It's lonely at the top. We've all heard this phrase used about any number of exceptional people who gave it all to be at the top of their craft, usually at the expense of personal relationships with their peers and even their families. But to be that lone alpha at the top of the mountain, it takes a singular focus on achieving greatness that others probably won't understand and maybe that's what keeps them from reaching that point. We learn that about "Stone Cold" Steve Austin throughout the two-hour documentary, Biography: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, that debuted on A&E last night and we see how he became one of those exceptional people.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin is the most popular and profitable wrestler in history, so needless to say, there's been plenty of life stories and career retrospectives about his meteoric rise to the top of the wrestling industry. We've got some that are strictly about the character we see on tv and we've got some that are about the "inside baseball" of the wrestling industry and included backstage insight into Austin's run. But what we saw on A&E last night was something a bit different. We saw a piece that was almost entirely dedicated to the emotions and feelings of the man behind it all and what it felt like to go through everything that came with being who he was. Sometimes brutally so.
What struck me most in thinking about Biography: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin afterward was that it really wasn't that focused on wrestling. Sure there's plenty of it featured and it's almost a master course in how to navigate the industry (at least in the time period Austin came up in). But there's little to nothing about specific matches or storylines or all that. The piece has the confidence to assume you know all about all that if you're watching this and instead of giving a history lesson, it asks a question: what did it all feel like?
In Biography: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, we hear from the man himself and those around him what it actually was like going from living in a car and eating cans of tuna fish and raw potatoes to being a pop culture icon that brought pro-wrestling to the mainstream. We see firsthand the personal sacrifices that even the biggest wrestler ever has to make to be in that position and then we see what it's like when it comes to an end.
Two parts will stay with me from Biography: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. The first is when they talk to his brother about the night of Summerslam 1997 when a piledriver from Owen Hart went wrong and Austin's neck was permanently damaged. Even talking about it now, 24 years removed, his brother starts crying when remembering the thought that he had just watched his brother become paralyzed on tv. It's a reminder that no matter how tough a character these guys play on tv, there are people at home who love them and while we may cheer on the stunts that hurt them, those people are reacting to it very differently.
The second is when Austin is sharing a story about not being present in his two daughter's lives due to his constant travel. He tells us how they went to live with their mother in her homeland of England and when he was talking to one of them on the phone after some time apart, he noticed she was speaking with a British accent and it caused him to burst into tears at the realization that they had essentially become someone he no longer knew because of the distance between them. He continues that their relationship today is better, but not what it should be, as we see the pain of regret on his face. Greatness requires personal sacrifice.
So how does Biography: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin compare to the other gold-standard "Stone Cold" Steve Austin piece, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time from 2011? Well, in my opinion, they actually serve as companion pieces to one another. The 2011 film is much more focused on wrestling, with portions devoted to specific matches, feuds, and moments that defined Austin's character and career. This new film is about the man inside the character and has personal insight into how it all went down for him as a person and what he may be learned from it all after being removed from the industry for so long now.
As a huge "Stone Cold" Steve Austin fan since I was 10 years old, I can honestly say that Biography: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin contained footage, stories, and perspectives that I hadn't seen before. I felt it could have been longer and included more, but as I said before, it's all been covered so much and so many times that it's ok that they just focused on what they did and gave new looks at it, especially from Austin and those around him.
I do very much recommend Biography: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin to any fans of the man himself or wrestling in general, as it takes a hard look at the life these guys live and the toll it takes on them personally in a way we haven't quite seen since 1999's Beyond The Mat. This intrigues me as in the coming weeks, we'll be seeing life stories in this series that are far more intense and tragic than that of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.