This double-episode is simply titled: “Brian Pillman”
My first thoughts of Brian Pillman were just that he could go. He was exciting and unique. He was generally promoted as a cruiserweight and he was a guy that performed above the canvas, but he also physically looked good and had enough credibility to have great matches against bigger guys like Lex Luger. Those matches against the Lugers and Tom Zenks of the world were terrific and they often get overlooked because the matches against Jushin “Thunder” Liger were so amazing. Pillman was a guy that I felt like could have a good match with anyone. He was a good promo, believable as a face or a heel.
I watched more of the Hollywood Blonds through the Network than I did in real time, so I have a greater appreciation for them after seeing how it came together and what Pillman and Austin did with it. Truth be told the “Loose Cannon” was my least favorite version of Pillman because I enjoyed his wrestling style so much that I just wanted to see that version of him in the ring. The shock value of the “Loose Cannon” never appealed to me. I would’ve loved to see my thoughts on the “Loose Cannon” more if he could still go in the ring. I would’ve loved to see him have great matches with Austin, Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart, maybe The Rock, maybe Mankind, etc. etc. And we didn’t get those matches during his WWE run because injuries and surgeries took that in-ring performance away from him.
Steve Austin tells a story about a gold chain that Pillman gave him to complete the look of the Hollywood Blonds. Austin says Pillman could do everything. Jim Ross says that Pillman really wanted to be a star. Jim Cornette says Pillman was a natural performer. Brian Pillman Jr. says his dad was trying to be the biggest star in the business.
Linda Pillman, Brian’s sister, tells the story about his voice and he had polyps on his vocal cords. He had numerous surgeries and the vocal chords had been scraped so much that his voice became raspy. It’s a weird irony because his voice was such a distinguishing factor in his career.
Kim Wood, the former strength coach for the Cincinnati Bengals, talks about Pillman as a natural overachiever and a bit of a fighter. Linda relays a story of Brian kicking some guy’s ass at a nightspot. Pillman spent time in Canada playing pro football until an ankle injury ended his career. Wood suggested professional wrestling for him and that led him to the Hart Dungeon.
Pillman started in Stampede and Dave Meltzer talks about…himself and then talks about trading tapes with Pillman. JR said Meltzer wrote good things about Pillman and that caught Ross’ attention and led him to WCW. Ric Flair liked him, and they did a match on WCW Saturday Night that got a lot of attention. It really put Pillman on the map as a guy to keep an eye on. Cornette says Flair liked Pillman because he could tear the house down in the ring and then they could go to a bar and tear the house down there. Several guys talk about how Pillman wanted to have the lifestyle like Flair.
Pillman loved the ladies and met a woman, Rochelle, they had a child, Brittany and she is introduced. She said outside of wrestling he was all about his kids. Pillman later found out he had a second daughter, Dani, and she’s introduced. Dani says he was a great dad and was there for both of his kids. But he wasn’t as devoted with Rochelle. He cheated a lot and she suffered from depression. Rochelle was attacked by a groundskeeper and stabber her several times with an ice pick. Linda astutely says, “that’ll mess you up”. Meltzer said Pillman was a good mid-level guy, but he wanted to be a main eventer.
Eric Bischoff is introduced and says Pillman had to earn his respect and it was tough with the management changes at WCW that kept him in limbo. Pillman and Austin were paired after another management change and Austin was none too happy about it. They made it work far better than anyone could’ve imagined. Cornette said Pillman liked to be a heel because he naturally a smart ass.
Pillman’s infidelity strikes again as he meets Melanie, who Linda Pillman describes as a “showgirl”. She gets pregnant and blows up his spot with Rochelle so he leaves her and decides to marry Melanie. We get introduced to Melanie and I’ll just say that time has not been kind to her. Clearly, she’s dealt with a lot of addictions and personal trauma in her life. Between the couple there were a lot of kids, both had two from previous relationships and then their first kid together and Wood talks about how Pillman loved all the kids.
Back in the ring the Blonds get pushed to a big spot, headlining a Clash of Champions against Ric Flair and Arn Anderson. The match was fine, the show flopped from a viewership standpoint and the young guys were blamed. All this eventually led to the end of the partnership. Ross seems to take a little blame for that one and says he should have done more. Was Ross even in WCW when the breakup happened?
Pillman’s home life is getting tough. Melanie takes a lot of blame here for being possessive, but she married a man with a history of infidelity and that usually makes women quite difficult to deal with. Rochelle struggled to keep up her visits to Brittany and Pillman decides to file for custody. In a moment of self-reflection Melanie admits she was in the wrong and shouldn’t have went along with it. She also admits that she did nasty things to Rochelle that she had no business doing. Brittany harbors a lot of resentment toward Melanie for coming in between her and her biological mom. Rochelle, dealing with depression and heartbreak, commits suicide. Linda gets choked up talking about it.
