Utter disbelief. That’s probably the best way to describe how pro wrestling fans around the world felt last night when they learned of the shocking passing of The Ultimate Warrior just hours after watching him on World Wrestling Entertainment’s hit television show Monday Night Raw and on WrestleMania XXX this past Sunday.
The iconic wrestler, real name James Hellwig, died after reportedly collapsing outside of an Arizona hotel on Tuesday afternoon, according to TMZ. He was 54 and is survived by his wife Dana and two daughters.
"WWE is shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of the most iconic WWE superstars ever, The Ultimate Warrior,” the company said in a statement posted on their website. "We are grateful just days ago, Warrior had the opportunity to take his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame and was 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."
WWE owner Vince McMahon added to the sentiment.
“We are all so sad that the Ultimate Warrior has passed away,” McMahon tweeted early on Wednesday morning after his son-in-law and WWE Executive Vice President/wrestler Triple H helped break the shocking news to fans on his own Twitter account. “Our heart is with his wife Dana and his two daughters.”
What makes the Warrior’s death an even more difficult pill to swallow for fans is that he was just inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame this past Saturday night and appeared before 75,000-plus raucous fans for WrestleMania XXX at the Mercedez-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Sunday night. He even gave what's now deemed as an eerily chilling speech that touched on mortality live on WWE’s Monday Night Raw television show this past Monday.
"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," he added, "you are the Ultimate Warrior fans and the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever."
With a face covered in paint and a chiseled frame, The Ultimate Warrior first burst onto the WWE —then-named World Wrestling Federation — scene in 1987 and quickly became a fan favorite for his unwavering intensity, the way he pounded his chest and ran down to the ring with full steam, and trademark moves like the gorilla press slam and splash.
Most memorable was his dramatic victory over then-WWF heavyweight champion Hulk Hogan in WrestleMania VI before nearly 68,000 fans at the Toronto SkyDome on April 1, 1990. Warrior pinned Hogan following a splash and Hogan memorably handed Warrior his championship belt, symbolizing a passing of the torch while the two exhausted men embraced in the middle of the ring.
The Ultimate Warrior would leave the company twice after that with years of litigation between himself and the WWE over rights to his character’s name and likeness to follow.
In 2005, the WWE released a DVD called, The Self Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior, which featured disparaging remarks about the wrestler by the company’s brass and also fellow performers. Only recently did Warrior and McMahon make peace, culminating in his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
During his Hall of Fame speech, the Warrior credited Triple H for helping to patch up the relationship between him and the WWE. Warrior even announced that he and the company were able to strike a multi-year contract for him to become an ambassador for the WWE, the same way his one-time rival Hogan is now.
To erase the memory of the old DVD they put out on The Ultimate Warrior, the WWE released a brand new DVD for the wrestler this past April 1 entitled Ultimate Warrior: The Ultimate Collection, with over seven hours of matches and memorable footage from the unforgettable superstar.
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(Photo: WWE Network)