It’s a happy 52nd birthday to Steven James Anderson, known today to millions as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
Born in Victoria, Texas, his biological father left his family at an early age, while his mother remarried. He would adopt his stepfather's last name and change his name to Steven James Williams. Williams graduated from Edna High School and played football on a scholarship at Wharton County Junior College and at the University of North Texas.
Williams became a professional wrestler in 1989 under the training of Chris Adams at the Dallas Sportatorium, the home base for World Class Championship Wrestling. Williams would pick up quickly on in-ring technique, but did not learn of kayfabe until his television debut later that year. Tony Falk, the referee for the bout, called the spots for his television debut against Frogman LeBlanc. His payday: $40 (about $76 in today's dollars).
Initially working under his real name, he was renamed Steve Austin by Memphis booker Dutch Mantell during the USWA-Continental Wrestling Association merger. He would return to Dallas to feud with his trainer Chris Adams, while Austin was managed by Percy Pringle (aka William Moody, who would go on to great success as Paul Bearer) and Jeannie Adams (the real-life ex-wife of Chris and Austin's girlfriend). Austin adopted the "Stunning" nickname, a nickname that would follow him to WCW.
Austin entered WCW in 1991. Initially paired with Vivacious Veronica, he would be paired with Lady Blossom, aka Jeannie Adams. Success came to Austin very quickly; he defeated Bobby Eaton to win the WCW World Television Championship in June 1991 and would hold it for nearly a year before losing it to Barry Windham in a two out of three falls match. Austin would regain the title from Windham just a month later and held it through most of the summer of 1992 before losing it to Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. Austin for most of that period was a part of Paul E. Dangerously's Dangerous Alliance.
In 1993, Austin formed a tag team with Brian Pillman known as the Hollywood Blondes. The duo would win the WCW World Tag Team Championship on March 3, defeating Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas. They'd hold the belts until August at Clash of the Champions XXIII when Arn Anderson and the returning Ric Flair defeated them in a best of three falls match.
The Blondes—sort of—lost a return match at the next Clash to Anderson and Paul Roma (Pillman was injured and replaced by Steven Regal). Austin would join Colonel Robert Parker's Stud Stable and eventually turn on Pillman, then go on to defeat his former tag partner at Clash of the Champions XXV. At Starrcade that December, Austin defeated Dustin Rhodes in two straight falls in a best of three falls match to win the WCW United States Championship.
He would hold the United States title until losing it to Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat on August 24, 1994. During that match, Steamboat suffered a back injury, one that would end his career. With the injury, Austin regained the title by forfeit at Fall Brawl, but lost in a 35-second match to "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan just moments later. Austin failed to regain the title in a rematch at Halloween Havoc and at Clash of the Champions XXIX.
Steve would be sidelined with a knee injury in early 1995, but returned to make one last run at the United States Championship. He defeated former champion Jim Duggan in the first round, but lost to Randy Savage in the quarterfinals. That would be his last major bout with the company, as later in the year while on tour in Japan, Austin suffered a triceps injury. With Bischoff seeing no marketing potential in Austin, he exercised a clause in his contract and fired Steve over the phone.
Austin would not be out of work long; while rehabbing his triceps injury, he joined Paul Heyman's Extreme Championship Wrestling. Most of his brief time there was doing interview segments and vignettes where he ran down and mocked his former employer. He wrestled just twice for the promotion: a loss to Mikey Whipwreck at November to Remember, and a loss in a three-way dance against Whipwreck and Sandman at December to Dismember. Heyman later stated that he wanted Austin to win the ECW title, but Austin refused, feeling he was more effective as the hunter than the hunted.
With some convincing from Jim Ross and Kevin "Diesel" Nash, Steve Austin joined the WWF in December 1995. Initially introduced as The Ringmaster under the management of Ted DiBiase, Austin wanted his gimmick to be based around notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski, a man who froze his victims after killing them. Rejecting such names as Otto Von Ruthless, Ice Dagger, Fang McFrost, and Chilly McFreeze, Austin settled on the "Stone Cold" moniker after a conversation with his wife Jeannie (he married Jeannie in December 1992, just four months after his first marriage to high school and college sweetheart Kathryn Burrus was annulled). He shaved his head bald and developed a more aggressive in-ring style. He feuded with Savio Vega for the early part of 1996, leading to a Caribbean strap match won by Vega. The loss forced DiBiase out of the WWF (in reality, DiBiase was the latest in a long list of ex-WWF employees to defect to WCW).
