411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2006: Bobby The Brain Heenan
Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
Wrestler, manager, commentator, wrestling personality
Promotions worked for: AWA, WWF(E), NWA, WCW
4 time PWI manager of the year
Had April 3rd, 1997 declared “Bobby Heenan Day” in Indianapolis, Indiana
Tommy Award for excellence in the field of entertainment (Europe)
Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004
On the Board of Directors for the Cauliflower Alley Club for the benefit of retired wrestlers
Best selling author
Has been the on screen manager for the following wrestlers:
Nick Bockwinkle (former AWA World Champion and Tag Team Champion)
Blackjack Lanza (former AWA Tag Team Champion
Blackjack Mulligan (former AWA Tag Team Champion)
Ray Stevens (former AWA Tag Team Champion)
Pat Patterson (former AWA Tag Team Champion)
Bobby Duncum (former AWA Tag Team Champion)
Bob Orton, Jr.
Baron Von Raschke
The Masked Superstar
Killer Karl Kox
Super Destroyer Mark II (Sgt. Slaughter)
Big John Studd
Andre the Giant (former WWF Tag Team Champion)
Haku (former WWF Tag Team Champion)
Arn Anderson (former WWF Tag Team Champion)
Tully Blanchard (former WWF Tag Team Champion)
Rick Rude (former WWF Intercontinental Champion)
Curt Hennig (former WWF Intercontinental Champion)
King Kong Bundy
Ric Flair (former NWA, WCW and WWF World Champion)
He was born Raymond Loius Heenan on November 1st 1944. Before his first birthday, Heenan’s father ran out on his family. He was raised by his grandmother and mother, whom he recalls to be the funniest person he ever met and a big influence on his later trademark wit. A surrogate father figure for the young Ray was wrestler Zack Melkof who lived in his neighborhood. He would often take the local children to wrestling matches and this hooked Heenan on the sport from a young age.
At the age of 15, his mother lost her job managing a hotel when it closed and the family moved to Indianapolis to care for Heenan’s dying aunt. After her passing Heenan dropped out of school and began working various odd jobs to support his small family. One of these gigs was setting up shows and selling pop at the Indianapolis Coliseum. The likable young man became friends with many of the wrestlers, including Ray Stevens and the original Sheik, and they taught him the business. He started off as a ring boy, walking men to the ring and collecting their jackets.
On January 10th of 1965, Heenan received a call from Dick the Bruiser. He told him to be at Channel 4 on that Tuesday afternoon. He christened him Bobby (after former Buddy Rogers manager Bobby Davis) and put him in charge of a masked tag team called the Assassins. He began working full time from there under the name of “Pretty Boy” Bobby Heenan as a wrestler and manager. At that time, most managers were old wrestlers who would bonk a guy on the head with a cane. Heenan wanted to take bumps and put guys over. As he said himself his goal was to “manage like a wrestler and wrestle like a manager.”
In 1969, Heenan signed with the AWA in Minnesota. They already had a “Pretty Boy” in Larry Hennig, so changed his nickname to Gorgeous but didn’t care for it much. After a brief stint back in Indianapolis he returned to the AWA full time where Wally Karbo and Ray Stevens gave him the name of Bobby “The Brain,” because he was so smart.
Heenan became the top heel manager in the AWA and the only manager in the organization’s history to have the World Champion and World Tag Team Champions in his stable, known as the Heenan Family, at the same time. His most successful charge was Nick Bockwinkle who Heenan led to an impressive five year title reign and a stint as tag champs with Ray Stevens. In January of 1979, Blackjack Lanza left for the NWA in Georgia and asked Heenan to go with him. The loyal Bobby followed. He didn’t like the territory much and returned to the AWA that November. One positive from his stint in Atlanta was that he met Gordon Solie and picked up tips that would later help him become a wrestling broadcaster.
Heenan’s second stint with the AWA was rockier than the first. Everyone was tense with talent leaving for the WWF and Heenan decided he wanted to go to. He contacted former AWA wrestler and then current WWF champion Hulk Hogan to set up a meeting with Vince McMahon. The money was better and the travel schedule less hectic. He entered the WWF in 1986 and was put in charge of Big John Studd. Heenan built a stable every bit as powerful as the one he had in the AWA. Despite being a manager, he became a main nemesis of World Champion Hulk Hogan and was involved in some of the biggest angles and gates in wrestling history managing the likes of Paul Orndorff, Andre the Giant and King Kong Bundy against him.
Vince McMahon recognized Heenan’s gift for gab and began using him on commentary. Due to multiple neck injuries over the years, Heenan began to manage less and eventually quit all together to be a color commentator full time. Heenan co-hosted “Prime Time Wrestling” with Gorilla Monsoon and the pair formed one of the greatest announcing tandems of all time. In the summer of 1989 Heenan even had his own short lived variety show on the USA Network following “Prime Time.”
The WWF always courted mainstream exposure and the quick witted Heenan was often the man they would send for special appearances. He led a team on “Family Feud,” co-hosted the Nickelodeon “Kid’s Choice Awards” with Marc Summers and popped up on talks shows such as “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” and “Late Night with David Letterman.”
In 1993, Heenan once again grew tired of the position he was in and needed to think of what was best for his family. Facing a pay cut due to the downturn in business of the WWF, Heenan left for WCW where he became their number one color commentator. While he didn’t care much for Tony Schiavone, he cites Mike Tenay as the best broadcast partner he ever had after Monsoon. WCW began using Heenan less and less and eventually let him go in 2000.
In 2001, Heenan was diagnosed with throat cancer. Through surgery, chemotherapy and his trademark diligence and hard work, Heenan beat the disease and is cancer free today. He has since written two books on his life and career and is revered as a legend throughout the industry.
Why Bobby Heenan was selected…
Bobby Heenan is arguably the funniest and hardest working man ever in the wrestling business. He went out of his way to put wrestlers over and entertain the fans. Even when he insulted wrestlers on commentary, it made the fans like them that much more because they hated Heenan so much. He had a one liner for every occasion and you would often find yourself laughing despite yourself. When he was at ringside with one of his charges he screamed, pounded the mat, got involved and took a bump. He never overshadowed the two men in the ring, merely enhanced the action. Today he stands as an inspiration for people the world over. He battled cancer and won. He has shared his courageous battle with others and given them hope. Most importantly, he never lost his sense of humor or his love the wrestling business. Bobby Heenan is more than a great manager, broadcaster or wrestling personality. He is a great man and one of the all time great entertainers in any media.