Witty Heenan ‘peerless’
BOBBY Heenan, whose quickwitted insults and promotional antics as a pro wrestling manager, commentator and occasional grappler made him one of the most reviled – and popular – figures in his business, died from complications from throat cancer. He was 72.
His death was announced by the WWE entertainment company.
Heenan was a so-so wrestler but as a promoter he had few equals. He lived up to his nickname as “The Brain” by fashioning outlandish methods to gain attention for his wrestlers and their bouts.
Sporting a blond pompadour and sequined jackets with his monogram, Heenan passed himself off as a dandy.
He appeared to take offence to his less generous moniker, “The Weasel”, as he insulted opposing wrestlers, fans and the cities where the matches took place.
It was all a calculated effort to generate “heat”, or the drummedup animus that would draw people to the arena. Wrestling fans were so caught up in the rivalries they never knew his life was sometimes in actual danger. He escaped thrown chairs and attacks and at least one shooting, in which several spectators were wounded.
Heenan began his career in wrestling when it was an almost underground enterprise. Later, as part of the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) and its subsequent incarnations, he helped build it into a huge spectacle, filling arenas and TV screens and making its most celebrated performers stars in the legitimate entertainment world.
Over the years, Heenan worked with many of the biggest names in the industry, including Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, Ravishing
Rick Rude, Paul “Mr Wonderful” Orndorff, Big John Studd and the tag team of Blackjack Mulligan and Blackjack Lanza.
In the 1980s, Heenan helped promote the popular WrestleMania events of WWE’s predecessor, the WWF. WrestleMania III drew a crowd of 93 173 to the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan to watch Hulk Hogan defend his title against Andre the Giant.
Heenan’s hype-filled prematch interviews were often as entertaining as the matches themselves. Speaking to announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Heenan likened the Andre-Hogan bout to a cat lurking inside a bird cage with a canary. (As if there were any doubt, Heenan’s client, Andre, was the cat, leaving a trail of the Hulkster’s feathers behind.)
“I wonder if we could talk wrestling here, instead of canaries,” Okerlund said.
“Sure, we can talk about whatever you want to talk about,” Heenan replied, “but don’t talk to me about it.”
“In wrestling, Heenan was peerless,” commentator David Bixenspan wrote on the sports website Deadspin.com.
Heenan was born in Chicago on November 1, 1944.
He became enamoured of wrestling as a child and left school in the eighth grade to work as an assistant at wrestling venues in Chicago and later Indianapolis.
He called himself “Pretty Boy” Bobby Heenan when he started wrestling in his teens. By 21, he was managing other wrestlers, bestowing the name “The Brain” on himself.
Heenan often referred to his wrestlers as “the family”, resisting the common term “stable”.
He continued to appear in the ring, often bloodied in battle, until breaking his neck in Japan in
1983. His later role as manager was hardly a desk job.
In addition to enduring catcalls and curses, he was sometimes pulled into the ring during bouts, tossed across the floor and subjected to ritual humiliation before being rescued by his brawny brethren.
He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
Survivors include his widow Cynthia, a daughter and two grandchildren. – Washington Post
Bobby Heenan was reviled but very popular in pro wrestling.