The A&E Biography of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin aired on A&E Television on Sunday night. It had a runtime of two hours with commercials and it was the first of several WWE documentaries that will air on A&E over the next two months. I wanted to write about it because Austin is truly one of my favorite wrestlers ever. I always say my top three in some order is Austin, Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle with everybody else after them. I have read his book, I bought several WWE DVDs about him that included documentaries covering his life story, I listened to his podcast for years, I have read/watches numerous interviews where he tells the same stories and I probably could write a book about him myself one day. I’ve written about so many of his matches too. He is a big reason why I am the wrestling fan that I am. He’s a man I admire and respect a lot. I’m not going to do a play-by-play review, but in some cases, I will recap it with more details.
A lot of the biggest names in WWE history that worked with Austin a lot were a part of the documentary including Vince McMahon, The Rock, Mick Foley, The Undertaker, Triple H, Jim Ross, Shawn Michaels, Paul Heyman, Shane McMahon, Mark Henry, Lilian Garcia and Bruce Prichard spoke a lot as well. They also had current WWE wrestlers like Adam Cole and Kevin Owens talking about Austin since they grew up watching him while PWInsider’s Mike Johnson and Dan Katz of Barstool Sports were part of it to offer their perspective too.
Austin told the story of his life during a couple of different interviews. I liked the format because if anybody is going to tell the story, it makes sense to have Austin do it rather than a narrator talking about his life.
They covered Austin’s early days saying he grew up with Edna, Texas. Steve’s brothers Jeff, Kevin, and sister Jessica spoke about what Steve was like. They said that Steve was shy as a kid, then he found a love for football and was committed to it as well as eating right to build his physique. Austin was a running back that was bigger than most of his offensive line, so he was hit a lot playing football. It was the typical story you tend to hear about wrestlers where they fall in love with it as a kid and that’s the path they end up taking. In Austin’s case, it was after his college football days (he quit college because he was bored of it), he’d go to wrestling shows in Dallas and then he saw a commercial for Chris Adams’ wrestling training in Dallas. Austin signed up. The cool thing about that story is that Mick Foley, who started wrestling before Austin, happened to be there that day and watched the training session from the building. Mick was impressed by Austin right away.
They did a nice job of talking about Austin’s early days in wrestling where he was struggling, there was a point where he had to ask his mom for money (the only time he did that) and he thought it was paying his dues. The Undertaker chimed in saying he slept in his car because it was just part of the journey they were on. Austin talked about how he couldn’t use his real name Steve Williams (he has since legally changed it to Steve Austin) because of “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, so Dutch Mantel told him to pick a name. Eventually, they went with Steve Austin before his first match. That would lead to “Stunning” Steve Austin becoming his official wrestling name.
Austin told a funny story about his debut promo in WCW where he was introduced as being from Hollywood, California without being told. He also had a booger hanging from his nose during the interview. Anyway, after a few years in WCW as a midcard guy and tag team wrestler with Brian Pillman (The Hollywood Blondes were great!), it was clear that WCW wasn’t going to push him as a top guy. Austin suffered a torn triceps injury while working in Japan, kept on working and then when he got home, Eric Bischoff fired Austin.
They talked about how after WCW fired him, Paul Heyman of ECW called him up in September 1995 and brought Austin in to do promos since Austin was hurt. That led to some amazing promos from Austin that led to standing ovations from the ECW guys after they were done. It was the beginning of Austin starting to gain confidence as a wrestler. Heyman also said that he knew WWE would come calling for Austin quickly, but didn’t realize how fast it would be. That led to Jim Ross saying he wanted to bring Steve in. Vince McMahon called Austin to hire him while telling him he’d be the Ringmaster.
