I still remember where I was the night Ivan Drago killed Apollo Creed.
I was at a friend’s birthday party and he’d rented “Rocky IV” for the occasion. I hadn’t seen the other Rocky movies, but I needed less than 25 minutes to realize Creed (played by Carl Weathers) was awesome and Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren) was pure evil.
Drago was a steroid-infused Soviet giant and Creed, in his American flag trunks, was pure U.S. It was the 1980s and I was 12 without a care in the world other than the fear that we were one press of a button away from nuclear war.
I should have known what was going to happen next. Hollywood doesn’t make 25-minute movies. But I scooted to the edge of the recliner in my friend’s basement expecting Creed to crush the robot-like beast with the blonde flattop.
I was genuinely stunned when Creed went down, his body twitched and, devoid of emotion, Drago said, “If he dies, he dies.”
If at that moment somebody told me Lundgren, suddenly the face of my Cold War fears, was less than a decade removed from marching in the band at my favorite college, I’m not sure how I would have felt.
But I know this much, 12-year-old me would have been all for a cover-up. Let’s not tell anybody that Hans Lundgren (his birth name) first came to America from Sweden on a Washington State University chemistry scholarship. Let’s not tell people he marched in the band, started building that massive physique in WSU gyms and graduated in 1976.
In fact, I recently wondered if somebody else had this same idea. How else could you explain that for decades Lundgren, a genuine B movie icon, has not appeared on WSU’s notable alumni lists, while room was made for people like Anne Haley (former director of Oakland’s football stadium).
But adult me is a journalist who believes cover-ups should be exposed. So, with Lundgren’s latest movie, “The Expendables 2,” debuting today, I figured this was the perfect time to solve this mystery.
My first call was to Lionsgate, the studio producing “The Expendables 2.” A spokeswoman responded promptly and promised to put me in touch with Lundgren. But as the release date drew near, it became clear the interview would never happen.
She said he was busy with a European press junket, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the subject was just too painful for him to discuss.
You might not think it possible to emotionally wound a 6-foot-5 action hero who even at 54 has the body of a pro athlete. But looks deceive. If you’ve seen any of his movies, especially “Rocky IV,” you might not think Lundgren is very bright either.
Turns out, he’s a bona fide genius. In April, Time magazine named him one of the 10 smartest actors in Hollywood. He reportedly has an IQ of 160.
After leaving WSU, he earned degrees from Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology and the University of Sweden where he won a Fulbright Scholarship to study at MIT.
Clearly on the fast track to a Nobel Prize, he careened off course when he encountered the most cliché of obstacles – a woman. While working as a bouncer (between classes he won karate championships in Europe and Australia), he met actor/singer Grace Jones.
They fell in love, he gave up his scholarship and she helped him get a small role as a henchman in the James Bond movie, “A View to a Kill.” He then auditioned for the role of Ivan Drago and seemed on his way to becoming the next Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger or at least Chuck Norris.
However, his first starring role came in 1987 as He-Man in “Masters of the Universe.” A movie that was both ahead of its time (it would be nearly two decades before America was ready for films based on ’80s toys) and awful.
Lundgren seemed to show his WSU roots in this movie by wearing a crimson and gray (school colors) chest plate while chasing a bad guy dressed in purple (school color of WSU’s arch nemesis, University of Washington). Still, WSU didn’t notice.
I called the WSU athletic department asking why their media guides have never listed Lundgren on the “Notable Alumni” page while much less interesting chemists like Charles Glen King (all he did was isolate Vitamin C) were featured prominently.
The woman I spoke to, insisted the athletic department didn’t make the lists, and passed me off to school spokesman Darin Watkins. I left a rambling message, but as of press time, he had not returned my call.
I finally unraveled the mystery with a call to the WSU Alumni Association. The woman who answered said she’d never heard of Lundgren, Ivan Drago or even Apollo Creed.
But she promised somebody would call me back.
Thirty minutes later, Jud Preece, the alumni association director and fellow “Rocky IV” fan, was on the phone making an astounding confession.
“You had everybody here scrambling,” Preece said. “Nobody knew he was alum, but we checked our records and sure enough there he was, Hans Lundgren.”
As an alum, I was baffled. How could WSU let this slip through the cracks? For decades UW has boasted about former drama student Bruce Lee and we’ve sat and taken it (because, let’s face it, Bruce Lee is pretty awesome) when we could have been countering with Ivan “Death from Above” Drago.
“Why?” I asked Preece. “Is it because he killed Apollo Creed? Is it because ‘Masters of the Universe’ stunk worse than a can of expired Cougar Gold cheese?”
It was none of these things, Preece insisted. (And it turns out Cougar Gold doesn’t expire if it’s refrigerated.)
The issue is technology. The university’s alumni records weren’t very good before the mid-1980s.
To prove this, Preece read me Lundgren’s entire file. “Graduated: ’76. Major: Chemistry.” Then he called up my file and started listing information. My current and past addresses. My home phone number. My wife’s name. I stopped him before he got to my grade-point average.
He admitted there are likely several others alumni from the Lundgren era and before that who have found success only to be ignored by WSU’s notable alumni lists.
So now that Wazzu knows Lundgren is a Coug, what are they going to do about it? I passed my suggestion on to Preece.
For years at football games, WSU has tried to lather up the crowd by blasting Homer Simpson (not a grad) “Whoo Hoos” over the loud speaker and showing John Candy (also not a grad, but he played one in the movies) singing the school fight song in the 1985 comedy “Volunteers.”
It seems like this lineup could make room for a real, not to mention more intimidating, grad. One who could whip up the crowd by simply glaring into the camera, as he did in “Rocky IV,” and uttering four simple words to WSU opponent: “I must break you.”