The pro wrestling world is paying tribute to WWE Hall of Famer “Superstar” Billy Graham, who passed away on Wednesday night at the age of 79.
Graham’s doctors wanted to take him off life support earlier in the week, but his longtime wife Valerie refused. Graham had dealt with numerous health issues over the years, and had been away from home, either hospitalized or at a rehab center, for going on 6 months. The former WWE Champion underwent emergency surgery on May 10 due to an infection in his left hip, and organ failure. He was completely deaf due to the infection, and was suffering from kidney issues, heart and lung concerns, sores from being in bed for months, and depression, according to his wife. Graham’s passing was confirmed by WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair last night.
WWE issued a lengthy statement on Graham’s passing, which you can see below.
NWA President Billy Corgan issued a statement on Graham’s passing, writing on Twitter, “The NWA is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of the legendary Superstar Billy Graham; who singularly embodied a spirit that forever changed the sport and stood as a transcendental figure in all of media. Our condolences to all who loved and revered him.”
AEW tweeted a graphic in memory of Graham and wrote, “AEW joins the wrestling world in mourning the passing of Superstar Billy Graham. Our thoughts are with his family, his friends and his fans.”
Nick Aldis remembered Graham as possibly the biggest game-changer of all-time.
“RIP Superstar. Quite possibly the biggest game-changer of all time. Because of Billy Graham, we got Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, not to mention countless others who made fortunes borrowing from this man. Say his name and remember him,” he wrote.
Paul Heyman also commented on how “Superstar” influenced the industry.
“Before Billy Graham, performers in WWWF / WWF/ WWE were known as professional wrestlers. After Billy Graham left his mark, Vincent Kennedy McMahon decided everyone would be a WWE Superstar. A most heartfelt RIP to the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour!,” Heyman wrote.
WWE Hall of Famer Jesse Ventura said there would be no “The Body” without Graham.
“There wouldn’t be a Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura without the in-ring success and trailblazing showmanship of Superstar Billy Graham. One of my proudest wrestling memories was having the honor of being inducted into the same WWE Hall of Fame class as Graham. Rest In Power Superstar,” Ventura wrote.
Vince Russo commented on how far ahead of his time Graham was.
“There was no wrestler in the HISTORY of the Business that was so Far Ahead of His Time than ‘SuperStar’ Billy Graham. If you weren’t around to see him—you really missed something. He was it, man. He was it,” Russo wrote.
Natalya paid tribute and recalled how her grandfather, WWE Hall of Famer Stu Hart, always spoke highly of Superstar.
“It was in 1970 that Superstar Billy Graham ‘broke into the business’ through Stampede Wrestling. He trained with my grandfather Stu in the Dungeon after playing in the CFL. Stu always spoke so highly of Billy Graham, particularly about his work ethic and his drive to succeed,” she wrote.
Below are more tributes from WWE Hall of Famers, Superstars, other wrestlers and promotions, such as The Iron Sheik, Bully Ray, Sean Waltman, Zelina Vega, Diamond Dallas Page, The Honky Tonk Man, Sgt. Slaughter, Frankie Kazarian, Marc Mero, and Bryan Clark. WWE’s full statement reads like this:
WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer “Superstar” Billy Graham has passed away.
A former WWE Champion, Graham’s flashy fashion style, over-the-top interviews and bodybuilder physique created the archetype for a generation of Superstars that followed in his footsteps.
Born in Arizona, Graham grew a passion for the world of bodybuilding and created his own weights out of cement to begin building his physique. He trained so diligently that he was eventually able to bench press 605 pounds, just 11 pounds shy of the world record. Graham’s first taste of fame came when one of his photo shoots with Arnold Schwarzenegger was featured in Joe Weider’s “Muscle and Fitness” magazine.
When the man born Eldridge Wayne Coleman entered the sports-entertainment industry in 1970, he changed his name to Billy Graham in reference to the evangelist. He added the nickname “Superstar” when he joined the AWA in 1972. With a combination of in-ring ability and a bodybuilder’s physique, he established himself as a pioneer of the genre. Graham also continued to compete in bodybuilding and strongman competitions and won accolades for his sculpted and shredded 22-inch biceps.
Graham began emulating boxing icon Muhammad Ali in his interviews, coining the iconic line, “I’m the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour!” Alongside his equally outlandish manager, The Grand Wizard, Graham spouted that kind of poetic prose weekly on television, using his gift of gab to make himself a box-office attraction who would sell out every arena he main-evented.
