Before he changed his name, Warrior was James Brian Hellwig, an Indiana native who turned to pro-wrestling soon after he turned 28. He joined theWorld Wrestling Federation (now WWE) in 1987 and went on to christen himself "The Ultimate Warrior" – a snarling, screaming, face painted fighter who jettisoned himself around the ring with reckless abandon and pinball-like propulsion. Thanks to his size and musculature, manic movements, fluorescent face paint, and signature "Gorilla Press" finish, in which he lifted wrestlers as large as 500 pounds over his head and pressed them upwards, Warrior illuminated the imaginations of fans everywhere.
In 1990 – three years before he legally changed his name to "Warrior" – the 6'2", 254-lb, neon-encrusted gladiator became WWE's franchise face, defeating Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI and becoming the promotion's first "double champion," winning the WWE Championship while simultaneously retaining the Intercontinental. It's a match that many current WWE wrestlers cite as their inspiration for pursuing their careers, and it set the tone for the punishing physicality the Warrior brought to every match. Over the course of his career – which spanned nearly 12 years, including a brief stint with WWE's rival, WCW – the Ultimate Warrior's mix of oddball rants (start with his "Plane Crash" rant) and physical presence made him one of the most celebrated, loved, and mysterious wrestlers of all time.
This past Saturday, Warrior was inducted into WWE's Hall of Fame. Because of his staunch beliefs and prickly diatribes about the wrestling business and its players, many fans never imagined Warrior would accept the offer. But he did to the delight of millions, and made a passionate speech, reminiscent of his in-ring antics. Warrior appeared the next night at WrestleMania XXX, and then the following night on WWE Raw where he'd step foot in the ring for the final time. Less than 24 hours later, while walking with his wife to his car, Warrior suddenly collapsed and died.
Often described as an archetype of intensity, and one of the most impressive physical specimens to ever grace the ring, the Warrior had the in-ring persona and incredible athletic prowess that motivated thousands of future wrestlers and almost single-handedly created the over-the-top antics that define modern wrestling. Sure, wrestling is scripted. But we dare you to watch some clip, any clip of the Warrior in the ring, a muscled tornado of neon tassels and wild hair heroically defending the championship from the hands of some nefarious others, and not grin goofily at the preposterousness it all; we dare you to not be entertained. That was always Warrior's intent.