JIM STARR spent seven seasons dominating contestants as Laser on the classic 1990s TV show American Gladiators. Twenty years later, the 54-year-old could still destroy you in a game of Breakthrough & Conquer.
How did you get cast on American Gladiators?
I met Dan Clark [Nitro] on the Los Angeles Rams [in 1987] before I played one game, got hurt, and was cut. We became room mates and ended up trying out for the show. I didn’t make the cut, but 13 episodes in they had another tryout and I made it. At 6′, 230 pounds, you were small compared with the other Gladiators.
How did that affect your tryouts?
Most of the guys were 6’2″ to 6’5″ and up to 300 pounds, and we had to wrestle, joust, do 30 pullups in 25 seconds…it was tough. They were looking for a well-rounded athlete with personality and charisma.
Did being the “small” guy fuel you to be extra competitive?
When they blew that whistle, it was all go. It was like an out-of-body experience. I never wanted to lose. I never wanted to be embarrassed. I never wanted to look back on an episode and think that I could have done better had I been more intense. I look at some of
these videos once in a while and I think I was actually a little crazy.
How many times did you get disqualified for rough behavior?
[Laughs] Too many times. I probably hurt a lot of people. I had more street fights than you can imagine. My high school football coach used to say, “You got to be intense.” I didn’t know how to compete without being intense. You seemed to treat the show like a legitimate sport. That’s what it was, a professional sport. It was never, ever in question whether the show was rigged.
Was anyone on steroids?
We were getting a lot of flack from the media and people watching the show that we were on steroids, so Sammy Goldwyn, the show’s producer, had us sign a contract each year. We started getting drug tested and would have to pass or be taken off that year, but we could try out the following year.
What are you up to now?
I was hired last year by Life Time Fitness. They’re a nationwide health club and I’m their director of product development. development. I also have a great wife of 22 years, Tonya, and three beautiful children.
Do you still get the urge to body slam anyone?
Yeah, I do. But it’s like, come on, you have to grow up one day.
How do you channel that aggression nowadays?
I’ve become an avid mountain biker. I bike four days a week and then I’m at the gym lifting weights for the other three days. If I don’t get on that bike I’m really intense—ask my wife.
Did you sustain any injuries on the show?
Over the course of seven seasons I had 12 surgeries: eight shoulder surgeries, back surgery, broken nose, hernia, and foot surgery. Post-Gladiators, I’ve had three or four more shoulder operations.
Would you do it all again?
Yeah! It was great to have a crowd cheering you on. I was competing in something that was physical and was a replacement for football. I loved it.