Hulk Hogan on Personal Branding, Family Life and Reality TV
By Dan Schawbel.
I recently had the great opportunity to speak to one of my childhood idols, the legendary Hulk Hogan. He is someone who best represents the idea of “personal branding,” as his stage name is known around the world by his millions of fans. He’s created a legacy, even despite his hardships, and has inspired many people. Hulk is one of the most sought-after, instantly recognizable celebrities in the world. He is a twelve-time professional world wrestling champion—six titles with WWE and six with WCW—and the winner of the Royal Rumble in 1990 and 1991. He has appeared in several movies, including Rocky III, was the co-host for NBC’s American Gladiators, and is the executive producer, judge, and host of Hulk Hogan’s Championship Wrestling on CMT. Hogan is a frequent guest on every major talk show, such as Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In this interview, Hulk opens up about how he was originally branded in the wrestling business, his family life, reality television, and much more.
Your real name is Terry Gene Bollea, but your stage name is “Hulk Hogan.” How did you come up with that name, and what role does it play in your life?
Well wrestling was different back in the day. I started off as the “Super Destroyer,” and they had me under a mask, because they didn’t want anybody to see me because they thought It had potential. They didn’t want people to see me screw up in the beginning because they would remember me – as big as I was – so I went through a couple of name changes, including “Terry Boulder,” and “Sterling Golden,” and different promoters gave me different names.
Then as I was wrestling as Terry Boulder. I was on a talk show with Lou Ferrigno, and I was actually bigger than he was! I went back to the dressing room that night and all of the wrestlers go ‘Oh my God you’re bigger than the hulk on TV’ so they started calling me Terry ‘The Hulk’ Boulder. Then when I went to New York, and wrestled for the WWF with Vince McMahon Sr before he passed away he had different names for different groups. Names like Pedro Malvez For Puerto Rican Americans, and Bruno San Martino for Italian Americans, and Chief Jay Strong-boat for the Native Indian Americans. He wanted me to be an Irish American so he gave me the “Hulk Hogan” name and it symbolized me being “Irish.” That’s how the name came about.
How does that name play into your life?
The only time I’m not Hulk Hogan is when I’m behind closed doors because as soon as I walk out the front door, and somebody says hello to me, I can’t just say ‘hello’ like Terry. When they see me, they see the blond hair, the mustache, and the bald head, they instantly think Hulk Hogan. My response is “Hey Brother, how ya doin.” Sometimes it’s not that animated, but usually 24/7 I’m Hulk Hogan. Nobody at the mall or at the airport calls me Terry.
It’s changed my life – it’s been very positive. All the negative stuff, or the low periods of my life, are just the downfalls of doing business. But if you look at the big picture, it’s been great to have that character and image in this career.
How did you separate your wrestling identity from your real life one? Is it hard to snap into and out of your real life persona?
For me it’s not. It’s like running hot water under your feet. When I step out the door, I’m Hulk Hogan and that hot water is on.
People always expect Hulk Hogan to be standing up straight, or to have the bandanna on, or to not have my arms covered up. If I have an extra large shirt on people go “oh yeah you look small.” It kind of ruins the mystique. So to just go with the flow, I go be as much “Hulk Hogan” as I can. I don’t personalize it like I’m in character, but I’m aware the hot waters on.
The moment I get into the house I’m Terry and it’s a relief for me to be myself. When I’m with my wife Jennifer or my kids, and someone says hello, I don’t have to say “oh hey brother how ya doin!” It’s just a relief not to be “on.” I can separate the two really easy.
Some people try not to separate the two because when they go back to being Jen or Bob there’s not much going on. For me, there’s so much going on when I’m hulk Hogan 24 hours a day that I love being home and being able to be Terry; to get the hot water off my feet and just be me.
What inspired you to go on the “Back from the Brink” tour and the “Hulk Hogan Challenge” and how does weight and exercise affect your personal life and business?
Well it’s everything – the weight loss and staying in shape. I’m 58 years old and I just went through 8 back surgeries. They started cutting on me in February 2009, and I was basically bed ridden for almost two years.
I got a real dose of reality that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. I just went through a tough period of time. And right before that, I went through a divorce and I had a situation where – financially and personally – I had the carpet pulled out from underneath me. The one thing that was always there, and was always loyal to me, was the fans. They were the people who believed in Hulk Hogan whether I was down or out, or in the hospital bed. The fans were always, “Hulk Hogan you can do it!” They were just so loyal and it was amazing.
All of a sudden, I wrote a book (called Hulk: My Life Outside The Ring), and told people what I was going through and how I kind of bottomed out with the divorce. I just never thought I’d be divorced, and with my back surgeries, I was at an all time low. You know with the economy, and the foreclosures on homes, and how tough it is to make it with families. I wanted to write the book and let people know that I was really far down, and if I could pull a nose up on this thing, anyone could. It led me into looking for other opportunities. You know I can’t wrestle – my body is too beat up. I can walk around and point fingers but at the end of the day, I was looking for business opportunities.
When I saw ViSalus it was a multi-level company and it was drawing 20-25% per month and it wasn’t flat lining or declining. So I called the other ones Mary Kay, Herbal Life, or MonaVie and they flat lined, so I saw an opportunity.
I had a one hour meeting with the owners Ryan and Blake and the one hour meeting turned into an eleven hour meeting. I asked, “why are you doing this?” and they said “we’re going to help you serve people,” which is the most important thing there is: to help people and to serve. It’s not a humbling thing. It’s a triumphant thing to reach out and serve people and do nice things for them and the giving and receiving gets glory because the more you give, the more you receive. It’s just “God’s Law” that when you’re nice to people, like attracts like. Great people attract great people.
