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NEWSFLASH: Ultimate Warrior, Dead at 54
April 10, 2014

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OOWrestling.com


The Ultimate Warrior (born as Jim Hellwig, but legally known as "Warrior" since 1994) died on Tuesday evening of an apparent heart attack.
In a vacuum, his death would have been newsworthy... but Warrior had just spent the weekend being honored by WWE, publically formalizing the quiet warming of their relationship that finally began last summer, after nearly two decades of acrimony. That timing makes this almost creepy...

Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on Saturday, participated in the WrestleMania PPV on Sunday, and cut an in-ring/in-character promo on Monday's RAW that originally seemed to foreshadow his on-going presence as a "WWE Legend" overseeing the current generation of stars, but which retroactively seems eerily prescient.
Following the WrestleMania weekend, Warrior and his family flew to Phoenix, AZ, on Tuesday morning. Although they had recently moved to New Mexico, Warrior still had regular business in Arizona, and spent a lot of time there. Returning to a hotel on Tuesday evening, Warrior collapsed in the parking lot around 6pm local time, and was declared dead at the hospital a short time later.
He was 54.
No official cause of death is known as of this writing, but the responding officers have said it was, simply put, a catastrphic medical event that ended Warrior's life. TMZ quotes eye witnesses as saying Warrior clutched his chest before collapsing.
On personal note, I've put off the writing of this newsflash by an extra day or two because Warrior is such a confounding human being, and I'm not sure how to balance the myraid memories I have of him, and the myriad ways he influenced the world.
But my confusion and discomfort also extends to include the very Hall of Fame ceremony itself, where my Inner Asshole wanted to rush to a keyboard to make jokes about how sweaty and reddish Warrior seemed. But I didn't, because it seemed a mean observation to make on a night that was all about happy, shiny feelings.
But in retrospect, I wasn't imagining how Warrior looked, and now I wonder if maintaining my silence was the kind thing to do, afterall. Others have said similar things in the past few days, quoting WWE personnel who saw Warrior all weekend, and only NOW saying that he seemed unwell...  it's easy as pie to chalk Warrior up as another "wrestling death," presumably caused by the Evil Industry, even years after said wrestler GAVE UP said evils.
Eddie Guerrero is the poster boy for this. Few guys in wrestling history have rebounded from the Personal Demons like Eddie did... and yet, steroids and coke do their damage in real time, and it's damage that can't be undone. But the thing about Eddie is: I never saw a single thing amiss until the day I woke up and heard he was dead. Here, I'm saying I thought Warrior didn't seem quite right, and more importantly: the people around him, who could have done something, saw the same thing. And nothing happened.
Ouch. That hurts my brain. It hurts my conscience. But it's a very real source of my confusion and discomfort today. In addition to the people who are, retroactively, noticing Warrior's unwellness, there are also asshats who are theorizing that Warrior knew about his impending death, and that's the only reason why he finally made peace with WWE.
To those people, I'd just like to say: you're morons. Here in the year of our lord 2014, people don't receive bad medical news, and then show up, unmedicated and sweaty, to receive some last second financial windfall before death. They get treatment, they get medication, and they take care of themselves.
As much as the end of the Ultimate Warrior seems like a movie -- what with him having the best weekend of his life, only to die 24 hours later -- this is still reality. And Warrior's not some coniving shyster who decided to bilk WWE out of one last paycheck. He's a real guy, and I adamantly believe that if he knew his very life was at risk, he'd have taken the logical/non-fantastical steps to deal with it. I totally understand if you, like me, are confused by the fact that *WE* seemed to know something was wrong, and he didn't, but that's still no excuse to go leaping to outlandish conclusions.
For whatever it's worth, it is true that Warrior did agree to a multi-year Legends contract as part of his make-up with WWE (which started last year with videogame and action figure contracts, and now includes a new DVD and the HoF induction). WWE will honor that contract, and has already taken an active role in help Warrior's widow and two daughters through this difficult time. So that's good.
The other, primary source of my confusion and discomfort: Warrior was, by any reasonable metric, an important figure in the history of pro wrestling. But he was also somebody who did not distinguish himself as a fantastic human being outside of it.
To be sure, Warrior is not unique in this way. If we rated pro wrestlers on the lives they lived outside the ring, we'd have a lot fewer Hall of Famers.
But Warrior WAS unique in the way he was unapologetic about his words and deeds. Even given a chance to apologize for comments that included the homophobic, the racist, and the just-plain-insensitive, Warrior always chose to rationalize, instead. It was not the "Warrior Way" to apologize or take things back.
So we have to accept that as part of the man's make-up.
But here's the flip side: Warrior was the headliner at WrestleMania 6. He was the first (and only?) joint WWF/IC Titleholder. If we're fair, we can't take THOSE things back.
We have to accept them, too.
To make it more personal: Warrior's a big part of my own maturation process as a fan. I know I've told you all the story about how my fandom evolved when I got to college and found the internet, but before that, I'd already discovered it was OK to deviate from the WWF's prefered narrative. And in 1990, I was sick and tired of Hulk Hogan. So at WM6, I was cheering for Warrior.
I'm not gonna pretend that didn't happen. I accept it.

