By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Jesse Ventura wants to talk.
He's on the phone, growling. "You want an exclusive?"
The guy hates the press. During his governorship, he famously printed press passes that read, "Media Jackal." Why's he calling now?
"My new show on TV," he says.
Ventura says he would have given the interview to the Star Tribune, but last time he got the shaft. The paper said he could only fight when he knew the other guy's moves first—a cheap shot at his long ago pro wrestling career.
"So I thought I'd talk to you instead," Ventura says. "Give you an exclusive."
He says he'll call back with the details in an hour, and hangs up.
A ROOSEVELT HIGH SCHOOL graduate who enlisted in the Navy in 1969, Ventura earned a spot as an elite SEAL trained in underwater demolition. He shipped out to fight in Vietnam, where he passed the time with cheap beer and easy women.
After he got back stateside, he joined a California motorcycle gang called the Mongols. Armed with discharge papers in 1975, he came back to Minnesota for community college classes and a little football.
Already big and tough, he started hitting the weight room. He was a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones for a while. Then he found regional pro wrestling and changed his name from James George Janos to Jesse Ventura. Ventura got married to his girlfriend, Terry Masters, moved to Oregon, then back to Minnesota while wrestling in different leagues. He added "The Body" to his moniker. His reputation grew.
Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation—home to the likes of Hulk Hogan—signed Ventura to a contract that carried him through to the 1980s before blood clots in his lungs made it too dangerous to continue. McMahon put Ventura on the announcer's mic for a while, where he was a huge hit, but in 1990 the two parted ways over contract disputes.
Jesse and Terry settled in Maple Grove and he picked up an announcer's gig with World Championship Wrestling for a few years. But he was restless. And he was frosted by what he saw as an unholy union between local developers and politicians. In 1990 he made his first foray into elected office, running for mayor of Brooklyn Park against Jim Krautkremer, an incumbent who had held the office for 18 years.
Ventura won. Easily. "The Body" was becoming "The Mind."
In 1995, he got behind the mic again, this time as a radio talk-show host at KFAN and KSTP. From there, he parlayed his populist sentiments into a successful run for the governor's seat in 1998 under the Reform Party banner.
It was a tumultuous term. His administration slashed the state's budget, ran three surpluses, and issued tax rebates that were popular at the time but in retrospect may have been short-sighted. Having no major-party political affiliation was a blessing a curse—he had no natural enemies or allies—and passing legislation was a constant struggle.
The spotlight only made the scrutiny in Minnesota worse. Ventura had to apologize for unwise cracks about drunken Irishmen designing St. Paul's streets. And there were allegations that his son, Tyrel, was hosting parties at the governor's mansion in his absence. By Ventura's fourth year in office, the state's black ink had turned red. He was in a constant battle with the news media. By the time he returned from a trip to China in 2002, he'd had enough.
And just like that, he was gone. Between trips to Mexico, where he lives for about half of the year, he would reappear from time to time to promote books or movies, gabbing with the likes of Larry King and Howard Stern. MSNBC gave him a weekly chat show for a while. He even taught at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Now he's back with a controversial new TruTV show called Conspiracy Theory, in which he accuses the government of everything from faking 9/11 to mind control.
The phone rings again. It's Ventura.
"I feel like doing this today. Right now."
A SOLITARY MAN PLUGS CHANGE into a parking meter on Washington Avenue. Gone are the days of personal drivers, media flacks, and policy wonks. But you can't mistake the man he once was as he strides forward with his paw out for a vise-like handshake. He's a mountain topped by long, stringy hair that falls out from under an old ball cap and almost touches the Rolling Stones jacket covering his broad shoulders. A dark blue T-shirt is tucked into his jeans. He's showing a little paunch.
One of his meaty hands shoves open a coffee-shop door and he steps inside. No heads turn, which suits him fine. He's not running for anything anymore, and he shuffles quietly to the back of the room, hands in his jacket pockets, to a big round table where he settles down in an old wooden chair. He leans back, lays one elbow on the table, and slowly looks around the room.