For Christmas my wife did good, by getting me the book Crazy Like A Fox, The Definitive Chronicle of Brian Pillman. Those of you that follow this blog know that Brian Pillman was my first favorite wrestler. I always thought he was the coolest during his Flyin’ Brian days and the “loose cannon” character was very cutting edge for its time.
I thought that I knew as much as any other Brian Pillman fan, but author Liam O’Rourke was able to get information from some of Pillman’s closest friends and relatives. The information in the book is very blunt and very fascinating. The book covers the thirty five year life of Pillman and reveals information about the man that I’m sure even the most avid Pillman fan wasn’t aware of.
The book has one common theme throughout and that is the struggles the man lived through. It began almost from birth with the sudden death of his father and as toddler having multiple surgeries on his throat to remove polyps from his vocal cords. At one point spending months in the hospital and nearly losing his life before it even began.
Luckily another toddler in the room knew something was wrong and went and got a nurse. Pillman was not able to breath due to swelling in his throat and doctors ended up having to put a trach in so that he could get air to his lungs. Eventually the doctors got to the root of the problem and was able to take care of it, but it left Pillman without a voice.
As Pillman grew older he was able to speak, but his voice was very raspy and squeaky. This caused him to be teased and bullied by kids in the neighborhood and at school. But as he was growing older the kid with the squeaky voice was growing into quite the athlete. Pillman was a standout in hockey, but the local high school in Cincinnati didn’t have a hockey team.
So with hockey not being available Pillman turned to football, and football came very easy for Pillman. The only thing holding Pillman back was his size. Pillman was a smaller guy, but he didn’t let that stop him from being the best player on the field. Pillman’s coach tried desperately to get colleges to give Pillman a scholarship.
Pillman graduated from Norwood high school without a college scholarship. However Pillman was encouraged to walk on at university of Miami Ohio. As a walk on it didn’t take long for Pillman to get a starting position. Pillman started out at linebacker but was eventually moved to nose tackle.
Pillman flourished at the position and was named second team all American. First team all American at that position the same year…William “Refrigerator” Perry. Pillman worked hard, but he was using steroids to help him gain muscle and keep weight on so that he could hang with the bigger athletes at that level.
While in college Pillman became quite the ladies man and quite the prankster. He and his football teammates where able to do basically whatever they wanted. Also his college roommate was John Harbaugh. Yes, the same John Harbaugh that is the head coach of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
Pillman ended up leaving college without a degree, but was determined to make it to the NFL. Pillman did not get drafted but was offered tryouts with several teams. He ended up making the Cincinnati Bengals in 1984 as a special teams player. He was quite the local celebrity while playing with the Bengals.
Being a local celebrity came with a lot of good and bad. Pillman developed a reputation as being a tough guy and a fighter. A lot of guys wanted to fight him and a lot of women wanted to be with him. Being the type of guy he was, he obliged both. Meanwhile still taking steroids to try and keep up with the athletes in the NFL.
Pillman only lasted one year in the NFL due to injuries and went to Canada to play football there. After little luck in the Canadian football league Pillman was encouraged by a friend to try pro wrestling. Taking the advice Pillman started training at the famed Hart dungeon under the tutelage of Stu Hart and his sons.
Pillman was very well liked by the Hart’s and was a major player in their Stampede wrestling promotion ran out of Calgary. Teaming with Bruce Hart they formed a team called Bad Company and it was the first time that a baby face team would use heel tactics to win matches.
One notable story while Pillman was in Stampede wrestling was a back stage fight between him and a guy nearly twice his size. It’s a long story to set up, but basically a guy sucker punched Pillman to entice a fight, because there where people in the promotion that wanted him out.
Pillman was knocked down by the punch but quickly recovered and went absolutely nuts on the guy that punched him. Beating him down and sticking his thumb in the corner of the guys eye and pulling his eyeball out. Obviously Pillman was asked to leave and spent some time back home before WCW came calling.
