Obituaries

Bobby Heenan, 72, professional wrestling personality

Mr. Heenan managed a starry roster of wrestlers, including Andre the Giant and King Kong Bundy.
WWE via The New York Times
Mr. Heenan managed a starry roster of wrestlers, including Andre the Giant and King Kong Bundy.

NEW YORK — Bobby Heenan, a professional wrestler who found greater success managing other wrestlers and working as a quick-witted commentator, becoming one of the most colorful figures in a flamboyant business, died Sept. 17 in Tampa. He was 72.

His death was announced on the website of WWE, the organization formerly known as World Wrestling Entertainment. Mr. Heenan, universally known by his nickname, “The Brain,” had been treated for throat cancer and other health problems for years.

Mr. Heenan managed a starry roster of wrestlers, including Andre the Giant, Nick Bockwinkel, the Brain Busters, King Kong Bundy, and Big John Studd. And he was one of wrestling’s most visible characters, whether inviting the crowd at ringside to shower him with derision, or bantering on television about a forthcoming match.

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The wrestler Ric Flair, on Twitter on Sunday, called him “the greatest manager, one of the greatest announcers, and one of the best in-ring performers in the history of the business.”

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Raymond Louis Heenan was born in Chicago.

He saw his first match as a boy, and the attraction was immediate.

“I was 10 years old, and I went to the Marigold Arena in Chicago, and I was hooked, just like that,” Mr. Heenan said at his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.

He began hanging out at wrestling events in Chicago as a teenager, carrying wrestlers’ jackets, selling soda, and doing other odd jobs; the wrestler Dick the Bruiser was a particular mentor.

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When someone did not show up one day, the young Mr. Heenan donned a mask and participated in a match. By the mid-1960s he was in the ring as a wrestler himself. He often employed a shtick that involved a lot of talk but an aversion to actual physical contact.

Mr. Heenan began managing other wrestlers early in his career, and in the bluster-filled world of professional wrestling, that did not mean merely scheduling their matches; it meant brashly talking them up and taunting their opponents.

His wrestlers were generally “heels” — the villains in the matches — and so he came in for a fair amount of taunting himself. Detractors called him “Weasel” and were quick to chant that name when he turned up at ringside or in the announcers’ booth.

Mr. Heenan was a natural showman, and his career as a manager was rivaled by his career as an on-camera commentator. He was a fixture on “WWF Superstars,” “WCW Monday Nitro” and assorted other series. He appeared in countless wrestling videos. For years on “Prime Time Wrestling” and other outlets, he formed a memorable commentary team with the former wrestler Gorilla Monsoon, who died in 1999.

Mr. Heenan loved to take sides and show off his penchant for sarcasm. In a deadpan interview with the sportscaster Bob Costas in 1989, his target was Hulk Hogan, who at the time held a world championship belt that Mr. Heenan wanted in his camp. How would he describe Hogan’s fans?

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“I’m talking about the people that wear a brown sock and a white sock and got a pair at home just like them,” he said. “Those are the kind of people he appeals to.”

His wrestlers were generally ‘heels’ — the villains in the matches — and so he came in for a fair amount of taunting himself.

When Costas referred to his roster of wrestlers as a stable of talent, Mr. Heenan was quick to correct him.

“No,” he said, “a stable is where you find fly-infested horses. I have a family.”

In a video made for Mr. Heenan’s induction into the Hall of Fame, the wrestler Arn Anderson said: “Bobby has the best wit of anybody I’ve ever met. He’s as good as any stand-up comic on television.”

Mr. Heenan leaves his wife, the former Cynthia Jean Perrett; a daughter, Jessica Solt; two grandchildren; and a brother, Robert.

His cancer was diagnosed in 2002. At the 2004 induction ceremony, his speech was already affected, but he showed that his sense of humor was not. He had the crowd howling during an almost 20-minute address, even joking at his own expense.

“Damn, I’m having fun,” he said partway into the speech. “For 2½ years, I’ve sat in my bedroom at home taking chemo, getting radiation and doing nothing. I want to do things. You sit for 2½ years naked in a room and watch ‘Judge Judy’ — you’ll go nuts.”