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EditorialIn Tribute To Wrestlers & Personalities Who Passed Away In 2023

In Tribute To Wrestlers & Personalities Who Passed Away In 2023

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Hello everyone. Today, I am bringing you an extensive list in commemoration of the wrestlers and personalities who passed away in 2023. Respect to everything these individuals contributed to wrestling, and we extend all our condolences to their friends and family.

Absolute Andy (11/23)

Andreas Ullman was a veteran of the German independent scene, mostly working for Westside Xtreme Wrestling. A few years after starting out in 2003, he remained with the promotion for his entire career from 2006 to 2022. In that time, he wrestled over 300 matches, and his biggest opponents included stars like: Bryan Danielson, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jeff Jarrett, Gunther, Ilja Dragunov, Malakai Black, and many more. He passed away in November from an undisclosed illness. Andy received many tributes, including one from his old rival Gunther.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Adnan Al-Kaissie (9/6)

Known to many as “General Adnan”, he was an Iraqi-American professional wrestler and manager best known as Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissey. He was born in Baghdad, and went to school with Saddam Hussein.

He began wrestling in America during 1959, and this continued up to the mid-80s, before becoming a manager for heel foreigner characters. During his time as a wrestler, he won many championships, including the WWWF World Tag Team Championship with Chief Jay Strongbow.

While managing him, Sgt. Slaughter defeated The Ultimate Warrior at Royal Rumble ’91 to become the WWF Champion. He & Sgt. Slaughter allied with The Iron Sheik (who now went by Colonel Mustafa) to form the Triangle Of Terror, and the trio fought and lost in a handicap match in the main event of SummerSlam ’91 against Hulk Hogan & The Ultimate Warrior.

Al-Kaissie formerly managed his own company, the World All-Star Wrestling Alliance, which he co-owned with Ken Patera. He retired from wrestling in 1998.

Image courtesy of Pro Wrestling Stories

Adrian Street (7/31)

“Exotic” Adrian Street was so far ahead of his time, he was sorely misunderstood. His flamboyant character generated a ton of heat, not just with wrestling audiences, but with his own father. He was pushing the limits of sexuality in wrestling long before others dared to try. The Welsh Superstar’s career is so storied that I cannot do it justice in a few paragraphs, so I highly recommend you to read his story in the following, titled:

Adrian Street: From Glitz to Grappling, His Legendary Tale

At 82, his cause of death was sepsis that had developed from a bout of colitis.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Bart Sawyer (9/12)

He was best known for his time in Championship Wrestling USA and the United States Wrestling Association during the 1990s, along with many other promotions, including ECW, Memphis, and several NWA territories. His character was originally modeled on Bart Simpson, so he was given a nickname of “The Bartman”.

Pictured above is Sawyer as USWA World Tag Team Champion with Flex Kavana, a young man who some may know as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He wrestled in to the 2000s until a stroke in 2004 forced him into retirement.

Billy Two Rivers (2/12)

He was a Canadian Mohawk wrestler whose career spanned from 1953 to 1977. After retiring, he joined politics, where he served as elder, chief, and councilor of the Kahnawake reservation. He has appeared in several movies, including: appeared in several films, including Pocahontas: The Legend, Black Robe, and Taking Lives.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Black Warrior (1/10)

Jesús Toral López was best known for his work for Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) between 1995 and 2013, as well for his work in some independent promotions. He also served as a teacher.

Although he adopted many names and gimmicks in his career, his time as Black Warrior from 1996 to 2009 was his most lucrative. This included singles reigns as the NWA World Light Heavyweight Champion and NWA World Middleweight Champion. He passed away at the age of 54, with no cause being given by the family.

Bray Wyatt (8/24)

The shock of Bray Wyatt’s passing continues to be a struggle for fans, and for all those who knew him personally. Most people reading this list will be aware of Bray Wyatt and his career, but for those who don’t, allow me to highlight what he did.

Bray Wyatt was a creative enigma. In a world where it is so easy for people to be critical, whether it be in person, behind closed doors, or via online platforms, Windham Rotunda fought every day for his creative vision. Bray Wyatt was an odd, yet compelling, character who often spoke in riddles of which may never be deciphered. Yet, it was his delivery, and his passion to strive to be something different. Something truly unique. To set himself away from the pack. That’s what his legacy is.

