Spoilers below for the most recent episode of Viceland's Dark Side of the Ring, "The Mysterious Death of Gorgeous Gino."
The world of TV documentaries is one in which you'll often find multiple networks racing to produce competing specials and miniseries that cover the same headline-grabbing cases. Viceland's excellent Dark Side of the Ring stands alone, however, in tackling some of professional wrestling's biggest controversies and mysteries. (At least on linear television, since the Internet is better about such niche subjects.) The latest episode covered the lesser-told story of "Gorgeous" Gino Hernandez's death, and it even delivered an unexpected update on the matter.
Ahead of the episode's airing, CinemaBlend spoke with Dark Side of the Ring producer Evan Husney not only about diving into the under-told story of Gino Hernandez's whiz-bang of a life and career, but also about being able to inspire new discoveries and insights connected to the decades-old death. Here's what Husney told me.
I think that the Gino Hernandez episode was one of the most fascinating ones for us to work on. On most of the other episodes, we had a great deal of familiarity with the subject before going in, whereas the Gino Hernandez story was pretty much based on some rumors that have more recently surfaced on the Internet around the way that Gino had passed, and a lifestyle that he led over 30 years ago. So we kind of went into this process of making this episode not knowing a lot at all about what really happened. The more you kind of look at the wrestling industry, you notice that there's a lot of information that's based on rumors and locker-room talk and innuendo, and those sorts of things. It's really kind of hard to know what the truth is, because it's often embellished a lot of the time, given the nature of the wrestling industry, I think. But for the Gino story, it was super fascinating because every week of working on the episode felt the most purely journalistic, where every week there was a new breakthrough; there was a new subject coming forward.
For those who hadn't watched the episode, or were otherwise unfamiliar with Gino Hernandez's legacy, here's the gist. Gifted with gab and athleticism, Hernandez was a mini-superstar in the indie wrestling circuit in the 1970s and 1980s. The fame and finances fueled Hernandez's thirst for excitement, which inevitably led to the wrestler getting heavily invested in cocaine, among other forms of intoxication. In February of 1986, after days without anyone hearing from him, a few of his colleagues discovered Hernandez's body inside of his apartment, having already been dead for several days.
Though it was initially difficult to determine what led to "Gorgeous" Gino Hernandez's death, the authorities labeled it a drug overdose. Given the drugs in his system, it wasn't such a stretch. However, rumors arose concerning the potential for Hernandez to have been murdered, more or less inspired by curious details surrounding the death.
Such factors include the huge amount of cocaine reported to be in his system at the time (both in his bloodstream and in his stomach), the fact that his home was reportedly free from other signs of drug use, and the fact that his front door's deadbolt was to have been unlocked, which was as rare as a title fight with an unplanned ending.
Though rumors like this are a dime a dozen online, Dark Side of the Ring featured interviews with one of the people affected most by this case's loose ends: Gino's mother, Patricia Aguirre, who had a specific idea about who might have killed her son.
According to producer Evan Husney, getting in touch with Patricia Aguirre was a watershed development for the episode. In his words:
I think the big 'Eureka!' moment was really when we got through to his family. To our shock and awe, his mother [was still] around, and I'll never forget the day in the office when we finally got her on the phone, and we were just talking to her and asking all these questions we'd wanted to know for so long. And when she had first told us she knows where her son's killer lives, and she's looked him in the eyes before, it was just like, 'Oh my God. Now we're really going down this rabbit hole.' You know? So that's kind of what the experience was like. Just every day, it felt like we were in completely uncharted waters, which is very rare in the wrestling world. A lot of fans, and other journalists, have dug deep into a lot of these stories, and the Gino Hernandez story is one of those that just really hasn't ever been investigated very much.
By the end of the episode, the Dark Side of the Ring team broke new ground on the case, at least when it comes to squashing rumors of Gino Hernandez being murdered. They'd gotten in touch with the person Gino Hernandez's mom thought was responsible for her son's death, a man named John Royal, who seemed surprised to learn that he'd been suspected of such things for all these years. As well, the producers got in touch with an anonymous source who was able to convince Patricia Aguirre that it was indeed an overuse of cocaine that killed Hernandez.
Like myself, Dark Side of the Ring's Evan Husney is someone who got into pro wrestling early on in childhood. During our chat I asked him if putting this series together was as amazingly insightful an experience as it appeared to be, acknowledging that the dark subject matter skewed things a bit.
Yeah, I mean, absolutely, to get that [information] first-hand. As lifelong fans, being able to interview people you've looked up to so much when you were a kid - and to kind of forge a different relationship with them and, you know, get intimate and talk about their lives and tell their stories - it was like a dream, as a fan, to be able to do that. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, for some of these wrestlers that maybe aren't with us any longer, [there was] talking to their family members. That was kind of a perspective that you don't really get at all as a fan, what the experience is like for a family member who had a loved one that was in wrestling, and the loss and absence of that person. The consequences of that and the lifestyle that they chose. That was maybe one of the more eye-opening aspects of the process of interviewing these people and including their voice in the show.
Even hearing about these stories second-hand was a blast for me, so I can only imagine the surreal glee that would come with spending so much time talking to legends like Bret Hart, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Tony Atlas, Jim Cornette, David Manning and every other interview subject the docu-series delivered. As well as how wild it must feel to know that Dark Side of the Ring has given a sense of emotional closure to numerous people that took part in these six episodes.
For even more wrestling-infused content, Viceland will be premiering the new docu-series The Wrestlers on May 22, at 10 p.m. ET. The Wrestlers will be hosted by Damian Abraham, lead singer of the punk band Fucked Up, and it will bypass the mainstream wrestling world to focus on the various subcultures that have formed around the world, from Japan's female wrestling scene to the Congo's "voodoo" wrestling matches.
Dark Side of the Ring will air its Season 1 finale, "The Fabulous Moolah," on Viceland on Wednesday, May 15, at 9:00 p.m. ET, so be sure to tune in. Viceland will actually be airing extended episodes of Dark Side of the Ring following the initial run, and they'll start up on May 22 as well. And check back with CinemaBlend for more from EP Evan Husney about this excellent docu-series.