By Mike Mooneyham
March 28, 2004
Bobby Heenan entertained wrestling audiences for four decades as a wrestler, a manager and a color commentator. Now he’s doing it in the form of book writing.
In “Chair Shots and Other Obstacles: Winning Life’s Wrestling Matches,” his second literary offering in as many years, the quick-witted Heenan gives his unique views and opinions on a variety of subjects.
Although he makes it clear that his wrestling persona, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and the real-life Ray Heenan are two different characters, readers will discover that the two merge at points throughout the narrative. Wrestling has always been a major part of Heenan’s life, and that fact is reflected in his writing.
Heenan made the monikers “The Brain” and “The Weasel” household names in the sports entertainment industry. No veteran mat fan can forget the delightful banter and on-camera chemistry between Heenan, the bombastic mouthpiece for some of the biggest stars in the business, and the late WWE wrestler and announcer Gorilla Monsoon (Gino Marella).Their adversarial relationship in the broadcasting booth was purely show; the two were close friends behind the scenes and respected one another greatly. Heenan broke down at the end of his WWE Hall of Fame induction speech during Wrestlemania XX weekend, lamenting the fact that Monsoon, who passed away in October 1999 at the age of 62, wasn’t there to share the moment with him.
The book contains plenty of road stories that longtime mat followers are sure to enjoy. The wit of one of wrestling’s most memorable characters extends to asides about wrestling payoffs.
“I was driving from Indianapolis to Detroit with Baron Von Raschke, during a 300-mile trip,” he writes. “In Jackson, Mich., there is a state penitentiary that we passed by all the time. I told the Baron, Jim, you know those guys make seven cents a day in there.’ Baron said, Wait a minute, Heenan. Is this another of your get-rich quick schemes?'”
The book is funny, in Heenan’s inimitable style, but it’s not without its poignant moments. Heenan shares with readers his struggle with throat cancer and relates how it’s been the most important match of his life. He devotes an entire chapter to “Cancer, The Ultimate Heel,” a disease he says he battles with humor.
“Not humor at someone else’s expense, but humor that makes each day better, no matter what situation I find myself or someone else in,” he writes. “There’s no right or wrong way to face possible tragedy. I live with it by telling jokes about it.”
It hasn’t been an easy time for Heenan. His wife has had breast cancer twice. He had surgery for throat cancer in March 2002 and had to go back in December of that year after throwing his jaw out from having the dry heaves. He has trouble swallowing and can’t open his mouth very wide. His speech now considerably slowed, Heenan still has difficulty saying some words, “but that’s why God gave us fingers,” he jokes.
It may seem like a cruel twist for a man who was one of wrestling’s legendary talkers.
Readers will forgive Heenan if he seems to alternate serious thought with his trademark sarcasm and observational humor at rather odd places throughout the book. It’s as though Heenan, somewhat understandably, continues to wrestle with thoughts of his own mortality. But that’s how he has chosen to wage his battle.
Instead of getting depressed, though, Heenan says he feels fortunate. He talks about going to hospitals where he saw kids “who you couldn’t tell were boys or girls … these kids haven’t even lived yet.” He then realized that there was nothing for him to feel so sad about.
Heenan, who quit school at the age of 15 in order to support his mother, his grandmother and his aunt, broke into the business as a 17-year-old in 1965, working for Dick “The Bruiser” Afflis in Indianapolis. Along the way he managed some of the greatest in the game.
Having been fortunate enough to have ridden the wave of success in two different eras of wrestling, Heenan clearly prefers the early days, when he says it was more fun because the wrestling fraternity was more like a family. He fondly recalls traveling and sharing laughs with the likes of Von Raschke, Nick Bockwinkel, Ray Stevens, Black Jack Mulligan and Black Jack Lanza. He also realizes that wrestling performers were expendable slaves to the promoters they worked for with no benefits, no profit sharing, no paid vacation and no retirement. Heenan, who has gone through torn knees and hip operations, broke his neck in Japan in 1983 and didn’t have it operated on until 1995 because it was the first time he had insurance.
The pinnacle of Heenan’s career came in 1987 when he managed Andre The Giant in the main event at Wrestlemania III against Hulk Hogan. He became a full-time announcer in the early 1990s when neck problems forced him to avoid physical contact. The 60-year-old Heenan has not worked extensively in the business since WCW was bought out by WWE in 2001.
Heenan’s credentials in the wrestling profession are rock solid.
Jim Cornette calls him the greatest manager in the history of the wrestling business – a tall order coming from a talent like the Louisville Slugger. And no less than Ric Flair, who wrote the foreword for Heenan’s second book, calls him “the best manager of all time, if not one of the best workers.”
“Bobby is such a well-rounded guy. He was wild like I’m wild. But I know that when he went home and took off that Superman cape, he was one hell of a father and husband.”
Hulk Hogan wrote the foreword to his first book, saying Heenan “set the standard for professionalism behind the scenes and the consummate professional in front of the camera.” Few outside the wrestling business ever knew the two were longtime friends.
