In Memoriam: The Ultimate Warrior

Written by Bill Bodkin, Michael Dworkis and Anthony Toto

Just after midnight this morning I saw an image of a screen-capped tweet from Triple-H talking about the passing of The Ultimate Warrior.

Hours later, I’m still in shock.

This has got to be one of the hardest pro wrestling deaths to handle as a fan and as a person.

In the past decade or so, we’ve seen many deaths within wrestling as the byproduct of current, unstoppable addiction. All of which are sad, but you sometimes, sadly, saw it coming.

With Jim Hellwig, the man behind the face paint, it was different. This was a man who was literally just on television on Monday night, who after so many years, buried the hatchet with the WWE and was given the adulation, respect and honor he so rightfully deserved within the wrestling industry.

He was also a man, many of us would come to discover through his induction speech, was a dedicated and loving father with two young daughters and a wife that you could tell were his entire world and adored with every fiber of his being.

And that’s what makes his sudden passing at age 54 so tragic. He was in such a “feel good” place in my eyes — all past drama was behind and a bright future as an occasional WWE contributor but more importantly as a father and husband ahead of him. Yet, here we are reading about how he collapsed on his way to his car with his wife yesterday. Just heartbreaking.

God speed and rest in peace, sir.

Yet, I don’t want to leave this piece on a sad and somber note, because The Ultimate Warrior meant something to me. Yes, that insanely muscular wild man left an indelible mark on not only me, but wrestling fans both passing and hardcore a like.

The Ultimate Warrior was a performer that, along with Hulk Hogan, was one of the most recognizable names from one of the great boom periods in wrestling history. Ask anyone who “watched it as a kid” and is in their late 20s, 30s and even 40s and they’ll mention two names — Hogan and Warrior. Warrior was able to transcend just “being a wrestler” he was a cultural icon, someone woven into the pop culture DNA of so many of us. I mean you don’t end up in a Phil Collins video if you don’t have some cultural cache.

Jokes aside, what made Warrior so special was that he was so different. As a kid when you see this man, who is muscled beyond all belief, running at top speed to a ring, wearing face paint and shaking the ropes like a being possessed, you say, “Oooh, what’s that!” He captured our imaginations and hearts and for some of us — converted us into lifelong fans.

To me, his feuds with “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Andre the Giant,Jake “The Snake” Roberts, The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan are feuds that’ll forever stand out in my mind. Sure, as a cynical, jaded fan you might criticize the “work rate, brother” but to me, even now, there’s still some childhood magic in there.

The Ultimate Warrior has left us, but the body of work he has given the fans, like me, will never be forgotten because they helped mold a part of our lives. If you know me, I’m a huge wrestling nerd and The Ultimate Warrior is one of the main reasons for it.

I wish this column were coming 20, 30, 40 years down the road and we’d be fondly looking back on a man’s legacy and work and a life well-spent who saw his kids go onto great heights and not a sudden tragedy. To quote a friend, ‘sometimes the universe just sucks that way.’

But, for now, thank you Jim Hellwig – The Ultimate Warrior. May you shake the ropes of that big ring in the sky in peace and harmony. — Bill Bodkin

The Ultimate Warrior died last night.

Yet another part of my childhood died as well. The Ultimate Warrior was the WWF with Hulk Hogan. Part of a class featuring brightly colored, cartoonish characters, with over the top antics, the Ultimate Warrior made us all excited when he dashed to the ring, beat up the bad guy and shook all the ring ropes as a sign of dominance.

Warrior along with Hulk Hogan, Macho Man, Sgt. Slaughter, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, were all the famous wrestlers when I was a kid. This was a time when wrestling was more kid-friendly than any other era in the industry. True heroes vs. true villains. The Ultimate Warrior was an icon of the era. The face paint, the rope shaking, the snarls, the shouts, the original fist pumping, rope running, high impact, splash to the mat… The Ultimate Warrior got young fans everywhere screaming and cheering behind him. His feuds against baddies like The Undertaker, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Papa Shango, Randy Savage, the turncoat Sgt. Slaughter, and even his big main event match, the collision against Hulk Hogan were the stuff of legend. Warrior vs. Hogan, for you newer and younger fans were probably equate to The Rock vs. Stone Cold or even Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk. Matches like that do not happen often, but when they did, it was HUGE.

The Ultimate Warrior became an icon. You walk down the street and ask a random person who Hulk Hogan is, they know. You ask the same of the Ultimate Warrior, and yes, they will know. When you make an impact like the Ultimate Warrior, your name, your legacy becomes the stuff of legend.

Saturday night, he gave a speech at the 2014 Hall of Fame. He spoke again just two nights ago on WWE Monday Night RAW. I am glad he was inducted this year into the Hall. Too often a true legend passes away and it is only then that person is considered for the prestigious honor. This is an honor someone like “Macho Man” Randy Savage will only be able to watch from above.

