Bobby “The Brain” Heenan is arguably the greatest manager in wrestling history.
My formative years of watching and witnessing wrestling were very often narrated by Bobby. He was that scumfuck manager that you loved to hate. I started watching wrestling right around 1988, 1989, and Bobby was at the forefront of the WWF manager hierarchy. Sure, you had Slick, you had Jimmy Hart, guys of that ilk. Hell, you even had Baron Von Raschke managing The Powers of Pain, albeit briefly. But as a child, no one quite popped, no manager hit a nerve quite like “The Brain.”
This is Bobby Heenan’s first book, published in 2002. What you should not expect is a long, detailed memoir of Bobby’s career. Far from it. The book does not even break 200 pages. Instead, what it is, is this: It is some of Heenan’s greatest career memories, littered with the wit and witticism that is uniquely Bobby Heenan. So, basically, we breeze through his childhood and his early years of the business in short order. He was born Raymond Heenan, raised in Indiana. When Bobby was one, his father abandoned the family, and was never seen again. Bobby’s mother Millie and his grandmother raised him, for better or worse. Young Ray Heenan was captivated by wrestling at a young age, to the point where he dropped out of High School to pursue his lifetime vocation. He cut his teeth in some regional Indiana and Illinois independents, as well as a few dates in the AWA. From day one, Bobby was not so much a wrestler…he never really received a formal in ring training. Instead, Bobby Heenan was a manager, and his first Chris Markoff and Angelo Poffo. Now, these chapters are not necessarily littered with what Bobby did and when in his first few years in a wrestling ring. In what becomes a running theme of the book, its the lighter side, the zanier side, of wrestling, both in ring and, more importantly, out of the ring, that is highlighted. The ribs. The drinking. More ribs. The seedier characters of the mat game. Some pulled pork and a side of more ribs. You get the picture.
The AWA Chapter is where the book really starts to get into a groove. Now, there is not a whole hell of a lot in any one chapter in this book, because, as I said, its a very short book. But you get some excellent stuff here. Bobby did a lot of traveling there with the Crusher and Nick Bockwinkle. Bobby transformed into the lead heel manager in Minnesota, and loved the experience, for the most part. His most famous charge was AWA Champ Bockwinkel, and he was in Nick’s corner for a series of matches that changed wrestling. This needs to be addressed.
The matches I am talking about are the Bockwinkle-Hogan series, which many people point at as the death of the AWA (which is bullshit, may I add. Its part of the problem, but not the whole cause). Now, Hulk Hogan actually writes the foreword to this book, and does a passable job. But Heenan LOVES Hogan, and does not say one bad thing about him. This also becomes a recurring theme of the book, as Heenan effusively praises two people (the second is forthcoming) and slags just about every other person, even though many of us now know otherwise regarding the two Heenan cronies.
Heenan does offer some excellent insight into the AWA in those Hogan years. He actually offered the best, and most rational, reason of why Hogan refused the AWA title and soon left. Basically, Verne Gagne wanted Hogan, as his champion, at his beck and call, and wanted Hogan to have no part in Japanese bookings. Well, by that point, Hogan did big business in Japan, so he refused. Shortly thereafter, he was making millions for Vince McMahon, and the rest, so they say is history. Did I also mention that Bobby Heenan, Gene Okerlund, and “Dr D” Dave Schultz were right behind Hogan on the primrose path to New York? Well, shit, I should have, because that is exactly what happened.
Bobby has nothing but effusive praise for Vince McMahon Jr. and his grand plan for where wrestling was headed. This is another point of contention I have with Bobby Heenan. He states that McMahon was, more or less, a leader by reason, not volume. Less Vince Lombardi, more Tony Dungy. He states that McMahon was a joy to work for, a man who never yelled at him, took his opinion for all it was worth, and valued Bobby’s commitment. Yet, within the same two or three chapters, he says that he was disrespected by the front office for wanting to retire from managing people due to his neck and back issues. He states that “someone” stated to him, for example, that if he refused to manage Ric Flair upon Flair’s arrival in WWF in 1991, that Bobby would be fired. You see the contradictions here? Bobby has nothing but great praise and affection for his time in WWF. His favorite moments were WrestleMania III, where he managed Andre against Hogan in the biggest match of all time, and his broadcast career with Gorilla Monsoon. Heenan’s memories of Andre are priceless in this book. One time, a Japanese wrestler was attempting to get smart with Andre in the ring, namely, starting to shoot on him. Andre put him in a full nelson. Bobby asked him what happened next:
Andre: “I stood in front of him.”
Bobby: “What next?”
Andre: “I fell forward with him.”
Bobby: “What happened then?”
Andre: (holding his hand over his mouth and screaming:) “COMA!”
So yes, gentle viewers, Andre invented the move Miz uses today as the Skull Crushing Finale.
Heenan’s partnership with Gorilla Monsoon is legendary. Surprisingly, Heenan does not spend to much time on this. Maybe Monsoon’s death was still too fresh in his mind writing the memoir. He does relay some moments from Prime Time Wrestling, but not too many. This is the portion of the book that remains a little flat for my tastes. Those two were as thick as thieves, on and off camera. If WWE could even approximate one third of the chemistry those two had, Raw would not be so insufferable right now.
Eventually, WWF could no longer afford to pay Bobby’s salary, so off to greener pastures in WCW he went.
He fucking hated it.
Let me state this: Bobby Heenan has absolutely nothing positive to say about WCW, even though he was present for WCW’s hottest period, where they were handing WWF their ballbag in a sling. He actually goes as far as stating that the only reason WCW thrived was BECAUSE OF VINCE! OK, Bobby. He says the reason WCW thrived in that period was because Vince was crafting the “Billionaire Ted” Skits with Nacho Man and the Huckster. That is so wrong on so many levels that I cannot even begin to quantify it. He mentions how much of a douche he thought Tony Schiavone was (and those sections are pretty fun, admittedly). He barely mentions the NWO. He just heaps shit upon shit upon shit on WCW. I guess I can understand, but then there is this: he mentions the myriad problems WCW had…but never mentions Hogan. Here enlies my problem with the book. Heenan is too pro WWF and anti anything else. It comes off like Bobby was writing this book as a sort of mea culpa to Vince McMahon, begging him to PLEASE take him back. Its sad, quite honestly, and really detracts from some of the charms of the book. Then again, the character of Bobby The Brain was someone only looking out for himself, so maybe the obsequies sentiment was intended. I doubt it, as the first chapter of the book outlines Heenan’s return to WWF at WrestleMania 17, for the gimmick battle royal. It is really quite tragic that a mind, a talent, like Heenan felt the need to resort to this.
Overall, Heenan’s book is enjoyable. I would highly recommend every wrestling fan read it, especially those my age (32). It is tremendous fun, and, for the most part, enjoyable. But there are some parts of the book, in which I have outlined here, that make you wonder, “Who is the real Bobby Heenan?”
I mentioned earlier that this book was published in 2002. Bobby, in the epilogue, mentions he has developed throat cancer, but he will be alright. Well, ten plus years later, he seems far from alright. That is why I will give this book the benefit of the doubt. Read it, don’t buy, unless the proceeds go directly to Heenan’s medical bills. I have, and still do, love Bobby the Brain. And I wish him nothing but the best in his recovery. As sad as it is to watch.
Never mind fair to Flair. Be fair to Bobby.