Few in the entertainment biz have built the kind of empire that Nashville’s own Buddy Lee created. In 1964, Lee started managing Hank Williams Jr., beginning a legacy that would come to include the likes of Willie Nelson and George Strait. In the early 1970s, Buddy Lee Attractions began representing entertainers outside of country music, and by the mid-’80s the business had grown to include a live events production company.
The company that Lee founded is still headquartered on Music Row and continues to represent some of the biggest acts in the entertainment industry, including Jeff Foxworthy and Lee Ann Womack. But in the days before rhinestones and slide guitars made Lee, who died eight years ago, a rich man, he trafficked in a very different—and at the time much seedier—kind of entertainment: female professional wrestling.
Recently, a Pentecostal minister in Augusta, Ga., named Michael McCoy came forward claiming that Lee is his father. McCoy’s mother was one of the first black female professional wrestlers, performing under the name Sweet Georgia Brown. She toured with Lee and his then common-law wife Lillian Ellison, known to the world as The Fabulous Moolah.
It’s a fact that Lee was having outside-the-ring relations with some of his wrestlers. He would eventually leave Moolah for Rita Cortez, a female wrestler who toured with Lee, Moolah and Brown. But in a recent article in the Augusta newspaper Metro Spirit, McCoy and his family describe Brown’s life on the female wrestling circuit as a kind of forced prostitution. Brown’s daughter tells of how, after grueling wrestling matches, she was often expected to have sex with paying clients in dingy motels. If she refused, her daughter told the paper, “She was beaten, often brutally. Sometimes her eyes swelled shut. She had a tooth knocked out. And she was threatened with worse.”
Michael McCoy seems convinced that Lee is his father, and many think that the two look alike. He says that when the reporter from the Augusta paper saw a picture of Lee, he said, “This is a white Mike!”
McCoy also told the Scene that he isn’t out for money, though he won’t refuse it. “I’m after the truth,” he says. “I want some answers. I’m not out for money and fame. Of course, if I’m entitled to something, then that’s what I want.”
Lee’s daughter Donna—whose mother was Rita Cortez Lee—works at Buddy Lee Attractions on Music Row and says that the whole story is bizarre and unbelievable. “Consider the source,” she says. “I do not believe this for one minute.”
McCoy says that he’s puzzled by her response. He tells of meeting Rita Lee not long ago at a Hampton Inn here in Nashville. He recalls her saying at that meeting, “You can tell Moolah that you came to Nashville to meet your brother and sister,” McCoy says.
He adds that the Lee children need to realize that their “father has a history of cheating.”
Maybe, but legally speaking, it could well be beside the point. Sam Lipshie, an attorney who represents the Lee family, says that Lee’s estate was settled after he died in the late ’90s. According to Lipshie, even if McCoy is Lee’s son, he would be entitled to exactly nothing.
“The will was probated properly, and notice was given to all potential claimants at the time. The probate has long since been closed,” Lipshie says. “Even if he was the child of Buddy Lee, which I have no basis to believe, he would have no legal claim to any of the assets that pass through Buddy Lee’s estate.”
What’s more, McCoy was born in 1967, three years after Lee had given up the pro wrestling game to manage Hank Williams Jr. According to the Lee family, the timeline just doesn’t fit. In short, says their attorney, “Mr. McCoy is strictly out of luck.”
McCoy says that since the story has come out, he’s received threatening phone calls. He tells of how every Wednesday and Thursday night, a white man calls his home and plays “Mothers Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” over the phone. “I know he’s white because I heard his voice before,” McCoy says, adding that if any violence befalls him, “people are going to know that it came from Nashville.”
Most of all, McCoy wants a DNA test. When told by the Scene that the Lee family has agreed to the test as long as he would pay for it, McCoy says that he’s skeptical but certainly willing to foot the bill. He wants to be sure that “the Lee family didn’t just grab someone off the street for their DNA.”
McCoy speculates that such doubting comes naturally. “It must be my father’s instinct,” he says.