My fondest memory of Bobby Heenan occurred on an episode of WWF Prime Time Wrestling on Christmas Day of 1989. Heenan had lost a bet to Rowdy Roddy Piper weeks earlier, forcing him to commentate the entire show while wearing a Santa Claus suit.
I remember sitting on the floor in front of the Christmas tree as I enjoyed every ounce of “The Brain’s” humiliation. My joy turned to utter shock when Heenan reached his boiling point. He took off the red hat, white beard and revealed to every kid watching at home that Santa Claus is not real.
After a stern warning from Piper, Heenan’s unyielding verbal assault prompted “Hot Rod” to pummel him into the floor. While this was just another in a long line of deserved beatings for Heenan, the optics of the situation were much worse.
Roddy Piper beat up Santa Claus on a national television show that aired on Christmas night.
The narrative was that hordes of parents complained because their children were terrified of the imagery they had witnessed. USA Network took swift action and banned Piper from working as a commentator on any future episode of the program while Heenan lived to fight another day.
That angle was the first thing I thought of when I heard the news that Raymond Lewis “Bobby” Heenan passed away last Sunday due to health issues that he had been dealing with for over fifteen years.
The word “legend” is thrown around with reckless abandon in professional wrestling. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was truly one of the greatest performers in the history of the business and the greatest manager of all-time.
Managing is a lost art in this business. Sadly, there aren’t as many as there used to be and the majority of the ones that are currently in play are only concerned about getting themselves over with the audience.
Heenan was the modus operandi of a classic heel manager. He bragged about himself a little, but most of his talking revolved around how Andre was going to destroy Hulkamania or how The Islanders were going to neuter the British Bulldogs.
When Heenan wasn’t drawing heat from the crowd, he was a barrel of laughs on commentary. His chemistry with Gorilla Monsoon produced a plethora of comedic gold. Heenan’s shining moment on the call was at the 1992 Royal Rumble.
Heenan always cheered the heels with a slight hint of reservation because he was supposed to be a fair and impartial broadcast journalist. That all went out the window as Heenan feverishly cheered Ric Flair at every turn. Classic line after classic line made the Rumble just as fun to listen to as it was to watch.
Heenan: “it’s not a skirt, it’s a kilt” when Piper helped Flair escape a Jake Roberts’ DDT then going back on it once Piper attacked Flair saying “You no good freak. You skirt-wearing freak. It’s not a kilt, it’s a skirt. “
I honestly can’t think of any manager who was more influential in the business. Any manager working the independent scene today will probably tell you that Bobby Heenan was their influence.
Bobby Heenan was a rebuttal to those who feel that professional wrestling is not an art form. He inspired a generation of wrestlers when it comes to promos and how to practice them in the mirror. He knew how to do business as a manager, realizing that generating heat for the wrestler got him over as well.
He was the GOAT, plain and simple.