It's a happy 72nd birthday to Cageside Seats' choice for the greatest manager of all time, Raymond Louis Heenan. But his legions of fans know him as Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.
Born in Chicago, Illinois and growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, Heenan was in love with the wrestling business for just about all his life, carrying bags for the wrestlers and selling refreshments at events. Unfortunate circumstances within his family forced Heenan to drop out of school at age 15. Heenan broke in the wrestling business in 1965 as "Pretty Boy" Bobby Heenan, named after Bobby Davis, manager of Buddy Rogers. His gimmick of a heel manager was largely unchanged through his career: a tough-talking big mouth that feared physical confrontation, but not above cheating to get an advantage for whomever he managed.
In 1969, Heenan got his first national exposure as part of the AWA when he managed (and occasionally wrestled with) the Blackjacks. He would also manage Nick Bockwinkel, Ray "The Crippler" Stevens, Bobby Duncam, Sr., and Blackjack Lanza. Together they would make up the first of many incarnations of the Heenan Family. He split time between the AWA and the Indiana-based World Wrestling Association until 1974, when a pay dispute with Dick the Bruiser forced Heenan out of the WWA.
Upon his full-time return, Wally Karbo and Ray Stevens labeled Heenan "The Brain" because of his knowledge of the ins and outs of the business. In 1976, Heenan would make history: he would manage both the AWA world champion Nick Bockwinkel (who ended the seven-year run of Verne Gagne the previous year) and the AWA world tag team champions Blackjack Lanza and Bobby Duncam, making him the first manager of a promotion's singles and tag team champions simultaneously. During a feud with Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher, Dick called Heenan "Weasel"; the nickname would follow Heenan for the rest of his career.
After a brief stint in Georgia Championship Wrestling in 1979 (where he would pick up commentating tips from Gordon Solie), he again managed Bockwinkel to the NWA world title, fighting off challengers including one Hulk Hogan in 1983. He also managed Ken Patera, who paired up with Adnan Al-Kassie when Heenan suffered a serious neck injury during an All Japan Pro Wrestling show in 1983.
In 1984, Bobby Heenan made his way to the World Wrestling Federation to manage Jesse "The Body" Ventura; however, blood clots in his lungs forced Ventura to end his career early. Heenan would go on to manage over the next seven years Big John Studd, Patera, Paul Orndorff, King Kong Bundy, Andre the Giant, The Brainbusters (Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard), The Islanders (Haku & Tama), High Chief Sivi Afi, Hercules, The Barbarian, Mr. Perfect, Terry Taylor, and the Brooklyn Brawler.
His uncanny ability to draw heat made him one of most hated men in the company; sometimes the most hated man in the company. Heenan was a key figure in the wrestling boom of the late 1980s, managing in consecutive Wrestlemania main events against Hulk Hogan (King Kong Bundy in 1986, and Andre the Giant in 1987). Though he was not directly involved in Andre the Giant's WWF Championship win at The Main Event in February 1988, Heenan received a record payday for his promotional work leading up to the event according to Jim Ross.
Though Heenan did not manage a champion for his first five years in the company, that all changed at Wrestlemania V when his charge Rick Rude defeated The Ultimate Warrior to win the Intercontinental Championship. Later in the year, he led the Brainbusters to the WWF Tag Team Championship, then the Colossal Connection to the tag titles the next year. In 1990, he would also lead Mr. Perfect to the first of his two Intercontinental titles. Heenan retired from managing full-time in 1991 due to recurring neck problems, but would act as an advisor for Ric Flair in late 1991 and early 1992, then introduced "The Narcissist" Lex Luger in 1993.