Jim Hellwig, a family man. Passing away suddenly at the age of 54. The words escape me, the tragedy leaves me speechless. He may be gone, but The Ultimate Warrior will NEVER be forgotten. Thank you for the memories. –Michael Dworkis

Sometime in September 1998 during the legendary “Monday Night Wars,” I remember tuning into WCW Monday Night Nitro in the midst of the power struggle between NWO Wolfpac and Hollywood before the Fall Brawl pay-per-view. With both wrestling companies trying to top one another for the rating’s victory, anything seemed possible after each passing week. I specifically remember The Ultimate Warrior making his debut by confronting Hollywood Hogan in the middle of the ring. I was literally bornthree days before The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hogan at Wrestlemania VI. My era of wrestling began with the dawning of the NWO and WWF’s Attitude era. However, I could sense this character’s larger-than-life aura so I asked my father, ‘Who is The Warrior?’ I remember him saying how The Ultimate Warrior was one of the few guys to ever beat Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania. I thought to myself, ‘No way, Hulk Hogan lost at Wrestlemania?!? Why aren’t we learning about this in class?’ It felt so groundbreaking and I instantly became drawn to his mystique.

Once I started watching wrestling in 1996, I became a die-hard fan for years to come. Growing up, I rented movies from a local video store called Video Home Center in Manalapan, New Jersey. It’s a childhood experience that I miss till this very day; the owner had such an incredible wrestling collection that dated back to the early eighties. Literally, you could rent 5 movies for 5 days for $5. Every week, my love for wrestling grew as I rented old WCW, WWF, and ECW pay-per-views. Whether it was Hogan body slamming Andre The Giant or Yokozuna, I knew wrestling’s back history pretty well for an 8-year old.

Even though The Ultimate Warrior’s WCW tenure isn’t well-regarded, it helped me discover his greatest matches with the WWF. I remember holding Wrestlemania VI in my hands as I read the match listing on the back cover. The caption that instantly caught my mind, “Champion vs. Champion.” I always loved the Intercontinental Championship, maybe even more than the Heavyweight title. There is probably a portion of wrestling fans that agree with me; the old Intercontinental Title matches were always the best because those wrestlers were hungry for bigger success. The thought of a wrestler holding both prestigious titles seemed like the world’s greatest accomplishment.

I slipped Wrestlemania VI into my VCR and watched the greatest wrestlers of all time such as Macho Man, Brett Hart, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts take center stage. When the main event arrived, I remember the struggle of rooting against either competitor. I literally had an epiphany, ‘Could this match possibly end in a tie so nobody goes home disappointed?’ Even though I never saw him wrestle beforehand, Warrior won me over despite my allegiance to Hulk Hogan. While Hogan and Warrior were criticized for their in-ring abilities, this battle ranks atop the list of greatest Wrestlemania matches. Both wrestlers delivered their best performance in front of a raucous Toronto crowd. When Warrior lifted Hogan over his head, I nearly lost my mind! How could anyone be strong enough to throw Hulk/Hollywood Hogan? As an eight-year old kid who loved wrestling and superheroes, the combination of Warrior’s vibrant face paint and contagious intensity hooked me into his character. I truly believed he held some superhuman power based off his promo deliveries and matches. When Warrior pinned Hogan with the clean three count, my respect factor easily went up a hundred notches as both guys walked out victors that night. Warrior deserved his moment to shine; Hogan didn’t lose my respect for passing the torch.

Over the next few months, my fondest Ultimate Warrior memories came from watching his iconic matches at Wrestlemania. I still get goose bumps when I see Ultimate Warrior sprint down the aisle to save Hogan at Wrestlemania VIII. The moment itself summarizes everything right about professional wrestling; the little details like Warrior running at full speed brought such a dramatic flair of importance to the storyline. He fully embodied the warrior spirit; it was an extension of his real-life personality and his determination separated him from his contemporaries. Those moments called for someone to rise to challenge; he delivered the greatest memories on the biggest stages for legions of wrestling fans.

When he stood in the middle of the ring during Raw, I couldn’t contain my excitement as he shifted from thanking the fans as Jim Hellwig to Warrior within mere seconds of putting on his mask. Somewhere deep within the subconscious of my eight-year old self, the core innocence of my childhood came back. When he shook the ropes, I just smiled knowing he came back to where he rightfully belonged this entire time. When I watched his Hall of Fame speech, I felt his passion for the wrestling industry pour out of the screen. The image of seeing a proud husband, father, and son thank his family helped me feel comfortable in knowing that he moved on to a very good life away from wrestling.

After hearing the news yesterday, I felt sick to my stomach knowing the industry lost another befallen icon. Immediately, the image of seeing his two young daughters escort him during his induction broke my heart. My sincerest condolences go out to his loving family that helped him become an even better man. On behalf of the wrestling community, I thank The Ultimate Warrior for leaving such a lasting impact on all of our lives. His memory will last forever in the four-corner ring of magic we all cherish. In his own words, “And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized.” –Anthony Toto

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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