Stone Cold Steve AustinWhat's it like being Stone Cold Steve Austin?
Here's a recent slice of life. Austin separated from his girlfriend, softcore porn star Tess Broussard, several months back. Broussard claims Austin is a drunk and that he abused her. Austin claims she has taken over his $1 million estate and refuses to leave. He says she pointed a gun at his head, threw steaks at him during a midnight barbecue, verbally and physically abused him, and in the summer of 2004, he claims she stabbed his business manager with a steak knife.
After the incident, Austin told the L.A. Times: "I'm not a rocket scientist, but I knew I had to get out of this relationship."
Steve Austin may not be a rocket scientist, but professional wrestling does involve a certain knowledge of physics. And very few rocket scientists will ever achieve anything close to Austin's level of wealth and fame.
Austin is a redneck wrapped in an enigma. In wrestling, it's always difficult to separate the on-screen character from the real human being, and it's particularly confounding with Stone Cold. His onscreen image of a beer-guzzling redneck is a very real reflection of the human being, except when it's not, which is frequently.
On one hand, you have Steve Austin, the man with an obvious drinking problem and rap sheet for domestic violence. On the other hand, you have Steve Austin, the canny, soft-spoken businessman who is almost universally loved by his fellow wrestlers (no small feat in a "sport" where the stars are often cattier than runway models).
When the future star was born in Texas in 1964, his parents couldn't have dreamed what lay in store for their bouncing baby. Steve Williams passed through a fairly typical "popular kid" upbringing, a member of the national honor society, while playing high school football. The latter activity led to a college scholarship.
After four years playing for Texas schools, Austin dropped out of college to enroll in wrestling school. Since there was already a prominent wrestler named Steve Williams, he chose the stage name of Steve Austin, in part after Austin, Texas, and in part to evoke the "Six Million Dollar Man" (which would lead to his later nickname, "The Bionic Redneck").
Austin's first big break came in 1991, when he was hired to work for Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling. He began as "Stunning" Steve Austin, a narcissistic blond, the first in a series of lame gimmicks that would precede his breakout role as Stone Cold.
As a singles wrestler, and later as a member of a tag team called "The Hollywood Blonds," Austin held several titles at WCW, and his in-ring skills made it clear to anyone who knew wrestling that he was a major star in the making.
Unfortunately, WCW didn't know wrestling, and WCW's chief booker Eric Bischoff fired him, saying that Steve Austin would never draw the big money as a main event wrestler. The story of Bischoff's firing has reached legendary status, and it circulates in several variations, all of which illustrate to varying degrees Bischoff's disrespect for Austin. Austin has said Bischoff fired him over the phone. Another version of the story says Bischoff's secretary left a message on Austin's answering machine delivering the news. In an on-screen storyline in 2003, almost certainly fictional, Austin claimed Bischoff fired him by FedEx.
After a brief stint with Extreme Championship Wrestling, Austin debuted with the WWF in 1995 under a gimmick called the "Ringmaster," in which he was managed by one of the greats, Ted Dibiase, the "Million Dollar Man." DiBiase. On the bright side, DiBiase was a legendary talker in the business. On the down side, Austin felt he could do a better job talking for himself. History has vindicated Austin's viewpoint on this issue.
The Ringmaster gimmick was the brainchild of Vince McMahon, the owner and promoter of the WWF. While McMahon was a proud man, he was also a smart enough businessman to admit when he made a mistake (usually after the mistake had cost him more money than most of us will make in a lifetime).
Incongruously, the character of the toughest S.O.B. in the world was born over over a nice cup of tea. Austin was complaining to his wife about the Ringmaster gimmick, when she told him, "You better drink your tea before it gets stone cold."
From this unlikely encounter, the character of Stone Cold Steve Austin was born. Stone Cold was, in some ways, a far cry from Steve Williams. In other ways, they were a lot alike.
Stone Cold Steve Austin began his climb to the top in 1996, on the WWF's "King of the Ring" pay-per-view. His opponent was Jake "the Snake" Roberts. Jake too had been portraying a gimmick that was close to reality. After (briefly) being born again, Jake had cleaned up his infamous lifestyle and developed a penchant for quoting bible verses.
Earlier in the PPV, Roberts had quoted John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." At the end of their match, Stone Cold stood victorious and uttered the words that changed the face of professional wrestling, "Talk about your John 3:16! Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass!"
