"Cowboy" Bob Orton isn't ready to ride off into the sunset quite yet.
While no longer a full-time grappler, the 60-year-old Orton is still working sporadically on the independent circuit and making appearances at pro-wrestling conventions like the WrestleReunion event being held from Friday through Sunday in Los Angeles. Orton also has another connection to today's wrestling world: Son Randy is one of World Wrestling Entertainment's biggest stars.
"I get letters every day from people wanting his autograph," a laughing Orton said during a recent telephone interview. "He's kept me in the limelight a little bit, which is nice. I worked about 15 times last year. I certainly don't mind getting the call."
Orton knows firsthand about being a second-generation wrestler. His father, Bob Orton Sr., was a headliner nationwide from the 1950s through the '70s.
"Cowboy" Bob broke into the business teaming with his father in Florida during the early '70s. He also was a top performer in regional territories before signing with WWE in '84. That's when Orton enjoyed the greatest success of his career. He was given a second nickname ("Ace") as the de facto enforcer for "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, the company's top heel performer. Orton also was part of the first "Wrestlemania," in '85, serving as the ringside second to Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff in their headline match against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.
"Wrestlemania" entrenched WWE as the dominant U.S. promotion. But it was outstanding veteran hands raided from regional groups, like Orton, Piper and Hogan, that comprised the backbone of WWE's national expansion.
"A lot of things fell into place," Orton said. "We had the best talent and, of course, (WWE owner) Vince McMahon had the novel idea of going nationwide. When Hogan came in, he was so hot that it just clicked. And then we got stars from other areas like Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, Liberace and Muhammad Ali involved. People loved to watch it."
They also loved to hate Orton, who would rile fans by using a cast on his forearm as a weapon against baby-face opponents. Orton was never really injured, but still donned the plaster for well over a year.
While his role at "Wrestlemania I" was more prominent, Orton said his most memorable wrestling moment came in an undercard tag-team match with Don Muraco against the Can-Am Connection (Rick Martel and Tom Zenk) at "Wrestlemania III" in 1987.
"'Wrestlemania I' had all the hype, but I didn't actually wrestle," said Orton, who cost Piper and Orton their match by accidentally whacking the latter with his cast. "I was involved in the main event, but I didn't get to do what I enjoy doing best. Plus at 'Wrestlemania III,' there were 90,000-plus people (in attendance). It was just awesome."
Although he was only 38, Orton began winding down his career in 1988 after leaving WWE. Orton was burned out by travel that he said consisted of stretches where he would work 90 to 100 consecutive days without time off. Orton would sometimes return to his home in St. Louis for a few hours to see his family -- Randy Orton was in elementary school at the time -- before turning right back around and hitting the road.
"As I started getting older," he said, "when I took time off, it seemed like all the little bone chips I had got embedded. My body just couldn't do a whole lot, especially after the (substance) abuse I put it through. ... "
But while Orton was branching away from pro wrestling -- he later became a used-car salesman -- his son was beginning to follow in his footsteps. Orton, though, didn't realize it at the time.
"He started to wrestle at 9 years old and had a pretty good amateur career," Orton said. "He was going to go away to (college), but he didn't know exactly what he wanted to major in, so he decided to join the Marines. That didn't work out, so we went down and talked to (WWE road agents) Jack Lanza and Tony Garea. They brought Randy up and had a look at him. The rest is history."
Randy quickly rose through the ranks of a WWE developmental territory (Ohio Valley Wrestling) before making his debut on the main talent roster in 2002. Randy would send tapes of his OVW matches and interviews to his father and seek his advice.
"I think in the beginning I helped him out a lot," Orton said. "I showed him a lot of stuff and introduced him to a lot of people. But I also told him to listen and learn up there. That's what he did. He developed pretty darn quick."
Orton said he realized that his son was destined for stardom the first time he attended a live OVW event in 2001. In the past nine years, Randy has enjoyed seven different WWE world-title reigns and will begin an eighth if he defeats Mike "The Miz" Mizanin on Sunday night's "Royal Rumble" pay-per-view show.
Randy's success led to an opportunity for his father's WWE return in 2005. Bob teamed with his son and also served as a ringside second.
"I had forgotten how taxing that travel is on you," said Orton, who was released by WWE because of medical reasons in February 2006. "I was mentally tired, but I had a great time."
Now retired from the work force, Orton has plenty of time to watch his son on WWE programming. Not only is Randy a potential headliner at "Wrestlemania 27" in April, Bob also believes his son is just beginning to reach his full potential.
"What's scary is, he's starting to get healthy again," said Bob, referring to Randy's extensive history of shoulder and neck injuries. "His (in-ring) psychology is really falling into place. He can really handle the crowd while also handling the match. He should continue to improve as long as he stays devoted, which he seems to be doing pretty good at."
Bob is scheduled to sign autographs and participate in a legends battle royale at WrestleReunion. For more information, visit www.wrestlereunion.com.