Austin, thanks to his new Stone Cold Stunner finishing maneuver, found success at the 1996 King of the Ring tournament. Initially intended for Triple H to win, Austin won the tournament, defeating Jake "The Snake" Roberts in the final match. His coronation speech where he took shots at Roberts' religious beliefs would make Austin a star:
"You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn't get you anywhere! Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16... AUSTIN 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!"
"Austin 3:16" would become one of professional wrestling's most popular catchphrases ever, and his shirt with that very phrase would be the best selling in WWE history.
Austin would soon after go after Bret Hart, taunting him relentlessly and mocking his legacy until Hart was baited into a match. The match finally went down at Survivor Series in Madison Square Garden, and with the #1 contendership to the WWF Championship at stake, Hart won when Austin locked in the Million Dollar Dream, but was forced into a pinfall situation. The bout was part of a year-long feud that not only involved Hart, but his stable The Hart Foundation. The feud saw Austin break into Brian Pillman's house, but was threatened with a gun once he confronted Pillman, Austin eliminating Bret Hart after he was eliminated en route to winning the 1997 Royal Rumble, and Austin trying unsuccessfully to win the WWF title at In Your House: Final Four, then costing Hart said WWF Championship the following night.
The peak of the feud with Bret Hart came at Wrestlemania 13 in a classic submission match where Austin, profusely bleeding in the late stages of the match, lost consciousness while locked in the Sharpshooter. The stoppage by referee Ken Shamrock gave Hart the win, but he was not satisfied in the outcome (Austin never submitted). He continued to beat on Austin until being forced off by Shamrock. Austin post-match refused assistance to the locker room, completing a rare double turn. After failing to win the WWF Championship in April, Austin twice won the tag team championship, once with Shawn Michaels in May, and again in July with Dude Love (the title run with Michaels ended when Shawn was injured).
Austin's feud with the Hart Foundation continued through most of 1997, but Owen and his Intercontinental Championship would become the focus. After scoring the fall for the Hart Foundation at In Your House: Canadian Stampede, Owen bragged he could beat Austin in a singles match. The bout at Summerslam would change Austin's life: during the match, Hart botched a piledriver (Hart’s grip slipped, causing Austin’s head to drop lower than normal), temporarily paralyzing Austin. After stalling for more than a minute, the match went to an immediate finish, with Austin rolling up Hart to win the Intercontinental title. The win made Austin a double champion, but the neck injury meant Austin had to vacate the titles.
Though he was injured, he continued to make appearances on WWF programming, stunning announcers, officials, even Vince McMahon himself. Steve also made sure Owen Hart remained champion until his return. At Survivor Series, Austin returned and indeed defeated Owen Hart to regain the title. He soon began a rivalry with his biggest in-ring adversary, The Rock. The Rock and The Nation of Domination stole Austin's Intercontinental title belt in an attack. The Rock had physical possession of Austin’s belt until he was defeated at In Your House: D-Generation X. Ordered to defend the title by Vince McMahon the next night, Steve instead forfeited it to The Rock...only for Austin to steal the belt immediately thereafter, then toss it into a New Hampshire river a week later.
The Stunner to Vince McMahon in September 1997 was the first shot in Austin's biggest feud in the WWF. One night after Austin won his second straight Royal Rumble match in 1998, Vince was set to announce Mike Tyson's role in Wrestlemania XIV when Austin objected to McMahon's claim as Tyson being the "baddest man on the planet". Austin would flip off Tyson, and a pull-apart brawl followed. Soon after, Vince would publicly come out against Austin becoming WWF Champion. Tyson would eventually be announced as the "special enforcer" for the main event championship match between Austin and WWF Champion Shawn Michaels. Though Tyson was aligned with D-Generation X, he counted the fall and flipped on DX at Wrestlemania, giving the WWF Championship to Austin.
