Monday, September 14, 2015

Bobby Heenan: An Appreciation

No one like him, ever
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The voice of reason in WWE between 1984 and 1993 was also supposed to be the most hated man in the entire company. Bobby "The Brain" Heenan managed wrestlers who harassed the titanic good guys during his time at ringside, and when he transitioned full-time to the broadcast booth, he denounced them with all the vigor and conviction of a civil lawyer looking to squeeze every penny he can out of an unsuspecting plaintiff. No fan was supposed to like Heenan, but how could he not be the most beloved talking head in the entire promotion?

Okay, maybe some personality types are hardwired to be annoyed by a guy who fits the oeuvre that Heenan occupied during his active career, but for sarcastic and cynical kids like me, even ones who when it came to wrestling rooted for the guys Heenan railed against, he was inspiration. Heenan showed that one could be successful in life by being sarcastic to a fault. He projected wittiness and always had a comeback, even in the face of that counter-comeback containing some kind of violence against his person.

And yet, Heenan always had an avuncular way about him, maybe not in a warm, loving way, but in the "always making holiday dinners interesting" way with his witticisms (and not in the way the Zeb Colter character would have made it interesting with his... ahem, views). Even at his most acerbic, Heenan always had a great rapport with his most famous broadcast partner, Gorilla Monsoon. They disagreed all the time on what tactics were right, but the disagreements came off like two old friends having a spat rather than two political rivals spewing vitriol at each other (like Jim Ross and Paul Heyman).

Of course, wrestling is a business that chews up people and spits them out, but in an industry plagued with early death and tragedy, the cruelest fate befell Heenan, who was robbed of his amazing gift of gab by cancer. He still lives, but it's like a piece of wrestling has been eroded away from a guy who, by all accounts, was as cool and kind in his normal life as he was acerbic and snarky in his wrestling persona. No did what Heenan did as well as he did, and it's a tall order to think someone could ever surpass him. Even if someone ever does, few people will hold a place in my wrestling fan heart that "The Brain" will.