Heenan often worked double duty, as a manager, and starting in 1986, as a commentator. He would replace Jesse Ventura on Prime Time Wrestling, All-American Wrestling, and Wrestling Challenge as the analyst, creating a legendary pairing with Gorilla Monsoon. Heenan often called himself a "broadcast journalist", openly sided with heels, and derided fans (as humanoids) and jobbers (as ham-and-eggers), and often forced Monsoon to cry "Will you stop?" quite regularly. Ironically, it would be Monsoon, Heenan's BFF behind the scenes, that ended Bobby's WWF run on camera. At the end of a Monday Night RAW in December 1993, Monsoon decidedly had enough with Heenan's insults and physically threw him out. In reality, Bobby was tired of the long hours and the lingering effects from his broken neck. Also in reality, Heenan said they collaborated on his kayfabe exit.
Heenan, planning to retire and spend time with his family, was contacted by WCW. At first, he was reluctant to get back into the wrestling business, but after finding out they offered health insurance and figuring he could see his daughter in Alabama more, Heenan joined WCW as a commentator in 1994. He served as color commentator for WCW programming, including Nitro, Thunder, Clash of the Champions, and nearly every PPV. Heenan at first was the same heel commentator he was in the WWF, openly cheering heels and making excuses for their cheating ways.
Heenan would finally get neck surgery in 1995. Not everyone was aware of this, like one Brian Pillman. Pillman grabbed Heenan by the neck during a Clash of the Champions event in January 1996, causing Heenan to curse on air. Pillman, working the "loose cannon" gimmick and unaware of Heenan's neck issues, later apologized. (of note, the language was edited out of all WCW footage, but is on the WWE Network version of the show and the 2006 Brian Pillman DVD retrospective.)
Heenan would transition to a babyface for the only time in his career during the New World Order era. In 2000, Bobby would be slowly phased out of commentary; first replaced on Nitro by Mark Madden, then by Stevie Ray on Thunder in July, leaving him to finish out his commentary career in WCW on Worldwide until his release in November. Heenan often said he felt uninspired due to the negative work environment in WCW and constant conflicts with Eric Bischoff and Tony Schiavone. One such incident played out on camera: following the death of Gorilla Monsoon in October 1999, Heenan wanted to mention his passing on the air despite never working for WCW, but Schiavone was against the idea. Later on in the show, Schiavone asked for Heenan's thoughts on an upcoming tag match, but Heenan retorted, "I can't hear you from way down here", shooting on Schiavone's penchant for wanting his chair higher than Heenan's.
Over the next decade, Heenan would lend his knowledge and talents to smaller wrestling promotions, including Women of Wrestling in 2001, Ring of Honor in 2004, and TNA in 2005 and 2006. Heenan would also make somewhat regular cameos for WWE, most notably at the Gimmick Battle Royal at Wrestlemania X-Seven and the occasional episode of RAW. He also provided commentary for the Showdown: Legends of Wrestling video game in 2004. Heenan also wrote two career memoirs: Bobby the Brain: Wrestling's Bad Boy Tells All in 2002, and Chair Shots and Other Obstacles: Winning Life's Wrestling Matches in 2004 (the foreword for the latter written by Ric Flair, the former written by Hulk Hogan-no, seriously. Hogan and Heenan are actually good friends, though it seemed far from it on television).
In 2002, Bobby Heenan announced that he was battling throat cancer on his website. In a statement on his website, Heenan said "if the late, great Gorilla Monsoon couldn't shut him up, cancer isn't going to either." Though he has largely recovered, Heenan's physical appearance and voice have both altered dramatically. Weighing 246 pounds during his wrestling and managing days, he weighs less than 190 pounds today. In 2004, Heenan would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. In his speech, he paid tribute to his broadcasting partner and friend, tearfully saying "I wish Monsoon was here."
Bobby has been married to Cynthia Jean for 49 years. They have a daughter, 37-year old Jessica, and a grandson, 7-year old Austin. In addition to being a WWE Hall of Famer, Heenan is a member of the inaugural Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame Class in 1996, a part of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006, and a 2010 member of the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame. He is a four-time Pro Wrestling Illustrated Manager of the Year (1972, 1976, 1989, and 1991) and the 2012 Stanley Weston Award winner for lifetime achievement.