WWE Hall of Famer Bobby “The Brain” Heenan died on Sunday, the WWE confirmed, at the age of 73. No official cause of death has been confirmed, though Heenan had previously been diagnosed with throat and tongue cancer. Heenan, born Raymond Louis Heenan, is considered by most experts to be the greatest pro wrestling manager of all time, managing Andre the Giant, Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect, Big John Studd and The Brain Busters, among others.
“With a career spanning more than four decades, Heenan was the ‘The Brain’ behind some of the most prolific Superstars in sports-entertainment history,” the WWE said in a statement. “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.”
Heenan announced in 2002 that he was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent a number of surgeries in the ensuing years, including reconstructive jaw surgery in 2007 that required him to be put in a medically-induced coma. In an interview with SEScoops in 2013, Jim Ross said Heenan was “hanging in there” despite having trouble speaking “due to tongue cancer treatments.”
Heenan’s professional career started as both a wrestler and manager with the World Wrestling Association (WWA) and American Wrestling Association (AWA). He then went on to manage some of the biggest names in the WWF and WWE throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, such as Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, Nick Bockwinkel and Mr. Perfect. Heenan became a full-time color commentator in 1991, and he was known as the master of the spit take, the double take, the zing – which is when he put his sarcastic sense of humor and his incredible timing on full display.
“When it came to Bobby Heenan, he would rather not prepare,” Jim Ross said over the weekend. “He wanted to do everything off the cuff, he wanted to improv and, as you know, [there was] nobody sharper, nobody wittier, and it’s really what he lived for. It was just so, so good to work with.”
For many, Ric Flair’s 1992 Royal Rumble unlikely victory of the “Nature Boy” is a perfect example of his skills.
He was also an underrated wrestler in the ring, and few looked better on the wrong end of a Hulk Hogan beating. Bobby Heenan showed flashes of his in-ring ability when needed, but he was actually hampered by injuries suffered during his 1970s and ’80s peak as a wrestler – with a stiff series of injuries during an AWA Japan tour that resulted in a neck injury that plagued him for the remainder of his career.
Some of the biggest names in the wrestling world reacted to the news on social media overnight. Jim Ross, who was the first to announce Heenan’s death on Twitter, wrote: “No one ever did it better than the Wease.” Ric Flair called him “The Greatest Manager, One Of The Greatest Announcers, And One Of The Best In-Ring Performers In The History Of The Business.” WWE CEO Vince McMahon shared a similar sentiment, as did Triple H.
One of the greatest managers and announcers in WWE history. Our thoughts are with the Heenan family. pic.twitter.com/r9A3IJlSoP
— Vince McMahon (@VinceMcMahon) September 18, 2017
Heenan is survived by his wife, daughter and grandson.