PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Professional wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino shares the shock many fans feel after the sudden death of the former pro wrestler The Ultimate Warrior.
The 54-year-old wrestler, whose given name was James Hellwig, collapsed Tuesday while walking with his wife to their car at a Scottsdale, Ariz. hotel and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Just days earlier, Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Sammartino was among the thousands in attendance.
“He had two beautiful little daughters that he has, and they were on stage with him,” Sammartino said. “They looked so proud.”
“I felt so very, very bad thinking about those two little girls and his wife who were there. They seemed so happy that night.”
Authorities in Phoenix say former pro wrestler The Ultimate Warrior died of cardiovascular disease.
Maricopa County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick says that’s the finding from an autopsy conducted Thursday by the county Medical Examiner’s Office.
She could not say when any findings would be released. Scottsdale Police say there were no signs of foul play.
Sammartino says he sensed something was not right while watching the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“I kinda thought that he wasn’t walking well, but I didn’t know if it was due to injury, or what(ever). And then I noticed that when he went to the mic that he was sweating an awful lot,” Sammartino said.
“Never did one imagine that it would be something so serious.”
Sammartino received his own special honor in the days leading up to WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans. He was on hand to see the unveiling of a life-size statue in his likeness.
“I was quite amazed at how great it looked,” Sammartino said.
Getting the authentic look wasn’t easy. Sammartino was flown to New York City, where a mold was created of his head and his cauliflowered ears.
“That was rough,” he said.
“When they poured that stuff all over, they keep your eyes shut and your mouth is closed. They get it in your ears. You’re totally deaf. You can’t hear a thing. Your eyes are shut, and it wasn’t something that was gonna last 5-10 minutes. It went on for 30 minutes, and I tell you I got hotter and hotter and hotter. And that mask hardened. It was like really squeezing your head.”
Sammartino says it was worth it.
“No question about it,” he said.
The statue was commissioned by WWE. Sammartino says it will be stored at the company’s headquarters and displayed for special events.
Listen to the full interview to hear Bruno’s thoughts on:
- What it was like being in attendance at WrestleMania, sitting with other WWE Hall of Famers, reaction to Undertaker losing to Brock Lesnar
- Wrestling Gorgeous George early in his career
- How Bruno ended his career and knowing it was time to retire
- What’s next for Bruno working with WWE