He may have become a WWE Champion, but no amount of championships take precedence over what Windham Rotunda was willing to do to perform as an original character on television. When he wasn’t fighting for his vision, he was one of the nicest people backstage. He loved the fans, and he would take extra time to greet them, especially the children.

At the young age of 36, Windham Rotunda had so much to give, not only to wrestling, but to his family and friends. It is truly tragic that he was taken away long before his time. In August, we reported he had died of a heart attack while asleep at his home. Following the news, there was an incredible outpouring of tributes. Over four months later, the disbelief of his passing remains strong for many.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Brett Sawyer (9/8)

Brett Sawyer (pictured right next to his older brother) was trained by “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer and Ricky Steamboat. He debuted in 1976 at the tender age of 16. He was known for winning tag team championships with Buzz, but also other names like Tom Prichard and Rocky Johnson. While working for the NWA territories, Brett & Buzz worked some matches in Jim Crockett Promotions during the mid-80s.

After retiring in 1998, he opened a wrestling school called Mad Dog’s Palace School of Professional Wrestling, a name given in tribute to his older brother, who had passed away in 1992. Brett Eugene Woyan passed away at the age of 63.

Bushwacker Butch (4/3)

He was a New Zealander wrestler famously known as one-half of The Bushwackers tag team with Bushwacker Luke. In 2015, they were inducted in to the WWE Hall Of Fame. They won a considerable number of tag team championships during a storied career beginning in the mid-60s and ended in the early-2000s.

In early April, had traveled to Los Angeles, California to take part in the WrestleMania activities, but after being hospitalized, sadly passed away at the age of 78.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Charlie Norris (2/6)

He was known mostly for his WCW tenure in 1993, although he spent much of his career working for Pro Wrestling America, where he won five heavyweight and two tag team championships for the promotion.

In 1991, Norris was considered to be brought in to play a Native American character in the World Wrestling Federation, but they instead went with Chris Chavis, who is widely known as Tatanka. Charlies Norris passed away at the age of 59.

Mr. Excellent (8/14)

Dan Excellent made his pro wrestling debut in 1995, after being trained by Dory Funk Jr. at the Funkin’ Conservatory in Ocala, Florida, Florida. I worked mostly for the IWA and ACW, with his biggest profile feud against Ricky Morton of The Rock N’ Roll Express. For more on his career, Slam Wrestling did a piece on his career here:

‘MR. EXCELLENT’ EXCELS IN THE RING AND IN … MATH?!

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Droz (6/30)

He was known for one of the most unfortunate stories of the Attitude Era, when a botched wrestling move made him a quadriplegic. Before that, he had enjoyed much success as a footballer, and then as a wrestler for the WWF. While he regained some mobility in his later life, he had required 24-hour in-home care, daily medication, and the need to lie flat for long periods. After the news of his passing, many tributes were put forward, including The Rock saying the following:

Emile Dupree (9/17)

He was a Canadian pro wrestler and promoter, along with being the Father of former WWE Superstar Rene Dupree. He wrestled many legends in the business, including Killer Kowalski, Dusty Rhodes, and others.

From Wiki: In 1977, Duprée began his own small wrestling promotion. This promotion was run all across the Maritimes and as years went on and the promotion grew, he would take the tour to Quebec, Ontario, and other places around the Maritimes.

At one time, Grand Prix Wrestling was televised and had major success until World Wrestling Entertainment bought it from Emile. Notable wrestlers who wrestled include: Edge, Christian, Killer Kowalski, André the Giant, Randy Savage, Lanny Poffo, Harley Race, and Ric Flair.

During the summer of 2008, Emile ran Grand Prix Wrestling. Emile claimed that the promotion ended due to heavy travelling costs. The promotion was partnered up with the WWE to bring Maritime wrestling talent into the WWE spotlight. As of May 2013, Emile and his son René decided to bring Grand Prix Wrestling back to life. Their most recent show was in April 2017.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Eric Froelich (2/10)

A German fan favorite? That’s what Eric Froelich was in the 60s and 70s. He claims his biggest opponent was a real-life tiger, that he fought 19 times. Want to know more about this man? Again, Slam Wrestling has a piece on the “Good Guy German” in the following link. He passed away at the age of 85.