With Michaels forced into retirement after a back injury he suffered two months earlier (he got the injury when he was backdropped onto the casket on the outside of the ring during his match with The Undertaker at the 1998 Royal Rumble), Austin was the clear top star of the company's new age, The Attitude Era. McMahon would repeatedly try to get Austin to clean up his image and "play ball", but Austin would have none of it. It seemed the two would come to blows, but Dude Love put a stop to it, then turned on Austin. Dude Love had two opportunities to take the title from Austin, but would lose both of them at Unforgiven in late April and Over the Edge in May. He would be the first of many conduits for McMahon in his feud with Austin. Kane would beat Austin for the WWF title at King of the Ring in a first blood match, but lost it right back to Austin the next night. The Undertaker would serve as another conduit for McMahon during the summer, but he too fell victim to Austin at Summerslam, but co-defeated Austin (along with Kane) at Breakdown.
A month later, with no WWF Champion, Austin refereed a bout between the Brothers of Destruction. Under threat of unemployment if the title remained vacant, Austin counted a double pin and was indeed fired. The next night, Austin kidnapped McMahon at gunpoint, forcing him to reconsider. It turned out the gun was a toy and McMahon soiled his pants. Thanks to Shane McMahon, Austin was re-signed to the company, but Shane would flip on Austin too at Survivor Series where he was upset in the semifinals by Mankind in the Deadly Game tournament to crown a new WWF Champion. The Rock went on to win the title, but Austin guaranteed himself a title shot with his new deal. The next night, Austin won the match, but not the title when Undertaker interfered. The two met once more in a Buried Alive match at Rock Bottom, with Austin winning to qualify for the 1999 Royal Rumble match.
The next round of Austin-McMahon came in the 1999 Royal Rumble match, with Austin being assigned #1, and Mr. McMahon #2 (McMahon drew #30 originally, but then-commissioner Shawn Michaels changed his entry). Less than a minute in, Austin gave chase to McMahon, but it was an ambush set up by McMahon's Corporation stable to eliminate Steve from the Rumble match...or so they thought. Though he was carried away in an ambulance, Austin returned late in the match and re-entered the match (he could as he never went over the top rope at any point). Austin eliminated Big Boss Man, but was distracted by WWF Champion The Rock, leading to McMahon himself reentering the Rumble and eliminating Austin to win the match.
The next night, Vince would give up his right to the guaranteed title match at Wrestlemania XV, and commissioner Michaels awarded it to the match's runner-up, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin himself gave up the right to the title shot in exchange for one match with McMahon. That one match would come at St. Valentine's Day Massacre, where the two rivals finally met in a cage match. Austin won when the debuting Paul Wight threw Austin into the cage so hard, he broke through and landed on the floor, making Steve the first man out by default. Six weeks later at Wrestlemania XV, Austin won the WWF Championship for the third time. He would defeat The Rock again in a rematch at Backlash the next month, but would lose it to The Undertaker at Over the Edge.
In May 1999, Austin and Jeannie Clark divorced. The couple have two daughters, 25-year old Stephanie, and 20-year old Cassidy, plus a third daughter, Jade, from Jeannie's marriage to Chris Adams that Austin adopted.
In a bizarre twist of events involving the McMahon family (including Shane, Stephanie, and Linda), Austin would briefly find himself (kayfabe) half-owner of the WWF, but would lose that in a handicap ladder match at King of the Ring to the McMahons. Austin outsmarted McMahon though; he got himself a championship match during his two weeks as CEO at a time and place to be determined. That time and place was the next night on RAW, where Austin defeated The Undertaker to win the WWF title for a fourth time. The celebration was short-lived, as Austin was bloodied by a belt shot to the head. This led to a first blood match at Fully Loaded won by Austin. The match served as the end of the Austin-McMahon rivalry, as per pre-match stipulations, McMahon was banished from the WWF.
Austin held the WWF Championship until Summerslam, losing it in a triple threat match to Mankind. The other adversary in the bout was Triple H, who would beat Mankind for the title the next night. The two feuded for over a year, but was interrupted when Austin had to get neck surgery in November 1999. To write him off, Austin was run down by a car during the Survivor Series PPV.
