Remembering “The Brain”

On Sunday we lost one of the iconic stars from professional wrestling’s glory days. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan passed away at age 73. He had been sick for many years. Heenan was diagnosed with throat and tongue cancer years ago. For a long time I thought about his inevitable death and kind of prepared myself. After a while, I started to think that it might never come. At least not in my lifetime. Bobby outlived many of the superstars he managed. His good friend and colleague Gorilla Monsoon died almost 20 years ago. Heenan continued to meet fans and take pictures until he was forced to cancel a recent appearance. I had thought about maybe meeting him eventually. He didn’t do any appearances nearby that I was aware of, and maybe that is for the best. Bobby didn’t look anything like the entertainer I remembered from my youth. Hulk Hogan signed autographs at the Westchester County Center last month. I didn’t go. If Heenan was there I probably would have gone to tell him what he means to me and fought through my sadness of what cancer and surgeries had done to him.

When Bobby first came to the WWF in 1984 he quickly became hated by joining forces with the top villains. I can remember his men giving Andre the Giant a haircut and carrying his hair around to humiliate him. Heenan was an excellent talker and salesman. He had me convinced that Andre (who had turned evil and was paired with Heenan to cement his new bad guy image) would finally end Hulkamania. WrestleMania III sold out and set an attendance record. It has been stated that Bobby earned seven figures for his role. That is remarkable for the time frame. Especially considering that he didn’t perform in the ring at that time. Later in 1987 Heenan and his men viciously attacked Ken Patera. They whipped him and left marks on his back. I had nightmares.

By 1989 I had become a fan of Bobby’s. Obviously wrestling was fake, or scripted. I appreciated his humor. In 1990 I went to a WWF event in New Jersey. Years later I looked up what matches took place. I had forgotten the main event. Ultimate Warrior against Randy Savage. Macho Man to many. Heavyweight title on the line. Two huge names from not only that time but wrestling history. It was a forgettable contest, but I remembered Bobby Heenan’s Barbarian taking on the Big Bossman. Heenan was chased around the ring by his enemy. One of my many great Heenan memories is how he used to insult Bossman’s mother. It was hilarious. He had so many jokes. You could not wait to see Bobby get the beating that he had coming. Bobby would make you laugh taking bumps, but his feuds were legendary.

Often Bobby’s humor was at the very least borderline inappropriate, but back then society was not so politically correct. Stories of his ribs off camera can be even more inappropriate. If I ever did get to speak with Bobby, he probably would have been happy to hear that my two favorite shows were Prime Time Wrestling and The Bobby Heenan Show. That was basically a humorous variety program that was way ahead of its time. I had labeled a VCR tape in advance, planning to record numerous episodes. Unfortunately, there were only four episodes shown. Vince McMahon later said that the USA Network was not happy when he took the last 30 minutes of Prime Time and gave it to Heenan for his own program. They wanted a full two hours of wrestling. Heenan appeared on Later with Bob Costas shortly after WrestleMania V. This was absolutely amazing. How many people could match wits with Bob Costas? Bobby more than held his own.

These days WWE as it has been renamed occasionally brings back old performers as a nod to old school wrestling. Sadly Bobby was not a part of any new programs in the last ten years. Possibly a combination of things. His health had taken a toll on him. He did not speak clearly and then finally could not speak at all. Plus, it was sad to see what he looked like compared to his appearance 30 years ago. Around the same time, however, I started to relive my youth. WWE showed old episodes of Prime Time on their 24/7 package. People began uploading their old VCR tapes to sites. Eventually WWE Network came out and shared some of their library. In one of the tribute videos to Heenan I noticed that he would wear different college shirts during his stint on the new Prime Time with Vince McMahon. Bobby was also a sports fan. We had a lot in common. This man has probably influenced me more than any other person I’m not related to. Likely in ways that I don’t even realize. He will always be a huge part of my life.

R.I.P. Bobby

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