Vince McMahon, perhaps more than anyone else, gets credit for making the pro wrestling business into the juggernaut that it's been throughout its various stages of existence, mostly in the 1980s with Hulkamania and then again in the 1990s with Stone Cold Steve Austin and the "Attitude Era."
The Chairman of the Board of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has been called many things, including a creative genius. While Vince Russo may have introduced many grand ideas during his tenure, it's widely accepted that McMahon was the one who took those ideas and made them into something palatable for a wider audience.
As the years have gone by, however, Vinny Mac has seemingly lost his handle on what does and does not work in professional wrestling. And it was on this date in WWE history (June 11, 2007) that he proved it.
McMahon had lost the ECW championship at One Night Stand on June 3 and shortly thereafter started showing signs of cracking under the pressure of his position. He had been leader of the largest pro wrestling organization in the world for such a long time, and been such a ruthless leader, that he had all but used up whatever good will he had left. In an attempt to cheer him up, an entire episode of Raw was devoted to him and aptly entitled "Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night."
Except no one appreciated him. In fact, quite a few different stars returned and took a collective shit all over the bossman, all giving him a receipt for his treatment of them over the years.
This led to a dejected McMahon walking out of the arena like a tortoise, passing everyone by one last time before reaching his limo, taking one last look behind, and climbing inside.
When he shut the door, the limo exploded as Raw faded to black. Vince McMahon was dead.
He wasn't really dead, of course, but WWE exploited him like he was. WWE.com quickly reported the incident as though it actually happened. This led to more than a few folks to treat the storyline as legitimate, with some news outlets even going on the air reporting McMahon's death as fact.
Business partners of the company quickly called to see what the deal was, stock prices briefly dropped, and fans across the world wondered if they had actually witnessed the death of Vince McMahon on live television.
Yes, this angle actually worked better than they ever could have expected.
But it was a terrible idea. WWE treated McMahon's kayfabe death as a legitimate occurrence, which struck a bad tone amongst many. The following press release was sent out the day after the limo explosion:
Who Blew Up WWE® Chairman Mr. McMahon?
STAMFORD, Conn., June 12, 2007 ...While some might say "The Sopranos" went out with a whimper, last night on USA Network, WWE's "Monday Night RAW" went out with a bang. At the end of his self-anointed "Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night", WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon entered his limousine when it suddenly exploded. The shocking ending raised a myriad of questions: How could Mr. McMahon have survived the fiery explosion? And who could have committed such a heinous act?
Although full details have not been disclosed, initial reports indicate that Mr. McMahon is presumed dead. An official investigation into Monday night's events is currently underway with no one being ruled out as a suspect. Throughout the night, people from Mr. McMahon's past - from Donald Trump to Snoop Dogg to Bob Costas to Stone Cold Steve Austin - had less than flattering things to say about the WWE Chairman, but would any go so far as to actually blow him up? The question of "whodunit", as well as the fate of Mr. McMahon, will be on everyone's minds as the WWE saga continues on "Monday Night RAW" on USA (9 p.m. ET/8C).
It got worse. They actually had tributes to McMahon from wrestlers and WWE personalities mourning his death. This was in bad taste, of course, because of the times they did so for actual deaths, like Owen Hart and Eddie Guerrero. They even scheduled a memorial service show for June 25.
The apparent plan for the conclusion of this storyline was for McMahon to make a shocking return later in the summer to say he faked his own death with the help of an accomplice, who would get a big push as a monster heel character. But this never came to fruition because the entire storyline was suddenly scrapped when reality turned out to be far more horrifying than fiction.
The same day the McMahon memorial service show was scheduled to take place, with wrestlers even being instructed to wear black suits for the occasion, police found the body of Chris Benoit, who had committed suicide after killing his wife and son days before.
WWE quickly cancelled Raw that night and aired a Benoit tribute show instead, which was preceded by McMahon admitting his death was part of an ill-timed storyline. Many of the same wrestlers who were mourning McMahon's fake death not long before were now mourning Benoit's actual death. However, they were unaware of the circumstances surrounding Benoit having murdered his wife and child before killing himself. Once they were alerted to as much, they quickly distanced themselves from the entire situation. In fact, McMahon opened ECW the next night by saying they wouldn't mention Benoit's name anymore and that night's show was a tribute to everyone affected by the horrific tragedy.
A bow tie was put on the McMahon death storyline by his explaining on an Aug. 6 episode of Raw that he faked his death simply to see what everyone thought of him. This quickly led in to his next angle, which was that he had an illegitimate son and the mystery surrounding who it would turn out to be.
Watch the video of McMahon's limo blowing up and his speech at the beginning of ECW below.