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The world of professional wrestling lost another marquee legend this week, which is something that seems to be happening far too often in recent years. This time, wrestling fans are mourning the loss of Road Warriors and Legion of Doom member Animal – real name Joe Laurinaitis – who died at the age of 60 years old.
At this time, it appears as if Joe Laurinaitis passed away due to natural causes. According to TMZ, law enforcement was called by the wrestler's wife to the Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach, Missouri a little before midnight on Tuesday evening. However, emergency personnel had already declared the athlete to be deceased by the time the deputies arrived on the scene.
The WWE made its announcement this morning notifying fans of Animal's death, while also celebrating his memorable and always exciting career. (Though it strangely doesn't mention his longtime tag team partner Hawk, real name Michael Hegstrand.)
First hitting the wrestling scene back in 1982 as a singles competitor, Joe Laurinaitis quickly tapped into a bigger fandom after meeting legendary manager Paul Ellering through the Georgia Championship Wrestling promotion, where the "Legion of Doom" moniker was founded. Ellering brought Animal and Michael Hegstrand's Hawk together in 1983 as the Road Warriors, and it was early on when they started adorning the dog collars, face paint and studded shoulder pads that would become instantly recognizable to fans. They seriously gave some of the best promos and best match entrances ever.
Throughout the late 1980s, the Road Warriors were a major force to be reckoned with in the squared circle. They were a mainstay in the early NWA (pre-WCW) promotion, where they attained the tag team champion belts on multiple occasions. They temporarily bowed out of the NWA due to behind-the-scenes issues, and made their WWE debut in 1990. Unfortunately, Animal suffered a real-life back injury in 1992 that put him largely out of commission for a few years, despite doing some on-camera work with WCW during that time.
Upon the Road Warriors' return in 1996, they fought against some of the most popular WCW athletes at the time and then again jumped ship back to WWE and partnered up with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in the early days of that game-changing gimmick. Unfortunately, it was after this point that Michael Hegstrand's alcohol and drug problems became more widely identifiable, and the WWE exploited that angle within its kayfabe narrative, making Hawk appear to be intoxicated during matches.
Given that neither wrestler wanted those real-life issues to get worked into matches, they left the WWE once more, heading back to Japanese territories and other international promotions. The duo unfortunately weren't able to regain their momentum in the industry before Hawk died in October 2003, after which Animal made sporadic returns to the WWE.
Some wrestlers have already started to share the love for Animal on social media. Here's a tweet from Hulk Hogan below.
Having largely stopped wrestling on the main stage in 2006 or so, three years after Hawk's death, Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011. You can watch that induction speech below.
We here at CinemaBlend send our thoughts and condolences to the family and friends of Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis in their time of mourning. Hopefully fans can get some Road Warriors Funko Pop figures at some point in honor of the athletes' awesomeness.