ERICH FROELICH A RARITY AS A GOOD GUY GERMAN

The Iron Sheik (6/7)

Sheik-y baby made the wrestling word humble upon his passing. For no one can withstand the Camel Clutch for too long. Especially that filth, Hulk Hogan.

In all seriousness, The Iron Sheik was a freak athlete in his day. He was to compete in the Olympics, but the unexpected, mysterious death of his hero encouraged him to move to the United States to advance his career. He started his pro wrestling career under Verne Gagne, who led the AWA, and trained under Billy Robinson in the same class as Ric Flair. Sheik also helped to train legends like Ricky Steamboat.

He is known as the first and only Iranian Champion in WWE history. His colorful character made him a household name, along with helping to cement Hulk Hogan’s babyface hero status. He was despicably entertaining throughout, and long after his wrestling career. Some of his shoot interviews are comically legendary. There will only ever be one Iron Sheik.

Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri passed away the age of 81, following a cardiac arrest with congestive heart failure and hypertension as contributing factors.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Jason Silver (2/23)

He was a regular independent wrestler working for a number of promotions including: Heart of Texas Pro Wrestling (formerly ACW), Metroplex Wrestling (MPX) and VIP Wrestling. Silver was known as one-half of The Lost Boys tag team, who won several championships together. He was a positive person who regularly helped to lift people’s spirits on social media. He passed away at the young age of 36.

Jay Briscoe (1/17)

On January 17, 2023, Jay died in a car crash in Laurel, Delaware, at the age of 38, when a Chevrolet Silverado 1500, being driven in the opposite direction of Pugh’s Chevrolet Silverado 2500, unexpectedly crossed the center line and collided with his vehicle head-on. His daughters were also involved in the crash, and have since made a recovery.

Along with his brother, The Briscoe Brothers are known as (by far) the most successful tag in Ring Of Honor history. Not only that, but they may have been the most accomplished tag team in the world, having won titles everywhere they had been. Not only that, but Jay was a two-time ROH World Champion, so he had time to establish himself as a formidable singles star in his own right.

The Briscoe Brothers had an amazing year in 2022, establishing themselves on major TV networks with exceptional PPV matches against FTR and others. While a previous controversy held them back from appearing on AEW TV, it is no longer the case, and Mark Briscoe continues to pay tribute to his brother by pushing forward.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Jeff Gaylord (3/17)

He was a wrestler in the late-80s and 90s, mostly known as a frequent tag team partner of Jeff Jarrett, along with working for WCCW and USWA. He had previously enjoyed a successful football career.

After leaving wrestling in 1997, he was later convicted of several bank robberies. At the age of 64, he was found deceased at a bus stop in Englewood, Colorado. It was assumed that he was homeless.

Jerry Jarrett (2/14)

Jerry Jarrett’s contributions to wrestling cannot be understated. As a promoter in the mid-south, he originally founded the CWA, and later the USWA, which saw many of wrestling’s legends get their big breaks. He co-founded NWA:TNA, that later become TNA Wrestling, and then Impact Wrestling.

Jerry also had a wrestling career, where he picked up a few titles after serving as a referee. He lived his life to promote professional wrestling, and he did a seriously good job of it. Jarrett died of a heart attack while undergoing treatment for esophageal cancer on February 14, 2023, at 80.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Joyce Grable (9/29)

Trained by Judy Grable, The Fabulous Moolah gave her the ring name of Joyce Grable for how much she looked like Judy. She went on to win the NWA United States Women’s Championship, along with the NWA Women’s World Tag Team Championship six times, with three being with Wendi Richter. Grable worked as a wrestler from 1971 to 1991. She passed away at the age of 70.

Lanny Poffo (2/2)

Pictured above is “Macho Man” Randy Savage (left) and his brother, “The Genius” Lanny Poffo (right). While he could never match the legendary career of Randy Savage, Lanny found his own path and accomplished many things. Along with claiming championships around the world, he was great at portraying more elaborate characters to draw heat.

