Ric Flair, like most wrestlers, wasn’t known by his real name. Flair, who survived a recent health scare, was born Fred Phillips. However, after he was adopted, his legal name became Richard Morgan Fleihr. He was born on February 25, 1949.
Earlier this month, Flair had colon surgery and was fighting for his life. But on August 28, Flair’s fiancee Wendy Barlow posted on Facebook that she “witnessed a miracle” and Flair will start physical therapy soon. He “will be stronger than ever and back out enjoying all the fans sooner than you would think.” Flair himself also tweeted that Nature Boy “WILL be back.”
Flair himself mentions the uncertainty about his birth name in his 2004 autobiography Ric Flair: To Be The Man. He wrote:
Depending upon which documents you read, my birth name was Fred Phillips, Fred Demaree, or Fred Stwart, and I was born in Memphis on February 25, 1949. My biological mother’s name was Olive Phillips, Demaree, or Stewart. My biological father is listed as Luther Phillips.
In To Be The Man, Flair suggests that because of the “deceit” and corruption that went on at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, he suspected that he would never learn the circumstances of his birth. He wrote that the agency claimed his mother abandoned and deserted him, according to a March 12, 1949 report. The court put him under the “guardianship of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society,” which had the right to put him up for adoption.
Six days after that report, he was “delivered” to adoptive parents in Detroit. Richard Reid and Kathleen Fliehr renamed him Richard Morgan Fliehr. They moved to Edina, Minnesota, a city southwest of Minneapolis. His adoptive parents did not have any other child.
Flair wrote in his autobiography that his adoptive parents never kept the fact that he was not their biological son a secret. However, he was never interested in finding out the circumstances behind it until he wrote To Be The Man. He didn’t even know his birth name.
“Believe it or not, I never bothered looking at my adoption papers until I started researching this book,” Flair wrote. “The documents were sitting in a safe in my house, and I didn’t even know my birth name. I was never curious. I’m still not. I’m an only child, and as far as I’m concerned, my parents have always been my mom and dad.”
Flair wrote that his parents celebrated March 18 as his birthday.
The Tennessee Children’s Home Society was a notorious orphanage run by Georgia Tann. In 1941, the Child Welfare League of America pulled its endorsement when it was discovered that she often destroyed paperwork related to child placements. In 1950, Tennessee state investigators found that it was a front for a black market adoption ring and Tann too as much as 90 percent of the adoption fees for herself. This was the corruption Flair mentioned in his book.
The scandal was the subject of the made-for-TV movies Missing Children (1981) and Stolen Babies (1993). In 1991, 60 Minutes reported on the scandal.
As Southern Hollows notes, in 2015, a Memphis cemetery raised $13,000 to finally erect a monument in the memory of the 19 children who died at the Tennesseee Children’s Home Society.
“In memory of the 19 children who finally rest here unmarked if not unknown, and of all the hundreds who died under the cold, hard hand of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society,” the monument reads. “Their final resting place unknown. Their final peace a blessing. The hard lesson of their fate changed adoption procedure and law nationwide.”