WWE majority owner/CEO Vincent McMahon enjoys one of the most enduring, uncompromising, and faithful love stories in the entertainment world. With all due respect to his wife, this burning passion isn’t for one person. It’s for celebrities. All celebrities. What makes this all-encompassing love particularly unusual is that it comes from a billionaire with quite a bit of his own name recognition.
Maybe, though, this love is really business savvy—part of the strategy he used to bring pro wrestling into the mainstream. Given Shaquille O’Neal’s recent surprise participation in WrestleMania 32, just don’t expect this trend to end anytime soon.
Here are examples of some of the most memorable—for good or ill—celebrity appearances in the WWE.
1) Mr. T teams up with Hulk Hogan against “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff
Backstory: It’s hard to overstate how famous Mr. T and Hulk Hogan were in the 1980s, especially amongst preadolescent boys. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was capable of firing up an audience like no other, and his reportedly genuine bad blood with T added extra drama to the first WrestleMania’s main event.
Outcome and aftermath: The good guys won, of course. This helped validate Vince’s pushing of big-names and now we accept and expect them at events like WrestleMania. Co-refereeing this tag team match was Muhammad Ali, Yankees manager Billy Martin was the guest ring announcer, and (most bafflingly) Liberace served as the timekeeper.
It worked, though, mostly due to the twin star power of the Hulkster and Mr. T. Their popularity soared even higher and helped McMahon prove wrestling could be a viable pay-per-view commodity.
Mr. T also returned the following year for a short and fairly forgettable boxing match against Piper.
2) Aretha Franklin sings “America the Beautiful”
Backstory: The Queen of Soul serenaded 93,000 fans in Toronto to kick off WrestleMania III. Musicians tend to get warm receptions at WrestleMania, including rock acts like Motörhead, who twice rocked Triple H to the stage. An undeniable icon like Aretha singing a beloved, patriotic anthem guaranteed a special moment.
Outcome and aftermath: Needless to say, she nailed it. The performance—and the image of her behind the piano, surrounded by the capacity crowd—became an instantly classic moment. Others have performed the song at the event, including the legend perhaps most associated with it—Ray Charles, at WrestleMania II—but Aretha has the distinction of having done the honors twice when she returned for WrestleMania XXIII.
3) Chuck Norris enforces the law
Backstory: Chuck Norris seemed like an appropriate celebrity for the WWE—a B-list action star and martial arts expert who appeals to the same fanbase. He aligned himself with the promotion in making sure things didn’t get out of hand as the special outside referee for the casket match between The Undertaker and Yokozuna at 1994’s Survivor Series.
Outcome and aftermath: The Undertaker picked up the victory, but even more memorable was how much of a non-factor Norris turned out to be. Though announced by his real name, he came to ringside appearing and acting just like his Walker, Texas Ranger character. He looked as though he took his role seriously of making sure justice was served, but only if that means walking around with a blank expression on his face.
Norris managed to keep King Kong Bundy and Bam Bam Bigelow from interfering by blocking their path, but he also missed Irwin R. Schyster attack The Undertaker. In the end, his biggest contribution was kicking Jeff Jarrett.
4) Lawrence Taylor versus Bam Bam Bigelow
Backstory: Following a loss at 1995’s Royal Rumble, an embarrassed Bam Bam Bigelow pushed NFL great Lawrence Taylor, who was laughing from his ringside seat. This set up a WrestleMania XI match between the two.
Outcome and aftermath: Taylor brought out fellow gridiron stars like Reggie White and Carl Banks to counterbalance Bigelow’s cohorts in Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation, including King Kong Bondy and Nikolai Volkoff. The contest ended when LT pinned Bam Bam following a flying forearm from the second rope. A fair amount of mainstream press covered this at a time when the then-WWF’s popularity was starting to wane.
It also marked the first major instance in which Vince made one of his guys take a loss to a pro athlete in an attempt to align his company with legitimate sports. Even still, some wrestling critics thought Taylor performed reasonably well.
Bonus cameo of the night: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who played Tim Allen’s son on Home Improvement served as guest timekeeper for the match between Diesel and Shawn Michaels.
5) Mike Tyson scuffles with Steve Austin
Backstory: “Stone Cold” had just won the 1998 Royal Rumble, setting up a championship match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV. The night after the Rumble, Vince McMahon brought Mike Tyson to the ring and introduced him as the “Special Guest Enforcer” for the title match. Austin stormed the ring, objecting to Tyson’s involvement in the wrestling world and for claiming to be the baddest man on the planet. After threatening him, Austin flipped the double-bird to his face, Tyson pushed the grappler, and the two sides had to be restrained.
Outcome and aftermath: A lot of press picked up on this altercation, especially since Iron Mike was endlessly controversial during this time. Steve Austin standing up to the former champ helped cement the fearless image of “Stone Cold.” The eventual outcome at WrestleMania saw Tyson turning on Michaels and aligning himself with a victorious Austin.
