Bobby Heenan and Nick Bockwinkel Incident in Chicago

In 1975, a frightening situation occurred when one crazed fan took the action in the ring too seriously. It was one of the scariest moments ever to occur in wrestling, and Heenan, Bockwinkel, and Verne Gagne were lucky to leave with their lives.

Bobby Heenan and Nick Bockwinkel in 1975. That very year, a scary incident occurred in Chicago. They were lucky to leave with their lives.
Bobby Heenan and Nick Bockwinkel in 1975. That very year, a scary incident occurred in Chicago. They were lucky to leave with their lives.

Bobby Heenan, Nick Bockwinkel, and the Scary Chicago Incident of 1975

In times past, to preserve the illusion that the competition in professional wrestling was not staged, it was common practice for wrestlers to adhere to kayfabe and stay in character in public. This was due in no small part to feuds between wrestlers sometimes lasting for years, which could be utterly destroyed in seconds if they were shown associating as friends in public. Something like that would have potentially had a devastating effect on ticket revenue.

During one particular AWA show on a cold Chicago night on January 25th, 1975, one “fan” took the action in the ring too seriously and took matters into his own hands to help out the “good guys” in the ring.

In the WWE biopic entitled Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, former wrestler and owner/promoter of the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association Verne Gagne, Bobby Heenan, and Nick Bockwinkel opened up about that night.

Verne Gagne had many in-ring run-ins with "The Brain." Here, he prepares to toss Bobby Heenan out of the ring.
Verne Gagne had many in-ring run-ins with “The Brain.” Here, he prepares to toss Bobby Heenan out of the ring.

Verne Gagne:

"We were in the Amphitheater in Chicago, in front of a huge crowd. Nick and I were the main event for the night."

Bobby Heenan:

"It was a simple finish. Nick (Bockwinkel) slammed Verne, and the ref counted, ‘One! Two!’ and Verne put his foot over the rope.

I took his foot and threw it off the rope, and the ref counted three.

Verne jumps up and tells the ref his foot was on the rope, and the ref says to continue the match.

Meanwhile, I’m on the apron hugging Nick. Verne dropkicks Nick in the back, Nick knocks me off the apron, falls to the mat, and Verne pins him.

As I got up off the floor, a fan in the crowd says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get him down!’ And he took out a piece, lifted his hand on the kid’s shoulder who was sitting in front of him, and fired down to the ring."

Verne Gagne:

"The next thing I hear is a noise going Pow! Pow!"

Nick Bockwinkel:

"After the finish, Verne was up, gone and out of the ring. I thought that was strange because usually, he’s sucking up all the glory that he can after the match by getting his hand raised.

Bobby jumped up on the apron and is looking around back and forth, and motions for me to come over to him. When I do, he tells me, ‘Let’s get the f*** out of here! Those were shots!’"

Verne Gagne:

"He shot down to the ring several times and missed us."

Bobby Heenan:

"He shot a woman in the arm, another one in the chest, two in the neck, and one in the thumb. The shots never made it to the ring; it hit the ringside seats before that."

Nick Bockwinkel:

"I looked right past Bobby, and they were crawling over chairs to pick up a woman. I could see a bullet hole in her shoulder, and I can see another woman who got shot in the arm and is bleeding something fierce, and they were starting to carry her out as well. So Bobby and I got out of the ring, and there were some cops there that escorted us up these narrow aisles and to the dressing room."

Verne Gagne:

"When I got back to the dressing room, the guys were telling me, ‘Did you hear those shots out there?!’"

Bobby Heenan:

"The article in the paper about the incident showed the kid saying that all he saw was orange. He had suffered some hearing loss as a result of the incident."

Breaking Down the Details of that Night

As a performer, Bobby Heenan had the ability to get under the skin of fans. It was a tactic Bobby masterfully used to help draw thousands of people to arenas to see the wrestlers he managed get beat. On this night, however, it always got him killed.

A January 27, 1975 Chicago Tribune story on this incident featured an interview with a 36-year-old truck driver fan who was in attendance in Chicago at the International Amphitheatre on Halsted that evening.

According to the fan, who went by the alias “Wayne Polski,” the shooter was described as sitting in the cheap seats and as being “all slicked up like one of those dude pimps.”

Polski reported that the shooter became irate during the main event when Heenan — who managed Bockwinkel — interfered in the match.

“He kept screaming to get Bobby Heenan out of there,” Polski explained to the Chicago Tribune. Thinking Bockwinkel would unfairly get the win, the man opened fire, according to Polski.

Aftermath

The crazy part of this whole story? The shooter was never arrested. He would continue to go to the wrestling shows for years after this occurred.

“The guy who did it actually would continue coming back to wrestling cards held there,” Bobby Heenan would share later in life. “Nobody would say that they saw him do it! He even had police around him to make sure that he never did anything again.”

After this incident, Bobby Heenan was quick to argue with people who would say that the old days were better. He would particularly note that he made more money in far less dangerous situations as life went on.

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JP Zarka created Pro Wrestling Stories in 2015. He's a writer, editor, producer, former host of The Genius Cast podcast alongside Lanny Poffo, teacher/assistant principal, enjoys playing guitar, songwriting, and spending time with his lively daughter! Originally from Chicago, he has called London home since 2008. JP can be reached on Twitter @pws_official or by e-mail at admin@prowrestlingstories.com. You can hear his music at the YouTube link below.