Pro wrestling legend and industry influencer "Superstar" Billy Graham has passed away at 79 years old.
As Dave Meltzer said on Wrestling Observer Radio earlier this week, "If it wasn't for Billy Graham, this industry would be so much different than it is."
Graham had been in failing health for decades and was placed on life support in recent days. He had been hospitalized for several months, dealing with an infection and organ failure that required emergency surgery earlier this month, according to his wife, Valerie.
She said in a Facebook post Monday that doctors wanted to take him off life support, but she refused.
He was one of the most charismatic wrestlers and influential figures of all-time in the business. Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Scott Steiner, Steve Austin, Dusty Rhodes, Vince McMahon, Paul "Triple H" Levesque, Ric Flair and others all took notes from the book of "Superstar."
"He became the prototype of what people thought could be the charismatic superstar," Meltzer said.
Born Eldridge Wayne Coleman on June 7, 1943, he got into bodybuilding in the early 1960s. He eventually found his way north to train with Stu Hart in Calgary in 1969, making his debut in Stampede Wrestling the following year.
He would go on to spend two years for the NWA in San Francisco followed by a three-year run in the AWA. In 1970, he took on the Billy Graham name based on the last name of fellow wrestler and friend Dr. Jerry Graham. He later adopted the "Superstar" nickname in 1972, taking it from the popular Jesus Christ Superstar rock opera.
Graham made his then-WWWF debut in 1975 and would spend the better part of the next four years there, save for a few months when he returned to the NWA. He ended the near-decade long run for Bruno Sammartino as WWWF World Champion in April 1977, holding the title until he lost it to Bob Backlund in February 1978 — a decision he didn't necessarily agree with.
After that, Graham would spend the majority of his remaining career in WWE in addition to multiple returns to the NWA and the AWA. It was during his third WWE run in the late-1980s that the strain from a hip replacement and bad ankles eventually caught up with him. He retired at just 44 years old in November 1987.
Graham had his issues with McMahon through the years, partially sparked by him being let go by WWE in 1990 after McMahon had previously promised him a job for life. He was vocal about McMahon and Hogan's claims about steroids during the famed trial involved Dr. George Zahorian.
Graham admitted to taking steroids for nearly two decades which greatly affected his health and quality of life.
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He was named to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, inducted by Levesque. He was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 1996.
He leaves behind his only wife, Valerie, with whom he has been married since 1979. Graham also leaves behind two children.
Meltzer will have a much more extensive bio on Graham in the next Wrestling Observer Newsletter and Wrestling Observer Radio.