All those “Hulkomaniacs” had helped me for 27 years and kept pushing me from behind when I was falling down, and pushing me from behind when I couldn’t go anymore, and now I could finally reach out to help them. To reach down and to help your neighbor, help your family, help your friend, and your fans to get into shape and stay healthy. It’s also the business opportunity. There was nothing easy about it, and I tell everybody that you’ve got to work hard. If you’re going to sit on your hands, I say: “don’t even get on the Hulk Hogan Challenge.” It’s just something you really have to work hard at. You just don’t join ViSalus and make money. You’ve got to work your butt off. I’ve never made any money where I didn’t work, so it’s not that big a deal for me. That’s why I did this, to be healthy, the business opportunity, and the chance to reach out to help families and a lot of my friends and fans. It made a lot of sense.
How do you decide what companies and what brands to attach your name to?
Well the non-profit stuff – the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Children’s Foundation stuff, and any of these children’s charities – that’s all a no-brainer because of the character of Hulk Hogan. I reached kids in the couple of last decades, and that was just a logical extension of who I am and the character is impeccable: the whole training, and getting ready to be a good guy, and at the end of the day the cycle begins again. The character is something that attracts a lot of kids organizations.
But business-wise, I just don’t align myself with anyone that’s negative. I don’t want to surround myself with low vibrational people. I don’t want to be around people that say “oh this is too hard” or “my God another day at work” or “I’ve got to work another 12-14 hour day.” I’m grateful of opportunities! I’m grateful for people and I’m grateful to be talking to you right now. I just don’t want to be around people who are negative or who view the glass as half empty. I want to be around very positive thinking people; that’s what I look for.
You’ve been involved in a reality TV show, written a book, and have made movie and video game appearances. How does each reinvigorate your brand and push it forward?
Well I see guys who get a minute of fame in the wrestling business and they’ll work 20 years in the business. Everything’s called a “run” in the wrestling business whether you’re in the business for 2 months or 30 years. Everyone is trying to get their time in the spotlight, and what I’ve done to have a 30 year run is that I’ve always reinvented myself. The wrestling business was my foundation so I never walked away from it to do movies. I did 16 or 17 kids movies or cameos, such as starring in a 3 Ninja’s movie. I always went back to basics with my wrestling. Because when I was wrestling it was the 70′s 80′s and 90′s and the financial return on wrestling was huge. You could make much more money wrestling than doing movies. I always went back to my base, but then I’d do Right Guard commercials, cartoons and merchandising that reinforced my brand and I did a lot of TV appearances.
When I started getting older and I could do wrestling three or four hundred times a year, twice on the weekends and Wednesdays, I did the transition where I could do a reality TV. I was trying to keep my family together and on a personal level, my marriage was completely dysfunctional and way out of whack. I was praying to God that maybe the reality show would give my marriage more net worth and make my partner feel like she had a purpose in life.
But it really didn’t help. The marriage was disgruntled before the show, but I was still trying to reinvent myself and let people know that I just wasn’t a wrestler that growled and grunted. I was a father, a husband, and I had the same problems you would whether it’s the kids going to school or eating dinner or if there are money problems and different things, so that showed people a view of a whole other side of me. That gave me a huge female demo on top of the male memo I had from the 80′s. I was constantly reinventing myself from the diversionary tactics with cartoons, or the reality show stuff.
I knew that if I had a cartoon to back up my wrestling career, or a movie appearance, it would give me more gas in my tank. I was calculating my DNA strand to make it longer so I could live forever in the media, so brother I was on point the whole time just making choices!
What do you hope you will be remembered for, and what is your true net intake?
I really hope that when people say wrestling, the name “Hulk Hogan” will be remembered as the biggest brand there is. Bigger than anything else out there. But at the end of the day, I want people to get to know me enough to say “he was a great man” and that’s what I would like to be known as.
Privacy must be a big issue for you. How do you handle the relationship with the press, the paparazzi, the fans, and your family in your private life?
You know what, I didn’t do that very well. The fans were cool, but the paparazzi and the media – once you started the whole “he said she said” thing it created a life of itself. Whether it was a picture with my daughter and “oh your daughter looks just like your wife” or if I’m rubbing oil on my kids, they’ll say something weird about it.
At the time, I wasn’t conscious or focused and I did have a problem with trying to get the last word in and answering back. I found that the smartest thing to do is just to remain silent. Then these negative things go away, like the media, and people who write bad things about you.
It’s totally different now that I’ve been through it and learned from my mistakes and now that I’m remarried to Jennifer. We don’t read the newspapers, but I will read your article because you’re writing it. We don’t want to see anything negative. We watch The Science Channel, The Discovery Channel and The History Channel. No more negative stuff, and life is great without it. Now when the paparazzi is jumping all over me, I switch to entertainment mode for a second and I just have a little fun. But then I check back out and take all of that negative media stuff and check it back behind a wall. I go back to my place of joy and love, and I’m just totally centered. I don’t really deal with that anymore.
Let me tell you a lesson I learned. Remember when the oil spilled? I watched the news everyday all day for the next few days – I was flipping out because I knew what it would do to the economy and my wife said “Terry, don’t you know God’s got this? That this is happening exactly the way it’s supposed to happen and it will get taken care of.” And I’ll be darned, things got a little better. They cleaned things up a bit, and everything was under control. But for a full 150 days, I was like “Oh my God” and I was stressing out about something that didn’t need to be worried about. So I learned a huge lesson with that.