As the hell-raising, middle-finger-waving anti-hero of World Wrestling Entertainment, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin always does things on his own terms. Outside the scripted realm of professional wrestling, Austin shares that trait with his alter ego.
For instance, when WWE approached Austin four years ago about writing his autobiography, he wasn't interested. At the time, WWE was the heavyweight champion of pop culture, and subsequent books by Mick "Mankind" Foley and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson each hit No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.
Although WWE business has been on the decline, Austin, 38, decided the time was right to do the book. The Stone Cold Truth (Pocket Books, $26, 312 pages) was released last month and is now No. 11 on the Times list.
Austin, whose real name is Steve Williams, was at the forefront of the wrestling boom in the late 1990s. The foundation of WWE's success was the plot device that pit Austin, a tough-as-nails Texas redneck, against WWE chairman Vince McMahon, his megalomaniacal, duplicitous boss. At his peak, Austin sold more tickets, pay-per-views and merchandise than any wrestler in history, including Hulk Hogan, according to The Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
In the past two years, Austin's real life has had more twists than a WWE story line. In June 2002, not only did he abruptly walk out on the company over creative differences, but also he was charged with assaulting his then-wife (former wrestling personality Debra Williams). In a plea agreement, Austin received one year of probation and a $1,000 fine and was ordered to undergo domestic violence counseling and perform 80 hours of community service.
Austin returned to WWE last February, but has not wrestled the past eight months due to chronic neck and back problems. Austin now relies on his verbal skills as a character on WWE programming.
He discusses these subjects (except for the assault case) in detail in the book, and also talks about his childhood, his three failed marriages, his early struggles in the wrestling business and his thoughts on the state of the industry. In conjunction with the book, a documentary of the same title will air this week.
The Sun spoke with Austin by phone recently while he was on the road with WWE in Boston.
Why did you decide to write the book now rather than four years ago?
When they first asked me to do the book, I didn't feel like I had enough to talk about with my career. It didn't seem like the right time. A lot has happened since then. I had an operation on my neck, with the C3 and C4 vertebrae being fused. Then I got back in the ring, had a few more problems, and along with that, left the company for six or eight months.
It was [WWE announcer and executive vice president] Jim Ross who put me and Vince McMahon back in touch with each other, and we kind of healed up the animosity that was there. After Vince and I got back on the same page and I was going to come back to the company, Jim said, "Steve, we wanted to write a book a long time ago but we never did. Well, a lot of wrestlers have done books. What do you think about doing a book now?" And I said all right, because a lot more things happened that I could talk about.
Was there anything in the book that was particularly difficult for you to open up about?
No, there wasn't anything really difficult to talk about. I am pretty private by nature, but I do know I have a very public job. Writing this book was like a therapy session. After the walkout and all the health problems that I had, there were a lot of rumors out there and things said about me in print. So it was a relief for me to get a few things off my chest that were bothering me.
How would you describe your relationship with Vince McMahon?
We've had some extreme highs and some extreme lows, but the good times far outweigh the bad. Hell, I'd do anything for the guy and I think he'd probably do the same for me. The best way I can sum up that relationship is that it's like a marriage. There have been periods where we didn't see eye to eye on things at all. There have been periods of separation. But we kept weathering the storm and ended up staying together. It's a relationship that keeps working.
How is your health now? Is there a chance you will wrestle again?
It's tough. On a few levels, I've accepted not being in the ring, but on a few other levels, I really haven't accepted it. But in wrestling, I think you never say never as far as not having a match again. It's probably not the smartest thing for me to go back in the ring, but it can be a controlled environment. If I could do a match and I could live up to my expectations as well as everybody else's, I'd definitely consider it.