The 192-page book was co-written with Steve Anderson, who has contributed to various wrestling magazines throughout the years. The book is $24.95 and is available at major chain and independent bookstores, or online at www.sportspublishingllc.com.
– Stone Cold” Steve Austin (Steve Williams) was involved in a domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend Thursday night, according to a San Antonio television station.
Tess Broussard, 37, reportedly told police that Austin shoved her to the ground during an argument in Austin’s home, causing her to land on her “hands and knees,” according to the report.
The two, who have been togther for a year, were in the process of separating. Broussard told officers she had pictures taken for evidence, and planned on pursuing charges against Austin.
Austin, 39, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of assault for allegedly striking then-wife Debra Williams during a June 2002 argument in their San Antonio home. He was sentenced in November 2002 to one year probation, fined $1,000, ordered to attend a domestic violence counseling course and directed to perform 80 hours of community service. Austin, who has played the role of a beer-swilling “sheriff” on Raw in recent months, also was not allowed to drink until his probation had been completed.
– Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura told the Boston Globe last week that it was a “cop-out”‘ for Massachusetts lawmakers to send a constitutional ban on gay marriage to voters.
“We have a representative-style government. Represent your people and vote and stand by what you believe in,” said Ventura. “Civil rights issues should not be put on the ballot … How is my marriage under attack if two gays or lesbians down the street want to make a lifelong commitment to themselves.”
Ventura, who proclaimed at the recent Wrestlemania XX that it was “time to put a wrestler in the White House,” told the Boston Herald that if he ran, he’d pick outspoken retired NBA star Charles Barkley as his running mate, and promises he isn’t joking.
“Everyone laughs,” he said. “They told me in Minnesota a wrestler couldn’t become governor, and I proved them wrong.”
An independent, Ventura doesn’t like President Bush or Democrat John F. Kerry and said he wants an option besides “Pepsi or Coke.”
Ventura, 52, is currently serving as a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.
– WWE announced Friday that it is estimating 825,000 buys for Wrestlemania XX. Combining all revenues, it would be the biggest money-making pro wrestling event of all time. The company said it expected gross revenues for the event to be between $40 million and $45 million. WWE’s net share is expected to exceed $20 million after revenue-sharing with cable and satellite providers.
– Last week’s Raw drew its highest number in two years. The show garnered a 4.5 rating, considerably up from the previous week’s 3.9, with hours of 4.4 and 4.6. The bad news is that the lottery draft involved a dozen performers whose brand switches aren’t likely to have much of an impact.
With Triple H moved back to Raw less than 24 hours after being traded, the Smackdown roster remains in dire need of a big-time heel, further cementing that brand as the “B show.” But with Shelton Benjamin finally excised from the stale “world’s greatest tag team” gimmick with Charlie Haas, the stacked Raw roster has the advantage – and challenge – of grooming a potential big-money player.
– Ron Simmons (Faarooq) has been released by WWE. The dismissal came two days after Simmons’ character was “fired” as part of a storyline at Smackdown tapings two weeks ago.
Sources say the ex-WCW world champ was let go for refusing to enter an alcohol rehab program.
John “Bradshaw” Layfield, who teamed with Simmons as The Acolyte Protection Agency, has been positioned for a major push on the Smackdown roster now that the tired APA gimmick has been laid to rest. Hopefully the suit and cowboy hat can make fans forget about the trash-talking Texan’s former character.
– The Rock is on the cover of today’s Parade Magazine Sunday supplement and is profiled in James Brady’s “In Step” feature.
– “Stone Cold” Steve Austin recently commented on the WWE Web site that former WWE women’s champ and Charleston resident Molly Holly looks good bald and that he only hopes she doesn’t grow a goatee and “steal my routine.”
– Newly appointed Smackdown general manager Kurt Angle will be able to return to limited action soon following his latest health scare. Angle recently told company officials that the numbness and tingling in his hands that plagued him in the past had returned. It now appears that Angle’s neck problems weren’t as serious as feared, and he will be able to wrestle regularly after a few weeks out of the ring.
Angle chose a controversial surgery to repair a neck injury last year that allowed him to drastically shorten his recovery time. The experimental, quick-fix surgery had raised questions about the former Olympic gold medallist’s future in the business, with officials initially fearing that Angle might need to undergo surgery that could have ended his career.
– Brock Lesnar recently told a Minnesota radio show that he had three wonderful years in WWE, but had grown unhappy and had always wanted to play pro football, adding that he didn’t want to be 40 years old and wondering if he could have made it in football. Lensar surprised many in the business when he announced just days before Wrestlemania that he was leaving pro wrestling.
The 6-4, 290-pound Lesnar said he wasn’t worried about passing a test for steroids since he’s been taking drug tests since high school.
“I’m just a white boy from South Dakota blessed by God to be as big as I am,” he said. “Drug tests aren’t the issue; the only issue is to see if I can be a football player.” Lesnar hasn’t played organized football since high school.