He was off television entirely until just before April 2000's Backlash when he assisted
The Rock in defeating Triple H to win the WWF Championship. Austin would return at Unforgiven with new theme music to find out who ran Austin down the year prior. On October 8, Rikishi admitted to being the man behind the wheel, saying he did it for The Rock (his words). Rikishi was beaten down by Austin at No Mercy and was nearly the victim of vehicular homicide, but Austin was stopped and arrested by officials.
During a handicap match against Rikishi and Kurt Angle, Triple H came to the aid of Austin-or so he thought. Triple H hit Austin with a sledgehammer and revealed he was the mastermind behind the plot to end Austin's career. Triple H looked to run him down again at Survivor Series, but it was Austin who nearly ended Triple H's career--or life for that matter--when the car he was in was lifted some 20 feet with a forklift before letting it drop.
After failing to recapture the WWF title in late 2000, Austin set his sights on doing it the hard way. He won his third Royal Rumble match in 2001, last eliminating Kane, who set a record for eliminations in a single Rumble with 11 (the record would stand until Roman Reigns broke it with 12 in 2014). His road to the WWF title suffered a setback in February when he lost 2-1 in a Three Stages of Hell match against Triple H. At Wrestlemania X-Seven in Houston, Austin would win his fifth WWF title and align himself with Mr. McMahon to the shock of many.
Steve would go through a radical shift in his character in the following months, going from rebellious and anti-corporate to whiny and temperamental and in desperate need of attention. Austin would form an alliance with his rival Triple H as The Two-Man Power Trip. The duo primarily feuded with The Brothers of Destruction, and would briefly hold the top three championships in the WWF: the WWF Championship, held by Austin, Triple H's Intercontinental Championship, and the Tag Team Championship.
The alliance would come apart—literally—on the May 21, 2001 RAW when Triple H hit Austin with a sledgehammer on accident, causing the duo to lose the tag team titles. Just before the conclusion, Triple H tore his right quadriceps muscle, keeping him out of action for the remainder of the year. He remained loyal to McMahon and feuded with Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho. Austin defeated them both in a triple threat match, but was injured by Booker T when he backdropped Austin through an announce table.
The Booker T interference kicked the Invasion era into high gear, and soon former WCW (and ECW) talent would appear more frequently on their programming. Despite WWF's best efforts, they could not take down the new alliance of talent, led by Shane and Stephanie McMahon. It didn't help matters that Vince's two biggest stars available, Austin and Kurt Angle, wanted nothing to do with one another. Frustrated, McMahon demanded that "the old Stone Cold" come back, as he was to captain a five-man unit at Invasion against five of the best from the WCW/ECW contingent. Steve initially refused, but on the RAW before the PPV, the old Stone Cold returned with a Stunner barrage.
At the event, Stone Cold shocked the world by turning heel—again. He turned on Team WWF by stunning Angle, costing his team the match and aligning himself with the Alliance. Shortly after joining the Alliance, Austin, inspired by a phone conversation he had on the road, randomly began saying "What?" during his promos. Not surprisingly, the catchphrase soon caught on, and to this day, is still used by fans.
Austin would hold on to the WWF title until he is submitted, albeit questionably, at Unforgiven by Kurt Angle. Steve would goad Kurt for a rematch for the title, a bout he would get on the October 8, 2001 RAW. Thanks to WWF Commissioner William Regal joining the Alliance, Austin would win the WWF Championship for the sixth time, tying a company record with The Rock. He briefly feuded with Rob Van Dam before joining him as part of a winner-take-all match at Survivor Series.
It came down to Austin versus The Rock to determine the surviving entity. In a callback to Invasion, it was Angle that turned on Austin, betraying the Alliance and costing them the match, and by proxy, their jobs (Austin's was technically safe, as he was the WWF Champion). The next night, McMahon was set to award the title to WWF title to Angle, but Ric Flair returned to the company and announced himself as half-owner. An angry Austin confronted Angle moments after and was handed the WWF title belt by Ric Flair, seemingly turning him babyface again.