Pillman takes Rochelle’s death hard because he felt like their treatment of her drove her to death. He paid for the funeral and according to Linda he was devastated about her death. Melanie continues to reflect on how poorly she conducted herself. Brittany calls Melanie an evil person and says she’ll continue to live in misery for the pain that she’s caused others. Melanie admits her flaws and says she wish she could make it up to Brittany. That’s just really sad all around.
(Melanie has taken a LOT of heat among wrestling fans since Pillman died and she’s done a lot of foul things. But put yourself in her shoes for a second. She was the other woman in a relationship, and she became the wife. She was probably struggling to make it in adult entertainment and now has a husband that makes a very good living and can offer her the financial security she probably never had in her life. She’s going to be overly protective of that relationship and that lifestyle. His previous infidelities would likely trigger her being super jealous and possessive. Not blaming him for all her flaws, but I’m saying that she should not take all the blame in this situation.)
Back to the ring Pillman is trying to get more money and Wood suggests that he figure out a way to increase his value. Through that thought process the Loose Cannon gimmick emerges as his attempt to be a “must see” act. Pillman is now doing a lot of things to show he is unpredictable, including making Bobby Heenan panic. He was blurring the lines of show and reality and this included calling Kevin Sullivan “bookerman” in an I-Quit match. When the work is exposing the business, it gets attention. Meltzer thinks Pillman is out of his mind. Cornette said that Pillman was even working the smart fans.
Wood says Pillman could play all of them and suggested that he get a release from Bischoff to continue the work. Bischoff falls for it, releases Pillman and Pillman uses the release to negotiate a bigger money contract. Bischoff tries to save face here by saying he told Pillman to go to the WWF because he couldn’t give him the contract number he wanted. But previously Bischoff has said the plan was for Pillman to develop the “Loose Cannon” persona in ECW and come back. Bischoff says he was never manipulated, and the plan was always to get him more money in WCW.
Anyway, Pillman heads to ECW where he’s being a total nut and continued to walk the line and work on the gimmick, this included fighting a large pencil. Austin said that what Pillman was doing was brilliant. Brittany said that it was hard to tell what was him being himself and what was his character. Meltzer compares it to Andy Kaufman and Ross says that the best gimmicks are extentions of themselves and that was Pillman. Wood called the promoters the ultimate marks and calls Vince McMahon a whore and says it was Pillman’s job to fuck him…figuratively.
Pillman tries to get Vince’s attention during an event in Vegas. Meltzer says that he gave Pillman his credential and Pillman put on a show for Vince to the point of where Vince is like no way and Ross is like…yeah Vince you got worked and Vince was sold. Meltzer said that Pillman wanted to stay in WCW because they pushed guys his size and the plan was always to negotiate with WCW but just at a higher price. Wood, however, said it was always about who was going to give him the most money.
They tell a story about Pillman buying this Hummer vehicle and acting like a fool. He eventually got into a bad accident. Linda says his head was swelled up like a beach ball and needed six different doctors to repair his face. His ankle was also shattered and needed to be fused. The surgery would eliminate much of the functional movement. Wood says his looked like shit…in so many words. Linda said that once he regained consciousness he was crying and believed he messed up and ruined everything. Melanie said he fell asleep at the wheel after taking medication and hit a tree. The kids talk a little about how he looked post-surgery.
Cornette said the gimmick was going so far that the boys were just thinking all of this had an end game. He relayed a funny rumour that Pillman was getting surgery to look like Shawn Michaels and play the “evil Shawn Michaels”. Meltzer says Pillman was mostly honest with him except for him saying that he was going to fully recover from the accident and that was untrue. Wood said the object was to play Vince for money and he did, but he was “near death” when he did. Vince signs Pillman for three years with the ability to re-negotiate each quarter. Ross says he signed but he couldn’t wrestle to any extent.
Linda said he would be on an IV, un-attach himself to do the shows, and come home and re-attach himself to the IV. Pillman would need more surgery and to get him off TV they decided Austin would attack Pillman to get more heat. Austin describing the beating is pretty funny. Cornette talks about him “Pillman-izing” the ankle and says there’s a secret to it. Austin said Pillman sold the beating like a million bucks and it accomplished what it needed to.
So now we get to the home invasion incident…oh boy…Meltzer said it was groundbreaking, but the reaction was negative. He didn’t like it, but he said that Pillman was into it and wasn’t sure how much of it was his idea. Vince apologized for the incident on RAW soon after. To keep Pillman on air, he was used in commentary. Ross said he tried to convince Pillman to stay with announcing, but Pillman didn’t want that. Austin said the competitor in him didn’t want to stay down. His match quality suffered, and he had no business wrestling with his body in the shape it was in.