The subject of the Ringmaster failing quickly was brought up, so Austin knew he needed a change. Austin was watching a documentary about a guy named “Iceman” Richard Kuklinski, who was a murderer, so Austin thought he could have a gimmick like that. They mentioned names that were pitched to him like Fang McFrost, Snow Man, Otto Von Ruthless, Ice Dagger, Cool Luke, Chilly McFreeze and so on. What’s funny is that guys like Foley, Undertaker and Prichard were shown rattling off the names because they remembered them too. Around this time, his wife at the time (that would be Jeannie) told him to get his tea or else it would get “stone cold” and they came up with the name “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Shortly after that, Austin shaved his head, had that ice-cold look on his face and that led to the Stone Cold character.
It was onto King of the Ring in June 1996. They told the story about how Hunter Hearst Helmsley was going to win King of the Ring that year with Hunter noting he was told that earlier in the year. However, Hunter was punished for the infamous group hug at Madison Square Garden sometimes known as the “Curtain Call” incident. Hunter was out as the winner and Vince told Austin two weeks before King of the Ring that Austin would win. That famous night saw Austin cut his lip during a match with Marc Mero, he went to the hospital for stitches and came back to wrestle again. After beating Jake Roberts, Austin delivered his classic “Austin 3:16” line because Michael Hayes told him that Jake did a religious promo earlier in the night. Austin thought of “Austin 3:16” because he knew about “John 3:16” and seeing signs of it at football games. Austin knew he had to end it, so he delivered his famous ending phrase: “And that’s the bottom line cuz Stone Cold said so.” He said that was on the spot. Austin knew he hit “two grand slams” that night and that was his way of saying he knew he delivered a memorable promo. The next night, there were “Austin 3:16” signs and they realized there might be something there. Austin spoke about the legendary Austin 3:16 shirt that he came up with “Austin 3:16” on the front and the skull that said “Stone Cold” on the back.
I thought they missed something on the rise of Austin. I’m very surprised that they skipped over the WrestleMania 13 story. I get that they can’t tell us everything, but you have to spend a few minutes talking about the importance and greatness of that match. They did show a clip of Austin passing out in Bret Hart’s Sharpshooter with Austin’s face full of blood, but they didn’t emphasize it enough. The fans chanting “Austin” after the match was so rare for a guy that was a heel going into the match. They should have spent two minutes talking about how that match was so crucial in the rise of Austin because it led to the fans liking him more and hating Bret because of his actions. How can you not cover that much more? It was probably Austin’s best match and one of the most pivotal moments of his career.
They focused on SummerSlam 1997 with good reason. Austin was dropped on his head by Owen Hart in an Intercontinental Title match. Austin said he wanted Owen to go to his knees for it (they showed Owen doing it to Bret Hart), then Owen said he’ll drop to his ass and Austin trusted him because Owen was so good. That led to Owen doing the Tombstone where he dropped to his ass and Austin’s head hit the mat hard. You could see how emotional Steve’s brother Kevin was when he talked about Austin’s injury. Austin said he barely had enough strength to roll up Owen to win the match as planned. Austin said he didn’t break his neck, he bruised his spinal cord. He said he was 1% tough and 99% lucky because if anything went differently he’d be in a wheelchair. They had footage of Austin backstage after the show. Austin was told by a doctor saying he would never get to wrestle again, but he was determined to keep going.
Austin, in the present day, said that even though he got dropped on his neck in the ring, he has never really dealt with any neck pain. That’s good to know. Clearly, the surgeries have helped with his quality of life.
All of the stories and videos about Austin’s run as a top guy were really good. Everybody was on there talking about how big of a deal he was, how the buildings were sold out and Austin was all over pop culture with appearances on talk shows as well as merchandise everywhere. Jim Ross said there was one quarter period (that means three months) where Austin sold over $1 million in t-shirts while Heyman said that Austin merchandise are still top sellers to this day. Steve’s brother Kevin talked about how he was in Vegas one time and he saw Austin 3:16 shirts everywhere. They even got former ESPN Anchor Dan Patrick talking about doing an ESPN commercial with Austin with Dan saying he wasn’t a wrestling fan, but Austin was mainstream. They kept on showing clips of Austin doing media appearances and all the fans going crazy for him. Kevin Owens said that Steve’s impact is felt in a way that none of the current stars can compare to. Lilian Garcia said it was mob city, like the Beatles and it was amazing. I enjoyed the part where Austin and Vince were sharing memories of the infamous hospital attack in late 1998. You can tell how much they loved those moments together.
