The professional wrestling community is once again grieving the loss of one of its icons. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, one of the most prolific managers and commentators in wrestling history, died at the age of 73 on Sunday. He’s survived by his wife of 43 years, Cynthia (Cindy) Jean, and their daughter, Jessica Ida Heenan.
The WWE released a statement acknowledging his death, saying it “extends its condolences to Heenan’s family, friends and fans.”
With a career spanning more than four decades, Bobby Heenan was the “The Brain” behind some of the most prolific Superstars in sports-entertainment history. Heenan plied his trade as their mischievous manager by running his mouth on their behalf with a sarcastic wit considered among the best in the business.
Here’s what you need to know about the life and death of Heenan:
1. Heenan Was Surrounded by His Family When He Died
According to Pro Wrestling Sheet’s Ryan Satin, Heenan’s daughter told his close friends on Facebook that he was surrounded by family members as he passed. She noted that her father had been sick with an unspecified illness, but his death “was sudden.”
2. Heenan Suffered From Various Health Issues Over the Years, Including Cancer
Heenan, who’s known for his unforgettable voice and comedic blurbs during wrestling broadcasts, had his share of health issues in the years that followed his wrestling career.
In 2002, he announced in a statement that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer and would be undergoing extensive rehabilitation.
I just want to let all the wonderful “humanoids” out there know how grateful I am for the good wishes…
Yes, I do have throat cancer, but I plan on beating this too.
If the late, great Gorilla Monsoon couldn’t shut me up, cancer isn’t going to either..
Heenan made a recovery from the throat cancer, but lost large amounts of weight, and his voice and appearance changed dramatically.
In December 2007, he had reconstructive surgery to repair his jaw and was placed into a medically-induced coma. He was eventually brought out the coma slowly by doctors after a few months, but he was unable to speak. In October 2008, he started to speak again and slowly was able to form sentences.
However, he was back in the hospital once again in December 2009 after an exam showed that his reconstructed jaw had an infection. Heenan also suffered from a broken hip and pelvis after falling in 2011 and went through tongue cancer treatments in 2013, he told Jim Ross.
Heenan went under the surgical knife once again in 2015 for an undisclosed issue, his longtime friend and colleague “Mean” Gene Okerlund tweeted.
Last May, Heenan was back in a hospital after falling inside of his Florida home. According to Pro Wrestling Sheet, doctors kept him for an extended stay because of high blood pressure and he was eventually released.
Despite all the health concerns, Heenan still efforts to attend scheduled independent wrestling shows, autograph sessions and conventions.
3. Heenan’s Career in Wrestling Started in the 1960s
Heenan had one of the most prolific careers in wrestling history, bouncing between various wrestling promotions but always keeping his same character and putting in the same work ethic. He started his professional wrestling career at the World Wrestling Association in Indianapolis in 1967. He was a wrestler and a manager for the promotion before appearing in the American Wrestling Association in 1974. Heenan’s career changed for good when Vince McMahon pried Heenan away from AWA to join the World Wrestling Federation in 1984 as the manager of Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
From there, Heenan managed some of wrestling’s biggest stars and appeared on the TV screen with legends such as Andre the Giant.
One of Heenan’s staple achievements in his over four decades in the industry was forming the “Heenan Family,” a group whose name was derived from their strength of alliance. Members of the Heenan Family included many WWE Hall of Famers, including Nick Bockwinkel, the Blackjacks, Big John Studd, King Kong Bundy, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, the Brain Busters (Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard), Harley Race, and Andre the Giant.
In 1986, Heenan took over as a color commentator in addition to being a manager. He was known for having many comedic moments on TV broadcasts and pay-per-views alongside Gorilla Monsson and Okerlund. The trio had great chemistry with each other which made for some memorable TV. In his later years, Heenan joined World Championship wrestling as a commentator and manager. He stayed with the company until 2000 before leaving and making sporadic appearances with the WWE.
At WrestleMania 20, Heenan made a return to the commentator’s table with Okerlund. His last WWE appearance ever was on the June 11, 2007 episode of Monday Night RAW on “McMahon Appreciation Night.”
4. Wrestling Greats Paid Tribute to Heenan on Social Media
Following the news of his death, some of wrestling’s biggest stars took to Twitter to reminisce about the man Heenan was.
Managing so many of the superstars and being a fixture as a commentator, Heenan had forged many friendships with his co-workers.
5. Heenan Was Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004
Heenan’s career was remembered during his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. He was inducted into the Hall prior to WrestleMania 20 and paid tribute to Monsoon during his speech.
“I wish Monsoon were here,” he tearfully said.
In addition to memorializing Monsoon, Heenan cracked jokes and told numerous stories about those superstars he managed and worked with over they years.