When WWE Hall of Fame manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan died on Sunday at age 73, the name of Gorilla Monsoon, who died in 1999, was invoked alongside that of the fallen heel. As fans were quick to point out in online remembrances, pro-wrestling’s greatest color-commentary team was finally reunited.
Monsoon, born Robert James Marella, and Heenan had a Martin-and-Lewis like chemistry behind the mic. At times, their calling of the action on the mat seemed secondary to their bantering and bickering, with Heenan – wrestling’s Don Rickles – firing off an endless stream of one-liners and insults at the grapplers in the ring and, especially, at his broadcast partner.
By all accounts, the men were close friends when the cameras were off, and Heenan, fighting back tears, broke kayfabe to salute Monsoon on air on WCW Nitro after his death in ’99.
“He was one big tough man. He was a decent, honest man. And we’re all going to miss him very much,” Heenan said. “Goodbye, my friend.” When he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, Heenan ended his acceptance speech with “I wish Monsoon was here.”
But for all their theatrics at ringside – slippery Heenan looking the other way when his fellow heels broke the rules; play-by-play guy Monsoon using words even bigger than his own 400 lb. frame – the duo’s real magic happened in the wild, away from the squared circle. Whether they were squabbling at their cramped desk on USA’s Raw-precursor Prime Time Wrestling or taking field trips to Kentucky’s Churchill Downs, where Heenan tried to “buy” a racehorse, they made great – if, as Heenan might call it, “ham-and-egger” – TV, transcending pro-wrestling to create absurdist comedy.
Here’s five of Heenan and Monsoon’s best bits, from a surreal hike in the woods to the Brain’s shining moment: a sour-pussed visit to a Toledo, Ohio, hot-dog joint.