What Happened to Stone Cold Steve Austin?

We take a look into the life and career of one of the biggest WWE superstars of all time, the great Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Last Updated on March 26, 2024

In the summer of 1996, the World Wrestling Federation held its annual King of the Ring tournament. After weeks of matches, the semis and finals were set for June 23rd, 1996, with Stone Cold Steve Austin facing Jake “The Snake” Roberts for the crown later in the night. Roberts, then known for working from a Christian angle, would cut a promo before the match doing just that. Just before Austin took the ring and pinned Roberts, he was tipped about the promo’s contents. 

After the five-minute match, Austin stood next to the same man who tipped him off, Michael Hayes. And it was there that a legend and a catchphrase were born, and an entire industry was born again. With a mouth full of blood, Stone Cold Steve Austin told his defeated opponent: “You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere! Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16…Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” 

But it could have never happened. Stone Cold wasn’t supposed to win; neither was Jake Roberts. The King of the Ring prestige – a launching point for a budding career – was meant to go to Hunter Hearst Helmsley, but this was yanked when he took the fall for the infamous “Curtain Call” incident, paving the way for a revolution in the WWF. 

From there on out, Stone Cold Steve Austin would take what was his. But that’s hardly the bottom line…So let’s find out: WTF Happened to…STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN? 

stone cold steve Austin

But to truly understand what the fuck happened to Stone Cold Steve Austin, we go back to the beginning. And the beginning began when he was born on December 18th, 1964 in, yes, Austin, Texas (birth name: Steve Anderson). Dreams of being a football player were sidelined after an injury; fortunately, Austin had access to regional pro wrestling, and after bouncing around low-level promotions and studying under anybody he could, Austin hit the mat for WCW in 1991, winning the World Television Championship and United States Championship soon after. Here he was already “Stunning” Steve Austin, changing his name from Steve Williams because “Dr. Death” already used it. He also had a run as one member (with Brian Pillman) of the Hollywood Blondes, leading to tag titles in 1993. 

But his run would be short, getting fired in 1995 while he was out with an injury he suffered in Japan, a common stop for wrestlers at the time. Clearly, WCW head Eric Bischoff didn’t know who or what he had; and neither did the WWF, joining the promotion in 1995 under Ted DiBiase as The Ringmaster, an awful gimmick where he held the Million Dollar Championship, a meaningless, practically non-competitive belt that was given to him. But Austin would never merely receive; he would have to take. But first, he had to shave his head. 

In 1996, he went completely bald and had a match at WrestleMania XII, his first at the storied event. By this time, he would go as Stone Cold, a moniker partly inspired by real-life killer Richard Kuklinski aka The Iceman and even a cool cup of tea! The next year, he won his first Royal Rumble, stealing his victory after having already been thrown over the top rope; he would win again the following year and once more in 2001, becoming the only person to win the contest three times. He next launched into his first notable feud, with Bret Hart, hitting its peak at Wrestlemania 13 in what is widely considered one of the greatest matches in WWF/WWE history. That night, a bloody star was born. The villain had become the face, the seller of merchandise, the name on homemade signs. Austin’s next high-profile match came at WrestleMania XIV, winning his first world title against Shawn Michaels (not long after having the balls to give Mike Tyson the middle finger). 

This was the Austin Era. But we couldn’t have had that without a match with another Hart, when Owen temporarily paralyzed him after a botched piledriver at Summerslam 1997. (Yes, Austin still won, because when you give him a stinger, he still takes the win.) Vince McMahon wouldn’t let him wrestle and forced him to vacate the Intercontinental Championship, thus launching perhaps the greatest feud in WWE history…and it started with a Stone Cold Stunner. As much as it was the Austin Era, it was also the Attitude Era, the same one that would soon enough end the WCW. That’s right, Stone Cold was embarrassing his current boss while simultaneously ruining his old one. Now that’s worthy of a Hell Yeah! 

