‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin is one WWE’s biggest stars from the ’90s and part of the ‘Attitude Era.’ Known for his Austin 3:16 tagline, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.
Who Is ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin?
A native of Texas, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin played college football at North Texas State University prior to becoming a professional wrestler in 1989. Because his given name, Steve Williams, was already taken by another wrestler, he adopted such monikers as “Stunning Steve Austin” and “The Ringmaster,” before eventually becoming “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Famous for his Austin 3:16 tagline, he became one of the best-known WWE wrestlers before his retirement in 2003. After Austin’s pro wrestling career ended, he acted in several films and also hosts various reality TV series and podcasts.
Born on December 18, 1964, in Austin, Texas, Austin grew up in the small town of Edna, Texas. He has four siblings: Scott, Kevin, Jeff and Jennifer. In junior high, he says he “broke out of [his] shyness when he found football” and ultimately used athletics to help boost his confidence.
While attending Edna High School, he was a running back on the football team, a straight-A student, and a member of the National Honor Society. He recalls wanting to be a rock star, but because he couldn’t sing or play any musical instruments, he shelved that career path. Instead, he “fell in love with” wrestling, which he says “just resonated” with him while flipping through the TV channels one day.
After high school, he enrolled at Wharton County Junior College and eventually received a full scholarship to North Texas State University to play football. While there, he soon realized he didn’t enjoy playing football anymore before eventually dropping out of college. He eventually went on to work on a freight dock about 30 miles outside Dallas, earning $400 per week.
Pro Wrestling Career
After seeing a TV commercial, Austin began training at Chris Adams’ wrestling school at the Dallas Sportatorium in 1989. His wrestling career kicked off in mid to late 1989 with the United States Wrestling Association (USWA). He relocated to Nashville, where he lived at the Congress Inn motel. Making just $15-$20 per night, he struggled to afford food but saw it as an opportunity to pay his dues.
Before his first match in Memphis, he learned there was already a wrestler named “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. He was given 15 minutes to come up with a new name, and, with the help of booker Dutch Mantell, he settled on “Stunning Steve Austin.” At the time, he was known for wearing red robes with sequins. He left USWA in 1990.
The following year, Jim Ross recruited him for the WCW, where the guaranteed standard deal included a $75,000 salary. While in the WCW, Austin also became part of a tag team known as The Hollywood Blonds.
During a 1995 three-week WCW tour in Japan, Austin suffered a tricep injury after jumping into the ring off the top rope, and upon returning to the United States, he underwent his first major surgery. Soon afterward, he received a call from WCW Vice President Eric Bischoff informing him that he’d been fired.
WWE CEO Vince McMahon hired him in 1995 as the “Ringmaster” character, which Austin later called a “bad gimmick.” After six months, while living in a log cabin on 10 acres outside of Douglasville, Georgia, Austin requested a character change. He says his then-wife made him a cup of tea, warning that he better drink it “before it gets stone cold,” and immediately suggested that be his new persona. Austin created a back-story that he was from Victoria, Texas, also shaving his head and growing a goatee to “appear more menacing.”
Triple H had been chosen to win the 1996 King of the Ring pay-per-view tournament, but after he broke character during a curtain call at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the league chose Austin as the replacement winner as punishment. Austin defeated Jake “The Snake” Roberts to win the title at the June 1996 event, where he coined his catchphrase: “Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass.”
During his meteoric rise to fame, Austin suffered a bruised spinal cord during a match with Owen Hart at Summer Slam 1997 that left him temporarily paralyzed.
‘Attitude Era’ and Retirement
In late 1997, McMahon kicked off the WWE’s edgier golden age, known as the “Attitude Era,” marked by more violence, chaos, sexuality and blatantly over-the-top, more reality-based storylines. During this time, which became the height of his fame, Austin had a recurring storyline pitting McMahon as his main rival for several years.
When Austin learned that the WWE had scripted that he would lose a high-profile 2002 match with Brock Lesnar without explanation, he abruptly quit his job. After a few months, he and McMahon made amends, and he returned to the ring. As his past injuries started to take a serious toll on him and his nervous system, Austin made the difficult decision to retire from wrestling. He personally chose Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to be his final opponent at Wrestle Mania XIX in Seattle on March 30, 2003.
After a three-year hiatus, during which Austin says he turned to heavy drinking, he traveled to California with the goal of beginning an acting career. He made his big screen debut in 2005’s The Longest Yard with Adam Sandler, followed by 2007’s The Condemned and 2010’s The Expendables. Austin says he quickly realized he “didn’t really want to” act.
Eventually, he says he found his “niche” in hosting, reality TV and podcasting, including a WWE Network interview segment called the Broken Skull Sessions.
Personal Life and Children
Austin has been married multiple times and has two daughters, Stephanie and Cassidy. He admits that his commitment to his wrestling career took priority over fatherhood, however, leading to a strained relationship with his children.” They knew I loved them, but I wasn’t there,” he explains. “Now that they’re older, we’re on the way to building better relationships. So now they’re pursuing their own things. I support them, if I can give them any advice, I do. Through all the BS that has happened, we’re talking now. The relationships, as strained as they were, they’re better now, but it’s still a building block because, truly, after all these years, we still don’t know each other as well as we should.”