Lesnar currently is in Arizona preparing for his NFL tryouts. He weighed in at 283, ran a 4.65 40, had a vertical jump of 35 inches, a standing long jump of 10 feet and was able to bench 225 pounds at 30 reps in preliminary tests.
Lesnar, whose “dream match” with Bill Goldberg at Wrestlemania turned out to be a dud, appeared to be genuinely surprised when fans razzed him with “You sold out” chants the moment he stepped into the ring. As predicted, special ref Steve Austin dropped both with stunners after the lackluster bout.
Lesnar originally had been scheduled to win the match since Goldberg’s future with the company was in doubt, but plans changed when Lesnar announced days before the show that he was leaving the company as well.
Few backstage are shedding tears over either performer’s departure. Both Lesnar and Goldberg were widely perceived as having reaped the bountiful benefits of the business without paying proportionate dues.
Goldberg trained briefly at WCW’s Power Plant before cashing in big in his first year as a pro. Lesnar spent a year in WWE’s Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental territory prior to becoming an instant millionaire in the big show.
– Lance Storm reflected the views of many on the WWE roster when he offered his thoughts on the Brock Lesnar-Bill Goldberg match at Wrestlemania: “I think the less said the better. I’ve worked harder on a house show in front of 200 people for $50.”
– Bill Goldberg told an Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, radio station last week that his WWE contract expired March 14 and that he was “done with the soap opera called the WWE.” Goldberg said WWE was “like being in a circus” and that it wasn’t an ideal situation working for Vince McMahon and WWE at this time in his life, adding that he didn’t need to be around “all that stuff.”
– “WWE 24/7 – Wrestling Any Time, All the Time.” That’s the theme of WWE’s subscription video-on-demand service unveiled last week that will feature pay-per-view, cable and syndicated broadcast content, home videos, original productions and proprietary broadband, from the WWE and other acquired national and regional wrestling brands. The company has a 75,000-hour programming library.
“WWE is ready to move even more aggressively into the digital age by providing new services that will fit with the active lifestyles of our fans and meet their demand for new and innovative content,” said Vince McMahon. “Our fans want more WWE and classic sports entertainment programming, and we have demonstrated our track record of providing content of the highest quality and value. I’m confident we can move into this new distribution platform for television as successfully as we have for syndication, cable, broadcast and pay-per-view.”
Over the past three years WWE has purchased the libraries of a number of promotions, including WCW, ECW and AWA. The result is an archive of more than 75,000 hours of programming content, 25,000 of which was previously aired or released as finished product.
WWE 24/7 will make available approximately 20 hours of content per month — four to five new hours per week on average. The content includes the best of past cable, broadcast, pay-per-view and home videos from WWE and other leading promotions.
– WWE also is producing “The Rise and Fall of ECW” DVD. The two-disc set is scheduled for a June 1 release and has a retail price of $29.95.
– The draft lottery edition of Raw, headlined by Triple H challenging WWE Smackdown champ Eddy Guerrero, will aired again today at 8 p.m. following Sunday Night Heat.
– Davey “British Bulldog” Smith’s autopsy results were disclosed recently by a British Columbia coroner.
“Investigation revealed, that in his profession, Mr. Smith had used anabolic steroids in the past,” the coroner stated in a five-page report. “Injectable anabolic steroid and paraphernalia was seized by the coroner. Analysis of the anabolic steroid revealed trenbolone acetate. The above described changes in the fibrous connective tissues are consistent with previous anabolic steroid use.”
Smith, who passed away almost a year and a half ago, died while vacationing with girlfriend and sister-in law Andrea Hart. The 39-year-old wrestler was attempting a comeback at the time.
– “Dr. Death” Steve Williams is scheduled to undergo surgery for throat cancer.
Williams, who played football for Barry Switzer at the University of Oklahoma where he was an All-American wrestler, has spent most of the past decade competing in Japan. Williams also has been running a wrestling school in Shreveport, La.
– The Cauliflower Alley Club will hold its annual blowout April 17-19 in Las Vegas. Charlie Thesz, Lou’s widow, is scheduled to present Antonio Inoki with the Lou Thesz Memorial Award.
– The highly anticipated Jack Brisco autobiography, “Brisco – The Life & Times of National Collegiate and World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco,” has been released.
The 286-page softbound book, published by Culture House, is available for $24.95 and can be ordered on-line at www.wrestlingmuseum.org or calling Culture House at 641-526-8836 or the International Wrestling Museum at 641-791-1517.
Brisco is regarded as one of the greatest pure wrestlers in the history of the business. An NCAA champion at Oklahoma State University, Brisco went on to become one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling, winning the NWA world heavyweight title in 1973.
– Ken Mihalik is selling his collection of Wrestling Observer newsletters from 1990-2000 (nearly 500 issues in all). He’ll also throw in three Wrestling Observer Yearbooks (1988, 1989, 1990) plus a unique WWF trunk that he’ll send them in. Minimum bid starts at $575. For more information, contact him at (843) 795-0590 or e-mail at [email protected].
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected]. He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment,” which was recently released in paperback. For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.