Brian William Pillman (May 22, 1962 – October 5, 1997) was an American football player and professional wrestler best known for his appearances in World Championship Wrestling (WCW), Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in the 1990s.
Pillman had a legacy as "The Loose Cannon", a wrestling gimmick that would see him do a series of worked shoots that would gain him a degree of infamy for his unpredictable character. He was also known for being extremely agile in the ring, although a car accident in April 1996 from which he received extensive ankle injuries limited his in-ring ability.
Brian graduated from Norwood High School in Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. While attending Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Pillman played football for the then-Redskins (now RedHawks) as a Defensive Tackle where he set records in the "tackles for loss" category. A two-time Second Team All-American, he went undrafted by the National Football League, joining the hometown Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent in 1984 (where he won the Ed Block Courage Award for his team) and later the Canadian Football League for the Calgary Stampeders in 1986. He also played for the Buffalo Bills in preseason action in 1985 but was the last player cut before the start of that season. His attempts to make the roster of the Bengals were covered in a series of articles in The Cincinnati Enquirer. Pillman and John Harbaugh, current head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, were roommates and defensive teammates while at Miami.
Professional wrestling career
Stampede Wrestling (1986–1989)
Following the end of his football career, Pillman remained in Canada and began training as a wrestler under Stu Hart and his sons. He debuted in November 1986 in Hart's Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling promotion.
Pillman quickly formed a tag team with Hart's son Bruce known as Bad Company (not to be confused with Badd Company). In April 1987, Bad Company won the Stampede Wrestling International Tag Team Championship, defeating Ron Starr and the Cuban Assassin in the finals of a tournament. Their reign lasted until October 1987, when the titles were held up following a controversial ending to a match between Bad Company and their opponents, Jerry Morrow and Makhan Singh. Bad Company defeated Morrow and Singh in a rematch in November 1987 to regain the titles, eventually losing them to Morrow and the Cuban Assassin in July 1988.
While in Stampede Wrestling, Pillman had his girlfriend at the time, Trisa Hayes, portray his sister in order to get him over as a face by seating her at ringside and having heel wrestlers taunt her so that he could rescue her.
Jim Crockett Promotions / World Championship Wrestling (1989–1994)
In 1989, Pillman returned to America and began wrestling for Jim Crockett Promotions, which evolved into World Championship Wrestling, where he was known as Flyin' Brian due to his athletic ability and variety of aerial maneuvers. Along with The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty of the WWF), he was one of the first American wrestlers to incorporate a variety of Mexican lucha libre moves into his arsenal. He held the NWA United States Tag Team Championship with "The Z-Man" Tom Zenk between February 1990 and May 1990. Pillman later feuded with Barry Windham, who he harassed while dressed as the masked Yellow Dog after losing a Loser Leaves WCW (Pillman was eventually reinstated). He also held the short-lived WCW Light Heavyweight Championship twice between October 1991 and February 1992, feuding with Brad Armstrong, Jushin Liger, Richard Morton, and Scotty Flamingo.
Pillman turned heel in September 1992, frustrated by Brad Armstrong's knee injury and vacating the WCW World Light Heavyweight title, when he was scheduled to wrestle Armstrong for the title at the Clash of the Champions. In November 1992, he formed a team with Barry Windham, gunning for the NWA and WCW World Tag Team Championships held by Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas. Windham and Pillman lost to Steamboat and Douglas at Starrcade on December 28. Their team lasted until January 1993, as Windham had his sights on the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Pillman continued the tag team title hunt by forming a tag team with "Stunning" Steve Austin known as the Hollywood Blonds. On the March 27, 1993 edition of WCW Power Hour, the duo won the championships from Steamboat and Douglas. The team quickly became popular for their brash attitudes, and critically acclaimed matches with Steamboat and Douglas through the spring of 1993.
After the feud with Steamboat and Douglas ended, they went on to feud with The Four Horsemen, mainly Ric Flair and Arn Anderson, mocking their ages and parodying Flair's interview show, "A Flair for the Gold", with their own called "A Flair for the Old". They would lose the NWA and WCW World Tag Team Titles to Anderson and Paul Roma at Clash of the Champions XXIV (Lord Steven Regal substituted for Pillman, who suffered a leg injury in a tag team match on an episode of WCW Main Event prior to the Clash of Champions). After the Hollywood Blonds separated in October 1993, Pillman became a face, feuding with his old partner Austin. He would also pursue the WCW World Television Championship, held by Lord Steven Regal, with whom he wrestled to a 15-minute time limit draw at Spring Stampede.
Extreme Championship Wrestling and return to WCW (1994–1996)
Pillman would venture into Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1994, as part of a talent exchange between ECW and WCW. His most notable match there was teaming with Shane Douglas to replace an injured Steve Austin, with Sherri Martel as their manager, in a losing effort to Ron Simmons and 2 Cold Scorpio.