Pillman started in WCW and was clearly undersized, but was putting on the best matches. He quickly became one of the more popular wrestlers on the roster, especially with the ladies. It was mentioned on multiple occasions that Pillman was with just about any woman he wanted.
Pillman had a long run in WCW coming close on several occasions to becoming a main event star. He teamed with Z-Man winning tag team gold and also teamed with Steve Austin winning the tag team titles again. He was also the first ever Light Heavyweight champion beating Rick Morton in the inaugural championship tournament.
Pillman went back and forth as a baby face and heel in WCW under the Flyin Brian gimmick. After several years and feeling that his stock within the company was falling Pillman wanted to change. After discussing some ideas with a friend, they came up with the loose cannon character.
The book explains how the initial reason for the change was to get main event type salary at his next contract negotiation. It was a dirty plan, but if it worked he would be the biggest name in wrestling. His plan was to become the loose cannon character not only in wrestling but in life. This way no one knew what was a work or a shoot.
The plan was working masterfully until April 15, 1996 when Pillman was in a horrific automobile accident. Pillman was driving his hummer and according to the book either fell asleep, or had something fall to the floor distracting him. Either way he was going about seventy in a forty five zone and lost control.
The hummer he was driving went off the road and hit a tree stump that was cut at an angle acting as a ramp for the vehicle. The hummer hit the stump and took flight coming down nose first, propelling an unbuckled Pillman through the top of the vehicle and landing over forty feet away from the totaled hummer.
As first responders arrived, they immediately noticed the severity of the situation. Pillman was conscious but in very bad shape. His left ankle was demolished and his face so broken and mangles he was unrecognizable. Pillman was rushed to the hospital initially listed in critical condition, but stable by the end of the night.
As Pillman recovered, his wife at the time was coming to see him and saw the doctor messing with his teeth. She asked “how many teeth did he lose?” The doctor responded with “None. All his teeth are in place but his gums are missing.” The book goes into better detail as far as the damage.
Pillmans face was put back together but his ankle was all messed up. The biggest problem, Pillman was between contract negotiations with both the WCW and WWF. He was about to make the biggest money of his career before the accident. Unfortunately the accident really hurt the figures he was hoping to get.
In June of 1996 Pillman and the WWF agreed to a contract. Pillman still on crutches at the time was clearly limited in what he could offer. But he held some great interview segments and even helped out at the announce table. But his ankle did not heal correctly and doctors told him it would need to be re broken and fused together.
The news meant that he was going to be off tv for awhile and needed to be written off for awhile. This led to one of the most controversial angels in wrestling history. The angle was Pillman was at home recovering and Steve Austin was going to pay him a visit. When Austin arrived Pillman was waiting with a gun in hand.
Steve Austin eventually got by Pillman’s friends who tried to stop him from entering the home. Austin beat them up and broke into Pillman’s home. As he entered Pillman stood up on his recently repaired ankle and pointed the gun at him. The rest is history as that angle was the talk of wrestling for quite some time.
Eventually Pillman returned, but was never the same. His ankle was fused to the point that he was not going to be able to run again, let alone wrestle. But Pillman being the determined or stubborn guy that he was, was going to wrestle at any cost. Unfortunately the cost was great as Pillman relied heavily on pain killers to get through the day.
The ankle was not supposed to be put through that kind of pressure. As the months went by the pain killer use became worse and many of his friends and family were desperate to help him, but he was going to be a wrestler even if it killed him. Sadly, that’s exactly what happened.
On October 5th, 1997 Pillman was found dead in a hotel room in Bloomington Minnesota. At the age of thirty five Pillman died of a heart attack in his sleep. Pillman left behind a wife and five kids and a void in wrestling that has yet to be filled. The man who had overcome so much and fought, scratched and clawed for everything, left the world quietly in the night.
That’s not where he story ends in the book and I’ve already given away quite a bit. I urge you to read this book even if you are not a wrestling fan. It’s about a guy who packed a lot into thirty five years and it’s full of non stop unbelievable stories. It’s been twenty one years since his death and he is still talked about by somebody, somewhere every day. Long live Pillman!