The year 2016 will go down as one of the worst years for celebrity deaths, with such musical icons as David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen among the multitude of hugely influential celebrities who passed away this year. Sadly, professional wrestling was not immune to this trend, losing several hugely influential pioneers of the craft. Here’s a look at those wrestling performers who passed away this year.
“Iron” Mike Sharpe
Died: January 17, 2016, Aged 67, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Cause of Death Not Revealed
He was one of the 80’s most beloved jobbers, with that leather arm cast that always seemed to be up to nefarious no good. The self proclaimed “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” was a regular enhancement talent in the WWF in the 1980’s and early 1990’s before retiring from the ring to run his wrestling school. A work injury led to a leg infection that left him a recluse and confined to a wheelchair in his final years. He passed away after an undisclosed illness.
Archie “The Mongolian Stomper” Gouldie
Died: January 23, 2016, Aged 79, Knoxville, Tennessee, from complications from surgery
A 14-time North American Heavyweight Champion during his legendary run as the top heel in Stu Hart‘s Stampede Wrestling, Gouldie was a Canadian wrestling icon from the 1970’s. A journeyman who also saw time in various NWA territories plus a run as WWC Puerto Rico Heavyweight Champion, Gouldie had surgery earlier that month but failed to regain his health.
Died: February 4, 2016, Aged 44, Linthicum, Maryland, heroin overdose
An ECW Original, Axl Rotten lead a life as extreme as his character did. A brief run in WCW in 1991 had him cross paths with Paul E. Dangerously (Heyman), and from 1993 to 1999, he was a fan favourite in the original ECW. He returned to the indies following ECW’s demise, but made appearances for the WWE at ECW: One Night Stand in 2005 and for TNA at their Hardcore Justice PPV in 2010.
Died: March 3, 2016, Aged 47, Tokyo, Japan, brain hemorrhage
One of the most influential wrestlers out of Japan from the 1990’s, this Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) mainstay also wrestled in Mexico for AAA and CMLL. Hotly pursued by the WWF in 1995, he declined their offer to remain with FMW. He made one appearance for ECW at their 1998 PPV Heatwave. In 2001, a botched moonsault resulted in a broken back and ended in paralysis. He spent the next 14 years in a wheelchair, before miraculously regaining his ability to walk in 2015, albeit with the use of a cane. He died from a subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain.
Lord James Blears
Died: March 3, 2016, Aged 92, Honolulu, Hawaii, natural causes
A British wrestler who moved to New York City in 1946 (where he was roommates with Stu Hart), Blears was British aristocrat heel who worked the NWA and WWA territories. Following his retirement in 1965, he became an announcer for AWA as well as a talent scout for All-Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW). He spent the last of years in Honolulu (where he’d spent a great deal of time with the NWA Hawaii territory) and passed away due to natural causes.
Died: March 11, 2016, Aged 67, heart related
A journeyman of the territories in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Fulton worked with everyone from Bruno Sammartino to Antonio Inoki. He retired from the industry in 1985 and became a prison guard. He had been suffering heart related issues in the years leading to his death.
Died: March 31, 2016, Aged 32, Sheffield, England, stomach cancer
One of Progress Wrestling‘s great stars, the wrestling world was stunned when he lost his battle to stomach cancer earlier this year. A beloved worker on the UK indie scene and beyond, his death was received with an outpouring of sentiment from such wrestlers as Kevin Owens, Paige, The Young Bucks, Drew Galloway and Neville. At NXT Takeover: Dallas, the night after Travis passed away, Finn Balor painted his trademark stars on one hand and wore a black heart glove in tribute to his fallen friend, while current Raw Cruiserweight Noam Dar dedicated his opening match of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic to his departed comrade.
Died: April 7, 2016, Aged 73, Tampa, Florida, complications from heart attack
The father of Barry Windham and grandfather of Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas, Blackjack Mulligan was one half of the infamous Blackjacks (along with Blackjack Lanza) in the 1970’s. This WWE Hall of Famer had been battling severe health issues his final months, and never fully recovered from a massive heart attack earlier in the year.
