Ric Flair announced that professional wrestling legend “Superstar” Billy Graham passed away Wednesday. He was 79.
“The Superstar Billy Graham Just Left Us,” Flair wrote on Twitter. “THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR INFLUENCE On My Career!”
According to his family, Graham had been suffering from an infection in his ears and skull, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and hearing loss. He underwent surgery last Wednesday, and doctors placed him on life support Monday.
After a successful bodybuilding career, Graham (real name Wayne Coleman) began his wrestling training in 1969 under Stu Hart in Stampede Wrestling. He joined Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA) in 1972, where he originally gained the “Superstar” moniker. Graham shared memorable feuds with stars such as Ivan Koloff, The Crusher, Dick The Bruiser and Wahoo McDaniel before exiting the territory in 1975.
He gained fame after joining the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) after a brief stint in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). He captured his first and only WWWF Heavyweight Championship by defeating Bruno Sammartino on April 30, 1977. During his nine and a half month-long reign, Graham defended the title against legends such as Dusty Rhodes, Jack Brisco, Pedro Morales and Don Muraco. Graham finally dropped the title to Bob Backlund on February 20, 1978.
Graham returned to the NWA following the loss to Backlund. He would bounce around between the NWA, AWA and the renamed World Wrestling Federation (WWF) before wrestling his last match against Butch Reed on November 7, 1987.
Graham was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2004 the night before WrestleMania XX. He went in alongside legends such as Harley Race, Sgt. Slaughter, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and the Junkyard Dog.
Wrestling legends pay tribute to ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham
After Flair broke the news of Graham’s death, many wrestling legends took to Twitter to pay tribute.
“SUPERSTAR BILLY GRAHAM. ONE OF MY FIRST TEACHERS OF THE HEAT. THE REAL LEGEND BUBBA,” The Iron Sheik tweeted. “HE LOVE ME I LOVE HIM. TOGETHER WE HIT THE GYM AND SHOCK THE EARTH. I LOVE YOU FOREVER BROTHER. RIP.”
Impact Wrestling star Frankie Kazarian said that Graham’s influence on the industry “will be felt forever.”
“RIP Superstar Billy Graham,” Kazarian wrote. “Your influence on our industry will be felt forever. Literally forever. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us. Fans and wrestlers alike. Godspeed sir.”