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Act 2, Brutus?

Legendary wrestler says he's found happiness back in the ring and with his family

During his 31 years in the ring, Edward Harrison Leslie has wrestled under many names: Eddie Golden, The Booty Man, Ed Boulder, Dizzy Hogan, Brute Force, The Butcher, The Clipmaster, The Disciple, and, most famously, Brutus ‘‘The Barber’’ Beefcake. But these days, the 50-year-old former professional wrestler, who lives in Winchester with his wife and daughter, prefers ‘‘Dad.’’

‘‘I spend most of my spare time watching my daughter ride on her pony Fred and helping my wife with her antiques business,’’ Leslie writes on his MySpace profile.

The aging ring king — who helped introduce flashy spandex costumes to the sport, tag-teamed with Hulk Hogan in films and battle royales, and cut opponents’ hair with steel gardening clippers — wants stability after years of spectacle and tumult. In 1990, a wayward parasailer struck Leslie in the face at 35 miles per hour and nearly killed him. In 2004 the ex-star checked into rehab after white powder found in his possession in a Boston subway caused an anthrax scare.

‘‘Sometimes success is harder to deal with than failure,’’ says Leslie, who insists the white powder was aspirin, not cocaine. ‘‘I’ve been through a lot in my day.’’ Nowadays, he says, he spends most of his time relaxing with his wife, Barbie, and 10-year-old daughter, Alana.

From time to time, though, Brutus the Daddy reverts to Brutus the Barber. At the Marshfield Fair this month, the 6-foot-3-inch, 270-pound Leslie bounded into the ring against a wrestler named Hercules Hernandez Jr. In glistening tights and white boots, Leslie silenced his opponent with a sleeper hold — then cut Hernandez’s manager’s hair.

‘‘There will never be another Brutus Beefcake,’’ says Leslie, who works at Baystate Pool Supplies and wrestles a few times a month at small bouts in New England and Canada.

The bow tie-wearing, hair-cutting Beefcake character emerged from brainstorming sessions with Hulk Hogan, a high-school friend with whom Leslie started wrestling in Florida in 1976. Whenever Brutus defeated an opponent, he would cut his hair with jumbo-size shears. ‘‘Everyone could identify with the barber,’’ says MIT graduate student Sam Ford, who teaches a class on professional wrestling history. ‘‘He would get into battles with guys named ‘The Genius’ or ‘Mr. Perfect,’ really pompous guys, and the crowds really rallied behind him.’’ In 1985, Leslie and Greg ‘‘The Hammer’’ Valentine won the World Tag Team Championship.

Although Leslie despises World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon — and sued him for rights to the name Brutus ‘‘The Barber’’ Beefcake — he still loves the sport. ‘‘Wrestling is just telling a story. Good guy vs. bad guy. Good vs. evil.’’ Brutus is the bad guy, or ‘‘heel’’ in wrestling slang.

Thick-necked with barbed-wire tattoos and clanking metal chains, Leslie looks like a bodyguard or nightclub bouncer. He boasts that he can climb the number of stairs in the Empire State Building — 1,860 — in 18 minutes on an exercise machine at the Planet Fitness in Somerville. When a fan suggested recently that Leslie could bench press 400 pounds, he didn’t deny it: ‘‘I’m in better shape than I was 20 years ago.’’

But is it natural? ‘‘I’m pumped on life,’’ he says. Leslie consumes no alcohol or drugs, including steroids, he says. A childhood Catholic, he has toyed with founding a Christian wrestling network. ‘‘For me, accepting Christ is the same thing as being a good person,’’ he says. ‘‘If that’s a born-again Christian, I’m guess I’m a born-again.’’

Religion has taught him to spend plenty of time with his family, Leslie says. On his MySpace page — not to be confused with the dozens of Brutus Beefcake fan pages — he lists his only interest as ‘‘watching my daughter learn to be the greatest horseback rider of all time.’’

Family man by day, wrestler by night, Leslie shares a lot in common with John J. Cena Sr., the Methuen city assessor and father of wrestling champion John J. Cena Jr. ‘‘Why are we still wrestling? I do it for the fans and the camaraderie,’’ says Cena, who describes himself as a longtime Brutus follower. ‘‘I do it for love of the business.’’

‘‘Boston Bad Boy’’ Rocky Raymond, a local wrestling promoter, says Leslie appeals to families and fans of 1980s wrestling. ‘‘He’s legendary,’’ Raymond says. ‘‘He’s a good showman, he’s got a good attitude, and he signs autographs for the kids.’’

Although the Marshfield Fair is hardly Boston Garden — where Beefcake performed for tens of thousands in 1988 — Leslie says he’s glad to have left the professional circuit. ‘‘It’s all about hoopla, the glitter, the explosions, the show,’’ he says. ‘‘They forgot the wrestling.’’

After his wrestling career began dwindling in the 1990s, Leslie bounced between jobs for a while before settling at the Metro Boston Transit Authority. ‘‘I was stuck in a tollboth in Chinatown with the prostitutes and the bums and the rats,’’ he says. ‘‘You cannot imagine the filth I had to endure.’’ He lived in his father-in-law’s attic to save money, he says, and hated the MBTA.

In 2004, he says, he left a white powder aspirin in a tollbooth and it spilled onto another employee’s black sweater. She called police, and the station was closed for fear of anthrax. At the time, MBTA deputy police chief Thomas McCarthy announced that Leslie had admitted cocaine possession and cooperated with police. Leslie wasn’t arrested or charged with any crime, but he was found in violation of the MBTA’s drug policy and was fired.

Leslie tells a different story. ‘‘Do you really think that if I was caught with drugs, they wouldn’t have arrested me? The police are not going to say, ‘It’s OK, Mr. Beefcake, go home with your drugs.’’’

Still he admits entering rehab and says he learned a lot from the process. ‘‘It was a real eye-opener for me to see what effect drugs and alcohol were having on people’s lives,’’ he says. Substance abuse and mental illness are particularly problematic in the wrestling community, he says, as demonstrated by star wrestler Chris Benoit’s rampaging murder of his family and suicide in Atlanta in June.

‘‘I’ve seen a lot of my friends die,’’ Leslie says. ‘‘They were foolish. They weren’t thinking about their families.’’

That’s not a mistake Brutus the Daddy wants to make.

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