Pillman made his return in late 1994 as a face, but slowly progressed into a tweener, feuding with wrestlers such as Brad Armstrong, Eddie Guerrero, Alex Wright, and Marcus Bagwell. In September 1995 Pillman formed a team with Arn Anderson, and began feuding with Ric Flair. On September 4, 1995, Pillman wrestled the first match on the inaugural episode of WCW Monday Nitro, defeating Jushin Liger in a SuperBrawl II rematch. After costing Flair a match to Arn Anderson at Fall Brawl, Flair recruited the help of Sting to team up against Pillman and Anderson at Halloween Havoc. Pillman and Anderson attacked Flair before the match, forcing Sting to come out alone. When Sting needed a tag the most, Flair came out at the last minute with a bandage on his head, tagged Sting, and immediately turned and attacked him removing the fake bandage from his head to show it was all plan between Pillman, Anderson and Flair from the start. These actions signaled the reuniting of the Four Horsemen. This incarnation was Flair, Anderson, Pillman, and Chris Benoit.
At the end of 1995, Pillman developed his "Loose Cannon" gimmick, cultivating a reputation for unpredictable behavior. During this period of time, Pillman changed his once Hollywood Blond and Flyin' Brian clean athletic look for an edgy, out of control image. Even his allies in the Horsemen, especially Anderson, were wary of his behavior and tried in vain to keep him in check. Almost all of the time Pillman could be seen wearing leather vests, sunglasses, jewelry and graphic T-shirts with skulls, monsters and sayings on them. Pillman frequently blurred fact and fiction with his worked shoots. In a match with Eddie Guerrero on the January 23, 1996 edition of Clash of the Champions, Pillman grabbed commentator Bobby Heenan by the collar, causing Heenan (who had a history of neck problems) to blurt out "What the f**k are you doing?" live on the air (Heenan has since stated that he didn't know it was Pillman grabbing him and he blurted out the remark because he thought he was a fan grabbing him).
Pillman outed Kevin Sullivan as booker during the February 1996 SuperBrawl VI pay-per-view in an I Respect You Strap match where the loser announces that they respect the other wrestler, much like an "I Quit" match. Pillman grabbed the microphone, saying, sarcastically, "I respect you, booker man". The words "booker man" were cut from the commercial tape. Pillman was fired by WCW President Eric Bischoff in February 1996 after SuperBrawl VI. In Bischoff's autobiography he said that Pillman was fired so that he could go and develop the "loose cannon" gimmick in Extreme Championship Wrestling then return to World Championship Wrestling with more legitimate heat. Bischoff claims it was a plan he and Pillman came up with together. It would later backfire on Bischoff as Pillman did not return.
Return to ECW (1996)
Immediately following his departure from WCW, Pillman returned to Extreme Championship Wrestling and appeared at the promotion's annual Internet convention, ECW CyberSlam, on February 17, 1996. During an interview conducted in the ring by Joey Styles, Pillman insulted Bischoff, calling him a commentator, a "gofer", and a "piece of s**t". He turned his attention to the ECW audience, derisively calling them "smart marks". After Styles attempted to end the interview, Pillman threatened to "yank out [his] Johnson" and urinate in the ring. Pillman was confronted by ECW owner Tod Gordon, booker Paul Heyman, and wrestler Shane Douglas, who had him removed from the ring by security guards. While being dragged from the arena, Pillman attacked a plant sitting in the audience with a fork he produced from his boot. Although he did not wrestle for ECW, Pillman made several further appearances with the promotion, engaging in a war of words with Douglas, setting up a proposed feud.
He gained the backstage ire of New Jack when he referred to the Jack's tag team with Mustafa Saed as "N***as with Attitudes" when crashing one of their interviews. However, Pillman's comment was not racially influenced, but actually a reference to the rap group N.W.A. With his "Loose Cannon" persona, Pillman became the talk for all three major promotions, as he was on his way to the WWF after he was scheduled to wrestle Shane Douglas in ECW. On April 15, 1996, Pillman was badly injured after falling asleep while driving his Hummer H1 in Kentucky and driving into a tree trunk, flipping the vehicle. He was in a coma for a week and suffered a shattered ankle, forcing doctors to fuse it together in a fixed walking position and thus forcing Pillman to abandon his previous high-flying wrestling style for a more grounded style.
World Wrestling Federation (1996–1997)
Pillman signed a contract with the World Wrestling Federation on June 10, 1996, with the signing announced in a press conference. He was the first wrestler to sign a guaranteed contract with the WWF, indicative of the period in which Vince McMahon began to protect the company from abruptly losing talent to WCW, with Lex Luger, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall all previously doing so. Pillman acted as a commentator while recovering from his broken ankle, transitioning to a wrestling role after attacking a fan during an episode of WWF Shotgun Saturday Night.
