11:44am PT by Eriq Gardner
Hulk Hogan Testifies That Gawker's Sex Tape "Turned My World Upside Down"
In the days leading up to his trial against Gawker, Hulk Hogan promised to deliver a blow against the news site on par with his famous body slam of Andre the Giant during Wrestlemania III nearly three decades ago. On Monday, in a Florida courtroom, the 62-year-old celebrity took the opportunity to flex his legal might over Gawker's 2012 posting of an excerpt of a Hogan sex tape.
Hogan (real name: Terry Bollea), sporting a black bandana and a cross necklace, took the witness stand after opening statements were made in a case that examines the responsibilities of a free press. He's attempting to demonstrate that Gawker skirted common decency and unlawfully intruded his privacy rights with a story about celebrity sex that featured video of his naked body. In a push to show that Gawker failed the "Cheerios test" and that he should be awarded as much as $100 million in damages, Hogan will attempt to overcome a defense that evidence of adultery by a public figure rises to being "newsworthy" and that Hogan himself participated in the discussion of his sex life by talking to Howard Stern and denying to the media that he was sleeping with the wife of his best friend, shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge.
The bulk of the afternoon was spent on direct examination where Hogan recounted his career, how his public persona came about and how and why exposure of his sex act harmed him. Hogan was soft-spoken and polite, trotting out his growling "yeah, brother" routine just once, and often referring to his character in the third person. Before a break in the proceeding, Gawker's attorney got a chance to walk Hogan through some media interviews given on the topic of the sex tape and seemed to score points on inconsistencies.
Here are highlights from today's testimony:
Attempts to humanize the Hulk: Hogan spoke about how he first aimed to be a musician and how he worked on the docks at the Port of Tampa before stalking his way into professional wrestling, where earning money wasn't easy at first. Hogan, who said he spent two years living in his car, discussed what occurred during his career in the wrestling ring. "It's fake, it's predetermined," acknowledged Hogan, adding that he's had two knee replacements, two hit replacements and nine back surgeries. "The word 'fake' doesn't really describe it ... it's very physical." Hogan also said that he was fired for playing the "Thunderlips" character in Rocky III. His bosses at WWE didn't want him seen by the public as an actor.
His "character": Hogan described his wrestling role as "just the All-American good guy fighting for the rights of every man." He said that he's always Hulk Hogan on the street because that's how the public sees him. "Thank God it's still happening," he said, adding that part of the deal with assuming such a pop-culture figure is losing anonymity. But "Terry Bollea is a normal person," he added. "I'm soft-spoken to a fault. I don't know how to say 'no.'" Hogan also discussed VH1's Hogan Knows Best, saying he warned his family that it would be hard work, that he hoped it would save his troubled marriage and that it wasn't really real, that he was portraying a character. "They scripted it out," he said. "They would tell us what they wanted us to say."
Modesty, hardships with celebrity: Hogan said he wears his bandana because he's self-conscious about his balding appearance. He also spoke about his trouble maintaining friendships, saying that he was told by old-timers in the wrestling business that "if you have one good friend, you're lucky." This testimony set up later discussion of his relationship with Todd Clem, a.k.a. Bubba the Love Sponge, and why a video showing him naked with his friend's wife harmed him emotionally.
How a sex tape with his best friend's wife happened: Hogan said that Bubba would constantly bring up sex with Heather Clem to him. "I knew they had an open marriage because he talked about it on the radio. I took it as a joke for a while." Hogan said that he was emotionally distraught from the troubles with his wife Linda and that he "broke down," had sex with Heather Clem three or four times, and "as crazy as it sounds, [it] was the only thing I had." Hogan said he got assurances from his friend that it was not being filmed. He only learned about the sex tape upon a call from TMZ.
How Gawker's posting impacted him: "It's turned my world upside down," he testified. "I was humiliated. My life has changed drastically." Hogan said he has since embraced religion and struggled to keep his family together. And in a odd statement that showcases the thin separation between a celebrity's true self and his public personality, the plaintiff said it wasn't just Terry Bollea who was ripped apart by the posting. He added, "Hulk Hogan was embarrassed."
Telling lies in media interviews: On cross-examination, Hogan was asked about media interviews given in October 2012. He says he never read the commentary in Gawker's sex-tape post until his deposition in March 2014, nor watched the excerpts of the sex tape. And yet, he stated otherwise in radio interviews around the time the original Gawker post came out. How come? "I was pretty much on auto-pilot," the plaintiff explained. "I had information from my attorney." Gawker's lawyer Michael Sullivan gets Hogan to admit he wasn't being truthful in those media interviews. Asked if he is not beholden to tell the truth as the character of "Hulk Hogan," Hogan/Bollea defends the "artistic liberty to be a character" while not racing away from the fact that he wasn't honest. "I don't understand why I said that," he said. It was a definite point in favor of Gawker, which is attempting to showcase its news operation as one that aims past a public figure's public-relations varnish.
Cross-examination will resume Tuesday.