REVIEW: A&E Biography - "Stone Cold" Steve Austin

Originally published at REVIEW: A&E Biography - "Stone Cold" Steve Austin


A&E’s first of eight documentaries profiling WWE subjects began with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin on Sunday night. The two-hour special featured sit-down interviews with everyone from Vince McMahon, Dwayne Johnson, Mark Calaway, Paul Levesque, Jim Ross, family members, and many others.

If you’re a subscriber to the WWE Network or a long-time consumer, not only does the tone and feel align with a WWE documentary release, but it’s a story that you have largely heard through the many interviews, DVDs, and even a book by Austin with Dennis Brent in 2003.

The legacy and importance of Austin to the company and industry warrant the treatment of a two-hour documentary but I never thought it was summarized strongly enough just how different history would have been without Austin hitting it big when he did. It occurred at a time when Raw was struggling, the USA Network was axing “Tuesday Night Fights” and it was reasonable to look at Raw as a potential target of its next programming decisions. Led by Austin, the company soared to astronomic television numbers, a red-hot live event business, going public, and growing its annual revenue from $82 to $456 million from 1997 to 2001.

While it’s romanticized that the “Austin 3:16” promo at King of the Ring in June 1996 was delivered and they were off to the races, there was a long in-between period. After explaining that the King of the Ring was the literal anointment of its next star, Austin was the backup plan behind Paul Levesque and didn’t come out of the show with much of a plan. That summer, his King of the Ring victory led to a two-minute match with Yokozuna on the SummerSlam pre-show and was a non-entity. What turned the corner was the program with Bret Hart that began with the Survivor Series match in November and climaxed with one of the best matches in WrestleMania history in March 1997. The feud lasted for several additional months as Austin transitioned to the badass babyface that set the stage for 1998.

A link that often goes unnoticed is that final one between Hart and Austin upon the former’s exit after the Survivor Series. What gave the Vince McMahon character such tremendous juice as a heel was the audience’s understanding of what happened to Hart, especially in Canada where Hart was vocal on shows like Off the Record on TSN (WWF’s Canadian broadcaster) and held weight with his credibility where fans saw the tactics at play by the company head. It was Austin that essentially played the role of Hart, as the pissed-off star out for revenge against the owner. Austin was still going to make it as the top star regardless, but the Survivor Series ’97 added so much natural heat where there was a rooting interest for a babyface to topple McMahon leading to the company’s explosion the next year. Austin vs. McMahon was the fictional representation of the real-life hatred between Hart and McMahon.

The documentary did not go into anything related to Austin’s domestic assault case from 2002 involving ex-wife Debra Marshall, nor was Marshall mentioned during the section on Austin’s personal life and several divorces. Austin pleaded no contest in November 2002 to a misdemeanor assault charge from an incident earlier that year with Marshall. Austin briefly acknowledged the incident in his 2003 book, The Stone Cold Truth:

Two years later, the incident at the house happened. The police were called, and it got national media attention. You can talk about it, read about it, and discuss it. I can’t – legal reasons. Then we got divorced, which I can’t give details on either. There is a gag order. All I can say is I truly regret the whole ordeal.

The June 2002 incident with Marshall happened days after Austin walked out on the company, which was covered as they had the principal figures of McMahon, Austin, and Ross speaking on the matter. Austin has never dived too deeply into this period regarding his personal state of mind and would have been an area to explore. The same could be said for the years after his final match in 2003 where Austin acknowledged it took “three years of being a f–k up” to get his life on track after his wrestling days were finished.

The documentary did convey the burnout from the road for these performers. The touring aspect of the industry is not glamorous but hardly presented in a negative light in most WWE vehicles, but the toll of having a life on the road did come through including Austin describing how he arrived for the birth of his second daughter in between shows in New York and Pittsburgh. That element of the business will be examined in the months ahead when the company presents its touring strategy after a year of performers having more time at home than ever, wrestling a handful of times per month, and those with families more present than at any time they’ve been with WWE.

Of the supporting voices, Kevin Owens stood out regarding Austin’s impact on the current generation. He summarized that Austin has cast a giant shadow on the current performers, who may do exceptional things, but the bar has been set high for when pro wrestling was considered its coolest among the older fan base. Austin is also handled with the utmost care and legendary status on WWE programming as its biggest star whenever he returns for a special appearance and even 18 years removed from his last match, is the centerpiece of next year’s WrestleMania promotion in Texas.

Next week’s subject is Roddy Piper with additional episodes dedicated to Mick Foley, Bret Hart, Booker T., Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior, and Shawn Michaels.

A&E released the following description for the documentary on Piper next week:

Directed by Emmy and Peabody Award winner Joe Lavine (ESPN 30 for 30 “Playing for the Mob,” HBO “Namath”), this film focuses on “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who is universally considered one of WWE’s greatest villains. During his Hall of Fame career, he played the role of the antagonist against a who’s who of WWE greats, while amassing more than 30 championships.

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Austin’s career is fairly controversy free and the fact that they still didn’t touch on his poor relationship with Debra does not bode well for how A&E will cover the more controversial stars.

Especially Ultimate Warrior. He should be on an episode of Dark Side of the Ring. Not some gleaming glossed over biography. Or maybe his life is too connected to insanity to ignore it completely. I guess we will see.

And I’m not looking forward to how the Bret episode will turn out. I’m Montreal’d out for the rest of my life.