6) Drew Carey participates in the Royal Rumble
Backstory: Backstage at 2001’s Royal Rumble, Vince thought Carey was hitting on his (pretend for TV) mistress Trish Stratus. This led to McMahon wielding his power to make the comedian enter the Rumble in exchange for free promotion for Carey’s upcoming improv showcase.
Outcome and aftermath: Carey stood around watching others fight until he was nearly choke-slammed by Kane. He narrowly escaped, thanks to an intervening Raven, and then eliminated himself. He later became one of the most derided members of WWE’s Hall of Fame Celebrity Wing.
7) Chris Jericho gets an assist from apes
Backstory: Chris Jericho got satisfaction in 2001 by constantly insulting Stephanie McMahon. Played for humor and to get the crowd hyped, these exchanges reached a bizarre and (for many) annoying level by the appearance of people dressed in ape suits. As illogical as it sounds, in helping to promote Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake, WWE had humans dressed as apes come out and help Y2J help insult the boss’s daughter.
Outcome and aftermath: The apes present Jericho with a gift for Steph, a pie that he plants on her face. In the ensuing weeks, Jericho continued on with segments that slut-shamed McMahon, while Planet of the Apes was considered a disappointment.
8) Kevin Federline versus John Cena
Backstory: If you remember Kevin Federline at all, you likely recall him for his brief time as Mr. Britney Spears. He even tried to stretch his dubious fame out a little more with a rap album. When he appeared on Raw in October of 2006, John Cena talked some smack before eventually dropping him to the mat with an Attitude Adjustment.
Outcome and aftermath: Flash ahead to Raw on New Year’s Day 2007. Federline and Cena faced off in a No Disqualification bout, which saw interference from Umaga on Federline’s behalf, allowing one of the most disliked celebrities to appear in a WWE ring to pin the champion. Cena returned later in the broadcast and beat down Federline.
9) Donald Trump takes on Vince McMahon (sort of)
Backstory: Trump has a long relationship with WWE, dating back to when his since-shuttered Trump Plaza hosted WresteMania IV and V (in realty, the events were held in the adjacent Atlantic City Convention Hall). A rivalry developed by 2007, leading to The Donald dropping cash onto ecstatic fans during Raw. Vince pumped a lot of hype into a WrestleMania 23 match dubbed “Battle of the Billionaires.” Except, neither wrestled, instead they were represented by Bobby Lashley (Trump) and Umaga (McMahon), with a stipulation that the losing billionaire would have his head shaved in the center of the ring.
Outcome and aftermath: Thanks to a little help from special guest referee Steve Austin, Lashley picked up the victory. Trump then gleefully shaved Vince’s head as Austin held his boss down. Before long, Austin turned on Donald and gave him probably history’s most surprising (and awkward-looking) Stunner. Oddly, Trump was supposedly the fan favorite in this match as Vince was in full “Mr. McMahon” villain mode. This fact seems particularly hard to reconcile today if you turn on any cable news channel at any time of the day to be greeted by a yelling, cotton-haired, orange man.
10) Floyd Mayweather fights Big Show
Backstory: At 2008’s No Way Out, Big Show returned after months away from WWE recovering from injuries. While Show hyped himself in the ring, Rey Mysterio hobbled around the floor following a loss to Edge. Show then went after Mysterio, which prompted the (supposed) friend of the diminutive luchador, boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr., to come to his aid.
As the ring filled with handlers, Show dropped to his knees and invited Floyd to give him his best shot. The resulting flurry of punches bloodied Show’s nose and set up a No Disqualification match for WrestleMania XXIV.
Outcome and aftermath: Mayweather took full advantage of the No Disqualification stipulation, receiving help from one of his accomplices, and smacking Show several times in the head with a steel chair. The final blow came courtesy of a brass knuckles-assisted punch that knocked out Big Show.
Wrestling purists (including a furious Mike Tyson) were up in arms that a non-wrestler took out a WWE superstar, even though that no DQ rule was played up as the reason a 150-pound boxer could defeat a 450-pound giant. In the end, Vince got the publicity he wanted, including spots on ESPN back when WWE didn’t enjoy their current warm relationship with the cable company.
11) Mickey Rourke takes on Chris Jericho
Backstory: Mickey Rourke was amidst a Hollywood comeback, riding a wave of critical acclaim for The Wrestler. During a red carpet interview on Extra, he challenged Chris Jericho to a wrestling match. Days later, they both appeared on Larry King Live. Rourke downplayed his remarks, while Jericho seemed intent on a match.
Outcome and aftermath: Mickey Rourke sat ringside at WrestleMania XXV while Jericho took on legends Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, and Jimmy Snuka in a handicap match. After Y2J dispatched of the trio, he goaded Rourke into the ring, who quickly knocked out Jericho with a punch. The live audience loved it, but serious fans again grumbled about a wrestler taking a beating from non-wrestler. Rourke, for his part, may not have gotten the Oscar that year, but he did get a hug from Ric Flair.
