Every night you, Larry Csonka, sit in an armchair facing a wall, watching the sunlight fade, enveloping the room in total darkness. When the room is completely black, you put a gun in your mouth, and think “this is the night.” And of course, every night you don’t go through with it, putting your gun away with a face soaked with frustrated tears.
You are sad, Larry. Really sad. It seems no matter what you do or where you go, nothing compares to the three seasons you spent as the host of American Gladiators (1990-1993). That period of your life follows you around, the weight of its wonder and beauty dragging you down into a deep, black depression.
Post American Gladiators, everyone promised to stay in touch, and they did, for a while. You and cohost Mike Adamsa would talk every week. But as Mike moved on to other things, you still kept dwelling on the past. Your friendship stagnated, and it died a slow, quiet death like many friendships do.
You need to make a change, Larry. You need to let go of the past. Although it pains you so, the first step is to release the American Gladiators from captivity you have been keeping on your Ohio farm.
It’s going to be hard, and you know that. When Gladiators was cancelled in ’97, word came down from network brass that all the Gladiators would be put to sleep. “Too dangerous,” the suits said. “They’ve been bred to be warriors. We can’t trust them outside of the controlled environment of Universal Studios Arena.” You were in LA, shooting a commercial for Omaha Steaks when you heard the news, so you decided to stop by the Gladiator Kennels for one last goodbye.
Your heart broke at the sight of these proud creatures, forced into such indignity. Packed three or four to a cage, and let outside an hour a day to play joust or powerball, the gladiators were scared and confused. You decided right there that you couldn’t let the studio destroy the gladiators. “I’ll take them.” You told their handlers.
“Are you sure, Larry? We have to warn you that these guys can be a handful.”
“Yes. I have a farm in Ohio, where there’s plenty of fresh air for them to run around in and do curls and lat pulls.”
A quick meeting with the lawyers, a few waivers signed, and you took possession of 32 American Gladiators. Loaded into a horse trailer equipped with a free weight benchpress set, they took the long ride from California to Mechanicsville Ohio. This was 1997.
Caring for the gladiators was a full time job in itself. Watching them have sex was scary and the feeding and cleaning costs were outrageous. But it was worth it to see Turbo proudly standing atop the Eliminator course you built on the farm, throwing medicine balls at Lace and Viper. Watching them oil each other up, clad in spandex, their muscles flexing and shining in the pale Ohio Winter sun. It felt like 1990.
But time passed, and slowly the Gladiators lost their sheen as shiny objects of your glorious past. There is nothing noble or glamorous in caring for broken down gladiators, cleaning up their ****, keeping them in hair and tanning products. Now they are human anchors, keeping you rooted to a time that should have passed years ago. It’s time to set them free. It’s time to set yourself free, Larry.
Today you walk up to their cage. The gladiators press up against the fence, smiling and happy that you have come to see them. Following your typical routine, you throw a couple of steaks and a few handfuls of supplements into the kennel.
You open the gate, and beckon them outside. They cautiously file out, making a loose semi circle around you, looking at you expectantly. A lump forms in your throat as you look into their eyes. “Guys, I’m really happy that we had so much fun together for the last 15 years. But I can’t take care of you anymore. Uncle Larry can’t keep you on the farm anymore.” Confusion and panic ripples through the gladiators. Diamond breaks into tears. “You guys will be fine…” you say as tears roll down your face. “You guys are strong! Look at how strong you are. You guys will find a way to take care of yourself. Now get out of here. Go.”
They mill about, reaching out shyly to grab your shirt like a child would. Your heart is broken into a million tiny pieces at this point. But you need to do this. “GET OUT! GO! I CAN’T TAKE CARE OF YOU ANYMORE. I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE!” This part isn’t true. You love every last one of them. In groups of two or three they slowly fan out across your fields, making their way towards the tree line.
It was painful. But you are free, Larry. You had the courage to be honest with yourself and move forward as a person. You will never see them again, but occasionally you will hear a rustling outside and find 45lb weight plates left on your front step. You pick them up, and smile.
They’re gonna be all right Larry. You know they are. And you’re gonna be all right too.
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