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  March 26, 2001

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A 10-bell salute for the late WrestleManiacs
By GREG OLIVER -- SLAM! Wrestling

The future of WrestleMania seems secure - it's the biggest pro wrestling event of the year for today and for the foreseeable future.

But let us not forget the men and women who are not around any longer to share in the success, to bask in the glow of WrestleMania that their sweat and tears helped create.

Here is our role call of past WrestleManiacs who are no doubt planning to gather together to watch the April 1 extravaganza up in that great rec room in the sky.

ANDRE THE GIANT - The Eighth Wonder of the World, simply put, was the man who made WrestleMania what it was. Forget Hulk Hogan. Without Andre The Giant's passing of the torch to the Hulkster at WrestleMania III, the spring pay-per-view could have ended up as just another routine event in the WWF's yearly cycle. From his victorious $15,000 body slam challenge at WrestleMania I against the late Big John Studd to his last WrestleMania in 1990, losing with partner Haku (The Colossal Connection) to Demolition, Andre The Giant was both bigger than life and bigger than WrestleMania. Of all the men and women on this list, he's the only one that can lay claim to that. He died January 30, 1993 at age 46. [Canadian Hall of Fame bio on Andre The Giant.]

LITTLE BEAVER - At the opposite end of the spectrum was the famous midget star Little Beaver, making his first and only pay-per-view appearance at WrestleMania III, teaming with Hillbilly Jim and Haiti Kid to beat King Kong Bundy, Little Tokyo & Lord Littlebrook. Like Andre , he was famous around the world and was one of the greatest midget stars ever. To see him at the end of his career, taking the splash from Bundy is not to do justice to one of the greats. Little Beaver died December 4, 1995 at age 60. [Canadian Hall of Fame bio on Little Beaver.]

BIG JOHN STUDD - John Minton had a success in his career right from the start, teaming with his trainer and mentor Killer Kowalski in the mid-'70s as the masked Executioners. When the rock'n'wrestling boom started, Studd was in the right place at the right time and in a high profile feud with Andre The Giant. He appeared on the first two WrestleManias in matches, and as a referee at WMV. Studd died in March 1995 at age 46.

YOKOZUNA - Rodney Anoia is the only two-time WWF world champion on our list of deceased WrestleMania veterans, Yokozuna actually wrestled twice at two different shows. At WrestleMania IX in Las Vegas, Yoko beat Bret Hart for the WWF belt, and lost it a short while later to the returning Hulk Hogan. The next year, he successfully defending the WWF title against Lex Luger, but then lost it to Bret Hart in the main event. The following year, he teamed with the late Owen Hart to win the WWF tag titles from The Smoking Gunns. His last WrestleMania appearance was at WrestleMania XII when he team with Ahmed Johnson, Jake "the Snake" Roberts to lose to Owen Hart, Vader & the British Bulldog. Yokozuna died in October 2000 at 34. [SLAM! Wrestling's Yokozuna obituary.]

UNCLE ELMER - Stan Frazier is the other monstrous mountain of a man who is no longer with us. As Uncle Elmer, he lost to the late Adrian Adonis at WrestleMania II. He died in 1992 at age 54.

ADRIAN ADONIS - The irony is that his last WrestleMania appearance was in what was billed as Rowdy Roddy Piper's last match at WrestleMania III. Instead, it was the last appearance for Adonis in the big show, as he struggled with his weight and personal problems over the next couple of years. Adonis died in July 1989 in the same accident that killed 'Wildman' Dave McKigney and Mike Kelly in Newfoundland.

JUNKYARD DOG - JYD, Sylvester Ritter, was easily among the most popular non-main eventers ever in WrestleMania history. He had the fans hearts at the first three WrestleManias. In the first one, he had a hard-fought battle with Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine, winning by countout. In the second, he teamed with Tito Santana in a losing cause against Terry & Hoss (Dory) Funk. At the Pontiac Silverdome at the third WrestleMania, he lost to Harley Race. JYD died in June 1998 in a car accident. [SLAM! Wrestling's Junkyard Dog obituary.]

RICK RUDE - The Ravishing One first appeared at WrestleMania IV in the tournament for the WWF World title, going to a draw with Jake 'The Snake' Roberts. The following year, he beat the Ultimate Warrior for the Intercontinental title. In Toronto in 1990, Rude beat Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka. Rude had the potential to be a main eventer at WrestleMania, but it never happened as health problems forced him to the sidelines. He died suddenly in April 1999. [SLAM! Wrestling's Rick Rude obituary.]

SAPPHIRE - Juanita Wright, aka Sapphire, appeared in the ring at only one WrestleMania, number six in Toronto in 1990, but it was the first mixed tag match in WrestleMania history. She teamed with Dusty Rhodes to defeat Randy Savage & Sensational Sherri (Martel). Sapphire died in September 1996 at age 61.

DINO BRAVO - A veteran of the mat game at a young age, the Montreal strongman Bravo made his first WrestleMania appearance in the corner of the Dream Team at WMIII. He wrestled in the WWF title tournament at WrestleMania IV, losing to Don Muraco in the first round of the tournament. The following year, he beat 'Rugged' Ronnie Garvin and a year later, he fell to 'Hacksaw' Jim Duggan. At WrestleMania VII, he fell to the late 'Texas Tornado' Kerry von Erich in what was both of their last WrestleMania appearances. Bravo died in a hail of gunfire in his apartment in Montreal on March 11, 1993. [Canadian Hall of Fame bio on Dino Bravo.]

TEXAS TORNADO KERRY VON ERICH - Kerry Adkisson, a World Class wrestling legend, only appeared in one WrestleMania, defeating Dino Bravo at WrestleMania VII. However, unlike many of the other names on this list, von Erich can lay claim to being a true headliner who had wrestled in front of huge crowds and was NWA World champion before even getting to the WWF at the tail end of his career. Von Erich committed suicide in February 1993.

OWEN HART / THE BLUE BLAZER - The youngest of the Hart family, Owen Hart debuted at WrestleMania V in the Blue Blazer costume, falling to another second-generation wrestler, Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig. It was his only WrestleMania appearance in the Blue Blazer costume. In 1992 at WrestleMania VIII, Owen Hart defeated Skinner (Steve Keirn) in the second-to-last match of the show. At WrestleMania X at Madison Square Gardens, Owen surprised everyone by defeating his brother Bret in a memorable, hard-fought match, only to have his brother once again surpass him and win the WWF World title later that night from Yokozuna. Owen was back the following year, teaming with his brother's foe Yokozuna to beat The Smoking Gunns for the WWF tag titles. In 1986, at WrestleMania XII, Owen teamed with Vader and the British Bulldog to beat Ahmed Johnson, Jake "the Snake" Roberts & Yokozuna. The following year, Owen Hart teamed with the British Bulldog in a match against Mankind & Vader that went to a double-countout. In 1998, Owen lost a European title match to Triple H Hunter Hearst Helmsley. At his last WrestleMania in 1999, Owen and partner Jeff Jarrett beat the makeshift team D'Lo Brown & Test to retain their tag team belts. Owen Hart died May 23, 1999 at the Over The Edge PPV. [SLAM! Wrestling's Owen Hart section.]

Deceased celebrities and announcers, referees

  • Gorilla Monsoon
  • Joey Marella
  • Billy Martin, WM I
  • Liberace, WM I
  • Cab Calloway, WM II
  • Walter Payton, WM II
  • Clara Peller, 'Where's the beef?', WM II
  • Morton Downey, Jr., WM V
  • Steve Allen, WM VI
  • Ray Combs, WM VIII

    More coverage of WrestleMania XVII

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