Steve Austin Interview, Starting His Career, Owen Hart Injury, Wrestler's Aftermath, more

Thanks to Austin Van Horn and the Long Beach Press-Telegram for sending the following:

By Doug Krikorian
Sports columnist

He is sitting across from me in the restaurant booth, an imposing man with a shaved head and goatee dressed in military camouflage that makes his appearance even more intimidating.

Aging diners at the staid old Buggy Whip near LAX cast furtive glances in the direction of this hulking 6-foot-2, 260-pound figure who seems so out of place in such a vintage 1940s establishment.

He looks like a guy who frisks customers in front of a strip joint, or tools around on a Harley with Hell's Angels, or hangs out in the roughest, toughest, meanest, baddest, dirtiest, goriest, ugliest honky-tonk bar in town.

After he orders his meal of steak and lobster, a busboy shyly approaches him.

"You're Stone Cold Steve Austin, aren't you?" he wonders.

"Yeah, that's me," he replies in a deep, raspy voice.

"Do you mind later if I have a picture taken with you and if you'd sign some autographs for my kids?" he asks.

"Not at all … no problem," he says congenially.

A few moments later, a waiter comes over and makes a similar request.

"No problem," says Austin again.

Steve Austin smiles softly.

"I guess they haven't forgotten me," he says.

Steve Austin, aka Stone Cold, aka the Rattlesnake, hasn't wrestled in almost two years and is now embarked on a film career he has a role in the remake of "The Longest Yard' and soon will star in a Vince McMahon-produced WWE film called "Condemned' but he certainly hasn't been forgotten in a sport in which he ascended to dizzying heights.

Indeed, in the competitive orbit of professional wrestling that has had its share of superstar performers across the decades, from Ed (Strangler) Lewis to Gorgeous George to Antonino Rocca to Bruno Sammartino to Lou Thesz to Andre The Giant to Hulk Hogan to Goldberg to The Rock to countless others, there might not be anyone who inspired the passions of the multitudes like Stone Cold Steve Austin did when he was the star of McMahon's Wrestlemania pay-per-view shows.

He earned millions of dollars subduing opponents with his patented coup de grace maneuver the Stone Cold Stunner and his hilarious brawls with McMahon became a sacred part of wrestling lore, as the crowds savored seeing the employee standing up to the boss in such a disdainfully forceful manner.

"Despite being the bad guy, the heel, fans started to like my nasty viciousness," says Austin, who expects to be used in some capacity in the WWE's Wrestlemania event being staged on April3 at the Staples Center. "I was violent, I was despicable, I was outrageous, and I could talk up a storm. And the fans loved it. I was the anti-hero.

"I remember early on when I was with WWE, and I looked at the tape of one of the shows I was in. And a lot of my repertoire was cut out, and I called Vince McMahon at home late in the evening and asked him why that was done. From then on, they kept my stuff in."

And from then on, there was no one bigger on the wrestling landscape than Stone Cold Steve Austin, who drew the largest crowds, sold the most merchandise, put on the most entertaining shows and garnered the most national media attention with his wild antics that included cracking beer cans over his head and a well-documented shoving match with Mike Tyson that was shown on ESPN's SportsCenter and other mainstream outlets.

"A lot of frenetic action in my bouts," he says.

The skits might have been carefully scripted, but that didn't prevent Steve Austin from getting hurt.

"I've got dozens of stitches on my head from being whacked with metal chairs and other things," he says. "You have to have a high pain threshold to be a professional wrestler."

At a Summerslam gig at the Meadowlands in New Jersey a few years back, the late Owen Hart dispatched him with something called the Tombstone piledriver.

Unfortunately for Austin, it went badly, as his head struck the mat with a frightening thud.

"I laid there motionless for a couple of minutes, and my arms were burning and I couldn't move," he says. "I thought for sure I had been paralyzed. I told Hart, 'Don't touch me." '

Somehow, Steve Austin finished out the match and fulfilled the story line, as he crawled across the mat to vanquish Hart.

"It might have been the lamest pin in wrestling history," he laughs.

Austin suffered a severe spinal bruise, and has negative effects from it to this day.

"There's been some loss of feeling in my fingers, and a few other things have been negatively affected," he says. "No one escapes getting hurt in wrestling."

But Steve Austin admits he misses it the high-profile events, that is, not the daily grind he endured for so many years traveling around the United States, as well as the Far East, Middle East and Europe strutting his antics.

"I'm very big in Japan, and I also have a huge following in England and Germany," he says. "Sure, you miss the adulation, the fans chanting your name. There's no way to describe the unbelievable feeling you get in such circumstances. Your adrenaline is flowing, and you're in a euphoric state."

Still, there have been dark moments along the way to fame and fortune for the 40-year-old man out of the southwest Texas hamlet of Edna, where he grew up modestly with three brothers and a sister and was a star running back on his high school football team.

He has been married three times, and last year he had a couple of well-publicized differences with his former live-in girlfriend, Tess Broussard, including one in which he allegedly struck her and another in a Beverly Hills restaurant in which she allegedly went after him with a steak knife and accidentally cut the arm of his agent, George Vrabeck.

At the moment, he's living peacefully with a new girlfriend in Venice, and is keeping his fingers crossed the only trouble he gets into from now on is what the screenwriters dream up for him in movie roles.

"Never envisioned my life becoming what it has when I took up wrestling back in 1990, and worked the southwest circuit with guys like Dusty Rhodes and Jake Roberts and Jose Lothario," says Austin, whose football career at North Texas State was cut short by a knee injury. "I'm just a guy from a small Texas town who likes to hunt and fish. I've never lived large. The home I owned in San Antonio was only 2, 400 square feet."

"How did the 'Stone Cold' nickname come about?" I ask Austin.

"It happened at breakfast one morning when my former wife and I were trying to come up with a gimmick name for me," he relates. "She set down some tea in front of me, and said, 'Drink the tea before it becomes stone cold." And then she said, 'That's it! You're Stone Cold Steve Austin." And that's what I've been ever since."

The McDonnell-Douglas Show, featuring Press-Telegram columnist Doug Krikorian and radio personality Joe McDonnell, can be heard Monday through Friday between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on ESPN radio, KSPN 710 AM.

More WRESTLEMANIA *DOWNLOADS* Added! Click here for Hall of Fame EXCLUSIVES! [>]