The much-beloved World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Famer ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham has died after a years-long struggle with various health issues. He was 79.
WWE shared news of Graham’s death on Thursday.
“A former WWE Champion, Graham’s flashy fashion style, over-the-top interviews and bodybuilder physique created the archetype for a generation of Superstars that followed in his footsteps,” the organization wrote.
Graham, whose real name is Eldridge Wayne Coleman, was reportedly on life support before his death. His wife Valerie shared an update to Graham’s Facebook account on Monday claiming doctors wanted to take the wrestler off life support, but she refused.
“He’s a fighter and his will is strong even if his body isn’t,” she wrote alongside a black and white photo of her and Graham.
According to a GoFundMe established in March, Graham was “dealing with a myriad of very serious health issues: a major infection in his ears and skull that may take six months of intravenous IVs, congestive heart failure, diabetes, hearing loss as a result of the infection, and the list goes on.”
The funds collected — totalling nearly US$22,000 as of this writing — were to be used for Graham’s recovery, as his insurance allegedly only paid for a portion of the rehab and treatment he’d been receiving in hospital.
Fellow professional wrestler Ric Flair was the first to announce Graham’s death on Wednesday night. On Twitter, Flair wrote: “The Superstar Billy Graham Just Left Us THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR INFLUENCE On My Career!”
Before becoming a professional wrestler, Graham was a bodybuilder who toned his impressive physique with homemade weights in the form of coffee canisters full of cement. When he was able to bench press 605 pounds, Graham completed a photo shoot with Arnold Schwarzenegger for Muscle and Fitness magazine.
The photo shoot pushed Graham toward the entertainment industry. He eventually joined the American Wrestling Association in 1972 and is often considered a pioneer in the modern world of professional wrestling. Graham, alongside his manager, The Grand Wizard, would go on to sell out every arena he main-evented, WWE reported.
Throughout his wrestling career, Graham developed a number of memorable catchphrases, including “I’m the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour!” If Graham wasn’t recognized by his nearly 56-centimetre biceps, he was easily identified by his outlandish personal style and often-dyed hair and goatee.
In 1987, Graham retired from wrestling and became first a manager, then a colour commentator. Triple H inducted Graham into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
Emotional tributes to Graham have poured in on social media from fellow WWE wrestlers and fans alike.
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