After getting a WCW contract, Randy had acquired the “Gorgeous George” gimmick to be used by Lanny, of which he knew he could pull off. Despite getting paid, WCW never returned his calls to book him, so while he would have preferred to work, Lanny sat at home and collected the money.

Lanny was available to induct his brother in to the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2015. His last match happened in 2020, 46 years after making his wrestling debut. He passed away in February because of heart failure.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Kristen “Miami” Mitchell (Early May)

Earlier this year, the wrestling world unexpectedly lost a trailblazer of Australian women’s wrestling. Kristen Mitchell helped to shape the futures of several top stars, including Rhea Ripley, Toni Storm, The IIconics (Cassie Lee & Jesscia McKay), Shazza McKenzie, and more.

As a wrestler and trainer, it is said she was a ‘fierce, formidable and fearless’ competitor whose work away from the big stage was integral in shaping the future of women’s wrestling. She helped to lead the Melbourne City Wrestling academy, a training facility that has helped to produce some of Australia’s best talent since 1999. Rhea Ripley responded to the news on Twitter: “Thank you for the memories… rest peacefully.” – No cause of death has been given.

Mantaur (7/11)

Mike Halac had a short-lived, but memorable run in the World Wrestling Federation as the Mantaur character in early 1995. Dressed as a Minotaur with all the mannerisms, he enjoyed a winning streak, along with the opportunity of wrestling Razor Ramon for the Intercontinental Championship. He later wrestled as Tank for the same promotion. Halac also worked for ECW, WCW, USWA, CWA, and on the independent circuit.

He passed away in his sleep on July 11, 2023, at the age of 55. Earlier that day, he had fallen and injured his back. His daughter announced the news on social media.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Osamu Kido (12/11)

Osamu Kido passed away this month at the age of 73. He was an original member of the New Japan Pro Wrestling roster in 1973, and a student of the legendary Karl Gotch. In his time, he became an IWGP Tag Team Champion with Akira Maeda. Kido also helped to form the Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) in 1984. In his later years, he assisted in the training of future stars like Shinsuke Nakamura in the NJPW Dojo.

Peggy Lee Leather (5/22)

She began wrestling for the World Wrestling Federation in 1980 under the booking of Fabulous Moolah. After leaving in 1985, she worked for the AWA for a few years, before briefly joining WCW in 1990. She worked the rest of her career on the independent circuit, and officially retired in 2013. Peggy Lee, along with winning several women’s titles, is a former NWA World Women’s Champion, which she held for an unknown period of time in 1994.

After accusations of Fabulous Moolah’s mistreatment of women came to light, Peggy Lee defended her former booker by saying the accusations were ridiculous, and no one should be burying her legacy. The only true thing about Moolah is her being a shrewd business woman, but Peggy Lee insists she never heard or witnessed Moolah pimping out her girls. Peggy passed away at the age of 64.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

“Lumberjack Pierre” Lafleur (5/17)

Managed by legendary manager “Captain” Lou Albano, the Yukon Lumberjacks became the WWWF Tag Team Champions in 1978. Eric (left) and Pierre (right) defeated Dino Bravo and Dominic DeNucci to begin a 148 day reign that lasted until they lost the titles to Larry Zbyszko and Tony Garea. Pierre was one of the first French Canadians to make it big in the World Wide Wrestling Federation, paving the way for the following generations of talent to come out of Quebec. Eric passed away in 1987 from a brain tumor, at the age of 35. Pierre wrestled from 1964 up to his retirement in 1983.

Russ Francis (10/1)

Francis was most famously known as a football player for the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers in the 70s and 80s. After retirement, he began a professional wrestling career, mostly working full time for the AWA and NWA Hawaii. He also worked in the 20-man battle royal at WrestleMania 2 along with other NFL stars. Francis passed away in a plane crash at 70-years-old.

Wrestler Deaths 2023

“Superstar” Billy Graham (5/17)

He helped to define the term “Superstar”. Billy Graham was so ahead of his time that he was trusted to take over from the long reigning Bruno Sammartino as the first true heel World Champion in WWE history. Outside of the World Wrestling Federation, he won numerous NWA titles, along with the CWA and IWA World Heavyweight titles.

