What most in the wrestling world didn't realize, however, was that the new champion was gay.

Patterson, 75, retired from the ring in 1984. He stayed employed by the WWE, producing matches and acting as a mentor to rookies like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who has credited Patterson with helping him land a contract in the mid-1990s. In 1996, he was inducted into the WWE's Hall of Fame, honoring his achievements in the sport as both a wrestler and producer.

Retirement made it easier for Patterson to be more open about his sexuality with his closest friends in the business, including WWE CEO Vince McMahon, to whom he remains a close advisor.

In 2014, Patterson came out on the WWE reality show Legends' House, a Big Brother-style series in which he and other wrestling icons lived together in a California mansion. Now, he has written about his life in and out of the closet for the first time with the release of his memoirs.

Newsweek spoke to Patterson about his autobiography, Accepted, the changing landscape of gay tolerance in sports and the WWE product today.

Newsweek : Some of your close friends in wrestling realized you were gay and were supportive, but did you experience any homophobia in your career?

Pat Patterson: Never. My whole life in the business, years and years, I've wrestled just about everybody in the business. I've never had a problem. I turned out to be so good that they liked to wrestle with me because I made them look good. I had a reputation for being a good guy and friendly with everybody. The word "gay" or "queer" was never brought up.

Of course, I hid it too. I didn't want anybody to know I was gay. All these years, I had to hide. I traveled all over the country. A lot of guys had girlfriends here, girlfriends there, but I was too afraid to go to a gay bar. I had to wear a hat so I wouldn't be seen. I hid for years. I kept saying to myself, "One of these days, I've got to come out." That's what I did on Legends' House. I feel like I'm free now after all these years of hiding.

How did the autobiography come about?

It was not my idea to write a book. I've been in the [wrestling] business 58 years… Vince [McMahon] kept saying to me: "One of these days you're going to have to write a book about your life and what you have accomplished. It's a great story." [WWE] kept pushing me and pushing me, so I said, okay, I'll write it.

The title of the book—Accepted—that didn't come from me. I had no idea. They showed me the cover of the book and I just took it because it sounds good.

Pat Patterson - Accepted
Pat Patterson's "Accepted" is released in August. WWE/ECW Press

How has tolerance and acceptance evolved in wrestling now, from your experiences backstage in WWE?

It is a lot easier now, of course. People are more accepting now. [Current WWE Superstar] Darren Young, I didn't even know he was gay… I was surprised when he came out. [Editor's note: Young came out in 2013.]

If you're a performer, you're a performer… gay or straight, it doesn't matter. It's no different than being a singer. If you perform really well, the fans will love you. It's entertainment, if you go out there and give your best, that's all that matters.

In the book you talk about the infamous "Montreal Screwjob" that took place in 1997. As one of Vince McMahon's right-hand men, did you really not know it was going to happen?

I really did not know. I was so mad when I found out. I grabbed my briefcase and I left the building. I went to the hotel, had a couple of drinks, and I didn't know what to do—I thought I was going to quit the business. I then had another cocktail and said,"Wait a minute, it's like I'm hiding."

I went back to the arena and I went right to Bret Hart. He and I get along so good and I helped him in his career. It was hard for him to believe I didn't know [because of my friendship with Vince].

For a couple of years, he didn't speak to me. I would bump into him and say: "Bret, all these years, we were so close." I wanted him to shake my hand and he finally did it.

Speaking of Vince, he's 70 and still running every aspect of WWE from television tapings to executive board meetings. Do you see him ever retiring?

Never. [Laughs] There was a convention for workaholics in Chicago once and I said to Vince: "You should go there." You know what happened? No-one showed up… they were all too busy working.

Former WWE Champion and headline star Roman Reigns was recently suspended for violating WWE's anti-drugs policy. Has he possibly hurt his career?

No, I don't think so. Everybody makes mistakes one time or another. We all do stupid things at one time or another. We have to be smart… when you're young you don't know anything. I think he'll be alright.

Dwayne Johnson once said you were one of his "greatest mentors" in WWE. Did you know from a young age he'd turn out to be a huge star?

Not at all. I used to wrestle his father [Rocky Johnson], and his wife, Ata, was sitting at ringside with the baby—that was the Rock. He called me because he wanted to break into the business. He must have been 19, 20. I called Vince and said, "You want to see that kid."

After his first movie, he said, "Pat, you're going to walk the red carpet with me at the premiere." That made me feel good.

Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE is published by ECW Press on August 9 in the U.S. and September 22 in the U.K.

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts