The man I am spotlighting today is someone who I have very mixed emotions about. He was a man who died in the prime of his life and died way too soon. He was arguably one of the most controversial figures in wrestling history.
The man I am referring to is none other the Brian Pillman. While most remember him through his very short stint in the WWF, he was a wrestler I watched grow into the star he became.
His story is a tale filled with struggle, hardship and sadness. He was a man who could never fully get a grip on his own reality. Like many in the business he was also an addict to drugs, booze and pills.
He did have a few good moments throughout his career though. That is what I would like to try to point out to you today. I will not leave out his sins in life though as they were a big part of it too.
Like most stories they all start at a beginning and an end. Some are happy and some are sad. We can’t help how they end; only the person involved can do that. I would like to start this one at the very beginning.
Brian William Pillman was born on 1962, in Norwood Ohio. Pillmans life would start with a strike against him when his father would pass away while he was in diapers. As a child he would be primarily raised without any father figure in his life.
Things would only get worse for him, at the tender age of 3 he would have to battle for his life. He was diagnosed with throat cancer and would have to endure over 30 surgeries to get rid of the problem.
It was a battle that almost cost him his life on several occasions. He would go on to beat cancer but would be scarred for life with a raspy voice. Growing up without a father and having to fight cancer would take its toll mentally on Pillman.
He would overcome these trying issues and resume a normal life as a teen. Pillman attended Norwood high school and would go on to become a standout football player for the team.
He was considered by many to be undersized for the game of football, but that would not stop him from making big impression on the coaches. He was later accepted to Miami University where he would continue to excel at the game.
He would become a two time all American and set the team record for “Tackles for losses. Despite his major achievements on college football he was still considered to mall for a defensive tackle and would get passed up in the draft.
Pillman not ready to give up his dreams to play in the NFL would join the Bengal’s as a walk on in 1984. He would go on to turn heads and play well but would get cut in their final preseason game.
Still unable to give up his dreams the following years he would try out for the Bills. Like in with the Bengal’s, pillman wouldn’t make it past the pre-season. He would finally find a home in football though with the Calgary Stampeders.
Throughout the year in 86 with the stampeders he was starting to develop nagging injuries. It was at this point in his life most believe he developed his problem with steroids and painkillers.
The final blow to Pillmans football dreams came later that year when he would suffer a severe ankle injury. He would be sidelined from the game of football forever. Not completely sure though if he should quits, he called his former coach Kim wood for advice.
It was his former coaches advice that would send him to the world of wrestling and embark Pillman on his new path in life. So after his ankle healed up he started to train under Stu hart.
While most wrestlers that enter the dungeon rarely made it in wrestling, Pillman would work hard determined to show he had what it took.
He would impress the family so much that he was pushed into the spotlight right after training.
In 1987 he would be formed with Bruce Hart to form a team called bad company. They were soon instant hits with the fans and pushed to the top of the card. Pillman would get his first taste of gold when bad company beat Ron Star and the Cuban Assassin in a tournament for the international tag team titles.
This would be the first of their second reign as tag champs. They would later win the tag titles again in November of that year. They would loose the titles in 1988 and Pillman would leave Stampede wrestling a short time later.
In 1989 he would make his way over to the NWA. Upon his arrival into the NWA/WCW he would be called “Flyin" Brian due to his ability to take to the air. He had an arsenal of highflying maneuvers including a very impressive diving cross body.
During his early singles career in WCW he went on to have some outstanding matches with guys like Flair, Sting, Arn Anderson and Ricky Steamboat. He quickly was becoming a fan favorite with his flashy style in the ring.
The Brass would finally go onto reward Pillman for is talent in 1990 when the teamed him up with the Z man and they would capture the United States Tag Titles by beating Michael Hay and Jimmy Garvin.
Things were really going good for Pillman in his wrestling career; his personal life is a whole other story though.
It was being reported by many that he was popping painkillers like candy and he was starting to develop a nasty coke problem. He was also seen many times partying hard with the boys at the bar.
They would only hold the belts for only a couple of months before dropping them to the Midnight express. In 1991 Pillman would start to break out as a singles competitor. He would beat Richard Morton to win the newly formed WCW light heavyweight title.
He would go on to have a series of outstanding matches with Jushin Liger, who he would later drop the title to that year. He would also loose a looser leaves town match to Barry Windham, only to come back as a masked wrestler named Yellow dog.
In 1992 Pillman would have a career-changing year. Not only would he recapture the light heavyweight title again, but he would also go one to form a team called the Hollywood blondes. This new heel team of Pillman and Steve Austin were turning heads instantly. In 1993 they would win the U.S tag titles, and were soon in a high profile feud with flair Arn Anderson.
1993 would also be a big year in Pillman personal life when he would marry his girlfriend Melanie. It would also be Pillmans first big disagreement with the brass after they broke up the Hollywood blondes. In 1994 Pillman was starting to have some major issues with WCW. Still he would go on to sign a two-year deal worth 225,000 dollars. For the next couple of years Pillman would be mainly used as card filler.
He did go on to have a few other memorable moments though. In 1995 he went on to become a member of the famed Four Horsemen. It was also when he would start his “Loose cannon” gimmick. During this time period he would often mix up his promos by throwing in “shoot” comments. It included one that ousted Kevin Sullivan as the booker of the company.
He was also known during this time to act crazy and do things like spit on the cameras and other wrestlers. This was all a work though in order to sell his character. He was fired though after he grabbed bobby Hennans neck.
(It was commonly known in WCW that due to Hennans bad neck no one was supposed to ever touch him.)
Pillman would venture over to the land of extreme ECW after he was fired. His arrival to ECW started off where Joey style goes to start his previews for the upcoming ECW shows. When the lights go back on Pillman was in the middle of the ring.
This would lead into a raunchy promo filled with foul language that would result in Pillman threatening to urinate on the ring. It would be followed up by him spitting at a fan and stabbing a “plant” with a fork; he would eventually be tossed from the arena.
This would turn out to be nothing more than a clever shoot though. He was still employed by WCW. He would be seen later during TV tapings in the crowd holding signs for his own 1-900 number.
All of this was still a ploy for WCW to sell his gimmick. They went as far as releasing pillman for publicity. He would go back and forth appearing both on WCW and ECW. This would turn out to be one off WCW’s classic moments in history.
Months after joining the Horsemen, Pillman would be involved in a car accident with a drunk driver on April 15th, 1996. Pillman dosed off at the wheel of his open-top jeep and he crashed off Kentucky Route 338 and Pillman, wasn't wearing a seat belt, and was thrown over 40 feet from the car.
Brian suffered a severe broken ankle, a dislocated jaw, and several other facial cuts and bruises. However, had Pillman been wearing a seat belt, the chances are that he would have been killed. This would only further his drinking and addiction to drugs and pills. He was slowly loosing himself to a fight that many others in life had fallen too.
Despite having his ankle fused into one place and consistently being in pain, would find himself in a bidding war for his services between WCW and the WWF. On June 7th, 1996, Brian Pillman would sign 3-year contract with the WWF.
Because of Pillmans injuries though, he was unable to wrestle until he healed up. So he would be first delicated to TV roles. Pillman would make some pro Bret Hart comments that would lead into a feud with his former partner.
Austin allegedly broke Pillman's ankle but Brian's ankle wasn't healing properly and needed another operation. This altercation with Austin would lead to an opera-like storyline where Austin broke into the Pillman house on a live Raw and Brian pulled a gun on him and "fired".
Several months later on Raw, Austin had spent the entire night feuding with the Hart Foundation and at the end of the show Pillman made his return and attacked Austin before making off into the crowd. He would become the newest member of the Hart Foundation.
Brian was finally ready to wrestle and was back to his usual crazy antics, he would end up costing Steve Austin the WWF title at In Your House: Cold Day in Hell. Pillman later have his real first feud with Goldust.
The match ended in a loss for Brian at SummerSlam, which resulted in Brian having to wear dresses for several weeks. He would win the return match at IYH, where Brian won the services of Marlena for the next 30 days.
We would see weeks of "Brian Pillman's XXX-Files" vignettes where he appeared to be making Marlena his personal sex slave and Marlina would be forced to where sexy clothes and escort Pillman to the ring. A third match was planned for Bad Blood to end the feud.
Sadly, the match never occurred. Brian Pillman died his hotel room in Bloomington, MN. Contrary to whatever you may have read, the post-mortem revealed that Brian died of a heart disease, a condition that killed Brian's father when he was three months old.
Brian never even knew he had a heart problem. Brian left behind his wife Melanie and his six children, one of which Melanie was pregnant with at the time of Brian's death and she never got to tell her husband about.
Whether you choose to believe his death was natural or not, it doesn’t change that fact that a man died at 36 and left his family behind. Pillmans tale is one of the most sad and tragic stories in modern wrestling history.
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