Entertainment

Pro wrestling icon the Iron Sheik dead at 81

The Iron Sheik, a former pro wrestler who relished playing a burly, bombastic villain in 1980s battles with some of the sport's biggest stars and later became a popular Twitter personality, died on Wednesday, the WWE said. He was 81.

Beloved performer built career as wrestling 'heel' and charismatic public figure

A man in a keffiyeh and with a wrestling champion belt draped over an arm poses for the camera, showing off a "Wrestle Mania XXVII" t shirt he is wearing.
The Iron Sheik poses backstage at Power 96.1's Jingle Ball 2013 at Philips Arena on Dec. 11, 2013, in Atlanta. The former pro wrestler, born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, died on Wednesday at the age of 81. (Ben Rose/Getty Images)

The Iron Sheik, a former pro wrestler who relished playing a burly, bombastic villain in 1980s battles with some of the sport's biggest stars and later became a popular Twitter personality, died on Wednesday, the WWE said. He was 81.

The wrestling organization posted an article confirming his death, and a statement about his passing was also posted on his Twitter page giving details of his life. Neither statement mentioned a cause of death nor where he died, but the Twitter post said he "departed this world peacefully."

The Iron Sheik, whose real name was Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, grew up in a small village in Iran, where he embraced wrestling in his youth.

During his pro wrestling career, he donned curled boots and used the "Camel Clutch" as his finishing move during individual and tag team clashes in which he played the role of an anti-American heel for the WWF, which later became the WWE.

The mustachioed, barrel-chested brawler often riled up crowds with his anti-American persona and rhetoric, often alongside tag-team partner Nikolai Volkoff, who played the part of a Soviet villain. They won the WWF World Tag Team Championship in 1985 at the first WrestleMania, according to the biography posted on the WWE's internet page.

A man wearing a keffiyeh sits surrounded by reporters. He is mid speech and pointing at the camera.
Former wrestling entertainer the Iron Sheik makes a random appearance to see then-mayor Rob Ford at city hall in Toronto on Nov. 6, 2013. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

The Iron Sheik was a successful individual wrestler as well, winning the WWF championship in 1983 by defeating Bob Backlund, before losing it later to Hulk Hogan. He also built a long-running rivalry with Sgt. Slaughter, who played the role of an American hero.

He later teamed with Sgt. Slaughter as Colonal Mustafa. The Iron Sheik's last appearance in the ring was at WrestleMania 17, the Connecticut-based WWE said.

The Iron Sheik had an early foundation in competitive Greco-Roman wrestling, competing in the Amateur Athletic Union and becoming a gold medallist in 1971, the WWE said.

In a documentary about his life called The Sheik, he said he became attracted to wrestling as a teen and as a grappler in the Iranian Army.

"I was married to the wrestling mat because I was so much ... in love with the sport," he said in the film.

WATCH | The Iron Sheik speaks about induction into WWE Hall of Fame in A&E biography:

In the documentary, he said he once served as a bodyguard for the Shah. As a pro wrestler, he acknowledged taking advantage of anti-Iranian sentiment following the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.

"It was the right time to ... establish my character, my gimmick," he said.

The Iron Sheik's influence extended to the sport's biggest stars. Wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, who used the term "jabroni" to insult his ring opponents, has credited the Iron Sheik with making it famous in wrestling circles. The TV show Young Rock has also featured the Iron Sheik as a recurring character,

Humour, wisdom and fame

The Iron Sheik used his humour and wisdom to build a large Twitter following. He also made appearances on The Howard Stern Show, The Eric Andre Show and others, the WWE biography said.

The Twitter statement said the Iron Sheik "transcended the realm of sports entertainment" and called him "a man of immense passion and dedication."

"With his larger-than-life persona, incredible charisma, and unparalleled in-ring skills, he captivated audiences around the globe," the statement said. "He was a trailblazer, breaking barriers and paving the way for a diverse range of wrestlers who followed in his footsteps."

In a post on Twitter, professional wrestler Triple H called the Iron Sheik a legend.

"An all-time great performer and WWE Hall of Famer who brought his character to life and transcended our business," he said.

now