The death of Jim Hellwig (aka Warrior– but better known to millions of professional wrestling fans as The Ultimate Warrior) was announced on the 9th of April. Even though many wrestlers have died before their time (particularly in the last few years), it was still shocking to hear this news… Not only as a fan of Warrior in his prime, but because (in my memories) he always seemed the epitome of physicality and vitality.
Of course, I was a kid back then. I didn’t know in those relatively innocent pre-internet days that Warrior wasn’t achieving his impressive physique and athleticism through entirely natural and legitimate means. At the time of his passing, he was only 55… But given the tremendous strain he put on his body during his career + the things he put in his body as well– his effective age must have been much, much higher.
Warrrior burst into the World Wrestling Federation in 1987 like a bolt of lightning, quickly becoming a fan favourite. WWF (now WWE) head honcho Vince McMahon has always sensed when to catch onto a trend, and Warrior was it. His high-impact wrestling style– combined with superhero-like hyper-muscular physical stature– appealed to the young fans flocking to stadiums at the time. Hellwig was quickly given the second-most important title the Federation had, the Inter-Continental Belt… And was clearly being groomed as the successor to Hulk Hogan— who was already starting to look old and haggard, his balding pate not so effectively hidden by his crappy bandanas.
Two things added to Warrior’s amazing hype: #1 His great entrance music… Dagga dagga dagga dagga dagga dagga bash bash, dagga dagga dagga dagga dagga dagga bash bash, (repeat ad nauseam)
#2 His frankly insane promos. It’s obvious these interviews weren’t scripted, because nobody else could’ve come up with the shit Hellwig dreamed up. Warrior’s promos tended to be stream-of-conciousness gibberish delivered with manic intensity– extremely entertaining interludes that usually climaxed with the wrestler snapping a roid-charged body building pose… His sinews and veins looking as if they wanted to explode from beneath his skin.
It’s a good thing Hellwig excelled at promotion, since it’s not much of a secret the Warrior was an awful wrestler… He had very little endurance and his lack of training in ring etiquette meant his story-telling could be abysmal.
His insane ring entrance, which involved running from the locker room, doing a circuit (or two) around the ring at full pace before jumping in and shaking the ropes vigourously… Usually left him pretty much exhausted before the bout even started. If a match needed to last beyond 5 minutes (which most pay-per-view shows did), he relied on the older, more talented and experienced pros to shepherd him through the battle… Making him look good before they did their duty and laid down– so Warrior could get the scripted pinfall.
When you’re a kid, you don’t notice any of this crap. You just look at the face paint and the awesome power-slams and go, “Fuck yeah, Warrior!” When Warrior took the World Wrestling Federation belt from Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 6, it really felt like the torch had been passed to wrestling’s new generation. Little did we know, but this was the beginning of the end for the Warrior. His ego began to outpace what little talent he had and his clashes with McMahon over money and “creative control” grew and grew until finally, Hellwig was gone from the WWF. While he made a number of comebacks there and in WCW, the momentum behind the Warrior persona had dissipated… And other wrestlers quickly took his place as the Warrior’s star quickly dimmed.
When the new millenium dawned, the man unfortunately became a bit of a right-wing nutjob– a figure of fun (and sometimes, derision) for aging wrestling fans. Only just recently, in the latter few weeks of his life, did he start to give up the grudges he had nursed for so long against the WWE and other wrestlers… Grabbing back some of his dignity in the shabby twilight of his career. Just days before his death, Hellwig was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame– making one final appearance on RAW.
Warrior should have died in a massive rocket explosion or trampled by a herd of raging elephants– but unfortunately time was his biggest enemy, and it seems he died as a result of the damage he had inflicted on his own body over the years.
I’ve long since moved away from wrestling– especially as the numerous untimely deaths of both jobbers and superstars tarnishes the profession… But news of the Ultimate Warrior’s demise brought back some happy memories of my innocent years, when wrestling was still fun and my life less complicated. So here’s to you, Jim Hellwig. You may have been a half-crazy idiot filled to the brim with steroids, but you entertained people and made them happy… And that counts for a lot.