Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Ultimate Warrior Has Died

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Warrior, who was named Jim Hellwig at birth and performed under the name The Ultimate Warrior, passed away last night in an Arizona parking lot while walking to his car. He was 54 years of age. No cause of death has been announced yet. He is survived by his wife Dana and their two daughters.

Warrior was a bodybuilder in his early adulthood who met up with Steve Borden (later and better known as Sting) and two other men who were transitioning to be professional wrestlers. He trained under Red Bastien and Rick Bassman, and he would wrestle for several territorial promotions, including Memphis, where he teamed with Sting as the Blade Runners, and World Class.

Vince McMahon signed him in 1986 and gave him the name The Ultimate Warrior. He was pushed hard early on, being given two Intercontinental Championship reigns and a headline spot at WrestleMania VI against Hulk Hogan. There, he won his only WWE Championship. His run lasted until the Royal Rumble, where he lost the title to Sgt. Slaughter, and he segued into a feud with "The Macho King" Randy Savage, culminating in a career vs. career match. Warrior won and transitioned into a feud with the Undertaker. Shortly after, he left WWE over a contract dispute with McMahon, although he'd return by WrestleMania VIII to save Hogan in the main event from Sid Justice and Papa Shango. His second run would last until right before Survivor Series, when he was released.

Warrior would stay mostly out of the limelight until he returned to the company in 1996, defeating Triple H at WrestleMania XII in short order. His third stint with the company, however, would also be short-lived, as he left shortly before In Your House 9 over a contract dispute with McMahon once more. Warrior would make his way to WCW in 1998 as an opponent for Hogan, now in the nWo. The pay-per-view match flopped, and Warrior shortly announced his retirement afterwards.

His post-wrestling life saw him legally change his name from Jim Hellwig to Warrior and become a social conservative talking head. His most infamous incidence from this stage of his life came when he spoke at the University of Connecticut on April 5, 2005, giving a speech where he strenuously denounced homosexuality. Warrior was quoted as saying "Queering doesn't make the world work."

Despite years of strain and a hit piece of a documentary called The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior, WWE reached out to Warrior and the two sides came to a detente, leading to his induction into the Hall of Fame in this year's class. In his final public appearance, Warrior came out to address the crowd on RAW and gave a chillingly portent of a speech about how everyone's heart beats its last and everyone's lungs breathe their last.

I am in a tough spot because I in good faith cannot eulogize Warrior, mainly for his homophobic remarks and his seeming lack of recanting them. I can only hope that in the later years of his life, he realized the error of his ways and started to see all the fans he called "Warriors" while in character were equally important and worthy. This disgusting stain of bigotry overshadows anything he did in his career, positive or negative.

However, I will give him credit for standing up to Vince McMahon. I don't know a whole lot about the contract disputes that led to Warrior departing WWE on more than one occasion, but I can say that the smear job against him is typical of a country where standing up for the employee is considered anathema.

Still, while I personally can't feel sorrow for Warrior's passing himself, I do offer my deepest and sincerest condolences to his wife Dana, his daughters Indiana and Mattigan, and any and all family and friends who are affected by his passing. For better or worse, the wrestling world lost an enigmatic but iconic figure last night, and a family lost its patriarch. I hope that those who were affected by him personally can find peace and comfort.