Bobby Heenan: The wrestling manager Chicago loved to hate

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Bobby Heenan had a love-hate relationship with wrestling fans in Chicago, the city where he was born. Heenan died Sunday. He was 72. (WWE)

If you were to create a template for the perfect wrestling manager, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan or Bobby “The Weasel” Heenan — take your pick — would be it.

Loud, cocky, garish, charming, bright, annoying, despicable, funny, rude, loyal, disloyal (did we miss any?) — all describe the characteristics the non pareil wrestling figure brought to the act.

But for Heenan, it was never an act. Wrestling was his life, and he was the star of his own reality show. Heenan was counted out on Sunday at age 72.

Raymond Louis Heenan grew up on the North Side of Chicago, then moved at age 15 to Indianapolis with his mother. When his mom lost her job and fell ill, Heenan began working at the local arena, which played host to pro wrestling matches. One of the teenager’s several jobs was to carry the wrestlers’ bags. Heenan befriended some, most notably legends Dick the Bruiser and Ray “The Crippler” Stevens. It wasn’t long before they pulled Heenan into the squared circle, where he starred for the next four decades.

Heenan really took off with Vince McMahon in the early days of the WWE as both a manager and an announcer alongside Gorilla Monsoon. But some of Heenan’s most memorable matches occurred in Chicago, where he was then known as “The Pretty Boy,” long before the rest of the country was introduced to “The Brain.”

3 Bobby Heenan Chicago vignettes

In 1976 at Comiskey Park, this observer had the opportunity to witness Heenan’s antics in person. At the time, Heenan managed Blackjack Lanza and Bobby Duncum, the hated AWA tag team champions. The two were challenged to a steel cage match by Chicago favorites Dick the Bruiser and the Crusher. There was one stipulation: Heenan had to be inside the cage.

(via Dan Cahill)

(via Dan Cahill)

As the match was about to begin and the combatants made their way to the cage near home plate, Heenan begged not to be included. Pretty Boy began running to the center field wall in the old park, some 440 feet away. Bruiser gave chase. As Heenan tried to scale the wall to escape, Bruiser grabbed the petrified manager by his tight tights and dragged him back to the infield, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. It would be the last time that night Heenan’s bleached hair wasn’t crimson.

Bruiser tossed Heenan like a rag doll, face first into the cage. Mayhem ensued. When it was done, though, a bloodied Heenan crawled out of the cage with the victory and sweet revenge from a brutal cage-match loss to B&C four years earlier in Chicago.

When Heenan was affiliated with the AWA, he often came to Chicago and wrestled at the International Amphitheatre, home of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Heenan was not too fond of the decaying building, still he was invited back for the final show at the historic building in 1983.

In typical Heenan fashion, he was elated: “You know I was the one 15 years ago who suggested they tear this building down and build a slum. That was my idea what they should do with the Amphitheatre. So, people of Chicago, I don’t care. I don’t like you either.”

What a finale it was. Heenan and comedian Andy Kaufman co-managed Ken Patera against Jerry Lawler.

As if Heenan and Kaufman weren’t big enough draws that night, wait until you here about this one. The card featured an arm-wrestling match between a young Hulk Hogan and veteran Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

ABC7’s Big Al Lerner, in his inimitable way, recounted the night:

But the perhaps the greatest and most unbelievable wrestling story involving Bobby Heenan turns out to be a true one.

Heenan related the incident to wrestling commentator Jim Cornette in 2013. Old schooler Heenan rarely broke kayfabe, so it was hard to discern fact from fiction.

On this night at the International Amphitheatre in 1975, Heenan so riled one fan that the man took out a gun and shot at him. He missed Heenan but sprayed five people that were sitting ringside, injuring all of them.

John Husar of the Chicago Tribune wrote about the crazy night.

Heenan claims nothing happened to the shooter; he just fled and was never arrested. Even scarier, Heenan said he noticed him at future matches. Listen to Heenan tell the story, which begins at about the 5:30 mark on the video below:

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