Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Brian Pillman: WTF?

One surprise for me, reading SL&H, was Brian Pillman. When the authors began fleshing out his story in chapter 12, I kept waiting for a name I recognized to be attached to him; the authors tend to introduce wrestlers by their given names and progress through their progressively more famous stage names. But no, this was just Brian Pillman, nobody I recognized; if we've read about him earlier this semester, I must not have retained it.

Which would be surprising, because this guy is scary. An origin story worthy of a superhero--in and out of hospitals as a child, seemingly supernatural ability to withstand pain--someone with a less-than-ideal body who was nonetheless driven to athletic achievement (and an amusing story about a woman, a chin-up bar and gravity boots). I read eagerly, wondering, who is this guy? When will he "become" someone I've heard of?

But it just got stranger. The cocaine, the "weakness" for single moms, his ex's suicide, the car accident of undefined cause...the authors describe this last as "the ultimate con. The man who's fooled his fans and friends into believing he had a death wish had nearly gone ahead and done it" (167). But it was the story of the Pillman-Austin angle that really stuck out for me.

First, it seemed to have nothing to do with wrestling, having moved almost entirely off-text into the expanded universe of WWE lore. That said, it sounded, well, scary. I don't assume I would have thought it was very plausible, had I been watching, but this guy was reputed to be crazy, right? And, to hear it described in prose, Stone Cold was playing up his own craziness very well. That Vince actually seemed to break character ("a publicity stunt has gone too far and our hope is that nobody has been hurt") just seems to lend authenticity (169).

Does anyone remember actually watching this? It's one of the more surreal things I've read about this since we started the course. Even this far after the fact, I found it a little hard to swallow.


Sam Ford said...

I actually missed the Steve Austin/Brian Pillman angle at its first airing, but I've seen the clips since then. WWE recently released a Brian Pillman DVD set, which I have. If you're interested in seeing it, Peter, feel free. Dave Meltzer did a great piece on Brian's life as well, as Brian was actually one of Dave's best friends. Think about his position, and I thought about including his story because what he did during "The Monday Night War" was actually unheard of.

I know this is reiterating some of what is in S, L, and H, but this is the scenario: Brian convinces Eric to let him do the loose cannon storyline. Brian starts behaving strangely, and Eric is the only one in on it. They book the match where Brian breaks script and calls Kevin Sullivan "bookerman," and only Eric was in on what Brian was going to do. The other wrestlers are furious.

Brian convinces Eric to take the con a step farther by firing Brian. But Eric wants to make it look real, so he doesn't even let the legal crew in on the con. They fire Brian, and Brian goes to work for ECW, which Eric has arranged. The key to the con, though, is that Brian has been working Eric the whole time, and since the legal team wasn't in on the con, they've given him a bona fide release, so he starts negotiating with Vince. The idea was just to drive his asking price up, so that his con on WCW earned him a higher contract, but Vince made the good offer, and Brian ended up being convinced to go to the WWE instead.

His untimely death makes the story all the more surreal, and he's one of only three WWE wrestlers to die on their clock, I believe, along with Owen Hart and Eddie Guerrero. The parallels between Brian and Eddie are much more similar, though, than what happened to Owen, since it was not health-related.

Dave Schwartz said...

I remember this when it first aired. As I recall there was a slow build to the Austin/Pillman angle. Initially Pillman was loosely allied with Austin, but was a little too happy about Bret Hart's success in the Austin/Hart feud. I remember this as being before the famous double-turn at WM XIII, but I could be wrong. Pillman ended up siding with the "New Hart Foundation" or whatever they called it.

Pillman also excelled at color commentary on the short-lived "Shotgun Saturday Night," and I'd guess that, if he hadn't ahve died, he'd probably had gotten Tazz's spot on Smackdown and then ECW if he stayed onboard after he wasn't able to wrestle full-time anymore.

I also remember that, after he died, brought out his widow (who clearly looked like she didn't want to be there) on Raw, where I think she exonerated the WWF for any role in Pillman's death.

Kenny Hitt said...

I remember the angle well. It was in the midst of Nitro's dominance on Monday Nights, which (at the time) seemed to justify the releases of guys like Steve Austin & Brian Pillman in favor of Hall, Nash, and other future cronies of Bischoff.

Vince Russo was named head writer the same year as the "Pillman's Got a Gun"'s possible that the incident was partially or even wholly his idea. If so, it's one of the first signs of the inherent lack of creative ability that would eventually cause Russo to become synonymous with the Antichrist to most wrestling fans.

But Bischoff shares part of the blame...Nitro's ascent was marked by much of the same hotshot booking that eventually killed the company once Russo took over, only it was supported by a solid undercard manned by the likes of Eddie Guerrerro, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, the Public Enemy and various other ECW, Puro & Lucha alums.

One has to wonder what would have been possible had Bischoff been able to resist his WWF fetish and build the promotion around solid workers like Austin, Pillman, Benoit, Malenko, Flair and Mysterio. Instead, he brought in Hogan & Co. and marginalized the company's cumulative workrate.

It might be nice to think that Brian Pillman & Eddie Guerrerro might still be alive today if Lanny Poffo hadn't been on the payroll.

Sam Ford said...

Kenny, Lanny is to blame for all that's unholy! The thing about both Pillman and Eddie's problems, though, is that both of them got started with those problems in WCW, so I don't know that staying on the Turner side of things would have spared their lives, since it was lifestyle choices catching up to them in both cases.

Dave it was in 1996 during the fall, building up to Steve Austin and Bret Hart's big feud.