Died: April 12, 2016, Aged 44, Spring Lake Heights, New Jersey, heart attack
After debuting in Smokey Mountain Wrestling in the early 90’s, Balls joined the WWF and debuted as the Xanta Claus before jobbing under his real name. In 1997 he jumped to ECW and became Balls Mahoney, winning over the fans with his penchant for swinging (and receiving) chairs. He returned to the WWE in 2005, first for the ECW: One Night Stand PPV, before joining the WWE relaunch of ECW in 2006. He finally made it to the main roster, appearing for Smackdown, before being released in 2008. He died at home from a heart attack from a pre-existing condition.
Died: April 13, 2016, Aged 32, cause of death not made public
A mainstay of AAW (All American Wrestling) in Chicago, his death was revealed by close friend Jimmy Jacobs. A 2-time AAW Tag Team Champion as a member of the House of Truth (lead by Truth Martini), his cause of death was not revealed.
Died: April 20, 2016, Aged 46, Redondo Beach, California, drug & alcohol overdose
She was the 9th Wonder of the World, a founding member of D-Generation X, and an icon in women’s wrestling history, breaking down barriers with her intergender matches against the likes of Jeff Jarrett, Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero in the 1990’s. After her release from the WWE, she entered the world of adult film before retiring from that field to concentrate on cleaning up her life in an effort to make amends with the WWE. Sadly, an unfortunate relapse cut her comeback story short, but her place in the history books will never be forgotten.
Died: June 15, 2016, Aged 82, Nashville, Tennessee, complications from illness
A legendary tough guy in the ring, Gypsy Joe started his career in Puerto Rico with WWC, trained by Pedro Morales and Carlos Colon. He moved to the US and began working for the NWA territories in the 1970’s, primarily in the South, working for Jerry Jarrett. He never found success in the US during the 80’s boom, instead heading to AJPW and becoming an early star in the death match circuit. In 2003, he faced former ECW Original New Jack in a hardcore match. When Joe no-sold New Jack’s moves, New Jack legitimately started attacking Joe with weapons and the ensuing bloodbath became an early viral video. He finally retired in 2011 at the age of 79, but following a severe case of gout in 2013, his health deteriorated.
“Fabulous Kangaroo” Denny Kass
Died: August 22, 2016, Aged 59, Michigan, cause of death not made public
Trained by Al Costello, one of the original Fabulous Kangaroos, Kess became a part of The New Fabulous Kangaroos with a young Al Snow, with Costello as his manager. He worked the independent circuit in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, before becoming an early trainer with Border City Wrestling in it’s infancy.
Died: August 28, 2016, Aged 82, Honolulu, Hawaii, cause of death not made public
One of the most infamous managers of all time, Fuji was also a highly decorated Tag Team Champion as well. He managed several champions including Yokozuna, Owen Hart, The Magnificent Muraco and Demolition, whose 478 day reign as WWE Tag Team Champions was just eclipsed this past month by New Day. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007.
Died: September 16, 2016, Aged 70, Memphis, Tennessee, cancer
Don Bass saw early success in the early 1970’s as part of the Bass Family in the NWA territories. Lead by his “mother”, Maw Bass, and paired with his “brother”, future WWF Superstar “Outlaw” Ron Bass, the stable would garner several Tag Team championships together. Bass never reached the level of success his “brother” did, but he would still wrestle independent events into his older years. He lost his battle with cancer this past September.
Died: October 21, 2016, Aged 69, bladder cancer
Most remember Martin as the outlandish manager of Dino Bravo during the 1980’s in the WWF, but he had a long storied career as a wrestler in the 1970’s, working for Stampede Wrestling and the WWC. He came to the WWF in the early 80’s as an enhancement talent, but soon found greater success as the brash manager of Canada’s Strongest Man. He succumbed to his battle with cancer late this fall.