Austin later said he hadn't planned the comment and was just shooting off his mouth. Whether planned or not, that night a merchandising juggernaut was born. "Austin 3:16" t-shirts instantly became bestsellers, and virtually every piece of merchandise even vaguely related to Austin followed suit in the years to come.
In the ring, Austin was peaking around this time. His finishing move was the "Stone Cold Stunner," in which Austin would kick his opponent in the gut, then smash the victim's jaw into Austin's shoulder. Although Stone Cold was a roughneck brawler, Austin was an accomplished technical wrestler and put on very athletic performances in the ring.
That changed after 1997, when a botched piledriver injured his neck severely. Although his star continued to rise, he was never physically the same after the injury.
After the neck injury, he developed an entertaining, if very familiar, routine which was about 70% backyard brawling, 20% middle fingers and 10% hold-based wrestling. The double-middle finger salute became his trademark in and out of the ring. Audiences chanted "What?" in response to his every sentence when he picked up a microphone, and his promos frequently ended with the tagline, "And that's the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so."
Austin's character went back and forth from being a traditional "heel" wrestler, seeking the jeers of the crowd, to a rebellious bad-boy babyface who accepted adulation while fighting the forces of evil. For a long run, the forces of evil were represented by Vince McMahon.
McMahon had accidentally become a heel after legitimately screwing WWF champion Bret Hart out of his title through a dirty trick. When the crowds began responding to him as vocally as they did to his wrestlers, McMahon decided to become a full-fledged performer in the WWF's storylines. His first nemesis was Steve Austin. The battle between Austin and McMahon's minions led to some of the most memorable moments in wrestling history.
Austin was on top of the wrestling industry, but his neck injury continued to plague him until he was in almost constant pain. He had always been a "beer-swilling redneck" backstage, and now his character reflected that as well. He celebrated his winning matches by chugging beer after beer after beer. While many things that happen in a wrestling ring are fake, Austin's drinking wasn't.
Behind the scenes, Austin went through a series of turbulent relationships, including three marriages. His third marriage, to WWF star Debra, broke up in a highly public manner, leading to Austin's arrest for domestic abuse. He walked out of the WWE (rechristened after a lawsuit from the World Wildlife Fund) because of chronic neck pain and his frustration with the crap being served up by WWE's writers at the time. (Lowlights included Austin urinating on old school wrestler Arn Andersen, and delivering a stunner to 80-year-old female wrestler Mae Young, particularly unfortunate in light of the domestic abuse charges.)
After several months away, Austin returned. Although the cheers of the crowd had not lessened over time, he quickly found he was no longer able to perform. At Wrestlemania 19, Austin had his last match. He had a severe anxiety attack before the PPV, and his mind was clearly not in the game when the bell rang. The Rock thoroughly kicked Austin's ass, while he pretty much just lay there taking it.
After the match ended, Austin revealed that he could no longer wrestle. He was relegated to a series of increasingly stupid non-wrestling roles, including co-general manager and "sheriff," whatever the hell that meant. Backstage, Austin was trying to cope with his latest unhealthy relationship (with Tess Broussard) and an argument with McMahon over who owned the trademark for the nickname "Stone Cold." McMahon refused to turn over the rights to the name to Austin, and the two were at an impasse.
Austin left the WWE again after Wrestlemania 20, where he served as special referee for a much anticipated match between Brock Lesnar and Goldberg. The match buried all three men. Lesnar had just announced he was quitting WWE to try out for the Minnesota Vikings, Goldberg's contract was expiring, and the crowd turned on both men. After several minutes of uninspiring action, the match ended and Austin gave stunners to both participants. The next day, all three were gone.
Stone Cold no more, Steve Austin retreated to Texas, but Broussard was living in his house and refused to leave. After another domestic scuffle, Austin began to seek a financial settlement of the relationship and moved to L.A., where he stayed with former wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. According to a recent report in the Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter, Austin has quit drinking and is seeking work as an actor.
Except for the alleged stabbing incident mentioned above, things seem to be on a better track for Austin. If he can just master enough rocket science to find a nice girl (or embrace celibacy), he might see his glossy head shots getting bigger play than his grainy mug shots. And that's the bottom line, because the artist formerly known as Stone Cold said so.