top of page
  • lynnheider30


Updated: Jan 12, 2023

Working in TV news is exhilarating, sometimes cut-throat competitive, and usually exciting. And in the Las Vegas market, there is always something interesting playing out in a back alley, on a casino mainstage, or even in the “ring.” The ring is what today’s story is all about.

My little sister Pam and I were both TV reporters in Vegas; I was there for most of the 80’s and she was there for a couple of years toward the end of that decade. And during one unusual year, we worked at the same station – KTNV! I had left the market to work as an investigative reporter in Baton Rouge for a year and returned to accept an offer to become managing editor; “an offer I couldn’t refuse” as they say in Vegas. While I’d been away, Pam had been hired at KTNV. Being a rookie manager presented its challenges for me, it was also an interesting time with the “Mathis Sisters” in the same newsroom.

At work, we kept things lively, and on weekends we hung out together and spent too much money.

That’s how we found ourselves meeting up at Saks one Saturday morning to shop at a great sale. She positioned herself at a rack of dresses in her size, and I found the dresses in my size. For 15 to 20 minutes, we turned around to show each other several possibilities.

“No, you don’t need that,” I’d say.

“Not your color,” she’d opine.

Then it happened. At the same moment, we turned around.

“What do you think of this?” we asked at the same time in what many of our friends referred to as “Mathis stereo.” We were holding up the same green silk dress. It had a crisscross top and a pleated skirt.

“Oh, you go ahead and try it on,” I said.

“No. Are you kidding? We’re both getting these,” she said. And we did. And that’s the day we hatched a plot for what would be the most epic day of the year we worked together. It would happen during the coming week.

First, we punked the assignment desk.

No woman wants to walk into a room and see another woman wearing the same dress. Not ever. But we were different. On the morning of the big day, Pam arrived at the station early. She showed off her new dress to our assignment manager, Jeannie, who admired it. She then retreated to an editing booth to log tapes for an upcoming series. I came in a few minutes later.

Jeannie swallowed hard. I could tell she was buying into some sibling rivalry speculation. Her face turned red.

“Lynn, um, Pam is in one of the editing booths and, um…”

I interrupted. “I know. She’s working on a series.”

“But um, she has that same dress on.”

I pretended to be mad but when Pam came out into the newsroom a few minutes later, we both laughed and told Jeannie she’d been had. Later our news director came in and knew right away this was a prank. He laughed so hard he nearly…I will stop there. We got an official eye-roll from some of the reporters.

We worked all day. Then we ate.

Our first stop that evening was for dinner at Rafters, a local favorite. Joe, the owner, was behind the bar. He knew the Mathis sisters well, so our matching dresses didn’t faze him.

“You girls are up to something,” he accurately stated.

(Photo: WWE)

Next stop: Professional Wrestling

The WWE was in town, and it was sold out. Pam had reserved ringside seats. We picked them up at Will Call and got sufficient attention as we sauntered to our seats fashionably late. In our matching green silk dresses and stiletto heels, I’d say Pam and I were a bit out of place.

Disclosure: wrestling fans had tattoos before tattoos were cool.

The usual chicanery happened: fans screamed, fake blood was spat out of the ring, the “good guys” won a few, and “the bad guys” won a few.

But we weren’t there to see them fight. Our plan was to hook up with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, a legendary wrestler often called the greatest manager of all times. His in-the-ring antics drew fans in droves.

“What scares me about wrestling fans,” he once quipped, “is that they can vote and reproduce.”

No kidding.

Heenan didn’t know we were there yet, but we had plans for him later that evening.

Big reveal: we knew him well. His real name was Ray Heenan. Growing up in Indianapolis, he was very much a part of our childhood. Raised by a single mom and his grandmother, he was always very resourceful and a hard worker. My dad, Tom Mathis, was a popular urban radio DJ whom Ray admired. He showed up Sunday after Sunday at the gymnasium of a Catholic school where my dad did live broadcasts and DJ’d dances that the Priest said kept the teenagers productively busy. Ray would help my dad carry his gear into the building for a few bucks and free admission.

What he really wanted was to be a wrestler. My dad noticed he was a natural showman and a good athlete. Believe it or not, he gave Ray his first big break in the ring before a live audience. You can read more about this in Ray’s book, Bobby the Brain: Wrestling’s Bad Boy Tells All, but the short version is because of what else went on at St. Rita’s to keep the teens busy and entertained: boxing matches. My dad was popular with the teens, so he convinced the Priest to let him fight in the ring one night, but there was a problem: my dad didn’t box. He could fake it pretty well as a wrestler, and Ray had already taken some lessons while in high school. So, dad invited Ray to be his opponent. He was to call himself “The Masked Avenger.” The deal was that Ray had to dress as, well, a racist, and he had to let my dad win. The crowd knew it was all a gimmick, but they loved it. That started Ray on the path where he’d meet the most famous wrestlers in the industry, many of whom were from Indianapolis. They saw his comedic talent and knew immediately he’d be a rainmaker for the industry. When Ray became famous, he reciprocated and helped my dad land a part-time gig as an in-the-ring announcer. They were best friends and over the years. Ray was a frequent guest at our house and babysat for us when my parents took some weekend no-kids vacations. In fact, he allowed my brother, then in 8th grade, to host a party with girls in attendance. Ray “refereed” a game of “Spin the Bottle.” When the boys refused to kiss an “ugly” girl, Ray would threaten to body slam them or beat them with the leather leash that belonged to King, our German Shepard who’d failed at the police academy but did a pretty good job as a family guard dog. Ray and Pam share the same birthday. Though my family had long since moved west, Pam flew home to Indy when Ray married his beautiful wife, Cindy, in 1978.