There's a flipside of THAT, too, since I spent much of the past 15 years using Warrior as more of a punchline than anything. He wasn't active in the ring, he wasn't adding any more to his legacy. So I was as guilty as anyone of making lazy, off-hand jokes about the guy.
I'm not gonna pretend THAT didn't happen, either. All I can do is hope that, given Warrior's own personal ethic about speaking one's mind (no matter how misguided), I won't be TOO vilified for the fact that my last comment about Warrior was how his new DVD seemed to upgrade his status from "talentless doofus" (as seen on WWE's original "Self Destruction" DVD) to "clueless asshole."
I'm not really proud of that. But I'd be a damned insincere son of a bitch if I tried to pretend it didn't happen. So I'll own it. Apparently, I'm not in entirely bad company, as I know Mick Foley and John Cena have already said they're not exactly proud of their last public comments about Warrior, too. For better or for worse, Warrior was Warrior, and he invited a certain type of response.
My confusion and discomfort remains, but I'm going to take some solace in the fact that I've exhibited behavior every bit as bi-polar as Warrior, and people out there are free to point that out, but it seems like a lot of you still don't completely despise me.
Warrior did a lot of good, and a lot of questionable. I am unabashed in my fandom of Warrior's wrestling career, but probably took some questionable potshots at the guy after. It all fits together.
Or, at least, I'm going to pretend it does, because it makes me feel better.
And about Warrior's in-ring career, of which I'm such a fan?
Well, I guess I can give a quick recap, but truth is, this is the first major wrestling death where there's already a DVD retrospective out there that does it better than I can. And in Warrior's case, there are TWO DVDs out there that do it.
I heartily recommend you go out and watch them. Yes, even the "Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior," which Warrior hated, and took personally. Myself, I don't think it's that horrible a 90 minutes; the vast majority is NOT a character assassination, it's just guys remembering Warrior, quirks and all.
The title ("self destruction") certainly influenced the narrative, and a few guys actually seem to have low opinions of Warrior, but a lot of it is just good-natured riffing (Edge, Christian, Jericho, especially) and a matter-of-fact retelling of the instances where Warrior didn't behave wisely.
Then, the new DVD spins things a whole other way, and I think you'll see what I saw in Warrior if you check that one out, even if you HAVE been blinded by his out-of-the-ring behavior over the years.
But just for the sake of completion, here's what I remember about Warrior:

