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Forget Charlie Sheen, Brian Pillman Was The Original Loose Cannon

by Richard Luck
8 April 2011 8 Comments

Long before Martin Sheen's little lad started ‘winning’, the NFL star-turned-pro wrestler Brian Pillman embarked on a reign of terror that ensured long-term infamy. And then he died.

On February 11 1996, Extreme Championship Wrestling staged its annual internet convention Cyberslam. Although far smaller than the WWF (as it then was) and World Championship Wrestling, ECW was a considerably more vibrant entity, happy to embrace sex and excess, bloodshed and blasphemy. But even with ‘mad professor’ Paul Heyman at the helm, ECW had never experienced anything quite like what occurred that cold February evening when Brian Pillman appeared in the ring.

Pillman showing up in an ECW ring was notable for many reasons. First up, until relatively recently, the man formerly known as Air Pillman had been a babyface, a fan favourite unlikely to do anything more extreme than flash a smile or offer a handshake. Secondly, Pillman didn’t actually work for ECW – he was a WCW employee, or at least he was until he persuaded his boss Eric Bischoff to break his contract in order to make the ‘angle’ (storyline) he was working seem more realistic. As for the aforementioned angle, Pillman had been busy reinventing himself as ‘The Loose Cannon’, a nutjob apt to do anything at anytime. Think Charlie Sheen talking about tiger blood seems pretty ‘out there’? It had nothing on Pillman quitting matches before they could begin or ruffling old hands like Bobby ‘The Brain’ Hennan to such a degree that they lost their composure on live TV.

And the weirdness didn’t end there. A former Cincinnati Bengal, Pillman tried to get hold of touchline passes in the hope that, come halftime, he could handcuff himself to the goalposts. The guy who owed his scratchy voice to some 40 throat surgeries during his childhood also became infamous for blowing up at hotel check-in desks and for proudly guarding locker room toilets in order to show off his dinosaur-sized stools to the rest of the boys.

“But this is wrestling,” you say. “Weird shit happens all the time.” Not in the mid-1990s, it didn’t. Back then, wrestling was a kid-friendly affair dominated by the all-prayer sayin’, all-vitamin devourin’ Hulk Hogan. A cartoony business happy to revel in its ridiculousness, wrestling has always been a ‘work’ – that’s to say, it’s always been orchestrated – but back then, it was so fake, Pillman’s antics seemed realer than real. Which is strange since the Loose Cannon character was itself meant to be a work.

The guy who owed his scratchy voice to some 40 throat surgeries during his childhood also became infamous for blowing up at hotel check-in desks and for proudly guarding locker room toilets in order to show off his dinosaur-sized stools to the rest of the boys.

Ask anyone in the wrestling business about the real Brian Pillman and they’ll tell you he was a loving family man. The strange thing with wrestling, however, is that, in a business all too happy to blur the lines between reality and fiction, things that start out scripted have a funny way of becoming fact. So, after persuading Eric Bischoff to release him from his contract to add efficacy to the Loose Cannon situation, Brian Pillman went out and signed with WCW’s arch rival the WWF. He then suffered a car crash which nearly ended his career and left him with both acute depression and a painkiller dependency. To his credit, WWF owner Vince McMahon stuck with his injured acquisition, a move which paved the way for a truly infamous angle involving one Stone Cold Steve Austin. Cue ‘Pillman’s Got A Gun!’

Again, Pillman drawing on Austin was but another work. But there still seemed something worryingly real about the distress the former WCW tag champ was experiencing. And nothing was more real, or more final than Brian Pillman’s death on October 5 1997. According to the autopsy, the former Flyin’ Brian died from an undetected heart condition the severity of which had been exacerbated by years of drug use and drinking. He was just 35. After years of winning, the Loose Cannon had lost.

For the full story, pick up Brian Pillman: Loose Cannon from

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

adg 10:29 am, 8-Apr-2011


Monot 10:47 am, 8-Apr-2011

First wrestler I ever saw hit a 720 splash, as part of the Hollywood Blondes with Steve Austin. You can argue that the whole Stone Cold persona was basically Steve chanelling Brian's madness.

terry 12:58 pm, 8-Apr-2011

pillmans got a gun! Austin flushing pillmans head down the toilet is also a classic

Josh 10:31 pm, 8-Apr-2011

This guy was a real wrestler unlike these pretty boy underwear models WWE pushes. They wear enough baby oil to cause a oil slick. Brian Pillman: Gone but never forgotten.

Richard Luck 1:43 pm, 9-Apr-2011

Thanks for leaving your comments, chaps. A couple of people have asked for it so here's the infamous Pillman-Kevin Sullivan strap match from Superbrawl VI. Altogether now, "I respect you, Booker Man!":

Luke Dormehl 9:16 am, 10-Apr-2011

Great article. Loved the Pillman angle at the time; remarkable how - and I may be wrong here - the majority of the initial angle that turned him from midcarder for life to talk of the wrestling world didn't even involve him wrestling a match. This article also made me think that Charlie Sheen should wrestle. His finish could be the Hot Shot (part deux could be a WrestleMania-only variation).

Dan 11:45 pm, 11-Apr-2011

well written, great stuff. Now if we talking crazy i think Benoit was off the scale!

Scott Rideout 5:30 pm, 5-May-2011

Has this bloke stopped writing for Apart from that Ken Russell piece I haven't seen anything by him for ages.

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