So about 9 years later, that night in Vegas, when the event was over, we approached the wrestlers’ dressing room. We were stopped cold by a security guard. I’m pretty sure his name was Bubba.

“Everyone claims to know Bobby the Brain,” he said.

We gave him our business cards, identifying us as TV news people.

“I don’t care who you are,” he said. “I have strict instructions. No bimbos bother the wrestlers.”

The $10 bill Pam handed him did the trick. Bubba went to the locker room with our business cards, and moments later, Ray came running down the ramp yelling, “Pammie, Lynnie.” He invited us to drive him to his hotel, Caesars, for drinks. But first, we had a stop to make: the TV production truck. From the 12-pack of iced beer he was carrying under his arm, Ray called every crew member by name and handed them a can – the director, the sound techs, the camera operators, everyone.

“Girls,” he said, “now you know why I always look so good on TV.”

I knew he was famous, but I didn’t know everyone knew who he was.

“Yes, Mr. Heenan,” was a refrain we heard from every Caesars staffer-- from the valets when we parked Pam’s car to the bartenders and restaurant servers. When we walked through the huge casino, high rollers were running up, trying to touch him, and asking for his autograph. If they were elderly, he was very kind. If they were young, he would have a unique, insulting, and hilarious message for each of them.

He took us each by an arm and led us into the hotel’s Bacchanal Room, at that time the highest of high-end restaurants in Vegas.

“Yes, Mr. Heenan,” the Maître d’ asked as he greeted us.

“We’re here to join Tom Mathis for dinner,” Ray said. Puzzled, the Maître d’ looked over his reservations book.

“I am very sorry, Mr. Heenan. I don’t show a Tom Mathis eating here tonight.”

“If he were here, he’d have ordered the porterhouse steak for two and devoured the whole thing,” Ray said.

“No one here tonight has had that much to eat, Mr. Heenan,” said the maître d’.

“There girls,” Ray said as he escorted us out of the restaurant. “Tell your father I asked after him in the world-famous Bacchanal Room.”

We saddled up to a bar in the center of the glitzy casino, where Ray was again greeted by, “Yes, Mr. Heenan.”

“Sam,” I recall him saying, “get these twins a drink.” (Lol, we are 4.5 years apart in age and I’m a foot taller).

We enjoyed our drinks and caught up with Ray. He disapproved of my engagement to a guy in Louisiana (a point of view I later agreed with). And when Pam asked him to introduce her to his rich wrestler friends he said, “They are all thugs, Pammie.”

At one point, Pam and I slipped away to check out one of Caesar’s gaudy ladies’ rooms. We were followed in by two ladies who might have been high-class hookers wearing floor-length mink coats. They begged Pam to introduce them to Ray. (No introduction occurred.)

We went back to the bar for another round.

“Raul, may we have some more drinks?” Ray asked.

“Wait,” I said. “You called him Sam a few minutes ago.”

“Girls,” he said, “It doesn’t matter. Call any man by a first name – any first name, and they love it. Doors will open for you.”

Even in a city where seeing celebrities out and about is the norm, we were noticed. All eyes were on “Bobby the Brain.” Everyone wanted to talk to him, buy him a drink, or get an autograph.

That was the last time I saw Ray Heenan in person. I don’t think I’d laughed that hard in many years before that night and didn’t again for a long time after. No one is that naturally funny. Or memorable. And when people say that someone is “like family” to them, it was never truer than in his case.

Postscript: My dad passed away in October 2006. Ray called mom not long afterward, and they had a nice talk. Ray and Cindy were married until he passed away on September 17, 2017. My husband actually saw the breaking news alert first on his ESPN app. I called and told my mom so she wouldn’t have to find out about it on the news. Cindy passed away in the summer of 2022. Ray’s legacy lives in his daughter, Jessica, the light of his life, and two grandchildren. I know dad and Ray enjoy the Porterhouse for two every night in Heaven.

108 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

FBI Catches Mob Not Playing Pinochle

Is this a great mob movie scene or what? I didn’t make it up; it’s in a file from the FBI Vault just released today, about the 1980 murder of Philadelphia mob boss Angelo Bruno. In the days following


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page