On the November 4, 1996 episode of Raw, Pillman took part in the infamous "Pillman's got a gun" angle with Steve Austin. When Pillman initially arrived to the WWF, he aligned himself immediately with his longtime friend and former tag team partner Austin, serving as his lackey while he recovered. However, when Pillman began noticeably favoring Austin's nemesis, Bret Hart, Austin had enough and brutally attacked him in the ring during an interview on an episode of WWF Superstars in October 1996. Austin and Pillman had been feuding for several weeks, and Austin had finally decided to take matters into his own hands and visit Pillman, whom he had already injured, at his home in Walton, Kentucky. WWF interviewer Kevin Kelly sat in Pillman's house with a camera crew and the Pillman family, while Pillman's friends surrounded the house to protect him. Austin was attacked by Pillman's friends as soon as he arrived but quickly subdued them. He then proceeded to break into Pillman's home and advance on his nemesis. Pillman responded by producing the same 9 mm pistol that he had displayed earlier and pointing it at a hesitant Austin, while Kelly and Pillman's wife Melanie screamed for help. The camera feed was then disrupted, with the scene fading to black. The on-scene director contacted commentator Vince McMahon and reported that he had heard "a couple explosions." The transmission was restored shortly before the end of Raw, and viewers witnessed Pillman's friends dragging Austin from the house while Pillman aimed the gun at him and announced his intention to "kill that son of a bitch!" Pillman also slipped up by making the mistake of saying f**k on live television, which meant that it could not be edited out. The WWF (and Pillman personally) eventually apologized profusely for the entire angle, with Pillman claiming that the profanity "just slipped out".
Following WrestleMania 13, Pillman aligned himself with his close friends Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, and Jim Neidhart as part of the anti-American Hart Foundation, all of whom he was familiar with from his Stampede Wrestling roots. He began feuding with his former partner, Steve Austin. In the course of the feud, Austin was given on-screen credit for damaging Pillman's ankle in October 1996 after placing it in between the seat and backrest of a folded chair and then jumping on the chair (this particular style of attack has since been dubbed "The Pillmanizer," in honor of this incident, despite Shane Douglas performing exactly the same maneuver to Raven in ECW nearly a full year earlier). After his feud with Austin, he feuded with Goldust over Marlena until his death.
On October 5, 1997, Pillman was scheduled to wrestle Dude Love at the WWF pay-per-view Badd Blood: In Your House. As the show was getting close to bell time (7pm) and Pillman hadn't arrived, Jim Cornette was instructed to find his whereabouts. Cornette rang the hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota where Pillman had stayed that previous night and was told by the receptionist that the maids had found Pillman dead earlier that day. Pillman was 35 years old. An autopsy found that a previously undetected heart condition, arteriosclerotic heart disease, had led to his death; the condition had also led to the death of his father.
As a child, Pillman developed multiple throat polyps and underwent over 40 operations to tend to them before the age of three.
Pillman dated Terri Runnels while they were in World Championship Wrestling together before her marriage to Dustin Rhodes. He later married Melanie on March 17, 1993. She already had two children at the time, Alexis and Jesse. At the time, he also had two children, his daughters, Danielle and Brittany. Brian and Melanie had two children together, Brian and Skylar. Pillman never learned that Melanie was pregnant with Skylar, who was born on May 5, 1998, seven months after Pillman's death in October 1997. Like his father, Brian became a football player and played at the high school level while attending Dixie Heights High School before graduating in 2011.
In early 2008, Pillman's stepdaughter, Alexis Reed, entered professional wrestling as a valet and ring girl under the name "Sexy" Lexi Pillman. On November 26, 2009, Reed died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- "The Walking / Ticking Time Bomb"
- "The Rogue Horseman"
- "The Loose Cannon"
- Entrance themes
- "Rocket" by Def Leppard (NWA / WCW; 1989–1990)
- "Don't Bite the Hand That Feeds" by Ratt (NJPW; 1989–1995)
- "Rock Machine" (WCW; 1990–1992, 1993–1994)
- "Satan's Sister" (WCW; Used while teaming with "Stunning" Steve Austin)
- "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses (ECW; 1994)
- "California Sun" (WCW; 1994–1995)
- "Coast" (WCW; Used while a part of The Four Horsemen)
- "S**tlist" by L7 (ECW; 1996)
- "Loose Cannon" by Jim Johnston (WWF; 1997)
Championships and accomplishments
- World Championship Wrestling
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI ranked him #84 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003
- Stampede Wrestling
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
- 5 Star Match (1991) with Sting, Rick Steiner, and Scott Steiner vs. Ric Flair, Larry Zbyszko, Barry Windham, and Sid Vicious (February 24, WarGames match, WrestleWar)
- Feud of the Year (1997) with Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
- Most Underrated (1994)
- Rookie of the Year (1987)
- Tag Team of the Year (1993) with Steve Austin as The Hollywood Blonds
- WCW Superbrawl Wrestling (Video Game - SNES, November 1994)
- "Legends of Wrestling" (Video Game - December 3, 2001; May 27, 2002)
- "Legends of Wrestling II" (Video Game - November 2002)
- "Showdown: Legends of Wrestling" (Video Game - June 22, 2004)
- Brian Pillman: Loose Cannon (DVD, September 26, 2006)
- WWE '13 Downloadable Content (Video Game, January, 2013)