Austin going after McMahon and those that wronged him let every lower- and middle-class man not only vicariously give the middle finger to their boss but also stomp a mudhole in ‘em and drench ‘em in beer and wallop ‘em over the skull with a bedpan and hold a gun to their head until he pisses his pants. This man was a hero to the masses, somebody who could get away with flipping off authority, chugging beers while on the job (yes, they were all real; and how many celebrities get their own beer brand?) and doing what he wanted when he wanted. This was the star the WWF needed, like nobody since Hulk Hogan; everybody knew who he was – and that was the bottom line because he said so, not anybody else! 

But there was an alleged dark side to Stone Cold Steve Austin, too. In 2002, domestic abuse charges against Austin’s wife, valet Debra, were reportedly covered up by the WWE, which we all know now had a decades-long habit of doing. It would end in divorce, and he would also later be accused of assaulting another girlfriend. He would plead no contest in the Debra case. 

Even with the revelation, it hasn’t tarnished Stone Cold’s reputation; after all, how do you cool a Texas Rattlesnake? There was too much going on for him through his history. Even the low points in WWE haven’t shaken. Consider this: at WrestleMania 17, after one of the greatest main events in Mania history against long-building nemesis The Rock, he and Vince McMahon shook hands and shared a nice cold Steve-weiser! As quickly as he moulded it, Stone Cold Steve Austin helped kill the Attitude Era. 

He had betrayed the character, teaming again with McMahon as part of the Alliance faction. Soon and sure enough, Austin grew truly unhappy with the creatives in 2002, snubbing a new storyline that had him lose to one of the future faces of WWE, Brock Lesnar, knowing he was far better than being pinned on network TV with no story – and not enough money – attached. So he left, with contempt for the WWE and a newfound reliance on alcohol. 

steve austin the expendables

And this is what happens when you try to give Austin material: his character gets warped and watered down. Developing his own angles and nurturing his trademark badassery, he was a 30-pack; being tossed into suit roles like general manager and nonsense like “sheriff”, he’s a non-alcoholic beer. No wonder one of his mottos, “Don’t Trust Anybody”, stemmed from his real life. Today, however, we can’t help but welcome his special guest referee spots and cameos because they invariably end how they should: with a can of whoop-ass called the Stone Cold Stunner. 

And so Stone Cold tried out acting, making his big screen debut in 2005’s The Longest Yard remake before landing supporting or lead roles in some theatrical but mostly DTV shit: The Condemned (2007), Damage (2009), The Expendables (2010) (in which he had a brutal fist-fight with Stallone), The Stranger (2010), Hunt to Kill (2010), Recoil (2011), Knockout (2011), Tactical Force (2011), Maximum Conviction (2012), The Package (2013), Grown Ups 2 (wait, what?). There was also an arc on Nash Bridges (1999-2000) and a strange one-off on Chuck (2010). On the small screen, Austin had a much better grapple on reality competition shows, namely Tough Enough: Redneck Island (2012) and Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge (2014). 

In 2009. Stone Cold was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and in 2013 he launched a podcast like pretty much every other celebrity with some spare time in their week. In 2022, he returned for a no-holds-barred beating of Kevin Owens at Wrestlemania 38, beating the man who “borrowed” his finisher. 

Stone Cold Steve Austin transformed sports entertainment in an insurmountable way, so much so that later eras would have to work with new norms to undo so much of what he did. And he did a lot, much by his own fist. Look at the circumstances he found himself in and how he not only made them work for Stone Cold but better the entire industry. Triple H screwed his King of the Ring chances; Austin didn’t only win, he cut the most revelatory promo ever. Owen Hart paralyzed him, forcing him to give up the belt; Austin didn’t only press on, he created both the biggest superstar in modern wrestling and its most evil villain, Mr. McMahon. He was eliminated from the ‘97 Royal Rumble; he didn’t just win, he won by cheating, stealing not just the match but the show. Austin did things the Stone Cold way, including agreeing to finally lose to The Rock in what would be his last “real” match, at WrestleMania XIX. 

Today, Stone Cold Steve Austin is more ambassador than badass (although he’s that, too), having retired from in-ring action and kicked his beer habit (not quit, come on!). And he is widely considered one of the greatest, most iconic wrestlers ever, up there with Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. But neither one of these legends had what he had and nobody ever will. You can say your prayers and eat your vitamins and Woooo! all you want, but we all know that when you hear the glass, your ass is grass. Now, lemme get a Hell Yeah! 

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.