GREAT FALLS — For seven seasons beginning in 1989 and ending in 1997, American Gladiators captivated television audiences across the globe with fierce competitions and unforgettable personalities.
Great Falls native and CM Russell High School grad Jim Kalafat, aka Jim “Laser” Starr, was the only cast member to appear in all seven seasons of the show. He answered a casting call after injuries prematurely ended his professional football career in 1987, not knowing what kind of cultural impact the show would have.
He spoke with MTN Sports recently from his home near Denver, Colorado.
“There's still a massive following with American Gladiators. We were in 60 some countries when when it ended in 1997,” Kalafat said. “And it's truly amazing today people are still interested in the TV show, what we're doing, what we've done with our lives post gladiators.”
The widespread interest has led to a spate of documentaries. In May, ESPN aired a 30 for 30 documentary on the Gladiators which focused mainly on show creator Johnny Ferraro. Kalafat and several of his fellow Gladiators declined to participate, due to a payment dispute and creative differences with Ferraro.
But Kalafat and some of the more high-profile Gladiators lent their voices and sat for interviews for a new docuseries on Netflix called Muscles and Mayhem: An Unauthorized Story of the American Gladiators, which debuts June 28 on the streaming platform.
Here’s the official synopsis:
Muscles & Mayhem: An Unauthorized Story of American Gladiators chronicles the meteoric rise, dramatic fall, and gripping behind-the-scenes stories of one of the biggest spectacles on television during the height of the ’90s. Told first hand from the stars who lived through it, this five part series reveals untold stories of the iconic American Gladiators’ triumph, turmoil, and ultimate price of fame.
For Kalafat and his fellow Gladiators, the entire film making process was a powerful experience.
“They rented an old abandoned warehouse in downtown L.A. and we had individual shooting days. And it was just really relaxed, sitting there on a chair and the director and producer asking questions and reminiscing about the show and and a couple other things that came about,” Kalafat said.
“I mean, it was really the first reality TV show ever created. And so I'm just thrilled to death that we're able to finally tell our story and people can see what we've been doing for the last 30 years.”
The show will offer fans a peek behind the curtain of American Gladiators, documenting the show’s success while not shying away from struggles and personal conflicts the competitors faced when the cameras weren’t rolling.
Kalafat will be the first to admit that he had a maniacal drive to compete that drove him to push his body beyond its limits. He still holds the single game and single season tackle records at Montana State University, and when his professional career ended he threw himself into Gladiators.
“As athletes, you just want to be the best of the best. And every time I went out there, I wanted to rip your head off, basically. It filled that void,” Kalafat said. "So it's going to probably surprise a bunch of us when we see things that maybe we did want to see. But it is what it is, right? You can't change the past and there were some tough moments.”
Kalafat remains proud of his time with the Gladiators, but knows none of it would have been possible without his Montana upbringing.
“I still consider Montana my home. And there's not too many individuals that get outside of Montana and end up being in that celebrity limelight, which I don't care about,” Kalafat said. “But it is what it is. And I was on TV and I think people from Montana can be proud. Because I'm proud as all hell to be from Montana and represent the state of Montana.”
Kalafat was recently nominated and selected to the CMR Legends Hall of Fame, and will be inducted during a ceremony at halftime of CMR’s homecoming game in the fall.
“So I'll be back there for that. And I'm just really proud of that accomplishment and and having people look at that and and be inducted into the Legends Hall of Fame,” he said. “Coach (Jack Johnson) was a friend and a mentor and paved the way for me in terms of discipline and hard work.”
Muscles & Mayhem: An Unauthorized Story of American Gladiators will be released on Netflix on June 28.