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 believe deeper in something larger than life then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the story tellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever.
Those were the words of the very last promo that we ever received from the Ultimate Warrior, on the 4/7/2014 episode of WWE Monday Night Raw. He emphatically stated these words, adorned in an vibrant duster (handpainted by Rob Schamberger) and a mask pattered after his classic face paint. Less than 24 hours after these words were spoken, Warrior (Jim Hellwig) was dead. In my years as a fan of professional wrestling, I’ve read the reports of countless wrestler deaths. This one is hitting me especially hard, and it’s not without reason. For years, my parents didn’t have cable service, so the only TV options I had at home were local channels (this would eventually expand once my parents got cable, I’d follow wrestling in and out of WWF along with my friend Matt Wood, and would do alternating pay-per-view rental parties with my friend Tim Caudera). In 1990, through a combination of “WWF Wrestling Challenge” on Saturday mornings and “WWF Superstars” on Sunday mornings in St. Louis, 11 year old me first really discovered professional wrestling – WWF specifically. While my eyes would be opened to various characters I would take to, such as Hacksaw Jim Duggan, the Big Boss Man, and Demolition (the first “heels” I really found myself cheering for), there were four wrestlers who really locked me in and sold me on pro wrestling. Hulk Hogan. Andre The Giant. Macho Man Randy Savage. Ultimate Warrior. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have my father take me to multiple wrestling events over the years. One that stands out to me was WWF WrestleFest at old Busch Stadium, July 14th of 1991. It stood out to me because of it being an outdoor show, our seats were on the floor with a good view of the ring, and our location also gave me direct access to the guardrails as the wrestlers would be on their way to/from the ring. On that night, I got to see two of those four wrestlers in person (Savage had been “retired” by Warrior several months prior at WrestleMania XII, and Andre had since concluded his in-ring career). On that night, Ultimate Warrior was in a “casket match” against The Undertaker. While getting to touch the casket as it was rolled by was pretty cool to me, it was surpassed by my getting to slap hands with Warrior as he raced past me. From the moment his music would hit the speakers, you knew unparalleled frenetic energy was coming, and at 12 years old, I swore I thought he’d take my hand and arm right off in the process – but I got to reach out to an inspiration. Warrior would go on to have various issues and burned bridges over the years (escalating to the point of WWE releasing a DVD of him that was nothing less than a complete roast), and vanished completely from the pro wrestling scene. I, along with many others, didn’t know if we’d ever see or hear from him again in the world of wrestling. Then, last year, the olive branch seemed to exist. He signed on to do promotional work for the WWE 2K14 video game. Then, on the 1/13/2014 episode of Monday Night Raw, it was the video announcement that many of us thought we’d probably never see – Ultimate Warrior would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. On Saturday night, I sat on my couch streaming the WWE Network’s Hall of Fame induction broadcast on my tablet, and I was glued to every word of Warrior’s speech. I listened to him express his appreciation for the business, the people that make the business work – both in front of, and behind the scenes – and his love of being a husband and a father to his two girls. Two nights later, he stepped in the ring and delivered the promo that I quoted at the top of this writing. Watching it live, that promo seemed to come across as being a tribute to what his character represented and accomplished. Now, revisiting it after his passing, it feels like a eulogy. While coincidental, I’m sure, his words are as if he knew that death was knocking. Warrior had recently signed on with WWE to a Legends contract, to be an ambassador to the brand. My hope is that WWE will honor his contract in full, and allow all royalties from merchandise and licensing to go to his wife and daughters. With his passing goes a massive part of my childhood. If anything, I can smile knowing that his final actions in life were rebuilding the burned bridge between him and WWE, and perhaps there’s some symbolism to that. His heart has beat its final beat, and his lungs have breathed their final breath. The legend, however, shall forever run.