I remember reading the PWI mags when I was in elementary school, and seeing "Power Team USA" (which included Warrior and Sting) getting started out in California.
I remember reading those same mags a year or so later, when Dingo Warrior almost instantly graduated from Texas/World Class to a touring C-show guy for the WWF.
I remember Warrior never showed up on TV for about 6 months, and actually growing intrigued by this guy who was winning on shows in the PWI house show results, and seemed invinceable. Then, when he did, he was "Ultimate" Warrior.
I remember he had no theme music, and I was entirely underwhelmed in 1987.
Then, they added the theme music, and I remember it took no time before I was hooked.
I remeber WrestleMania 4, which I paid to see on closed circuit TV (it was my second WM), and I actually thought Warrior's singles match (against Hercules) was almost as huge as the WWF Title Tourney.
And then, it gets good, as I remember tuning in the Saturday after SummerSlam '88 (the first SummerSlam), and jumping off the couch when they announced Warrior was the special surprise opponent for the Honkeytonk Man, and won the IC Title.
[I will spare you the detailed Word Picture of what happened when I saw that The Lovely Miss Elizabeth removed her skirt at said show. Ahem.]
I remember being on board for this stunt booking, even though Warrior had yet to have a single, actual, good wrestling match, nor a memorable extended feud.
I remember being on the brink of giving up on Warrior when all this changed at WrestleMania 5. Warrior had a really, really good match with Rick Rude. And more importantly, he LOST. Rude and Warrior went on to have a solid feud over the title. Warrior regained the title at SummerSlam.
Along the way, I remember Warrior "graduated" from Rude to Bobby Heenan's other major star: Andre the Giant. Warrior won a feud over Andre in late 1989, which established him as a potential main event star.
I remember that the WWF took advantage of Warrior's momentum, and booked him to face Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 6. It was the first major good guy vs. good guy match I'd ever seen, and I was LOVING it, since Warrior was the underdog and nominal "bad guy" (not seriously evil, but he WAS cutting promos about hijacking Hogan's personal jet and crashing it). I was on Team Warrior at WM6, and loved it when he won.
I remember Warrior kept that momentum rolling when the WWF revived his feud with Rick Rude. The two had good chemistry, and Rude claimed that he was the man who took the IC Title from Warrior, so he'd be the one to take the WWF Title. That took Warrior through SummerSlam and into the autumn.
That's when Sgt. Slaughter returned to the WWF, as an Iraqi-loving bad guy. I remember being STUNNED when Slaughter beat Warrior for the title at the Royal Rumble '91. I wasn't quite to the point where I was "smart," but I still somehow instinctively knew that was a reach. It was contrived as a way for Hogan to return to the WWF Title picture.
But I also remember not caring too much once Warrior moved onto a feud with Macho Man Randy Savage. The result was, quite possibly, Warrior's best match ever, at WrestleMania 7. Warrior beat Savage, sending him into (temporary) retirement, and the post-match antics (with Savage reuniting with Elizabeth) were almost as awesome.
Then, I remember Warrior's last truly excellent onscreen moment: the Saturday morning when the Undertaker sealed him in an air-tight casket. I was in junior high by now, but that still freaked me out, a little bit.
But then, I remember they never really paid that off. Instead of a major Warrior/Taker match, the WWF created a Warrior/Hogan team to face Slaughter and the Iron Sheid at SummerSlam. 
What I don't remember is why Warrior suddenly disappeared after SummerSlam, seemingly replaced by Sid. That's because I was still a cute little mark, years away from discovering the internet. I found out later that Warrior demanded an upfront payoff from Vince McMahon at SummerSlam; he got his oney, but he also got fired after the show.
I remember that, from there, things were never the same.
I remember attending my first (and to date, only) WrestleMania, live an in person, at WrestleMania 8, in Indianapolis. Warrior made a surprise return to save Hulk Hogan from a 2-on-1 attack. I don't remember the backstage reasons why, but found out later that he was basically brought back to offset the fact that Hogan was leaving the WWF, to lessen the heat from the federal steroid investigation that was on-going.
I remember Warrior had an awful feud with Papa Shango, which I was now old enough (and "smart" enough) to find stupid.
I remember Warrior started to gain momentum again in late Summer, when he started feuding with Randy Savage again. The two fellow babyfaces had a match at SummerSlam, that ended in a count-out due to the interference of Ric Flair and Mr. Perfect.
And then, I remember Warrior was gone again. I found out later that he was sent home after the WWF started feeling even more heat related to steroid allegations. Warrior failed a drug test, according to most reports. The Road Warriors and British Bulldog disappeared at roughly the same time, too.
Somewhere around here, I remember I got ont he internet, and started following insider news. That's when I found out that Warrior and the WWF were at serious odds over pay and copyright issues. This is when Jim Hellwig changed his name, legally, to "Warrior," so he could keep the gimmick if he chose to work elsewhere.
