Randy Savage, pro wrestling’s Macho Man, dies at 58

Randy Savage, a failed minor league baseball player who became the biceps-popping professional wrestler known as the “Macho Man” and the archrival of Hulk Hogan, died in a car crash May 20 near Tampa. He was 58.

According to a Florida Highway Patrol report, Mr. Savage lost control of his Jeep Wrangler near his Tampa-area home and drove into a tree. His wife survived the crash with minor injuries.

Mr. Savage thrived in a multimillion-dollar industry that merges show business and athletics.

He cut a distinctive figure on the mat — at his prime he was 237 pounds of sculpted, oily muscle — and had an outlandish wardrobe, even by the standards of wrestling. He wore sequined cowboy hats, face-wrapping sunglasses and chest-hugging leather tank tops.

The wrestler’s antics in the ring — he finished off opponents with a high-flying elbow drop from the top rope — attracted millions of television viewers.

His flamboyant personality and raspy voice helped bring Mr. Savage an endorsement deal with Slim Jim beef jerky.

“Gotta have beef? Gotta have spice?” he said in one commercial. “Need a little excitement? Snap into a Slim Jim.” He concluded with his signature phrase, “Ohhh yeah!”

The son of a wrestler, Mr. Savage was signed in 1985 by Vince McMahon to the World Wrestling Federation, now World Wrestling Entertainment.

He quickly emerged as one of the organization’s rising stars and won a championship in 1988. He and Hulk Hogan teamed up and were known as the “Mega-Powers,” but wrestling executives wanted to create a rivalry over their glamorous manager, Miss Elizabeth — who was Mr. Savage’s real-life wife, Elizabeth Hulette.

In a televised Wrestlemania V showdown in 1989, Hogan won the bout and the title, but Mr. Savage eventually got the girl. Despite the fact that they were already married, Mr. Savage and Miss Elizabeth wed in a center-ring ceremony in 1991.

After winning a second title in 1992, Mr. Savage left the WWE two years later to join World Championship Wrestling, a separate organization. He won four heavyweight titles with the WCW.

Before retiring in 1999, he defeated Chicago Bulls basketball player Dennis Rodman in a wrestling match.

Although much of the violence in professional wrestling is choreographed, Mr. Savage admitted that sometimes real blood spills on the mat.

During one match, a wrestler named Jake “The Snake” Roberts approached Mr. Savage with a live snake and coaxed the reptile to bite him.

The snake’s fangs dug into Mr. Savage’s arm and left a bloody wound.

“They gave me antibiotics, and luckily the snake was devenomized,” Mr. Savage later said. “But 12 days later the snake died. He was devenomized, but maybe I wasn’t.”

Mr. Savage was born Randall Mario Poffo on Nov. 15, 1952, in Columbus, Ohio. His father, Angelo, once completed 6,033 sit-ups in four hours and 10 minutes.

With his family in tow, the elder Poffo traveled the country, earning $300 a week in wrestling matches.

Mr. Savage was a standout athlete in high school and was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as a switch-hitting catcher. He played in the minor leagues for four years before injuries forced him to change careers and become a wrestler.

He added 40 pounds to his frame and began his career in 1975 wrestling at National Guard armories and high school gyms. At his mother’s suggestion, he added “Macho Man” to his stage name.

His marriage to Hulette ended in divorce. According to news reports, she died in 2003 from a drug overdose.

In addition to his second wife, Barbara Lynn Poffo, survivors include a brother, Lanny Poffo, a retired professional wrestler who wrote a book of wrestling-themed poetry. A complete list of survivors could not be determined.

Mr. Savage said he spent 300 days a year city-hopping on autograph tours and was expected to be in full character at every stop.

“Put yourself in these guys’ shoes, traveling to your town and giving their whole heart just to put a smile on your face,” Mr. Savage once said. “Being a wrestler is like walking on the treadmill of life. You get off of it, and it just keeps going.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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