Vince McMahon, wrestling impresario and chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), is the nation's most powerful wrestling promoter.
Operating outside television's establishment, doubted by Wall Street and dismissed as a purveyor of sleaze, McMahon has made himself a billionaire by transforming backwater wrestling matches into a national spectacle that draws millions of viewers each week.
Born in rural North Carolina, Vincent Kennedy McMahon was raised by his mother and a sequence of stepfathers. He met his father, wrestling promoter Vincent James McMahon, when he was 12.
The elder McMahon owned a regional wrestling company that promoted its events from Baltimore to Bangor, Maine. On visits from Fishburne Military School, teenage Vincent watched his father run wrestling matches at New York's Madison Square Garden and fell in love with the family business.
Back then, promoters divided the nation into "territories," each agreeing not to tread on another's turf. But the younger McMahon had national ambitions. He convinced his father to sell the business to him and his wife in 1982 for $1 million and expanded in ways the elder McMahon opposed, such as syndicating matches to TV in other promoters' regions.
By the mid-1980s, McMahon had swept away nearly every competitor, adding pay-per-view events to his lineup and creating a kid-friendly roster of cartoon-like wrestling characters, such as the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan, who pitched children's breakfast cereal and WWF action figures.
In the early 1990s, however, McMahon stumbled badly. A Pennsylvania urologist was tried and convicted of selling steroids for nonmedical purposes to WWF wrestlers. Among the people he admitted selling steroids to was McMahon, who was charged with conspiracy to distribute the drugs. McMahon said it was "a trumped-up charge" and was acquitted in 1994.
In 1996, the WWF fell behind its rival, Ted Turner-created World Championship Wrestling, in the ratings. McMahon's company lost $6.5 million for the year in 1997. McMahon fought back by developing raunchier stories and piling on the attitude.
In 2001, McMahon was worth an estimated $1.1 billion. His wrestlers' autobiographies have topped the New York Times bestseller list. WWF's wrestling-anthem records have pierced Billboard magazine's Top 10 and its action figures have outsold the Power Rangers.