Chris Klucsarits is the real name of Chris Kanyon, a pro wrestler who's shined under the national spotlight since 1995. Kanyon has worked for the three major domestic federations: now-defunct World Championship Wrestling (WCW), World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Total Nonstop Action (TNA).
He had a six-digit salary for years, a luxurious home in Atlanta and worldwide fans and fame. During the summer of 2001, he was the WWE's United States Champion and, simultaneously, the WWE World Tag Team Champion (with Diamond Dallas Page). Kanyon was leading the good life, a rare champion with two titles at the same time.
But Klucsarits' real life was hell. He was gay, closeted in an ultra-macho profession, an emotional wreck.
Klucsarits recently revealed his homosexuality and, in his first interview, talks with Chicago-based writer Ross Forman about his closeted past, his suicide attempt and a promising future as an only openly gay male athlete. (Professional wrestling is more sports-entertainment, but the athleticism needed to excel in pro wrestling certainly is real.)
Chris Klucsarits didn't know how people became straight, or if there was such a process. He just knew that, at age 5, he was obsessed with a male friend of the family. The boy was good-looking, athletic, and a little older than him, Klucsarits recalls of his earliest same-sex interest.
"I don't know why I thought this, but, I thought that once you kissed your first girl, it'd be like a light-switch and you'd turn straight," he said.
So Klucsarits went for that first kiss at about age 11 while living in Queens, N.Y. He went roller-skating with his buddies, like normal, and found the girl who was going to be the one. He eventually skated her home and then, ironically, standing in the gutter while she was on the curb so as to not tower over her, they kissed.
"But there were no fireworks," Klucsarits said.
They parted ways minutes later and, about a block away, Klucsarits realized, "I was gay, that I would be gay for the rest of my life and that my life would not be easy."
He cried on the way home. He even had to stop to re-gain his composure before returning home.
"The next three or four months were brutal; they were really hard because I knew I was not like everyone else," he said.
Klucsarits, 36, attended the University of Buffalo, where he played on the rugby club and eventually graduated in 1992 with a physical therapy degree. He spent the next three years as a physical therapist, eventually quitting to join World Championship Wrestling in May 1995. WCW - since purchased and disbanded by its competition, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) - was an Atlanta-based company owned by TV mogul Ted Turner, featuring such superstars as Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Ric Flair, Sting and others.
Klucsarits wrestled worldwide for WCW until its final days in March 2001. In May 2001, he joined the WWE, where he worked until February 2004. He wrestled for Total Nonstop Action (TNA) in late-2005.
So why now? Why come out now?
"The time just seemed right," he said. "I've come to terms with it and want to help others.
"People cannot say I'm just doing to make a name for myself; I've already made a name for myself. I've already accomplished almost every one of my goals in wrestling. I wanted to hold championship belts in the major federations, and I have. I wanted to wrestle at Madison Square Garden (in New York City), the mecca of the sports world, and I have. The only professional goals I have not obtained yet are: be the World Heavyweight Champion and wrestle at or headline a WrestleMania.
"Coming out isn't about me. This is, hopefully, about helping others, especially kids, who are struggling with their sexuality. I want to be a role-model to them, someone they can look up to."
And not just because he's a muscled 6'5", 250-pounder whose friendly, outgoing personality can, at times, be hidden behind the gruff, cocky wrestling persona.
During the summer of 2001, Kanyon was at the pinnacle of his career, the WWE's reigning United States Champion and the WWE's World Tag Team Champion. He was preparing for an August pay-per-view match against The Undertaker and Kane in California.
But Klucsarits was miserable. "All I could think of was, how alone I was," he said. "I had no one to call, no one to check in with, no one to tell my problems to, no one to be there for me.
"The better my career got, the more miserable I got personally because I had no one to share it with. Eventually, I started blaming wrestling because, in my mind, it was wrestling that forced me into the closet."
He hit rock-bottom two years later, attempting suicide in September 2003 by swallowing 50 sleeping pills.
Klucsarits immediately went into therapy, hoping to come to terms with his sexuality, "which was the cause of my depression, the reason I attempted suicide."
He was diagnosed as bi-polar.
"I know that, if I had gay role-models to look up to as a kid, I might not have forced myself into the closet," Klucsarits said. "I knew when I was 11-years-old that my sexuality was something I needed to keep secret from everyone, and I never re-visited that until after the suicide attempt."
After the suicide attempt, Klucsarits researched homosexuality. He wanted to know why some people were homosexual, why society is so against it.