I am surprised they didn’t talk about Austin’s comeback in 2000 after neck surgery and then the road to WrestleMania 17 in 2001 leading to that big main event match with The Rock. Again, that was one of Austin’s biggest and best matches of his career. The heel turn at WrestleMania 17 was also ignored completely. We know Austin has talked about it in the years since saying he regrets it. I just felt like that something that should have been mentioned.
Another thing that they didn’t mention was the “WHAT?” phenomenon from Austin’s heel run in 2001. That’s a chant that still exists at WWE shows two decades later because it was Austin who started doing it to annoy people. The story goes that Austin left a message on Christian’s answering machine saying “WHAT?” repeatedly and then he thought it was funny, so he started doing it on TV. I know the story and I’m sure a lot of fans do. I just think it was worth talking about.
There was a part of the documentary when Austin talked about his daughters, Stephanie and Cassidy. Austin said that they had a strained relationship because he was gone all the time. He loved them, but he wasn’t there. The girls are in their late 20s now, but we only saw clips of them when they were children. There was also a point where Austin talked about when one of the girls was born, he flew in for the birth after a show, he gave her a bottle and then he was off on a plane onto the next show. Austin said in 2001 after 9/11, his ex-wife Jeannie took the kids to England with her family and they stayed there. Austin noted one of his daughters Stephanie had an English accent, which led to him starting to “cry like a baby” because she used to have his same accent. Austin said that through all the BS that has happened, they are talking, those relationships are better, but it’s still a building block because they don’t know eachother as well as they should. The Undertaker and Jim Ross talked about how a wrestler’s life is with Taker mentioning that’s why there are so many divorces (Taker has been divorced twice). Austin said that his priority was himself, he said it was selfish, but he was motivated to do the best that he could. Heyman said that the divorces and friendships falling apart happened because it was a sacrifice to greatness. It just showed how crazy the wrestler’s life is.
There was a focus on The Rock’s rise to the top as a future opponent for Rock. Austin said he was watching Rock and Rock remembered Austin saying: “There’s something there, kid. There’s something there.” Rock said that Austin was like a big brother to him and they knew that one day they were going to work together. JR noted how competitive Austin was with Rock, how they pushed eachother and made eachother better. Rock talked about the special chemistry that they had together. There were highlights shown of their WrestleMania 15 and WrestleMania 17 matches with Vince saying it was so fun to watch and a privilege to see something like that with these two great talents coming together. Vince: “Man, that was a great ride.” Austin said that with Rock, it’s a friendship forever. Rock said that Austin’s decision to take Rock under his wing is what changed Rock’s life.
This wasn’t mentioned in the documentary, but I want to bring it up. Austin has gone through three divorces in his life with a woman he married after high school, his second wife was Jeannie Clarke aka Lady Blossom, who is the mother of his two children. Austin’s third wife was WWE Superstar/Diva Debra, who marred Austin in late 2000 and then two years later they divorced because of a domestic incident where Austin allegedly hit Debra. Austin pleaded no contest on November 25, 2002, and was given a year’s probation, a $1,000 fine, and ordered to carry out 80 hours of community service. There was no jail time, but it was still a terrible thing that happened. I think they should have at least mentioned it, have Austin say he regretted it and move on. Anyway, Austin has been married to his current wife Kristin for over a decade now. I’m surprised that wasn’t mentioned too.
They covered the spring 2002 story about Austin going home when he was told he was going to lose to Brock Lesnar on Raw. Ross was critical of the booking for being thrown together with no build. Austin flew back to San Antonio because he was mad. Austin said he would let anybody beat him, but he only wanted it to happen for a reason, it means something and there’s money behind it. Austin went home, he was done, it cost him respect and a lot of money. Vince said it led to him wondering what was wrong with Steve and how was he thinking this way? Austin credited Vince for calling him three times and left messages, but Austin didn’t call him back. Austin mentioned making “bad decisions” that might have been the Debra incident although they didn’t mention it. When Jim Ross reached out to Austin with a card and phone call, Austin got back to talking to Vince during a meeting. That led to Austin getting back on the same track and he came back. Austin said when he came back in early 2003, he apologized to a lot of the guys for his actions because he owed them that.
