Brian Pillman might be familiar to some wrestling fans due to the “Loose Cannon” gimmick that defined his career. Something that is shameful is that today he is not as celebrated as he was a couple of years ago when WWE did a documentary about him and was releasing his matches in various DVD sets. “Crazy Like A Fox” fixes this by not only introducing Brian to a new audience but giving his complete story to those that followed his career. O’Rourke wrote a book that is well researched, has a heart, is rough at times, funny at others, and above all else, is a brutally honest look at the life of a pro wrestler from beginning to end. Most importantly, is the story of what could have been.
The book starts with Brian dealing with a throat disorder from birth and how this influenced his childhood. After years being inside a hospital dealing with his trouble, he was very active in sports and playing around, living to the fullest from an early age. He tried every sport, and he focused on football for the university and with the goal to play for the NFL. His football career is covered with detail. Instead of throwing stats and scores or simply naming Pillman’s awards, the way he played is explained in such a way that even a non-football fan like me understood what made him so impressive.
One of Pillman’s troubles in football is that besides being very impressive and showing great potential, teams passed him by for being “too short”. Any wrestling fan reading this book will know how this could possibly affect him in wrestling. Even though he played for the Cincinnati Bengals, Pillman had to go away from football after series of injuries. His friend Kim Wood told him about pro wrestling, and he decided to train for it after seeing what it was about.
He trained with Stu Hart at the Dungeon and was part of the Stampede Wrestling roster. His career in Canada and WCW is covered extensively, including his hijinks. His time as a part of the Hollywood Blondes with Steve Austin is covered, alongside his stint in the Horsemen. You can even find out about his NJPW days and how his matches with Jushin “Thunder” Liger happened and their impact in US wrestling. Something that can be learned is how Pillman was a quick learner in pro wrestling and he always knew where it was headed, like when he tried creating a legit cruiserweight division on WCW. He always knew how to get over. I mean, he took something that was thrown together, a tag team with Stunning Steve Austin, and created one of the most memorable tag teams. You can even see his promo learning curve covered throughout the book.
There are various chapters about the “loose cannon” gimmick. For those that don’t know, Pillman had the idea to pretend to be crazy both onscreen and off. The idea behind this was that since there was a ceiling in WCW, he wanted to be on everyone lips when it was time for a contract renewal. He wanted to project himself as a main eventer even though he was not chosen to be one. He talked to Eric Bischoff and told him of the idea of working everyone, and he signed off on it. He started his crazy act to the confusion of wrestlers and fans, and was fake fired. Pillman went to ECW and had promo battles with Shane Douglas and the rabid audience to give the idea that he was fired from WCW and was doing anything he wanted. It even went as far that he convinced Bischoff to give him a real release with the promise to come back to WCW. He used the release as leverage to get a better contract from WWF.
The gimmick was memorable and the story of its inception to the end is fascinating. His erratic behavior backstage as that character started spilling over to his real life, and the author does not sugarcoat anything that happened. The book is honest about Pillman’s failings, his personal life, and his drug use. This is not done to judge Pillman or justify some decisions he took, but to humanize him. There are moments and stories that are surprising in their rawness, like his family life.
His stint in the WWF with the Hart Foundation and his feud with Austin are covered in detail too. You can hear thoughts from people close to him and coworkers in the WWF. There is a great list of contributors ranging from his sister Linda Pillman, his son Brian Pillman Jr., daughter Brittany, lifelong friend Kim Wood, Raven, Jim Cornette, Dave Meltzer and many more. The only glaring omissions were Steve Austin and Jim Ross, which would have added a greater depth than what this already has.
Liam O’Rourke wrote an amazing book. The prose is clear, and it is full of emotion and love for Brian Pillman. The research is extensive and impressive. How the book came together shows his dedication to the craft, which can be read on this ESPN article. Pillman’s up and downs are shown alongside his story, but the most important thing that I took out of the book is what could have been.
Pillman was ahead of his time in a lot of what he did. He was trying to bring high flying to the US similar to what they did in NJPW. He created a great team with the Hollywood Blondes, one where both wrestlers stood out and could have main evented without breaking up. The “loose cannon” character was the first “real” character in pro wrestling by breaking the rules and referencing insider stories and terms without it being off putting or making pro wrestling feel dumb. He knew how to stand out from the pack with looks and promo abilities. He was a wrestler that could adjust with any opponent and could have a great match with anyone. The real tragedy of his career is that besides having all of the elements to be a great asset and a main eventer, he never had the opportunity to be one due to backstage politics, his status based on his size or place on the roster, or when an injury broke his biggest opportunity working for the WWF.
Brian Pillman was an amazing pro wrestler and a complex, fun, and heart broken man. His personal and professional tragedy is known, and besides thinking what it could have been in both pro wrestling and football, you are happy that he at least he proved how good he is. “Crazy Like a Fox” is a celebration on this man’s impact in professional wrestling and on those around him. This is one of the best biographies in professional wrestling and it is a perfect tribute to the man.