Wayne Coleman, a professional bodybuilder turned wrestler, was a star in the wrestling world during the 80s and 90s, thanks to his memorable appearances in WWE. He passed away last night at the age of 79.
Coleman stood out with his bleached blond hair and a charismatic and humorous persona. Known in the ring as Billy Graham, he established the current model of WWE: muscular, extravagant, and entertaining wrestlers.
Cause of death of Billy Graham
The WWE reported his death but did not specify the cause. Coleman underwent a liver transplant in 2002 after contracting hepatitis C and had to undergo multiple hip replacements.
He also spent his final years dealing with health issues that he attributed to the massive steroid use he had engaged in throughout his life as an athlete.
A successful career in the ring
Mr. Coleman, who stood at 6 feet 3 inches and weighed 165 pounds, with a chest measuring 32 inches and biceps he dubbed “python,” was known for his bloody battles at New York’s Madison Square Garden in the 1970s.
A former teenage evangelist who toured the country, he said he chose a name that paid homage to Southern Baptist preacher Billy Graham and the successful rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.
In wrestling promos and interviews, Coleman liked to address people as “brother,” a affectionate term often used in evangelical gatherings, but in the ring, he played the villain and relished mocking his opponents as boxer Muhammad Ali did.
“I took old things and made them new,” Coleman told the New York Daily News. “I wasn’t an old-style wrestler. I was the first guy who looked and posed like a bodybuilder, kneeling down and doing a bicep shot,” he explained in interviews.
Describing himself as a natural showman, he said he would do whatever it took to help draw in the audience and make the matches entertaining for ticket buyers.
The result was media attention, which led to invitations to appear on late-night talk shows.
Coleman enjoyed his biggest spotlight in what was then the World Wide Wrestling Federation, where he faced off against wrestlers like Dusty Rhodes and Harley Race.
Hulk Hogan’s mentor
Along the way, Coleman also met and mentored two rookie wrestlers, named James Janos and Terry Bollea, who would go on to become big stars known as Jesse Ventura and Hulk Hogan.
WWE wouldn’t be what it is today without pioneers like Wayne Coleman. For that reason, thank you, Coleman, for everything you’ve done and for the legacy you’ve left behind. The ring will always be yours.
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