Born Steven James Anderson in Austin, Texas, the man who would become known worldwide as "Stone Cold" was shy as a kid but came out of his shell to dominate the professional wrestling scene in the late 1990s. Austin was an edgier star who came along as the world began moving on from the squeaky-clean wrestling heroes that had become the norm. His beer-swilling, authority-defying persona captured the attention of millions of fans as he feuded with the business's top stars, including his real-life boss, Vince McMahon.
Here are nine facts about the six-time WWF champion.
1. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin dropped out of college with just hours left before finishing his degree.
Like his main nemesis Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Austin played football in college. He earned a scholarship to be a linebacker for the University of North Texas before an injury pushed him to play defensive end. He was quickly drawn to the world of professional wrestling and quit school to pursue his dream. He had just around 17 hours left to complete before he would have graduated with a degree in physical education.
2. He survived off potatoes and canned tuna as a young wrestler.
His first wrestling class with trainer Chris Adams cost $45, which he paid for by working on a loading dock for $12 an hour. Once he began actually wrestling in matches, he would earn between $15 and $20 a night, leading to some tough choices about how to budget those scant funds.
"For breakfast, lunch, and dinner I'd have a can of tuna fish and a potato. I didn't have anything to cook with, so I peeled the potatoes with my pocket knife," Austin once said in an interview. "After three or four days of that, my tuna fish ran out and I hadn't got paid yet. So for [three and a half days]—until my paycheck came in—I'd peel a potato for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That went on for several months. But I was having the time of my life and learning every time I went to the ring."
3. His "Stone Cold" stage name came from a cup of tea.
Austin started his career wrestling in the United States Wrestling Association, World Championship Wrestling, and Extreme Championship Wrestling before getting a job with the World Wrestling Federation (the WWF, which later became WWE). In the WWF, he was originally called "The Ringmaster," a highly technical wrestler whose finishing move was a version of a sleeper hold.
He soon grew tired of the character and suggested his persona be something "cold" after watching a documentary about the emotionless hitman Richard Kuklinski, a.k.a "The Ice Man." But once he heard the names that WWF's creative team came up with—Otto von Ruthless and Fang McFrost, among others—he knew he was in trouble. As he lamented the names at home with his wife over a cup of hot tea, she pointed out that his drink was getting "stone cold" since he wasn't drinking it. The name clicked, and the Otto von Ruthless bullet had been dodged.
4. Bruce Willis inspired him to shave his head.
At the beginning of his career, Austin sported long blonde locks, which was the standard look for wrestlers in the '80s and '90s. But over time, his hair began to thin. Though he went to one consultation where hair plugs were suggested, he eventually took a more natural approach to the situation.
"After watching the Pulp Fiction movie with Bruce Willis, that’s the haircut that inspired me to get the buzz cut," Austin said on his podcast. The short buzz cut lasted a few months, but he soon decided to go all in and shave the remaining hair off with a razor blade. The remaining goatee completed the look.
5. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin coined two iconic catchphrases on the fly.
On June 23, 1996, Austin defeated Jake "The Snake" Roberts at the King of the Ring event and improvised a post-match promo to further humiliate his foe. Roberts was a former superstar who'd recently returned to wrestling with a Bible-thumping persona, which Austin used in his denigration, saying "Talk about Psalms, talk about John 3:16—Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your a**!" (Austin credits part of the idea to the "John 3:16" signs common at college football games.)
The phrase was unscripted, but after fans began bringing "Austin 3:16" signs to events in the weeks and months after, it became one of the most recognizable elements of his career. It also wasn't the only key catchphrase born that night, as Austin ended his promo saying for the first time, "And that's the bottom line. Because 'Stone Cold' said so."
6. The beer he drank was real (except that one time).
Austin contends that all the beer he chugged during events was real, except for one event in Montreal, Canada, where drinking would have been against the building code. They used non-alcoholic beer that night, but every other night, Austin was drinking the real deal.
"I can’t tell you how many times I left the ring and I had a little bit of a buzz because of all the beers I was drinking," Austin once said on his podcast. "When you’re shotgunning anywhere from six to 12 beers, and maybe you get half of ‘em in. On an empty stomach, after you’ve wrestled, it goes to your head pretty quick."
7. The "Stone Cold Stunner" used to be the "Ace Crusher."
Austin's signature wrestling move—the "Stone Cold Stunner"—was one of his trademarks throughout his career, but it wasn't something he came up with. Before fans associated the move with Austin, a wrestler named Johnny Ace used a similar move and called it the "Ace Crusher."
According to longtime WWE executive Bruce Prichard, Michael Hayes of the Fabulous Freebirds showed Austin the maneuver and suggested a sit-down version of it instead of the sleeper hold he had been using (Ace would usually land flat on his back for his Crusher). Austin practiced it a handful of times with Hayes before a show and started using it on TV by the summer of 1996.
8. He credits Jim Ross for branding his persona.
The man who named the "Stone Cold Stunner" was legendary commentator Jim "J.R." Ross. While Austin was a master at promos and catchphrases and drinking cold beers (and tea), he gives Ross credit for boosting his branding. In addition to naming the "Stunner," J.R. also gave him the "Texas Rattlesnake" nickname, which was featured on T-shirts, posters, and anything else WWE could license.
"J.R. was simply shooting from the hip and making up those nicknames on the fly. And I am eternally indebted to him for his commentary and him helping to get the ‘Stone Cold’ persona over the way he did," Austin said on his podcast.
9. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin now has his own beer.
Austin was famous for chugging beers in the ring after matches and dumping the suds on his fallen opponents. Budweiser, Coors Light, Miller Lite—it was all fair game for the WWE Hall-of-Famer. In the years since he retired, Austin made a natural business decision by creating his very own beer. Two of them, actually.
In 2015, he teamed up with El Segundo Brewing Company to release Steve Austin's Broken Skull IPA. In March of 2022, Austin and El Segundo collaborated again to release the Broken Skull American Lager.