In one of Flair's first acts, he decided there should be only one world champion in the WWF, so he set Austin vs. The Rock up for Vengeance in a unification match. Vince McMahon would add their respective feud adversaries, Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho, making it a one-night tournament. Austin would defeat Angle in the WWF Championship match, but lost the undisputed title final to Chris Jericho due to interference by Booker T. The two would spend the next few weeks fighting in some unusual venues, including a bingo hall, a church confessional, and a supermarket.
Though he was among the most popular babyfaces heading into 2002, Steve was on the verge of being phased out of the main event. Not only had Triple H return from his quad injury, WWF had re-signed all three original members of the New World Order: Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, all of whom had not appeared with the company since the mid-1990s.
Naturally, Hogan and Austin would be a featured bout for Wrestlemania X8, but it never came to fruition, with reports surfacing that neither man would do the job for the other. Eventually, Hogan would face (and lose to) The Rock, while Austin would face (and defeat) Scott Hall. Surprisingly, the next night, Austin was a no-show to RAW, claiming exhaustion. He was suspended the following week and would be back for the April 1 RAW, the first of the Brand Extension era. Austin would sign with RAW and enter a feud with The Undertaker, and eventually Ric Flair and Big Show.
In May, Austin lashed out at the company during an interview concerning the creative direction of his character. Both the WWF and McMahon downplayed the comments and apologized on Austin's behalf. Austin was set to feud with the rehired Eddie Guerrero and Brock Lesnar, but Austin, refusing to lose to Lesnar (especially on free television without a build), would walk out on the WWE.
This came one week after a domestic dispute with his wife Debra. All storylines related to Austin were dropped, while the WWE went out of their way to bury Steve on their programming. Though Austin merchandise continued to sell reasonably well, he was soon persona non grata with his profile and merchandise pulled from their website. Around that time, Austin was involved in a domestic violence incident with Debra; on the morning of June 15, police were called into their home in San Antonio, where they found a bruised and hysterical Marshall. Austin left the house and was asked by police not to return. He would be arrested and charged with domestic abuse. He would file for divorce just a month later. In November 2002, Austin pled no contest. He was given a year's probation, fined $1,000, and ordered to complete 80 hours of community service.
After resolving his differences with Vince McMahon, Stone Cold Steve Austin returned to the WWE in 2003. In an interview with RAW Magazine, he expressed regret over how he handled his final few months in the company the previous year and the inaccurate portrayal of Austin holding grudges with some members of the roster. In a 2014 interview with Vince McMahon, Austin revealed for the first time he was fined $650,000 upon his return, though Austin was able to lower it to $250,000.
When Austin returned, he didn't wrestle much. He had just three matches in his brief final run: two against Eric Bischoff, and one against his old rival The Rock at Wrestlemania XIX—which would turn out to be his last. The next day, Bischoff "fired" Austin on medical grounds. It turned out the list of ailments regarding Austin were very real, and they dated back to the errant piledriver by Owen Hart in 1997, which began worsening in late 2001. Austin then said he continued to wrestle against doctor's orders in 2002, and cited that as the sole reason for his departure that summer. Austin in an interview with WWE.com announced his retirement two days after Wrestlemania XIX.
Since Austin’s in-ring retirement, he’s taken on many non-wrestling roles, first as co-general manager and "Sheriff" of RAW in 2003 and 2004, then as a guest referee for Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg at Wrestlemania XX, then as a guest on Piper's Pit during Wrestlemania 21. He appeared for ECW's One Night Stand PPV in 2005 in solidarity with the ECW wrestlers against a group of WWE crusaders who were against ECW's ideals. Austin briefly ignited his rivalry with the McMahon family in late 2005 by stunning all the McMahons, including Linda. The storyline was cut short when Austin re-injured his back and was not medically cleared to compete. On the night before Wrestlemania 22, Austin inducted Bret "Hitman" Hart into the WWE Hall of Fame.
In 2007, Austin, who was also promoting WWE Studios' The Condemned, served as guest referee in the heavily promoted "Battle of the Billionaires" match between Bobby Lashley and Umaga, with Donald Trump and Vince McMahon's hair at stake. With help from Austin, Lashley won, and he, Austin, and Trump would shave Vince bald. He reprised his guest referee role later in the year at Cyber Sunday in consecutive years, both in world title matches. In November 2007, Stone Cold Steve Austin gave a beer bath to Santino Marella and Maria after Marella disrespected The Condemned. Late in the year, Steve Austin became his legal name.