However, Graham’s title reigns were not what made his career special. “Superstar” became the blueprint for how a wrestler should look and talk. As an award-winning bodybuilder, he was a training partner and close friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his natural charisma and promos resembled the interviewing style of boxer Muhammad Ali. Graham’s presentation heavily influenced Hogan’s monumentally successful character, not just by the way he looked, but by how he said words like “brother” all the time.

However, he was not without controversy. Billy Graham had a tumultuous relationship with the McMahon Family. He filed several lawsuits against Vince McMahon about steroids (despite doing them long before he wrestled) and child abuse to get hush money. These were cries for help as he struggled to pay for his medical expenses in a later life marred with health difficulties. It was so bad that he sold his Hall Of Fame ring on eBay, before saying he wanted out (he didn’t like Abdullah The Butcher’s induction). After Dusty Rhodes’ passing, he pleaded for a job in NXT, which drew fan criticism for the timing, although he claimed wanting to reconcile with Vince McMahon and help the young talent.

While Eldridge Wayne Coleman Jr. suffered many difficulties in his life, we should remember his career for helping to bring professional wrestling in to the mainstream. He looked like a superstar long before anyone. To this day, fans often criticize wrestlers for looking too ordinary, because having “the look” goes a long way. When Billy Graham walked down the street, you could tell he was somebody. Superstar helped to change the perception of what a professional wrestler can look and sound like, and I am sure that is a legacy he was proud of.

Terry Funk (8/23)

A career spanning over 50 years, the man known as Terry Funk lived and breathed professional wrestling from beginning to end. As one of the first, second generation stars, trained by his father Dory Funk, he was bred for success with his brother Dory Funk Jr. While becoming NWA World Heavyweight Champion would usually be the defining moment of a wrestler’s career, Funk’s love for hardcore wrestling is what most fans remember him for.

He played a huge role in helping ECW when it rebranded to Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1997. Not only that, but Mick Foley often credits Funk for mentoring him in the ways of hardcore. Terry Funk is often seen as the father of hardcore wrestling in the United States. To do some of the insane things he would do, at his age, was something to admire. Terry Funk was as tough as nails, and he’d be insulted if anyone held back.

I always remember a funny thing that Mick Foley said in his first book. When he started out, Foley asked Terry Funk how he made his punches look so real, so Funk punched him in the mouth. Foley said that was a real punch… and Funk agreed, which explained why they looked so real. They were very real.

While Funk may have been seriously underutilized during his time in the WWF, it takes nothing away from how legendary his career is. Terry Funk is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. Sadly, he and Bray Wyatt passed away one day apart, so WWE paid tribute to both of them in late-August. Terry Funk was 79.

Celebrity Honorees

Wrestler Deaths 2023

Bob Barker (8/26)

From 1972 to 2007, Bob Baker hosted the longest-running game show in North American television history, CBS’s The Price Is Right. In 2009, during a time when WWE included a guest host for Monday Night RAW every week for many months, Bob Baker stood out as possible the best of nearly 80 hosts. He was very comfortable and entertaining. They gave him a Slammy Award for being the best guest host by WWE. Baker passed away at the age of 99.

Jerry Springer (4/27)

He hosted the widely popular talk show “Jerry Springer” from 2001 to 2018. He worked with WWE several times over the years, and was twice invited to guest host WWE Raw, once in 2010, and again in 2014. And then in 2015, he hosted Jerry Springer Presents WWE Too Hot For TV on the WWE Network. He was a good sport whenever he and WWE worked together. Springer passed away at the age of 79 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Wrestler Deaths 2023Pee-wee Herman (7/30)

Paul Reubens portrayed the Pee-wee Herman character throughout the 80s, before shelving the character for close to a decade. He brought it back in 1999 and used it on several platforms before ending it in 2016. In 2010, he appeared as a guest host for Monday Night Raw. Herman appeared again a few months later at WrestleMania XXVII to tell The Rock he was John Cena’s biggest fan. He passed away at the age of 70, from acute hypoxic respiratory failure, following a six-year fight with leukemia and lung cancer.

This list took some time to compile, and I hope it provides a fitting tribute with nothing but respect to the men and women who contributed time to the world of professional wrestling. Please let me know if any of the information is incorrect, or if something should be included. Thank you for the time.

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