12) Snooki competes in a mixed tag team match
Backstory: On an episode of Raw, Jersey Shore star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi slapped Vicki Guerrero backstage after words were exchanged. Later, Vickie defeated Trish Stratus with aid from LayCool (Layla and Michelle McCool), leading to Snooki getting into it with Michelle. To settle their beef, a mixed tag team match was set up for WrestleMania XXVII with John Morrison, Stratus, and Snooki taking on Dolph Ziggler and LayCool.
Outcome and aftermath: The match was mercifully short with Snooki pinning McCool after a surprisingly impressive backflip. Still, Snooki owns a WrestleMania victory…But anyone thinking WWE scraped the bottom of the celebrity barrel here should remember that only a few years before, Kim Kardashian (at the time mostly known for her sex tape) hosted WresteMania XXIV.
13) The Muppets mingle with Raw stars
Backstory: The Muppets made their own comeback with a hit 2011 movie. As a means for promoting it, they appeared on that year’s Halloween edition of Raw.
Outcome and aftermath: Kermit and Miss Piggy got into a verbal altercation with Vickie Guerrero and Jack Swagger, Hornswoggle flirted with Miss Piggy, Swagger and Dolph Ziggler attacked Gonzo, and Sheamus protected Beaker from a threatening Christian.
14) Grumpy Cat hosts Monday Night Raw
Backstory: Grumpy Cat is an internet celebrity, inspiring an uncountable number of memes based on the fact that feline dwarfism makes her face look permanently displeased. To promote the Lifetime original movie Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, Grumpy (real name Tardar Sauce) hosted a November 2014 episode of Raw.
Outcome and aftermath: WWE superstars interact with Grumpy, taking selfies with her and carrying on one-sided conversations. The public shrugged.
15) Stephen Amell and Neville wrestle Stardust and King Barrett
Backstory: The feud between Stephen Amell, star of CW’s Arrow, and Stardust (aka Cody Rhodes, son of the late Dusty) stands out from other entrants in this list.
First, there was the unusually long build to their showdown. Then there was the heavy involvement of social media. Stardust got into dedicated wrestling fan Amell’s face during a Memorial Day episode of Raw. The two then took to Twitter, bashing each other in a barrage of Tweets that got fans involved, as well as William Shatner and former wrestlers the Brooklyn Brawler, Trish Stratus, and Edge. A physical altercation during an August episode of Raw set the stage for a tag team match with Amell and Neville taking on Stardust and King Barrett.
Outcome and aftermath: A lifelong wrestling fan, Amell took the match and his preparation seriously. The results paid off with a top turnbuckle leap to the outside of the ring that floored Stardust and Barrett and wowed the fans. Amell then shoved Barrett into the ring for Neville’s finisher and the win.
Fans and critics gave Amell props for committing to more than a personal appearance, though this might not be over. Both Amell and Stardust have talked of a rematch, and Stardust turned up at a Comic Con in February to present Amell with a Slammy for Best Celebrity Moment of the Year—the Slammy Awards are WWE’s version of Oscars—and threw a cup of water in his face.— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) August 24, 2015
16) Jon Stewart leaves an impression on John Cena
Backstory: Stephen Amell wasn’t the only famous face leaving a big impression on 2015’s SummerSlam. In his first major gig since relinquishing his chair at The Daily Show, Jon Stewart served as the host for 2015’s SummerSlam.
Outcome and aftermath: Stewart’s appearance received less attention for his hosting duties than for how he interjected himself in the champion versus champion match between World title-holder Seth Rollins and U.S. champ John Cena. With the referee knocked out, Stewart entered into the ring. Despite recently bickering with Rollins, Stewart nailed Cena with the chair, allowing Rollins to then use the chair for his Pedigree finisher on Cena and pick up an easy pin.
The following night on Raw, Stewart explained that he didn’t want Cena to tie Ric Flair’s record of 16 world championships. Cena responded by picking Stewart up and dropping him with an Attitude Adjustment.
WCW’s Famous Guest Spots
WWE is not the only blinded by Hollywood’s dazzle. Before it imploded, WCW often borrowed a page from its rival’s playbook, often to unintentionally hilarious results. At times, the company even went to lengths not even Vince would dare go.
Sting was just inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Along with his wrestling skills, he’s often lauded for always doing what his employers needed. At WCW’s Capital Combat in 1990, that included pretending an agonizingly slow RoboCop was real.
Jay Leno wrestled in a tag team match against Hulk Hogan. If there weren’t video proof, you probably wouldn’t believe those words…
Having an A-list actor winning the WCW World Championship would’ve been absurd, but David Arquette picking up the gold was practically blasphemous in many fans’ eyes. Not only is this moment the most frequently cited instance of wrestling whoring itself out to Hollywood, it’s also often called a contributing factor to the demise of WCW.
Got any that particularly drive you crazy? Let us know in the comments!