PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Mick Foley's battered body might be in better shape this Christmas had he made a living landing on wintery rooftops instead of getting tossed off the roof of a 16-foot high steel cage.
Foley had part of his ear shredded as Cactus Jack. He was an improbable heartthrob as Dude Love. And he took one giant leap as Mankind when his hardcore wrestling character was heaved from the cage through a table.
But his fictional character more into holly than acting the heel is his role as jolly old St. Mick.
Foley put a bow on his holiday hobby when the lifelong Christmas enthusiast became a professional Santa Claus in 2012, a transformation chronicled in the recently released documentary "I Am Santa Claus." The film documents a year in the lives of four men — and Foley — who make their living as professional Santa Clauses.
The film tries to answer a question that has stumped parents for years: Whose lap is your child sitting on when sharing Christmas wishes?
"I Am Santa Claus" premiered at the Hollywood Film Festival in October and is slated for a short theatrical release this week. It will be released on DVD and digitally later this month.
Director Tommy Avallone, who was 20 when he ran for mayor of Haddon Heights, New Jersey, made his directorial debut in 2009 and pitched his interest in tracking Santas (minus NORAD) to documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock at a film festival. Spurlock, best known for his Oscar-nominated film "Super Size Me," signed on as executive producer.
"Three years later, me and Mick Foley came into his office with a finished movie and he attached himself to it," Avallone said.
Known more as a World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer, Foley is a year-round Christmas enthusiast and authored holiday books "Mick Foley's Christmas Chaos" and "A Most Mizerable Christmas." While some men boast of their basement caves stocked with memorabilia and beer, Foley has a Christmas room devoted to tree ornaments and good cheer.
He has lived the part of Santa Claus for 18 months, growing out his beard and wearing Christmas-themed attire every day this year. His messy mop of hair, bushy beard and mustache about covered his entire face during a recent cameo on WWE's "Raw." Foley hit the ring dressed in a shirt dotted with Santa Claus' image, a stark contrast to his promo about the brutality of wrestling inside the steel cage known as Hell in a Cell.
Foley will bleach his beard and wear a yak-haired wig in December for a group called Christmas Magic, which provides holiday generosity and spirit to those less fortunate.
His dream came true Dec. 12, 2012 when he donned the red hat and suit at Santa's Village, a Christmas-themed amusement park, in Jefferson, New Hampshire. He saw about 60 kids who had no clue the man under the suit was indeed Cactus Jack.
Foley underwent a six-hour process to morph into Santa — there was no scraggly store-bought attire.
"It wasn't until that next morning when I put on the suit and looked at myself with the white beard that I had earned the right to portray Santa Claus," he said.
That moment, including the painful bleaching process, was captured on film.
Avallone chronicles a down-on-his luck man who admits that portraying Santa has helped lift him out of his depression; a real estate agent who's made a career as a mall Santa; a tattooed man who legally changed his name to Santa Claus; and a gay Santa, who won "Mr. Texas Bear Round-Up," a large gathering for gay men.
"It's the one time a year when they're fully alive," Avallone said. "They're rock stars for two months. But then they go back to normal life. It's not sad, just different."
Foley's attachment helped jolt the film Kickstarter's fund from $10,000 to $50,000 and gave the film needed buzz.
"Mick brought the heart to it," Avallone said.
Foley knows a thing or two about playing fictional characters that bring joy to families around the world.
But donning the leather mask of macabre Mankind can't compare to belting out "Ho! Ho! Ho!" as Santa Claus.
"You get the chance to be a better someone than you actually are," Foley said.
Dan Gelston can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APGelston