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The WWE has announced last night that James Hellwig, known to the world as The Ultimate Warrior, has died at the age of 54. Cause of death is not yet known. The Ultimate Warrior had just been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame at the yearly ceremony held before Wrestlemania each year. While his tenure as an active wrestler was relatively short, he is one of the most iconic men in the industry.
Coming into popularity as a major player in the WWF in 1987, The Ultimate Warrior was everything that the rising WWF represented. Prior to the Attitude Era, this was a time of big personalities and cartoon exaggeration. It was into this world of Honky Tonk Man, Jake the Snake, Andre the Giant, Junkyard Dog, Koko B. Ware, and countless other crazed characters that James Hellwig made his mark. In better shape than everyone else, at least aesthetically, and with a fervent energy that caused you at home to get excited once you heard his blaring and emphatic entrance music begin.
I was saddened to hear the news from TMZ, as a long time wrestling geek I remember watching all of The Ultimate Warrior’s matches. He was so highly regarded by the childhood version of myself that I had only two Wrestling Buddies: Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. I, in fact, have that Wrestling Buddy in my home now. Not for display, because I put it through the ringer with suplexes off the top of my dresser and frequent use of the Warrior Splash in my recreation of the epic battle at Wrestlemania between Hogan and Warrior.
Hulk Hogan versus The Ultimate Warrior was my first pay per view experience, and it happened with about 200 other people in my small town. The local rec club bought the event, you paid a $2 admission and we all sat and watched the showdown. I’ll never forget that night. It would be topped later when The Ultimate Warrior defeated Macho Man Randy Savage in a career ending match, a contest that was like watching what I imagine injecting straight adrenaline would be like. Wrestling may be fake, looking back the schtick was as silly as it gets, but The Ultimate Warrior was pure energy for the industry he served and for the fans who worshipped at the altar.
Our condolences go out to the family and friends of James Hellwig, who is survived by his wife Dana and his two daughters.