WHEN BUSINESS MEETS PLEASURE
Stone Cold Steve Austin and Debra Are
Sports-Entertainment's Ultimate Power Couple
by Phil Speer
To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.
— Book of Common Prayer
WrestleMania XV. March 28, 1999.
The main event: The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Fans will look back at that night — that match — for years to come. One the heels of their unforgettable battle, the Rattlesnake and the Brahma Bull were not only two of the biggest stars in the World Wrestling Federation, they were well on their way to becoming two of the biggest stars in the history
of the World Wrestling Federation.
For Austin, that night was significant for other reasons. His personal life was in flux. He has mentioned in several interviews since then that he was going through a difficult time leading into WrestleMania XV
, and that match was a great release for him.
But there was another somewhat-less-talked-about factor that also helped Austin get through that difficult time: Debra.
"It was weird," Debra said. "I never really talked to him that much. I never really had anything to do with him, and then one day we just started talking. It was right around WrestleMania
of 1999. We were very attracted to each other and hit it off.
"I said I would never date anyone at work, because it was like, 'This is my career. This is how I make a living.' Then, it just happened. It's the hardest thing when you fall in love with someone and you think, 'Oh my gosh, this is a person I work with.' But I never thought about it. I just knew my priority was him."
This is the story of Mr. and Mrs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, two of the most recognizable stars in the world of sports-entertainment. Debra's manipulative ways on Raw
are matched only by her love for her husband. Austin's intimidating presence on television is matched only by his love for his wife. They've been married just over a year now, but they've already faced as much adversity as many couples face in a lifetime. And they've both pulled through, stronger than ever.
At first, the couple's relationship wasn't public. But they couldn't keep it secret for long.
During the spring and summer of 1999, Austin's career was on fire. Not only was he World Wrestling Federation Champion again after WrestleMania XV
, but he was appearing as a guest star on shows like CBS's Nash Bridges
, and accepting "Favorite Wrestler" at the Fox Teen Choice Awards
. Everywhere he went, Debra went beside him, and word started to get out, especially after she accompanied him to Shea Stadium to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Mets vs. Yankees game on July 10, 1999.
Two weeks later, Debra confirmed their relationship to fans during a chat on America Online.
"Yes, we are a couple," she said then. "I will not elaborate any more on that because that's my personal life."
In the fall of 1999, both Debra and Austin faced their most challenging situation to date. Austin's body finally betrayed him after years of physicality in the ring. Major spinal-cord surgery was required. At worst, it could have been a career-ending injury, but even in the best-case scenario, he was going to need someone to help him for the next several months.
In the months prior to Austin's surgery, Debra's career was taking off. She had been managing Jeff Jarrett, but it was clear who the fans who were cheering for when the duo's theme music hit. They would chant, "We want puppies!" referring to Debra's tendency to unbotton her business suits and strip down to her bra to distract referees and Jarrett's opponents. She even won the Federation Women's Championship despite the fact that she's not a trained wrestler.
Jarrett had left the Federation in October, one month before Austin's exit. While Debra could have stuck around and continued to be one of the WWF's most popular stars, the decision was easy. She was, after all, in love.
Austin was facing another personal crisis, and once again it was Debra to the rescue.
"I was raised in the South [in Alabama] and brought up to take care of family and the person you're in love with," Debra said. "Steve was injured and I went to take care of him because he needed me. It was hard because I was so popular when I left, but it was worth it. I had to do what I had to do. You've got to have your priorities."
"I imagine it was real difficult," Austin said. "She was cruising right along just fine and then she volunteered to leave with me, I appreciated that."
Steve and Debra were married in a small ceremony in Las Vegas on September 13, 2000.
With a few exceptions — a live interview during halftime of the Super Bowl in January 2000, and a special appearance at April 2000's Backlash
— Austin was rarely mentioned on WWF television while he recuperated. Neither was Debra.
But from the time Austin left, until his return at September 200's Unforgiven
, it became more and more difficult for people to seperate Debra, the television character, from Debra, the wife of Steve Austin. She'd do radio interviews to promote upcoming Federation events, and reporters would immediately ask her about her husband.
Even though there was no mention of their marriage on Federation television, fans knew. When Debra was a surprise guest ring announcer at Backlash
, even casual fans realized that it wasn't a coincidence that Austin was scheduled to appear the same night.
Around the time her husband came back, so did Debra. But initially, she struggled to find her niche.
"I was still trying to come back as 'Debra and the Puppies,' and that's how they were pushing me," Debra said. "I was trying to keep my character seperate from Steve. Back then [before leaving to care for Austin], it was easier to do 'Debra and the Puppies.' But now people look at me as Stone Cold's wife. Doing the 'puppies' thing is a little bit harder to do. It [Stone Cold] wasn't so famous — the top Superstar ever — it would've been a little bit easier."
