Dark Side of the Ring returned for its third season premiere last week with a 2-hour episode looking at “The Loose Cannon”, Brian Pillman. It was an episode that, for many long time fans, didn’t offer much in terms of new information on Brian Pillman’s life and legacy but it did offer several far more important things. It told the story of his children that he left behind when he passed away at 35. It helped cement the legacy of one of the sport’s all-time greats to newer fans and it spotlighted an era where the talent’s well being simply was far too often overlooked.
Brian Pillman’s Dark Side of the Ring episode is going to stir up emotions, like the best episodes of this series do. Pillman’s story is one of tragedy and triumph and that comes across really well here. There will be many who didn’t know about the more than 30 surgeries he endured as a child. There will be many who didn’t know about the suicide of his daughter Brittany’s mother, Pillman’s ex, and the impact that had on him. And many likely didn’t know exactly how bad the car wreck was that began his downfall. This documentary puts all that tragedy on full display, all the while capturing the triumph and career highs of a true pioneer in wrestling as well.
One of the most discussed parts of this episode of Dark Side of the Ring will inevitably be Pillman’s widow, Melanie. For those that followed Brian Pillman’s career, Brian and Melanie were often seen and photographed together and they were depicted as a couple that was madly in love. There was a chemistry between them that perhaps didn’t come across in this episode as much as it could’ve but Brian and Melanie were a team and there was a genuine passion between the two of them. This was all in an era where a wrestler’s private life typically wasn’t as on display as it would be now.
This episode depicted the tragedy more than the passion. As Melanie admitted onscreen, the way they treated Rochelle, Brittany Pillman’s mother, was completely uncalled for and helped drive her to suicide. When Brittany calls Melanie evil, there’s no denying that it’s exactly how she feels. There was no exaggeration from her. Of course, the poor quality of life the children endured after Brian Pillman’s death would play a large part in why Brittany feels this way but as she said onscreen, she also has hard feelings towards her deceased father, stemming from the way her mother was treated.
This episode did make the choice to try and end on a high note with Melanie though. Brian Pillman Jr, who also articulates his hard feelings towards his mother, is shown visiting his mother and speaks of his own forgiveness towards her for her drinking, neglect and marrying a man who would be an abusive stepfather towards the kids. It’s made clear that neither Dani nor Brittany have any interest in a relationship with Melanie but Brian Jr is trying.
When Brian Pillman, at the height of his “Loose Cannon” persona, wrecked his car and suffered injuries that would affect him for the rest of his life, the entire wrestling world knew. The Internet era was in its infancy but this was well-known news. One thing this episode was very effective in doing was truly capturing the impacts of that wreck, which were not fully known to the world.
This was a period of time where Brian Pillman was trying to play WWE (then WWF) and WCW against each other, so he could sign the largest deal possible to secure the financial future of his family. That mindset was not known at the time. The emphasis was on, “What will the Loose Cannon do next and where”, not on the person Brian Pillman knowing that his career was inevitably going to be over soon and that he needed to make as much money as possible in a short amount of time.
This speaks to one of the strongest points of this episode, and that is how committed and good of a father Brian Pillman was. Whether it was taking his eldest daughter Dani in, after not knowing she existed, or his mindset post-wreck, Pillman was a family-focused man. For years, wrestling fans have been laser-focused on both his in-ring skill and his crazy, unpredictable persona but this humanized him. There was a man behind the character and he was indeed a very good man.
When Pillman finally did became an active wrestler for WWE, it was painfully clear that he wasn’t the performer he used to be. Once a trailblazer, his final run in the ring was marred by sub-par performances. At the time, there was an assumption that he would recover in time, but that was not ever going to be the case. Even if Pillman hadn’t died prematurely, this episode of Dark Side of the Ring showed us the extent of his injuries and that he wouldn’t have ever truly recovered.
The Most Dangerous Era
Brian Pillman’s death may or may not have been preventable. Who knows ultimately, but his death was part of an era where wrestlers began dying younger and younger and at an alarming rate; an era where more painkillers and other prescription drugs became just as prevalent as the post-show beer. Wrestlers had long been known for partying but this era of wrestlers did more than party. they took a pill to ease the pain far more than they should have and a lot of them are no longer with us today as a result.
This episode featured interviews with Brian Pillman’s sister Linda, who acknowledged that Brian told her that he would take pills until the pain stopped, and Jim Ross, who spoke of a conversation he had with Brian about this issue that did not go well at all. This part of Brian’s story wasn’t just Brian’s story—it was the story of a generation who slipped under the radar until they died or imploded. It is perhaps the darkest side of the ring of all, this period of time where promotions were not doing more to protect their talent and a culture of “work through the pain and we’ll turn a blind eye as to how you do that” ruled the land.
This episode was a heavy watch at times. Brian Pillman’s story and life had a lot of highs and lows and the lows…well they were rough. The decision to end the episode with a feature on his adult children and their lives today was a magnificent choice, the light at the end of the tunnel, the hope after the pain. Focusing on the launch of Brian Pillman Jr’s career, in particular, was truly beautiful to watch.
The one son of the legendary light-heavyweight, Brian Jr has chosen to follow in his father’s footsteps and seeing him take to the sport, all while finding peace in his complicated relationship with his mother, will tug at the heartstrings of even the least emotional person. Whether or not Brian Jr makes it in this sport or sees his father’s level of success remains to be seen but damn, it makes for a great story.
These two hours of Dark Side of the Ring will make you laugh, will make you cry and will make you feel a lot of different feelings.
If you haven’t done so already—watch it.