According to a statement made by the WWE, wrestling star The Ultimate Warrior has died. He was 54, and had just been inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame.
Warrior, who was born James Brian Hellwig, legally changed his name to “Warrior” in 1993. The cause of death was not mentioned, though TMZ reports he was with his wife in Arizona when he suddenly collapsed.
Warrior began wrestling in the early ’80s as part of the Blade Runners tag team with Steve Borden, who would later become known as Sting. He initially dubbed himself The Dingo Warrior while working for World Class Championship Wrestling in Texas, then became the Ultimate Warrior when he took up with the WWE in 1987. With his neon-painted face and outsized personality, he’d become one of the biggest stars in the industry by 1990, when he defeated Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI to win the world title. The match, billed as “The Ultimate Challenge,” marked the passing of the torch from one of the biggest wrestlers of the ’80s to one of the biggest of the ’90s.
Warrior was known for his high-intensity speeches, vein-riddled muscles, and his animalistic demeanor pre-match, when he’d violently shake the ropes to pump himself and the audience up.
Almost immediately after his Wrestlemania triumph, Warrior disappeared, to the point where his return at Wrestlemania VIII—where he came to the aid of Hulk Hogan—was a total surprise. (It also gave rise to persistent rumors that the man now billing himself as Ultimate Warrior was an impostor, and that the real Ultimate Warrior had died; Deadspin’s “Dead” Wrestler Of The Week untangled those many conspiracy theories in 2010.)
After nearly 18 years away, Warrior appeared on Monday night’s episode of WWE Raw, where he was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame and gave a speech that now reads like a eulogy.
“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. 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 bleed 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 had also just signed an ambassadorship deal with the WWE, rekindling a relationship with WWE heads Vince and Stephanie McMahon that had soured years ago, around the release of a 2005 DVD called The Self-Destruction Of The Ultimate Warrior. During his Hall Of Fame speech, Warrior credited WWE executive vice president Paul Levesque—also known as Triple H—for helping bring him back into the fold. It was Triple H who first announced the news on Twitter, where he called him an “icon and friend.”