Just in case there was anyone who still didn't know that she was married to Austin, Mick Foley announced it to the world on the October 9, 2000, episode of Raw
. Foley was still investigating who hit Stone Cold with a car at the previous year's Survivor Series
. One of the few clues Foley had was that the driver had blonde hair. That made Debra a suspect, even though, Foley mentioned, she was married to Austin.
"Somehow they slipped up and mentioned that I was Steve's wife," Debra said. "And then they were like, 'Oh my gosh, we announced it. How are we going to work this out?'"
For months, no one had the answer, and Debra's sports-entertainment career seemingly went on standby.
"A lot of people think that because she's married to one of the top guys in the history of the business, things are going to be easy for her," Austin said. "That's not necessarily true. Certain things don't
work because we're married. I choose not to push the envelope in certain directions concerning out married [and] our relationship.
"I think she was in a tough spot. It was extremely tough for her to come back because she had to wait for me to get established first — because I wanted her involved with me. We had to wait for the time to be right, so she had to be patient."
"I imagine it was very frustrating for her," continued Austin. He laughed, and then added, "Well, I know it was [frustrating] because I heard about it every night."
Another huge confrontation between Austin and The Rock was on the horizon for WrestleMania X-Seven
. Federation officials briefly toyed with the idea of having Debra become The Rock's manager, but fans didn't seem to respond, and the idea was scrapped.
Austin, of course, defeated The Rock to become a five-time WWF Champion — and aligned himself with Mr. McMahon in the process. He held the title for nearly six months before finally losing it to Kurt Angle at September's Unforgiven
. But the Texas Rattlesnake regained the coveted championship in early October, becoming only the second six-time WWF Champion in history (The Rock is the other).
Those are the accomplishments that fans will remember. But as William Wordsworth once wrote, it's the "little, nameless, unremembered acts," that make a man truly great.
With his career firmly back on track, Austin could now ensure that his relationship with Debra would be a benefit to her professional career, not a detriment.
"Because she's married to me, there are certain things she can do, and certain things she can't," Austin said. "There's good that comes along with it, but there's some bad things that come along with it; some restrictions and some green lights. It all adds up to her having a hell of a career."
Finally, the green light came for Debra and Austin to being interacting on Federation television. Finally, Debra can accompany her husband — "the top person ever in wrestling," as she calls him — to the ring. Or, she can bash him over the head with a cookie sheet.
"She's managed a few people in the past, but now she's taking on a higher-profile role with me, and her character is really starting to develop," Austin said. "Yes, you've got Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, but as far as I'm concerned, Debra is one of the top females, if not the top female in the business."
With her husband to help her, Debra has been working to re-establish herself as the top female she was before she left. Working with Stone Cold in a professional capacity has made her realize that his successful career is no coincidence.
"He's so smart about this business. I can't even touch how great he is," she said. "What I've learned from him is that you have to be able to wrestle, understand the psychology, and be able to speak on the mic. You've gotta be a little bit of everything to keep people entertained and to stay at the top."
"Anything Stone Cold Steve Austin does — whether people like me or hate me — I'm a perfectionist," Austin says. "Whatever I'm doing — whether it's in the ring, an interview, behind-the-scenes, whatever — it's gotta be perfect. I expect the same from my wife.
"She's extremely talented. I try to use my experience and point her in the direction I think her career needs to grow. Other than that, she does it all on her own. I try to help her any way I can with just a little bit of advice because I've been to a lot of places that she hasn't as far as this business goes."
It's not that Debra needs
the help. After all, as she correctly points out, "I made a name for myself before I ever met him. I got myself hired here."
But getting tips from her husband certainly can't hurt. She's also been spotted working out in the ring before live events, learning the basics of wrestling. She even trained in the ring with Austin as he prepared for his come-back — and she's got the scars to prove it.
"I've been begging to do [more athletic] stuff," Debra said. "I was very athletic growing up. I would do pretty much what they ask me to do.
"My plan is to be one of the top females ever in wrestling, to go along with the success of my husband. I want to make a name for myself again. I just want to keep excelling, being very entertaining, making the fans really happy and keeping them entertained."
In Triple H's speech to the contestants on the first season of WWF Tough Enough
, he warned them that being in the sports-entertainment business takes an often-irreparable toll on the Superstars' personal lives. Superstars only get to see their spouses and families one to three days a week — and sometimes not even that often. But Steve and Debra don't have that problem; they spend virtually all their time together. Watching them interact backstage, it's clear that they truly enjoy each other's company. They never seem to "need their space."
Debra waits patiently when Austin competes in the last match on the card, which is almost always. Austin doesn't play dominoes — which most of the other top male Superstars do backstage — before the show begins, instead electing to spend time with his wife.
Stone Cold Steve Austin's personal life was in a flux, and Debra helped. Debra's professional life as a World Wrestling Federation Superstar was on standby, and Stone Cold Steve Austin helped.
That's a microcosm of the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Stone Cold Steve Austin. Their story is much more elaborate and complicated than that. But the basic building block of it is that they love each other, professionally and personally, no matter how adverse the situation.
Phil Speer is a writer for WWF.com