Pro wrestling fans are mourning the loss of WWE legend Del Wilkes, best known as The Patriot, who died on Thursday. Wilkes was 59 years old.
Before entering the world of pro wrestling, or as WWE calls it “sports entertainment,” Wilkes was a standout football player at the University of South Carolina. He would be named a consensus All-American while playing for the Gamecocks.
The Patriot made his first appearance in 1997 for Vince McMahon’s company. He would walk out of the back toward the ring wearing a red, white, and blue mask while carrying the American flag. Once The Patriot was in the ring, he’d wave the flag around with fans roaring their approval.
He found himself in the midst of a rivalry with The Hart Foundation when he arrives on the scene. It lead up to a match against Bret Hart for the WWE Championship at the “In Your House: Ground Zero” pay-per-view in 1997.
Death of The Patriot, Del Wilkes, Receives Outpouring Of Response On Social Media
From former pro wrestlers to fan’s social media accounts, the response to news of the death of Del Wilkes has been swift.
One account, “On This Day in WWE,” released this video that WWE played in advance of the 1997 Hart-Patriot match for Hart’s WWE Championship.
Cauliflower Alley Club, which recognizes former pro wrestlers for their work in the ring, sent out this message via Twitter.
“The wrestling world is once again met with tragic news as the man known as “The Patriot” Del Wilkes has passed away at the age of 59,” the statement said. “We send out our heartfelt thoughts, prayers and sincerest condolences to his family, friends and fans the world over. Rest in Peace Mr Wilkes.”
Marc Mero, who worked with him in WCW [World Championship Wrestling], shared his thoughts as well.
“Very sad to hear the passing of the Patriot Del Wilkes,” Mero writes. “Nothing but fond memories working with him in WCW. My thoughts are with his family and numerous fans. Thank you for the memories.”
Mike Mooneyham, pro wrestling columnist for The Post and Courier, writes via Twitter, “Devastated by the news. Del Wilkes was one of the finest people I knew.”
One fan whose account is Grizzly Grey Fitness shares a story about meeting The Patriot.
“I met Del Wilkes when I was stationed in Italy years ago. He, Virgil and a few other wrestlers came over on a USO type tour. He was a very nice guy and it was great to meet him. RIP.”
Outsider sends its condolences to the Wilkes family.