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Attorney says Hulk Hogan humiliated when Gawker aired sex tape

Terry Bollea, known as professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, watches potential jurors at the Pinellas County Courthouse in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
Terry Bollea, known as professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, watches potential jurors at the Pinellas County Courthouse in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
Published Mar. 8, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Four years after a video of him having sex with a friend's wife was posted online, former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan took the witness stand on Monday, saying the episode had "completely humiliated" him.

This was not the chest-beating, shirt-ripping Hogan of the wrestling ring. Nor was it the "All-American" entertainer who told children to say their prayers and take their vitamins.

This was Terry Bollea, Hogan's real name, a man in search of sympathy and $100 million in compensation.

"I was embarrassed by what it did to me as a person, but it was even embarrassing as a character," he said of the publication of the sex tape. "Hulk Hogan was embarrassed."

On Monday, the opening day of the trial for the invasion of privacy lawsuit Bollea brought against the website Gawker, he described how he came to be secretly filmed by his former best friend, Tampa radio DJ Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

LIVE BLOG: Keep up with the latest developments from the case of Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker

Bollea took the stand dressed in his typical courtroom attire of a black suit and black bandana, his Fu Manchu mustache in a perpetual frown. More than anything, the 62-year-old father of two looked tired.

In 2007, after telling him he was "too told" and "too slow," his wife of 25-years announced plans to leave him and move to California. Bollea said he sought the comfort of his closest friend, who offered up his wife, Heather Clem.

"It was so weird and so crazy," Bollea said. "My gut was telling me this was wrong."

Five years later, when Gawker posted a one-minute and 41-second excerpt of the sex tape online, Bollea said he "went numb" at the news.

"My hands started shaking violently," he said.

He confronted Clem, demanding to know if he was behind the video, only to be assured his friend had nothing to do with it. Later, he would learn Clem had made the recording, burned it to a DVD, and stashed it in his unlocked desk drawer. The two settled out of court in 2012.

Attorneys for Gawker argue that Bollea invited coverage of his sex life by boasting about his sexual prowess for years, often publicly. By writing and speaking about his sex life, he has made it a matter of public interest, they say, and fair game for reporters.

"Mr. Bollea has spent years telling the public why he is a role model," Gawker attorney Michael Berry told the jury. But the video "showed something different."

"Gawker believes this kind of reporting is important," he said, adding that it was not for profit, as Bollea's attorneys maintain.

Posts like the one of Bollea that were labeled NSFW (Not Safe For Work) did not carry advertising or messages from sponsors, Berry said.

In his testimony, Bollea sought to distance himself from the famous character he created decades ago, when he was a young wrestler earning $25 a match.

Hulk Hogan is loud and boastful, he said, but Terry Bollea is "soft spoken to a fault," and has trouble saying "no" to his grown children. Hulk Hogan can't admit he's going bald; Terry Bollea acknowledges in open court that he wears a bandana to hide his hair loss.

"Terry Bollea is a normal person," he said. "Wrestling is his job."

To prove he could summon the character at will, he turned to the jury and growled one of his trademark phrases: "Hey, how ya doin', brother?"

The man who went on dozens of radio and television shows and talked in lurid detail about his sex life?

That was Hulk Hogan, Bollea said.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips on Twitter.