The subject of WrestleMania 19 in 2003 was covered very well since it was Austin’s last match. The only people who knew it was Austin’s last match were Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and The Rock. JR noted that Steve didn’t want the fans to know. That led to Rock saying it made him emotional because it was the ending of a career that was influential to him and the world of wrestling that we love. Austin talked about how he had a hospital stay the night before WrestleMania when he worried due to too much alcohol and too much caffeine. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes footage from this WrestleMania because they filmed a documentary at a time. Austin joked that if he died in the ring, what better place to go than at WrestleMania with The Rock.
They focused on WrestleMania 19 some more with Rock getting the win after a third Rock Bottom. Austin said when that three count hit, it was like somebody lifted 1,000 pounds of bricks off his back because the stress was gone. Rock pushed the referee away and said: “I can’t thank you enough for everything that you have done. I love you.” Austin laughed about how he said “I love you too” back saying they were two tough guys telling eachother they loved eachother in front of millions of people. Rock said he had goosebumps thinking about that moment.
The final five minutes covered Austin’s life after wrestling with Austin saying it took him about three years to figure things out. Austin spoke about how he got into acting as we got clips of him in different movie roles. Austin realized he didn’t want to do that, but he found hosting and reality television-type stuff that was more of his niche. They showed him hosting Broken Skull Sessions and Austin spoke about how he started podcasting to keep in touch with people. Foley said that Steve doesn’t have the pressure now compared to back when he was wrestling. Austin said he was a Type A personality that is always in a hurry even when he has nothing to do. They showed Austin in his garage showing off his dogs and cars.
The final minute featured Jim Ross talking about saying when you’ve gone through the curtain, you’re that performer from the first step until the last step you’re out there. They showed Austin highlights. That led to JR said when you come back through the curtain, you’re a human being again. JR said that curtain is a big thing and how you navigate things spells your success in the pro wrestling business.
Here are Austin’s final words: “I got placed in a real good situation, I got a chance to have a lot of fun, I’d done something I loved, but I still feel like sitting in this damn chair I’m still Steve the dude from Edna. In my mind and in my eyes, that’s me. That’s all I can say.”
Next week’s A&E wrestler documentary will be about the late, great Hall of Famer, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. I don’t plan to review all of the A&E WWE documentaries. I just felt like doing this one.
TJR Thoughts: I thought it was very good documentary and a must-watch for any WWE fan that doesn’t know Steve Austin’s story. They hit all the important points telling his story from childhood to the early days of wrestling to his rise as WWE’s biggest star during their most successful period ever known as The Attitude Era. They also produced it in the right way by featuring Austin telling his story from childhood all the way to the present day. I also think they picked the right people to get their thoughts on him. It was especially great to hear from The Rock, since we know he’s a busy guy, so getting his perspective meant a lot. I thought Mick Foley, Jim Ross and Paul Heyman really stood out with their stories while Vince McMahon added a lot as well.
There were some things that I felt should have been covered at least for a few minutes, which I pointed out in the review. I don’t want you to think I was complaining. I’m just saying it as somebody that knows Steve’s journey and I felt like they were important topics that are worth talking about. I understand the editing process where you decide to leave some things out for time reasons. It was cool to hear him talk about his daughters the way he did. I hope those relationships become stronger as the years go by.
The story was structured well and I think two hours felt like the perfect run time. If you watch it without commercials then it would run for about 90 minutes or so. If I had to rate it out of 10, I’d probably go 8 out of 10 for it.
To wrap it up, I just want to thank Steve and his ex-wife for coming up with “Stone Cold” as a nickname. Why? Because: “That’s the bottom line because Fang McFrost said so” really wouldn’t have worked that well at all!
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