Listen…I don’t normally do “celebrity tributes” or things of that nature. I also don’t normally discuss my life-long love for the always interesting form of entertainment known as professional wrestling (though I did do a small post about it on my “Guilty Pleasure” blog).
But yesterday morning I woke up to a slap in the face…and it kinda affected the majority of my morning. I woke up to the news that my childhood hero, the Ultimate Warrior, had passed away at the young age of 54.
To put this in perspective, let me back-track a bit.
I started watching local wrestling in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling and I fell in love with these crazy characters who beat the living heck out of each other. The curtain hadn’t yet been pulled back on the scripted aspect of it all, so I grew up thinking it was real…and that put these guys high up on a pedestal.
The Great Malumba…Leo Burke… “No Class” Bobby Bass…The Cuban Assassin…Killer Karl Krupp…I could go on and on. Most of these guys were from the area and other wrestlers would be brought in from time to time to “spice up” the territory (everyone from Andre the Giant to Randy Savage passed through here in the early 80’s).
Then the World Wrestling Federation launched WrestleMania and quickly began syndication of their weekly program: Wrestling Superstars. This is when everyone and their dog began to watch professional wrestling. Guys like Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and The British Bulldogs were superstars that I would look forward to watching on a weekly basis. I looked up to them as any young teenager would. I was now a MASSIVE wrestling fan.
I was so hardcore into wrestling that I would buy Pro Wrestling Illustrated on a monthly basis. This was considered to be the bible of pro wrestling at the time, and anybody who was anybody would be written about in this magazine. It also talked about different promotions from around North America, so I got to read about guys who weren’t in the World Wrestling Federation.
One of those guys was called “Rock”.
No…not “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson. Not even Don “The Rock” Muraco. This guy was in a tag team called The Blade Runners and was partnered with a man called Sting. These guys didn’t last together long, as Rock would move on to another territory and change his name to become a different persona: The Dingo Warrior.
Where he was wrestling in Texas, I really don’t know if “Dingo Warrior” had any type of significance at all…but I saw the pictures of this huge, muscular guy with face paint and I was immediately intrigued. I mean…holy crap, right?
It wasn’t too long before he debuted in the WWF under what would become his permanent moniker: The Ultimate Warrior.
Jim Hellwig had made the big time. He became Intercontinental champion. Then he defeated the long-term champion Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VII in Toronto for the WWF title. I followed his career and looked up to this guy who entertained me on a weekly basis.
I graduated high school in June, 1990. In September of that year, when I went to university, I put an Ultimate Warrior poster up on my wall (I’ve got a photo of that room around my home somewhere…I just wish I could find it). At this point, I knew that wrestling was scripted but I didn’t care. He had been entertaining me for years and I looked up to him as being (a) a bad-ass and (b) someone I had followed before he became an international celebrity.
Over the years, Ultimate Warrior retired and had many (MANY!!) issues with Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment. After a brief time in World Championship Wrestling in the late 90’s he retired to raise a family. He officially changed his name to “Warrior” and began to do motivational speeches at colleges. He made headlines by getting caught on video saying that “Queering doesn’t make the world work.”
He was far from perfect.
But something happened in the last year. The WWE reached out and attempted to mend fences (they had put out a dvd called “The Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior” back in 2005). Whatever they did worked because not only would Warrior return in video game form in 2013, he would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame at this past weekend’s WrestleMania 30 festivities.
Warrior even came out on television Monday night to address the fans. He seemed slow and plodding, like he was limping or hurting in some way. Whether or not that was just me or had anything to do with his untimely passing doesn’t matter now. It was just nice to not only see him mend fences with WWE after feuding for so long, but to also say “goodbye” to his millions of fans for what would be one last time…even if his words were a little eerie in retrospect.
“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath and if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized.
In the back I see many potential legends. Some with warrior spirits and you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and the intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends as well. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans and the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”
James Hellwig was walking out of a hotel Tuesday evening with his wife and two daughters when he suddenly grabbed his chest in pain and collapsed. He was taken to hospital where he was declared dead upon arrival. At this point, there isn’t a cause of death…but where Warrior was so adamantly anti-drug (at least in his later years), I would be surprised if it had anything to do with an overdose.
Anyway…I just wanted to write this all down because I was a massive fan of this man’s character, his work, and his legacy. He was always kid-friendly and took great pride in being a positive role model…never becoming a bad guy (or in insider terms, a “heel”) after hitting it big as a good guy (i.e. “babyface”). He took what he did very seriously…almost too seriously…but his dedication to the character and what he believed in was something I admired, regardless of whether or not I agreed with everything he said.
Yesterday saddened me. I lost a childhood hero…and I suppose I’m getting to the age where that is going to happen more and more. Still…it sucks.
RIP Ultimate Warrior. Thank you for everything.