I remember he did NOT go to work elsewhere, however, and instead made his peace with the WWF in 1996. The WWF was desperate, after mass defections and the creation of WCW Nitro. Warrior was willing to make the deal, because he'd recently started his "Warrior University" and wanted the publicity for his personal venture.
I remember Warrior's return got off to a hot start, when he beat Triple H at WM12.
I remember Warrior challenged for Goldust's IC Title, but only mustered a count-out win.
I remember Warrior was moved up into a main event feud, where he was going to team with Shawn Michaels and Ahmed Johnson against Vader, Owen Hart, and British Bulldog. But it never happened. Warrior was fired after no-showing a weekend's worth of house shows. Warrior claimed he was bereaved due to his father's death; the WWF countered that he did not inform them of this until weeks later (and some claimed that Warrior was estranged from his father, and was just using the death as an excuse to get a weekend off).
I remember Warrior went back into semi-retirement for 18 months, and then rumors startes swirling that Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan wanted to bring him to WCW.
I remember everything that could go wrong went wrong with Warrior's brief WCW run.
I remember that the creative plan for Warrior was for him to lead an oWn (One Warrior Nation) against the nWo, and everybody thought it was lame. 
I remember Warrior was imbued with magical powers, and one of his skits involved disappearing in a cloud of smoke. The British Bulldog nearly died after taking a bump on Warrior's hidden hatch in the ring, when nobody bothered to tell the wrestlers it was there.
I remember Hogan beat Warrior in Warrior's only WCW match, and it was terrible. And not just because of the botched fireball finish.
I remember Warrior then disappeared from WCW, because Bischoff had only seen fit to sign Warrior to a 90-day guarantee, in order to get him on TV immediately, while they worked out other details of the contract like merchandising and other ancilaries. But then Warrior wanted a shitton of money to extend the contract, and even Bischoff (who was always generous with Ted Turner's money) had to decline. [Warrior has said that the 90-day contract was a ploy by Bischoff and Hogan, to get him to come in, lose to Hogan, and then go away. But the preponderance of evidence and current conventional wisdom is that WCW negotiated in good faith, and Warrior torpedoed his WCW run by overvaluing himself, as he had on at least one previous occassion in the WWF.]
This was late 1998. Warrior, from this point on, was never a part of mainstream pro wrestling again. He was involved in a few start-ups and overseas tours (his last match took place in Spain, in 2008), but was mostly known for his website writings and personal appearances (usually for right-wing/conservative causes, and sometimes involving controversial comments about homosexuals and those of Middle Eastern descent, most notably at a speech at the University of Connecticutt in 2009).
WWE tried to reach out to Warrior during this time frame, in an attempt to "rerail" his career and legacy. Warrior refused, and the result was the "Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior" DVD. But time heals all wounds, and more importantly: the vast majority of fans never heard about Warrior's other antics, and still remembered his in-ring career. In wrestling, the fans voice usually reigns supreme.
In 2013, Warrior and WWE mended fences. He was included in action figure and videogame releases, and the now-open dialogue resulted in his induction into the 2014 Hall of Fame (and a multi-year Legends' contract).
For as much controversy as Warrior caused in his 15 years of retirement, his return to WWE was a joyous occassion, all around. Warrior has softened and changed his tone, and all those within the business were willing to engage and forgive him. Even Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon were photographed with Warrior, backstage at the Hall of Fame, after years of serious personal acrimony.
More importantly, Warrior's relationship with the fans was restored and reaffirmed. Whether you followed Warrior after he left the business in 1998, or simply remembered him for his one impactful four-year run in the WWF, you could get up off your chair and cheer for the Warrior one more time this weekend.
Warrior's final appearance at Monday's RAW saw him, seemingly, pass the torch to a new generation of "warriors" who he'd be checking in on, from time to time. Instead, the torch passing moment becomes eerily prescient, now that Warrior has died.
His final address to wrestling fans:
"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 and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the story tellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever. You, you, you, you, you, you are the legend makers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back I see many potential legends. Some of them with warrior spirits. And you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends, as well. I am Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of The Ultimate Warrior will run forever!"
OO certainly will never forget the complicated, yet compelling, man who was Warrior. And, of course, OO sends its heartfelt condolences to all of Warrior's family, friends, and fans, especially his wife Dana and two young daughters.

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Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.



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