In 2009, Austin was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by longtime rival Vince McMahon, who called Austin "the greatest WWE superstar of all time". Late in 2009, Austin got married for a fourth time; this time to Kristin Feres. The couple splits time between Marina Del Rey, California, and the Broken Skull Ranch in Tilden, Texas. Austin served as guest host for RAW in March 2010 and moderated the contract signing between McMahon and Bret Hart, a bout that would be won by submission by Bret at Wrestlemania XXVI.
In 2011, Austin served as head trainer and host for the Tough Enough reboot. He made two appearances on RAW during the show's run, one in March to sign himself as the guest referee for Michael Cole versus Jerry Lawler at Wrestlemania XXVII (a bout won by Lawler, but the decision reversed to Cole moments later), and again the night after Wrestlemania. He returned to the show in June to announce the winner of the series (which was Andy Leavine). He also served as the guest referee for the show's main event, and once again, "overstepped his authority" in the match, causing the decision to be reversed. Austin returned to Wrestlemania during the opening segment of Wrestlemania XXX where he appeared alongside fellow WWE legends The Rock and Hulk Hogan.
After appearing on WWE programming twice in October 2015 (first to promote the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar’s Hell in a Cell match and Wrestlemania 32, second to promote WWE 2K16, which he is on the cover), Austin appeared alongside WWE Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley at Wrestlemania 32 to confront the League of Nations and stun Rusev and King Barrett, as well as The New Day’s Xavier Woods.
Austin's popularity has made him a crossover sensation into television, movies, and podcasting. He had recurring roles on Celebrity Deathmatch and Nash Bridges. He's also appeared on Dilbert, The Bernie Mac Show, and Chuck. His motion picture debut came as Guard Dunham in the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard. His first starring role was as death row inmate Jack Conrad in The Condemned in 2007. He's also starred in Damage and has supporting roles in the first Expendables movie and Grown Ups 2. Tough Enough was his first reality competition hosting gig; he has since hosted two others, both for CMT: Redneck Island and Broken Skull Challenge.
Since December 2013, Steve Austin has hosted a twice-weekly podcast, The Steve Austin Show. He hosts two versions of the show, a family friendly edition, usually released on Tuesdays, and a more adult-themed Unleashed! version usually released on Thursdays. Austin had in recent years sporadically done WWE Network versions of his podcast.
Steve Austin is not only extremely popular, he's extremely decorated. A partial list of awards and accomplishments:
- 6-time WWF Champion
- 2-time WWF Intercontinental Champion
- 4-time WWF Tag Team Champion
- Million Dollar Champion
- 1996 King of the Ring
- 3-time Royal Rumble winner (1997, 1998, 2001)
- WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2009
- 2-time WCW United States Champion
- 2-time WCW World Television Champion
- NWA/WCW Tag Team Champion
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2016
From Pro Wrestling Illustrated:
- Feud of the Year (1998 and 1999, both with Vince McMahon)
- Match of the Year (submission match vs. Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 13)
- 1990 Rookie of the Year
- 1998 Most Popular Wrestler
- 2001 Most Hated Wrestler
- Wrestler of the Year (1998, 1999, 2001)
- #1 singles wrestler in the world in the PWI 500 in 1998 and 1999
- #19 singles wrestler of the PWI Years
- #50 tag team of the PWI Years (with Brian Pillman)
From Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
- 1990 Rookie of the Year
- 1991 Worst Worked Match (Great American Bash scaffold match)
- 2 5-star matches (Wrestlewar 1992 War Games Match, Wrestlemania 13 submission match)
- 1993 Tag Team of the Year (with Brian Pillman)
- 1996 Best Heel
- 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001 Best Interviews
- 1997-98 Best Gimmick
- 1997, 1998, 1999 Feud of the Year (1997 with Hart Foundation, 1998 and 1999 with Vince McMahon)
- 1997-98 Most Charismatic
- 1998 Wrestler of the Year
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame Class of 2000
- 2003 Best Non-Wrestler