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‘Superstar’ Billy Graham, influential WWE Hall of Famer, dies at 79

WWE Hall of Famer ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham, who revolutionized the on-screen characters of professional wrestlers, has died at the age of 79, WWE announced.

‘WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham has passed away,’ WWE said in a statement. ‘A former WWE Champion, Graham’s flashy fashion style, over-the-top interviews and bodybuilder physique created the archetype for a generation of Superstars that followed in his footsteps.’

Graham’s health issues

Graham, whose birth name was Eldridge Wayne Coleman, had health issues for many years after his wrestling career. In his autobiography, he detailed that he had a liver transplant in 2002 after a long history of drug abuse. He continued to have liver problems over the next decade.

In April, his family said he had been hospitalized for over four months, losing over 80 pounds while dealing with an infection in his ears, skull and sinus cavity, according to his Facebook page. On April 30, it was revealed Graham had acute kidney failure and dehydration and was battling organ failure. On Monday, his wife, Valerie, said doctors wanted to remove him from life support, but she refused.

The career of the ‘Superstar’

Graham had a brief stint in the Canadian Football League and was a prominent bodybuilder before getting into professional wrestling. He made his debut with the company, then known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation, in 1975, and won three world titles throughout his 15-year career, before becoming a manager and commentator.

But Graham became one of the biggest stars in the company’s early history for what he did outside the ring. His charismatic persona, mixed with his brash talk during out-of-the-ring interviews, unique wardrobe and different colored facial hair made him a crowd favorite, and shifted the company towards making their talent ‘larger than life’ characters. He was also famous for his tagline, ‘The man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour!’

Many WWE stars, including Triple H and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, have credited Graham for inspiring their careers.

‘Graham was perhaps the single-most influential performer in WWE history whose interviews, fashion and physique inspired Hulk Hogan, Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura and Scott Steiner,’ WWE said. ‘Just as WWE fans flocked to see ‘Superstar’ compete in the ring, so did they love to listen to him pontificate on the microphone, even if he was bad-mouthing the competitors they held dear.’

Graham was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.

WWE stars, legends pay tribute to Graham

WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair thanked Graham for the influence he had on his career. Longtime WWE manager and former executive Paul Heyman said Graham left his mark on the company.

‘After Billy Graham left his mark, Vincent Kennedy McMahon decided everyone would be a WWE Superstar. A most heartfelt RIP to the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour!’ Heyman said.

WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik called Graham his ‘brother for life,’ sharing a video of Graham praising him at an event.

‘HE WAS THE CHAMPION AND MOST OVER MAN IN THE BUSINESS. HE ALWAYS SHOW ME THE RESPECT. I LOVE HIM I MISS HIM FOREVER,’ he said.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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