The lawsuit stems from an incident in 2006 when, following his divorce from wife Linda, Hogan had sex with the wife of his then-best friend, radio personality Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem. The sexual encounter was captured on video, but Hogan claims he did not know he was being filmed.
The video became public when it was published online by Gawker in October 2012. Hogan’s lawsuit is seeking $100 million in damages from the website for emotional distress and invasion of privacy.
Gawker’s defense has been that they had the right to publish the video because Hogan had lost any prospect of privacy after openly discussing his sex life during media appearances.
After opening statements on Monday, Hogan’s attorney, David Houston, said in a statement, “To this day they have no concern or shame as to their conduct but rather offer the weakest of justifications as it surrounds what amounts to pandering to the very issues that cause us to be present in court.”
“Our goal will be to reveal what Gawker is, does and for what they stand," Houston added.
Hogan was on the stand for over three hours on Monday, recounting his entire life, from early childhood to the moment he found out there was a sex tape online of him.
Hogan began his testimony by detailing his upbringing growing up in a small house with aspirations of a career in music. Eventually, he went into wrestling during the 1970’s, where he says he was paid $20-25 a match and sleeping in his car, before becoming a household name.
Hogan also detailed the days of his family’s reality show, Hogan Knows Best, which aired on VH1 for four seasons, and admitted the show wasn’t truly “reality.”
“They actually told us what to say the majority of the time,” Hogan confessed.
Hogan also described the fallout of his marriage with Linda, his wife of 24 years. “As soon as the cameras were off, we would go off in separate directions,” he said, adding, “I felt…there was going to be a chance that maybe she would come back. But it was tough because it was almost like, instead of just moving out, her actions changed.”
It was then that Hogan claims he was approached by best friend Bubba and his wife, Heather Clem, about engaging in a sexual relationship with Heather.
“I knew they had an open marriage,” Hogan said, but added he thought it was just a joke. Eventually, Hogan admitted to giving in to the alleged repeated sexual advances from Heather at a time when he was vulnerable.
“I unsuccessfully tried to get my wife back, my son was in a lot of trouble. I wasn’t working. I didn’t have a job. She filed for divorce and said I’m done and I’m not coming back,” said Hogan.
“I called Bubba and I was crying like a baby on the phone and I just broke down…it got to the point where I was depressed,” Hogan added. “It was a low point in my life that when Bubba says, ‘Hey man, come over to my house, let’s talk, I was so desperate I went over there. One thing led to another and I let my guard down.”
Hogan testified that when he and Heather had sex that evening, Bubba said he was going to work in his office and handed them both a condom. “It was so weird and so crazy, my gut was telling me that this was off.”
Hogan claims this prompted him to ask Bubba if he was being filmed and Bubba allegedly got incredibly angry, shouting, ‘I would never do that to you. I am your best friend.’
However, Hogan said, at the end of the tape, Bubba can allegedly be heard saying to his then-wife, “If we ever need to retire, here is our ticket.”
Hogan found out about the footage in 2012 when he was on a publicity tour for Total Nonstop Action and he received a phone call from TMZ.
“I felt numb,” Hogan said of when he first heard the news. “My family has been through so much. My feeling was, not again. I had just completely cleaned up my life.”
Hogan remarried in 2010 to Jennifer McDaniel, and he revealed it may not survive the aftermath of this scandal. “I am torn, I have no idea if my new relationship in my life is going to survive, it’s not great right now.”
When his attorneys asked him on the stand if he felt ashamed, Hogan responded, “I was embarrassed by what it did to me as a person, but it was even embarrassing as a character. Hulk Hogan was embarrassed.”
After Monday's proceedings, Houston released a statement to ET in which he said the first day of the trial "went exceptionally well."
"Mr. Bollea discussed the damages he has sustained by virtue of the activities of Gawker and at the same point responded well as it concerned all cross examination questions," he added. "We look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate the actions of the defendants resulted in substantial harm to Mr. Bollea and as such they most certainly should be held accountable. Every day it will become more and more clear this is not and has never been a case where the utilization of the first amendment as a defense is either appropriate or warranted."
Gawker Media also released a statement to ET, which read: "Today in court we heard Terry Bollea state that he's in character as 'Hulk Hogan' virtually 24 hours a day (whenever he's not home is the way he put it) -- also acknowledging that as 'Hulk Hogan' he regularly takes 'artistic license' and does not tell the truth."
Monday was the first day in the trial that is expected to last up to three weeks. Hogan will be on the stand again on Tuesday morning for cross-examination.