Happy Birthday Brian Pillman

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Happy Birthday Brian Pillman

Post by jason on Fri May 23, 2008 4:33 am

by Mike Johnson @ 2008-05-22 13:27:33

Brian Pillman, best known as the Loose Cannon, would have turned 46 today.

Pillman, who passed away in October 1997 is to this day, perhaps best remembered as the originator of the shooting work angle, as he was the first person to do one nationally, at the right time, with the right timing while working for World Championship Wrestling. It seems like a million years ago, but at that moment in time, Pillman was the most talked about character and performer in all of professional wrestling.

A former Cincinnati Bengal, Pillman been a mid-card performer for WCW with the same start/stop pushes that most of the undercard talent (including Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and Steven "William" Regal) received during the early to mid 1990s. One month, Pillman was pushed as part of a hot tag team with Steve Austin or as the Light heavyweight champion, the next he was looking at the lights to the latest muscle-bound cartoon character WCW had imported in an attempt to clone the more popular World Wrestling Federation.

There was no rhyme or reason, just politics and the ever-changing landscape of who was in charge this week. How close you were to that person when they were on top of the mountain pretty much dictated your push, your pay, indeed, your employment.

Pillman finally broke free of those political shackles during a feud with Kevin Sullivan in the Nitro era of late 1995/early 1996. It always helps to be in a feud with the booker when it comes to getting a push (unless the booker hates you, at which point, your long-term employment prospects might not be so brought), but Pillman truly broke through the politics and reinvented himself.

Taking on the nickname "The Loose Cannon", Pillman began acting erratic on camera and off to get over the idea that he had seemingly lost his mind and couldn't be trusted. Pillman, at this point a member of the Four Horsemen and then-WCW Vice President Eric Bischoff would get into confrontations on camera with Bischoff threatening to fire Pillman.

In the ring, Pillman and Sullivan would work extremely rough and stiff, fooling others, including those in the same matches they were involved in, that they were "shooting" on the other. To make sure everyone believed the character, Pillman went as far as grabbing Bobby Heenan during a live Clash of the Champions special on TBS during a match with Eddy Guerrero, causing the shocked Heenan to mutter the "F" word on live television and run for cover to protect his long ailing neck.

Pillman's acting ability was so great that he was able to convincingly portray an absolute psycho at all times, whether he was in the arena, the airport, or the hotel. He never dropped character in public, not even while appearing on local Cincinnati radio shows.

At the WCW Superbrawl PPV in February 1996, Pillman was booked to face Kevin Sullivan in a Respect Strap match. After several minutes of action that didn't seem like they were working together in the least, Pillman grabbed the ring mic and said the infamous line, "I respect you, bookerman." Pillman then walked out of the building. Sullivan at the time was Bischoff's booker for the company and Pillman had seemingly broken total and complete kayfabe. It was an Andy Kaufman act brought to life in a new environment and everyone bought it, hook, line and sinker.

It was later announced Pillman had been fired by WCW the next night on Nitro. The Sullivan match concluded with a convoluted ending where Arn Anderson briefly substituted for Pillman and Ric Flair arrived to "make peace" between the parties. At the time, Disco Inferno was the only person on the WCW roster who believed the entire scenario was a work. When he started to tell everyone his theory, Diamond Dallas Page (possibly one of the few clued in due to his friendship with Bischoff) told Disco, "If it is, shut up."

Of course, Bischoff and Sullivan were in on the whole thing, and had worked the wrestlers as well as the fans. Pillman persuaded them to fax him an actual release from WCW to cement the angle was legitimate to smart fans. In doing so, he had actually accomplished the impossible. Not only was he able to create the most intriguing character of the time, but he was not a completely free agent. After all the years of being mired in the middle of the card flailing despite being far more talented than those making seven figure deals, Pillman not only had the golden ticket, but he could write it himself.

The original plan was for Pillman to eventually return to WCW. To fuel the fire of the story, Pillman made several appearances in ECW, the rebel promotion that "hated" WCW. It was a marriage made in heaven for all parties and truth be told, if you've never seen Pillman's ECW antics, you truly missed out. All of his appearances were absolutely classic. He gave the promo of his life at ECW's Cyberslam '96, before attempting to pull out his penis and urinate in the ring. Despite ripping on the fans and Philadelphia, the promo was so good, the ECW Arena denizens chanted, "Let him P**s."

The idea was Pillman would eventually face off with former WCW foe turned ECW Franchise Shane Douglas, although the match never came to fruition. He later showed up in the front row at an ECW event and when Douglas went to hit him, Pillman pulled a child (claimed to be his cousin, although actually a child actor and his mother) in his way to prevent Douglas. Although not every fan believed the Pillman firing was legitimate, it was still something fresh that had everyone talking.

