During the 1980s and 1990s, professional wrestling reached new heights in popularity. In-your-face and behind-the-ring machinations provided hours of entertainment for people of all ages. Professional wrestling continues to draw fans, but to those who watched our favorite grapplers like André the Giant, Ric Flair, and "Diamond" Dallas Page, the sense of nostalgia attached to the sport can never be re-created.
We got to thinking about professional wrestlers from the '80s and '90s - what they've been up to, details about their lives, information about their tragic ends - and collected a lot of facts as a result. Vote up the most fascinating tidbits that, in the words of Ric Flair, make you say, "Wooo!"
André René Roussimoff, or André the Giant to his legions of fans, spent his life wrestling. During the wrestler's initial years in the ring in his native France and over the course of his career in American professional wrestling, André endured numerous injuries - some of which were perpetuated by his acromegaly.
Acromegaly (gigantism), which releases excess human growth hormone into the body, led to André's large size. He never got treatment for acromegaly because, according to his doctor, he was afraid "it might interfere with his career as a wrestler." For André,
I use what God gave me... I am not supernatural. I’m just myself. So, what God gave me, I use it to make a living.
The importance of wrestling to André also came through in his willingness to endure increasing levels of pain. With his back in such bad shape, André had to wear a back brace, something he couldn't do in simple trunks. This is why he adopted the cross-body singlet for which he's known: He needed something to hide the device used to support him.
By the time André appeared in The Princess Bride, he was in constant pain. According to co-star Cary Elwes,
André didn’t drink for the sake of drinking — Andre was in a lot of pain, God bless him. His back was injured from carrying all that weight around, and from having other wrestlers breaking chairs over his back.
André had surgery soon after he filmed his part in The Princess Bride. Even after surgery, during which doctors "had to cut his back open and widen the spine," André was limited in what he could do in the ring due to his weakened physical condition.
In 1987, when André faced off against Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania III, he was carted to and from the ring and even had to hold himself up by the ropes during the match. This didn't stop him from agreeing to lose - and be knocked off his feet - toward the end of the show.
Prior to becoming a professional wrestler, Scott "Bam Bam" Bigelow worked as a bounty hunter, took a bullet to the back, and spent time in a Mexican prison. He made his WWF debut in 1987. "Pretty Boy" Larry Sharp said Bigelow was recruited into the sport because he was "a natural... he can do cartwheels, monkey flips, and drop-kick a guy 6-foot-6 right in the chin."
Bigelow wrestled for over a decade before an act of heroism sent him to the hospital for two months. In 2000, Bigelow rushed into a house fire and, while rescuing children from the flames, was burned across 40% of his body. Bigelow saved three children that day and later commented, "It's really ironic that a guy who wore flames almost his whole career and has his head tattooed can be burnt 40% and not have scars."
Bigelow went on to open a failed restaurant and survive a motorcycle accident in 2005. He struggled with the transition out of wrestling, remarking, "You did this the first half of your life and now this is the second half and you're bruised and battered... So what the hell can you do?"
Bigelow perished from an overdose in 2007.
- Photo: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com
When Randy "Macho Man" Savage passed on May 20, 2011, it was first reported that he'd been in a car crash. Savage, who'd been traveling in a car with his wife Barbara in Florida, reportedly lost consciousness and ran into a tree.
Autopsy results later indicated Savage hadn't succumbed to injuries he sustained. He had suffered a "cardiovascular event" that actually caused the incident. Savage, who'd left wrestling years earlier, had no history of heart problems, but his official cause of death was heart disease.
Minimal amounts of drugs and alcohol were found in his body, and he had an enlarged heart and coronary artery disease. Barbara was not severely injured in the incident.
After Savage was cremated, his ashes were poured at the same spot on his property where his dog's remains had been placed just days before. Savage's brother, Lanny, poured both sets of ashes. When Randy insisted Lanny pour Hercules's ashes, Lanny asked why, and Randy replied:
I want you to do it. If anything happens, I want you to do the same thing with my ashes, the same way, the same place. If it’s good enough for Hercules, it’s good enough for me.
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"Diamond" Dallas Page was a regular fixture on WCW Monday Nitro. His diamond hand sign, multiple catchphrases, and quick-draw finishing maneuver (the diamond cutter) made him a fan favorite.
Outside of wrestling, Page made a name for himself with yoga. DDP developed a yoga course that he sold on DVD and an app, even appearing on Shark Tank. He used his yoga program in addition to other forms of treatment to help in the addiction recoveries of wrestling friends like Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Scott Hall.
Page's role in Roberts's sobriety was a shift in the dynamic he had with the elder wrestler. When Page started out in the wrestling world, he was mentored by Jake "The Snake." Three decades later, as Roberts struggled with a severe addiction to alcohol, Page stepped in and persuaded him to move from Florida to Page's home in Atlanta. Once Roberts had moved in, Page started a rehabilitation program focused on yoga practices to help his friend get sober. Page's dedication paid off, and Roberts was able to finally achieve long-term sobriety.
- Photo: They Live / Universal Pictures
Other than being a professional wrestler, one of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's biggest pop-culture contributions involves his appearance in John Carpenter's They Live. The movie came out in 1988, with Piper playing John Nada.
Piper, and his famous line about chewing bubble gum and kicking butt, graced screens after Carpenter saw Piper wrestle. When talking about why Piper got the part, Carpenter explained:
Unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him... He has been hit so many times that he is really broken up. He even walks funny, because his pelvis was shattered and his back was wrenched. He is definitely not a pretty boy. He's the toughest guy I ever met. You could run a truck into Roddy, and he would still be standing.
Ric Flair was an orphan at the Tennessee Children's Home Society where, according to documents, he was born in 1949 with the birth name Fred. After he was adopted, he moved to Detroit.
It's difficult to know the circumstances of Flair's adoption because the Tennessee Children's Home Society was shut down in 1950. The head of the facility, Georgia Tann, had been involved in kidnapping children and illicitly adopting them out for money from as early as the 1920s. Flair may have been one of some 5,000 children sold.
Flair said he'll "never know what happened" to him right after he was born, only that he was placed in the care of the home after a court decided he'd been "abandoned, dependent, and neglected." Flair considers his adoptive parents his "mom and dad" and indicated he was "never curious" about the identity of his birth parents.
As Flair made a name for himself in professional wrestling, his wrestling days almost came to an end in 1975. On October 4, Flair was on a small plane when it crashed in a North Carolina orchard. The pilot perished, fellow wrestler Johnny Valentine (born John Wisnieski) was paralyzed, and Flair broke his back in three places.
Valentine's career ended that day and, at age 26, Flair was told he would never wrestle again. However, just a few months later, Flair was back in the ring, although he changed his style due to his injuries. He won his first NWA World Heavyweight Championship in 1981. After 16 title wins, Flair shocked fans by joining Vince McMahon's WWF in 1991.