Passing Judgment: RIP Ultimate Warrior

Ultimate WarriorWhen the news broke on April 8, 2014 that the Ultimate Warrior had passed away, I was in shock.  I thought it was a vicious rumor being spread much like the myth that the original portrayer of the character had died over 20 years ago.  But this was not a rumor.  It was confirmed by many sources, including officials in the WWE.  How could this have happened not even 24 hours after he was in the middle of the ring on Monday Night Raw?  At 54 years old, the man formerly known as James Hellwig passed away from what is believed to be a massive heart attack.

Growing up as a huge wrestling fan, I was a die-hard Hulkamaniac.  No one could ever take the Hulkster’s place in my book, but someone came awfully close.  His name was the Ultimate Warrior.  He was unlike any other wrestling character I had seen and he captivated audiences around the world.  I will never forget being so disappointed when Warrior beat Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI, but shortly thereafter I embraced it.  His intensity, his promos, his unique persona all made him so appealing to kids and young wrestling fans.  And then he disappeared.

What happened behind the scenes has been well-documented, but I only cared about the long overdue homecoming.  It was awesome to see the Ultimate Warrior back in the WWE getting inducted into the Hall of Fame where he so rightly deserves to be.  His speech at the Hall of Fame was incredible.  I say incredible because it gave us a look into the soul of a man who we never really knew.  When he said the greatest thing he has done in life is being a father to his two daughters, he hit home with me and just about everyone else watching.  It was a fascinating and emotional insight into one of the most complicated and unique superstars we had ever seen.

Hearing the Ultimate Warrior’s iconic music brought me right back to my adolescence, much the same way hearing “Real American” makes me feel like a kid again.  Seeing him as a 54-year old man with short gray hair and no face paint was gratifying because he had survived time unlike so many of his peers of that era.  And then seeing him cut a promo on Raw was even better because he got to connect with the live TV audience, put the trench coat and mask on, give a snarl or two and then shake the ropes.  It was vintage Ultimate Warrior (thanks Michael Cole).  I was thrilled that the Warrior was signed a deal to be an ambassador for the WWE which meant he would make appearances here and there and be part of the family again.

But his promo on Raw was eerily prophetic given what would happen less than 24 hours later.

“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, it makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized.”

It is absolutely tragic that he died because he leaves behind a wife and two young daughters that he clearly adored and lived for.  Given what we have learned recently about reports of his physical condition over WrestleMania XXX weekend, the timing was impeccable for the Warrior and WWE to make peace.  He mended fences and embraced a whole new generation of wrestlers and fans with this reunion.  It was almost as if the Warrior knew the end was near, and that this was the closure he needed to be at peace with himself.

For wrestling fans, this is exactly why we watch.  We invest ourselves in these characters who also happen to be real people with lives outside the ring.  These past few days have been a roller-coaster of emotions – the feel good stories behind all of the Hall of Fame inductees, to the astonishment and anger of the Undertaker’s streak coming to an end, to the excitement and joy of Daniel Bryan finally winning the WWE World Heavyweight championship, to the sadness and melancholy of losing the Warrior just a day later.

The timing of Warrior’s death is so ironic – just three days after the Hall of Fame induction, two days after appearing at WrestleMania XXX, and less than 24 hours after cutting a promo on Raw for the first time in 18 years.  After such a long time being at odds with the WWE and essentially written out of their history, he comes back and is taken away immediately.  This adds to the mystique of his character, persona, and legacy.  We should be thankful we had these last few moments with him.  And don’t kid yourselves…the reason his death has gotten so much attention is NOT because of Nancy Grace’s idiocy, but rather because the Ultimate Warrior was a larger than life character that we all invested ourselves in.  Once we finally felt like we got to know him again, he was taken away from us.  But as he said, the Warrior’s spirit will be immortalized.

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