Linda said the only thing her brother told her was that if he had a pain, he would take a pill. Meltzer said he couldn’t walk to the airport, but he was taking bumps in the ring. Austin said he should’ve seen the writing on the wall, but he looked at Pillman as a man’s man. Melanie said she and Pillman were having problems and he was being reckless and wrecking a lot of automobiles. Wood said he was estranged from Pillman because he was so messed up and one time, he had to kick him out of his house when he stopped by in bad shape.
Ross was going to have an intervention and gave Pillman a drug test. Pillman felt betrayed by this act and Meltzer said the only thing Pillman was on were the pain pills and steroids. Ross said it was his job to convince Pillman there were other options for him in the business and he failed at that. We jump to the In Your House: Badd Blood show and Pillman has not arrived. Cornette calls the hotel in Minneapolis where he was staying. and they tell him Pillman is dead. Cornette’s first thought was that Pillman was pulling a fast one, but this was real, and it was news he didn’t want to hear.
People couldn’t digest his death. Austin didn’t want to believe and even Brian Jr. said he wasn’t sure and as a kid he tried to put logic to it by saying he went to work one day and decided not to come back. They go through the ill-advised decision to interview Melanie. She claims she asked Vince not to ask her about drugs and of course one of the questions is about Pillman’s issues with pain pills. End of the day this was a bad idea. Vince took a lot of heat. I don’t think it was supposed to turn it like it did, but it was bad idea from the start. Cornette says Vince should’ve sent her a check for $100K and kept her off TV. Melanie said no one pressured her into doing the interview.
Official cause of death was heart disease. Linda said that Melanie invited a camera crew to the funeral, but she kicked them out. Vince and JR attended the funeral. Ross said it was gut wrenching to see Pillman in a casket. Brittany said she was lost without her parents. Melanie said that it caused her a lot of pain. Brian Jr. said Melanie lost the love of her life. Dani said she was fine with Melanie until he died and then her true character came out. She adds that Melanie receives royalties from Pillman’s death, and it’s never gotten back with his kids. Brittany and Brian Jr. describe a horrible life. Melanie was diving deep into depression and addiction. Brian Jr. talks about an abusive relationship with their stepfather and it stunted his social develop. He breaks down a little talking about having a childhood that lacked a lot of love and says everything he latched on to or loved growing up was taken away.
Linda became the rock that held the siblings together. Brittany says she’s the closest thing to a mom she has, and she has been there for all of them and there’s a funny bit where you can hear Brian Jr. screaming off camera because he found a spider and he’s afraid of them. Melanie said she loves Linda and is thankful she has taken care of the kids. She hopes the kids will forgive her but isn’t sure if that will happen.
We get into Pillman’s legacy. Cornette says the character lives on, and Austin said he kicked ass in an industry where he dealt with larger guys. Ross said he knew the hand he was dealt after the accident and that it killed him figuratively and eventually literally. Cornette said he achieved a lot but couldn’t get over the final hurdle because his body betrayed him. Melanie just hopes the kids can forgive her. Brian Jr. says he can’t live the rest of his life hating his mom and forgiving her has made him a better man. Austin said he lost contact with Melanie, but he reached out to Brian Jr. to give him some items that belonged to his dad.
They get into Brian Jr’s career and Melanie said that after seeing him she realized this was supposed to happen. Brittany was hesitant to support him, but she seems to have come around. Cornette said Pillman would love to see his son trying to make it on his own and still honor the name. Ross said that he hopes that Pillman will acquire his dad’s good traits and avoid the bad ones and don’t become a “loose cannon”. Brian Jr. said it’s tough to know that they didn’t have a father-son relationship like he wanted, but he hopes it’ll make him a good father one day.
The Bottom Line: If that final 10 minutes doesn’t have you rooting HARD for Brian Jr. than I don’t know what to tell you. What a good-hearted kid that seems to have made something of himself despite a lack of adult support. I really wanted to give him a big hug. Overall, this was a little long. A lot of the story is straightforward and could’ve been told in an hour or 90 minutes. The stuff with his contract was interesting though. Melanie is going to take a lot of grief because it seems obvious that she’s still fighting addiction and she’s made a lot of bad decisions in her life. Brittany is hard on her and she has every right to be angry with her for the rest of her life. The humanist in me is happy Brian Jr. has forgiven her and hopes that maybe everyone getting their thoughts off their chests will bring some harmony at some point in time. The documentary was well done and it’s a good look at Pillman’s life and the obstacles he was able to overcome along with the ones that he didn’t.