Shock and a terrible sadness. That’s the only way to describe reaction to the sudden death of the Ultimate Warrior.
Professional wrestling is not for everyone, but you don’t have to be a fan to feel for the family, friends and loved ones who are grieving the loss of the man once known as Jim Hellwig.
Many – too many – professional wrestlers have been called home too young. But what makes Warrior’s passing especially surreal and painful is that he had returned to World Wrestling Entertainment – and taken his rightful place among other icons in the WWE Hall of Fame – just days ago.
He had had a chance to thank his legion of loyal fans after being in exile for 18 years because of a long-running dispute with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
Like so many others, as a child, I loved the Warrior. He was a superhero incarnate x 10.
Chiseled out of granite, his face masked in war paint and tassels hanging from his biceps, he was an unforgettable sight. Excitement was guaranteed whenever Warrior charged the ring and shook the ropes on WWF Wrestling Challenge and WWF Superstars of Wrestling every Saturday morning. No one understood his manic promos, but it didn’t matter. Warrior was just awesome – it was as plain and simple as that.
We’re not going to recap his career here. If you’re reading this and are a person of a certain age, odds are you were a wrestling fan at some point and followed the life and times of the Ultimate Warrior. You know he was once the heir-apparent to Hulk Hogan, you know about his war with McMahon, an infamous WWE-produced DVD that trashed Warrior and the reconciliation over the past year.
And that truce appeared to bring peace to the aging, 54-year-old self-styled warrior. Last Saturday, at his Hall of Fame ceremony at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, he appeared content as he soaked in the roars of his “legion of warriors.”
Gone was the long, wild brown hair, replaced by a buzz cut silver mane. His signature neon-colored tassels and face paint were replaced by a peppered-ash goatee and a basic black-and-white tuxedo.
Ultimate Warrior hadn’t entertained in the ring for years and had reinvented himself as a motivational speaker. But on this night – and throughout the weekend in an appearances at WrestleMania 30 and then Monday night on WWE’s flagship program, RAW – he seemed intent of “setting the record straight” about his career.
Warrior’s final public appearance on Monday will haunt his fans and loved ones for a long time.
His words seem eerily prophetic:
"No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own," he told the audience. "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 that's larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized by the storytellers -- by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him, and make the running the man did live forever. I am the Ultimate Warrior, you are the Ultimate Warrior fans and the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever."
Ultimate Warrior seemed to live his life to its fullest and appreciate where he had been and where he was in his life.
Let’s rejoice in the fact that he was allowed to put an exclamation point on his career and thank his fans.
Less than a week ago, he was being inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame, writing the final chapter in his past life as a professional wrestler, and telling his young daughters that being their father was the best thing he'd ever do.
Less than a week later his family is in mourning. Just unreal.
Maybe Ultimate Warrior’s final message to us is this: Hug your loved ones. Settle old, petty grudges. Tomorrow's never guaranteed.
Rest well, Warrior. We hope you’re shaking those ring ropes at the pearly gates.
Bryan Robinson is a Senior Web Show Producer for Fox News.