WWE’s Ultimate Warrior dead at 54


The Ultimate Warrior spoke during his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame four days ago in New Orleans. (Jonathan Bachman / AP for WWE)

The news overnight from WWE was shocking. One of the entertainment sport’s icons, The Ultimate Warrior, had died at the age of 54, just a day after making a national-TV appearance in which he spoke of life and death and said, “the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will live forever.”

The final few days of James Brian Hellwig, who legally changed his name 21 years ago, were filled with public appearances. His Hall of Fame induction was Saturday and he appeared the next night at WrestleMania 30. On Monday night, Warrior, wearing a mask and a long jacket with his image on the back, addressed fans during the weekly USA Network show, “Monday Night Raw.”

“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own,” he told the crowd. “Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something that’s larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized by the storytellers — by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him, and make the running the man did live forever.

“I am the Ultimate Warrior, you are the Ultimate Warrior fans and the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”

Warrior’s death was announced overnight by WWE on its website:

WWE is shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of the most iconic WWE Superstars ever, The Ultimate Warrior.

Warrior began his WWE career in 1987 and quickly went on to become one of the biggest stars in WWE history. Warrior became WWE Champion at WrestleMania VI, defeating Hulk Hogan in an epic encounter.

We are grateful that just days ago, Warrior had the opportunity to take his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame and was also able to appear at WrestleMania 30 and Monday Night Raw to address his legions of fans.

WWE sends its sincere condolences to Warrior’s family, friends and fans.

Warrior was 54 and is survived by his wife Dana and his two daughters.

Warrior’s beginnings in the sport were modest but still flashy. After starting out as a bodybuilder, he turned to wrestling and became Dingo Warrior in World Class Championship Wrestling. In 1987, he joined the World Wrestling Federation and his popularity soared along with his showmanship. Renamed The Ultimate Warrior, he won his first Intercontinental title from the Honky Tonk Man at the first Summer Slam in 1988. He lost the title to Ravishing Rick Rude, then won it again at Sumer Slam in 1989.

Perhaps the greatest match of his career came the next year, when, as Intercontinental champion, he battled Hulk Hogan, the WWF champ, at WrestleMania VI. Warrior won, a sign of a generational move from Hogan’s 1980s dominance to Warrior’s in the 1990s.

Warrior retired from the sport in 1998 and, in addition to motivational speaking, he sold workout tapes and wrote Warrior comic books. In his Hall of Fame speech Saturday night, he lamented the changes in the sport with his characteristic humor.

“I wish they could put the effin’ ‘F’ back in for us guys that have a difficult time now keeping track of those kinds of details,” he said, speaking of the change of the World Wrestling Federation’s name to WWE because of legal dispute with the World Wildlife Fund. “I mean, I really can’t believe that [WWE attorney] Jerry McDevitt got his [butt] kicked by those Wildlife people.”

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.

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Cindy Boren · April 9, 2014