The man they’re calling the ‘Greatest Professional Wrestling Manager’ of all-time, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan gone at age 73

from Wade Keller at the Pro Wrestling Torch/
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Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, whom fans and rivals taunted with chants of “Weasel! Weasel!”, died Sunday at age 73. Heenan had long battled throat cancer, which he was diagnosed with in 2002. Despite valiant push-back against the disease and having lost portions of his jaw to surgeries, among other ailments and injuries, he made a number of public appearances in recent years at fan conventions and loved staying in touch with fans and former colleagues.

Widely considered far-and-away the best heel manager in pro wrestling history, he gained his greatest fame during the WWF’s expansion years in the late 1980s and later as a color commentator for the WWF’s wide-spanning syndicated network and popular Monday night USA Network program “Prime Time Wrestling,” which pre-dated Monday Night Raw. His best work was in the AWA where he spent the bulk of his years as a manager. He wrestled before settling in on the role he was born to play – an obnoxious, abrasive, energetic (and hilarious) agitator who talked fans into arenas across the country who desired to see him get what he had coming.

Heenan and the wrestlers he managed were known as The Bobby Heenan Family. (He lashed out at anyone who referred to his group as a “stable,” yelling that his athletes weren’t animals!) Heenan managed many wrestlers over the years, but no one meant more to his career than Nick Bockwinkel, among the all-time greats of his generation who headlined the AWA as the top heel rival to lead babyface Verne Gagne. He and Bockwinkel battled over the AWA World Hvt. Title for years. Billed from Beverly Hills, Calif., the bombastic Heenan and the more measured and intellectual Bockwinkel gave off an aura of superiority that fans flocked to arenas to boo. There may have never been a more effective or entertaining manager/wrestler combo in pro wrestling history. Heenan also managed Ray Stevens, Blackjack Lanza, Ken Patera, Bobby Duncum, Baron Von Raschke, and several other big names during his years in the AWA.

Heenan jumped to the WWF during Vincent K. McMahon’s aggressive spending period in the mid-1980s expansion years, and no exodus from the AWA was more damaging to the AWA promotion – at the time one of the “Big Three” promotions along with the NWA and the WWF – than Heenan, with the possible exception of Hulk Hogan. Hogan hadn’t been in the AWA as long, so Heenan’s leaving especially stung because he felt so synonymous with the AWA brand.

Heenan’s war with Hogan in the AWA carried over to the WWF where Heenan managed one wrestler after another who tried to take the WWF Title from Hogan, including Andre the Giant, Big John Studd, Paul Orndorff, King Kong Bundy, Harley Race, Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, Hercules Hernandez, and Ric Flair, among others. He also managed The Brainbusters (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard) to the WWF Tag Team Titles.

Heenan ended up leaving the WWF and joining WCW in 1994 as one of the major signings made by Ted Turner/Turner Broadcasting during the mid-1990s spending spree. Heenan would team with announcer Tony Schiavone as the lead commentary team on WCW Nitro. Another generation of fans were introduced to Heenan’s quick wit during this phase of his career. Heenan wasn’t at his best at this point, but was still among the most entertaining personalities on the airwaves.

Heenan was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.