The first time
Klucsarits had walked the dog that Friday night and was heading home at about 11:30 p.m., when he noticed someone following him. Klucsarits thought the guy was checking him out and Klucsarits also was checking out the "good-looking kid."
When he got home, Klucsarits looked out the upstairs window and again spotted the guy staring at him. So Klucsarits went back outside, but didn't see him immediately.
They eventually bumped into each other at a nearby park where Klucsarits hung out with his friends on a daily basis. In the back of the park, by the monkey-bars, they started messing around, Klucsarits said.
"My heart was pounding. I was scared and guilt already was setting in," said Klucsarits, 17 at the time. "I thought I'd burn in hell for what I was doing, because that's what I had always been taught happens to homosexuals."
Out of the corner of his eye, Klucsarits noticed a friend walking into the park. They hid as his friend, ironically, walked next to the monkey-bars before leaving the park.
Klucsarits immediately and abruptly ended his first homosexual experience and told the companion that they couldn't do anything else - that night or ever. In fact, Klucsarits even told him, ‘If you ever see me again, do not approach me. If I want to approach you, I will. But do not approach me. My friends know all of my other friends, so if some stranger approached, I know they'd be curious.'"
The next day, the stranger was back and approached Klucsarits in front of his friends - against Klucsarits' demands.
And he snapped, pulling the stranger away from his friends.
"I told him, ‘If I ever again even see you at this park, I will kill you,' " Klucsarits said. "I was that paranoid (about being out-ed) that I threatened murder."
Klucsarits never saw him again.
"In my heart, I knew what I did in the park that night was right, what I wanted to do. But, I kept hearing for years that homosexuality was wrong," he said.
Klucsarits had several homosexual encounters in college, but it was difficult because, remember, that was in the pre-Internet era. Klucsarits also had homosexual encounters with one of his rugby teammates.
In May 1996, while living in a new Atlanta apartment, Klucsarits bought his first computer. "That's when I realized the Internet may be the easiest, and best, way for me to at least quench my urges. I wasn't looking for a boyfriend at the time; I was just looking for (a one-night stand)," he said.
Kanyon was a rising TV celebrity in the mid- to late-1990s. WCW aired on SuperStation WTBS and syndicated worldwide. Kanyon was on TV several times per weekend.
But Klucsarits was way too nervous to picture himself online in the gay community. So he used someone else's partially obscured face-photo and claimed it was his. "I did not feel comfortable sending my face picture via email, just in case I was recognized," he said. "I was never called out for the picture not looking like me."
In 1998, Kanyon was one of the main trainers for Jay Leno when the late-night talk show host stepped into the ring for a WCW match. He also had helped train NBA superstars Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman for their in-ring runs.
Plus, Klucsarits was an integral part - on and off camera - for the wrestling movie "Ready To Rumble."
In 1999, Kanyon won the WCW World Tag Team Championship when a trio known as the Jersey Triad - New Jersey natives and longtime friends Kanyon, Diamond Dallas Page and Bam Bam Bigelow - won the gold.
"When the homosexuality was getting me down, when I was really struggling with my identity and self-confidence, I could tell. My work-rate, my ability in the ring really suffered," Klucsarits said. "I was in a catch-22. The more popular I got, the more miserable I got. I always thought I could do so much better if I could just come clean, be who I was. But I couldn't.
"Everyone is looking for a significant-other, be it a man or a woman, in their life. There were times I thought I'd never find one, especially with the profession I was in. I always thought if (my sexuality) got out, I'd get in trouble or get fired."
Klucsarits heard regular locker room slurs directly at homosexuals, "but I didn't know if they really meant what they were saying, or just saying things to fit in." He said his homosexuality was never an issue among the other wrestlers.
"It's hard enough being on the road normally, as we were, sometimes as much as 30 days a month, but then the pressure of not knowing if in fact these people are your friends makes it even harder."
Since coming out, Klucsarits said it's been "no big deal" among the wrestlers he's long been friends with. He has not had any negative responses from other wrestlers, "at least not to my face," he said.
Klucsarits said since coming out he's "a million percent happier," and is appreciative for all of the overwhelmingly supportive fans who he's spoken with and others who have e-mailed him.
"I want to help people who are struggling with their sexuality, especially kids. I want to be a role-model," he said. "I hope someday being gay is thought of in the same sense as being left-handed ... no big deal."
Klucsarits, who eventually plans to write a book, said he is not dating anyone now. "But I definitely have a lot more gay friends today than I did a month ago," he said, laughing.