Bobby Heenan Interview
Summarized by Mike Siroky
Bobby Heenan was the featured guest on a weekend half-hour SportsChannel Chicago TV show hosted by a sports talk radio guy named Mike North. It was a fascinating half-hour.
Heenan basically stayed with a real-life interview, although on at least one point, he played company man with WCW.
Heenan talked about getting hooked on the the business when he attended a Chicago show as a 10-year-old. He said one of the wrestlers on the card lived in his apartment building and took the kids along to see the show. So, right there, he was doing real life instead of the normal pretense of being born as a rich kid in Beverly Hills, as has been presented in many of his incarnations, dating back to his managerial days.
Mike North, another regular guy from Chicago, seemed to know Heenan from way back and they traded stories about growing up in Chicago, especially about seeing the shows on the old DuMont TV network. Heenan said pro wrestling on TV started in Chicago because they already were drawing a big live crowd and already had the arenas well-lit, so the TV networks in the '50s could simply roll in the cameras and start the broadcast. It didn't cost the networks much and it was a show with a built-in audience.
That was something (the part about starting in Chicago) not many wrestling fans know. Heenan said he started as a wrestler (Beautiful Bobby Heenan) and then became a manager. Heenan said, since he knew he wanted to be a manager, he hooked up with Dick The Bruiser in Indianapolis and learned the trade. He also said he parted company with Dick the Bruiser when "he wanted about 70 percent of my money (earned) since I had started with him.''
He came up to Chicago and started with Verne Gagne, Bob Luce and the old AWA in Chicago. He didn't mention that one of his first tag teams featured Angelo Poffo, who is the father of Macho Man Randy Poffo, another Chicago kid. He did say he worked with Dick The Bruiser and The Crusher (he said Crusher is still alive; I had heard he died - Earl do you know for sure? Actually there was a "Crusher" Blackwell who died a while back - I'm not sure about the other Crusher), that he worked with the brothers Vachon, Mad Dog and Butcher.
He did say he moved on to the WWF and later parted company with them "because it was time to move on. I got nothing personal against Vince McMahon; it was just time to move on. I was tired of spending all week on the road and coming to New York every week. New York, it's still part of America but no one speaks English there.''
Throughout the interview, he told some other corny jokes like how his "palatial estate is on wheels and can be towed anywhere by a Yugo'' but he did really stay with a real life version of himself for the most part.
He said he has been happily married for a long while (another departure from the former persona as a playboy type, much like Rick Flair drops in and out of the character and his real life, depending on who is doing the interview). And he said they have one daughter, Jennifer, who is now 18.
He said they all life in Tampa. "And I get to be home four days every week. I love the South, I live in the South, so the WCW just fits me better.''
He said he severely injured his neck while wrestling in Japan in the late '80s when another wrestler came off the ropes and forced his neck to snap. He said he didn't realize he had broken vertebra for several years until the pain got so bad he had to have surgery because it was affecting his quality of life. He showed how he still has nerve damage in his right arm and hand.
He has had rib bones inserted to replace the damage vertebrae. But that injury moved him out of active wrestling and managing and into the announcing booth as a color commentary. "The play by play guys does the match and I fill the gaps,'' is how he described his job now.
He also kidded with North about how easy it is to make gobs of money just talking for a living, like North does. Heenan said the big difference between now and when he was active is the size of the participants. "Back then, a guy at 240 was a big guy. Now, a guy at 340 is just another guy in line. Plus, they've all learned gymnastics, how to move and they simply don't care what they do to their bodies.''
For a guy with replaced vertebrae, the message seemed clear: Take care of yourself, guys; no matter how big and bad you are now, it could hurt later on.
North asked him who he has enjoyed working with and who he absolutely despises in the business.Heenan said Blackjack Lanza was the guy with who he just clicked, that as soon as they met, he knew they'd have good run. And Lanza was Heenan's first big run in the old WWWF, even before Vince took over from his dad.
He said Hulk Hogan was just someone he despised. He said it was personal and business, that Hulk had messed Heenan over on some business deals they had signed and how it left him thinking the guy was not all fair. North tried to interject some humor at this point and said there are a lot of little Hulksters out there who would be disappointed to hear this.
Heenan said they could just take their little hands, reach up and turn Hulk off whenever he was on TV if they were disappointed. At this point, it seemed still to be on a real-life interview as Heenan sincerely seems to think he has been cheated contractually by Hulk at some point in a real business deal and simply does not like the real Terry Bollea.
Then Heenan swerved for what was one of the few times in the interview when he went with the WCW party line about how Hulk and Eric Bishoff had conspired to end WCW, as if that was real and not some long made-for-TV story line at work. The line is thin between the TV script and Heenan's dislike of the character as well as the real person that portrays Hulk Hogan.
Heenan also mentioned the January Nitro in Chicago and gave the date of the June Nitro back in Chicago He was a pretty good TV professional here, not mentioning any of the talent or the plot lines because he knows all too well they can change in a month and have changed since January.
He was very smooth and very real, except for the WCW/nWo tripe He ended by saying he loved the business as much as ever. That kid who first saw wrestling at age 10 is still inside and still as fascinated by the workings of the pro game. "I had a helluva run in the '60s, the '70s, the '80s and I'm still on a helluva run,'' Heenan said. He said he could do this until he was 90, just like George Burns was still talking on TV when he died.
It was a pretty good interview and not much seemed fake. I think the idea he and the host were comfortable with each other came across on the show well and put him at ease which made it a great interview for those of us who have watched Heenan since the early days.
Mike Siroky has followed wrestling since 1969 in Chicago, when he bought the first color TV his family had ever owned. When he lived in the South for five years, he too (like myself) got hooked on the best announcer in the business, Gordon Solie. He is a newspaper editor and currently works at The South Bend Tribune.
Copyright 1997 - Jump City Productions