During the same time period that he was shining in ECW, Pillman continued to make
"unscheduled" appearances in the crowd in WCW, mostly holding signs for a 900 line he owned, often before being tossed out of the building as Eric Bischoff went off on him via commentary.

What has either been forgotten over time, possibly because Pillman kept some plans to himself was that he actually intended to take the Loose Cannon character even farther then he actually had. He had talked of hoping onto the field at the Super Bowl and handcuffing himself to the end zone in order to get huge publicity for himself with the idea only dying when he realized doing so would cause his connection into the event massive problems.

At one point, Pillman had also intended at one point to sit ringside at a 1996 WWF house show in Madison Square Garden under a lucha mask, then unmask and try and hop the rail when Shawn Michaels was wrestling, with the idea that he'd create a huge buzz for himself. If he ended up arrested, all the better. A family situation prevented Pillman from pulling the WWF stunt.

Another element that Pillman had working in his favor was timing. With WCW's Nitro show gaining steam in the ratings and the advent of the Internet exploding as a tool in marketing and promoting the wrestling business, Pillman was in the right place at the right time. He would often use a message board devoted to him on America Online to attack WCW, Bischoff, fans, and even those running the area forum. When a throat injury (which some thought was convenient timing as he would have been pinned by Hulk Hogan in the match) kept him off a WCW Uncensored PPV, Pillman went online hours before the PPV and blasted WCW for false advertising him. Pillman would also arrive in scheduled wrestling chats and promptly find himself ejected for cursing out AOL staff. In the end, Pillman was banned from the AOL service a number of times for breaking their Terms of Service during a time period where such a thing was actually enforced.

Pillman was the right person for the angle, doing it at the right time. Had things turned out differently for him personally, he may have been one of the major players of boom period of the late 90s, right alongside Steve Austin, who credits Pillman to this day for helping him become a better interview. In fact, many of the things that Austin did to initially get his Stone Cold persona over were derivative of many of the things Pillman did in WCW.

Through it all, Pillman ended up the first major name of the Monday Night War era to be chased hard by both companies. In the end, he signed with WWF, although he sadly never got the chance to see how far he could make the Loose Cannon gimmick run in that environment.

Prior to signing his WWF deal, Pillman was in a car accident that eventually put his life into a downward spiral, ending with his sad death in October 1997. He did eventually return to the ring and got over to a certain extent thanks to his great acting ability and being made part of the Hart Foundation. He was never the Loose Cannon that WCW and ECW audiences got to experience, however. Part of that was being edited by WWF creative and a big part of that was the fact that he could never physically go in the manner that he and fans had been accustomed too.

Brian Pillman was lucky to be alive and probably never should have wrestled again. Like too many other wrestlers, he ignored the warnings and the logic. The ankle never properly healed, was re-broken and permanently set. Pillman still returned to the ring, despite being in constant pain for the rest of his life...a life that didn't last much longer.

Brian Pillman was found dead in his hotel room just prior to that year's Badd Blood PPV with the death being attributed to a heart defect, although there was little doubt his own issues may have helped augment the issue. Testing showed cocaine in his system as well. In the weeks prior to his death, there were issues at home, issues at work, and issues with how Pillman was appearing in public. It could all be traced back to that car wreck.

For all the groundbreaking Pillman was part of nationally with the Loose Cannon character, it never led to what his goal was to begin with - a big money run on top of the business. His ankle injury and the personal issues that led to his death prevented that, leaving his legacy to be something far darker - the first of far too many professional wrestling deaths for active stars of the modern era.

Sometimes life isn't fair. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control and they change the direction of your life forever. Sometimes you play Russian roulette and lose. Pillman should be remembered as one of the trendsetters of the modern era of wrestling and as someone who finally made the huge money he dreamed about to support his huge family. Instead, he ended up a statistic in wrestling deaths and sadly, not one that helped prevent those that followed.

Much like Andy Kaufman, Pillman is only remembered as something of a footnote in the business. He's that guy who worked for WCW or that guy who used to team with Stone Cold before he was a star. It's sad in a way, when he should be remembered as someone who broke so much ground creatively and someone who's early death should have been the warning sign to change the way the wrestling industry operated.

Brian Pillman would have turned 46 today. He was one hell of a talent. One that shouldn't be forgotten as a footnote. Instead, he should be one that is studied for not just the creativity and in-ring work he left behind, but for the lifestyle choices that ended his life. There is a lot those working in the industry today can learn from the good and bad of Brian Pillman.

Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@PWInsider.com.


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