To make himself stand out even more, Graham dyed his hair and goatee different colors, and honed a distinctive look that featured outlandish earrings, skintight T-shirts, and long, colorful tie-dyed tights. The WWE Hall of Famer’s blend of standout style, sculpted body and in-ring dominance laid the foundation for future stars such as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Jesse Ventura, Scott Steiner and more.
Graham’s greatest WWE achievement came on April 30, 1977 when he accomplished the near-impossible feat of toppling Bruno Sammartino from his WWE Championship perch. Superstar held the title for nearly a year, successfully defending sports-entertainment’s richest prize against icons like Dusty Rhodes, Gorilla Monsoon and “High Chief” Peter Maivia before being dethroned by Bob Backlund in controversial fashion.
In 1987, at 44 years old, Graham retired from the ring and transitioned to being a manager and then a color commentator.
“Superstar” Billy Graham was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by Triple H in 2004. Two years later, Graham’s inspirational story and influence on the sports-entertainment industry were featured in the WWE documentary, “20 Years Too Soon: The ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham Story.”
WWE extends its condolences to Graham’s family, friends, and fans.
‘The NWA is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of the legendary Superstar Billy Graham; who singularly embodied a spirit that forever changed the sport and stood as a transcendental figure in all of media. Our condolences to all who loved and revered him.’ – @Billy pic.twitter.com/pUBFhEDy2C
— NWA (@nwa) May 18, 2023
AEW joins the wrestling world in mourning the passing of Superstar Billy Graham. Our thoughts are with his family, his friends and his fans. pic.twitter.com/nf3t7aEtvJ
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) May 18, 2023
‘Superstar’ Billy Graham left a mark on professional wrestling that is still influencing the stars of today. He will forever be remembered as a one of kind.
RIP Superstar pic.twitter.com/xYZItrxmzO
— MCW Pro Wrestling (@MCWWrestling) May 18, 2023
Larger than life: Superstar Graham, photographed by @apter1wrestling pic.twitter.com/QLe47e5nCj
— PWI (Pro Wrestling Illustrated) (@OfficialPWI) May 18, 2023
It's with great sadness we hear the passing of one of professional wrestling's most iconic and influential performers of all time in Superstar Billy Graham at the age of 79. We send our sincerest condolences to his family, friends and fans the world over. R.I.P. Superstar. pic.twitter.com/GkfSTCUbPJ
— CauliflowerAlleyClub (@CACReunion) May 18, 2023
Quite possibly the biggest game-changer of all time. Because of Billy Graham, we got Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, not to mention countless others who made fortunes borrowing from this man. Say his name and remember him.
"Superstar" Billy Graham. 1943-2023 pic.twitter.com/7ZVqs4muo3
— Nick Aldis (@RealNickAldis) May 18, 2023
First guy I saw wrestling on TV was Superstar Billy Graham. 1977. FFD to Terry Taylor handing me his phone at a TNA taping. He says, “do the Wizard”. I did my Grand Wizard impersonation for 2 minutes. The voice on the other end was laughing. It was Superstar Billy Graham. RIP.
— Pat"Simn Dmnd"Kenney (@ImEdHeavy) May 18, 2023
THE SUPERSTAR BILLY GRAHAM MY BROTHER FOR LIFE. HE WAS THE CHAMPION AND MOST OVER MAN IN THE BUSINESS. HE ALWAYS SHOW ME THE RESPECT. I LOVE HIM I MISS HIM FOREVER pic.twitter.com/0ddvh86iWH
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) May 18, 2023
SUPERSTAR BILLY GRAHAM. ONE OF MY FIRST TEACHERS OF THE HEAT. THE REAL LEGEND BUBBA. HE LOVE ME I LOVE HIM. TOGETHER WE HIT THE GYM AND SHOCK THE EARTH. I LOVE YOU FOREVER BROTHER. RIP pic.twitter.com/0UEIy2HNgt
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) May 18, 2023
Before Billy Graham, performers in WWWF / WWF/ WWE were known as professional wrestlers. After Billy Graham left his mark, Vincent Kennedy McMahon decided everyone would be a WWE Superstar. A most heartfelt RIP to the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour! pic.twitter.com/bwL6UQ3c3h
— Paul Heyman (@HeymanHustle) May 18, 2023
This is the version of Superstar Billy Graham I got to see in FL. He would come out to Kung Fu Fighting & I loved it! RIP to the most copied man ever in Pro Wrestling. pic.twitter.com/hLzoWaXDiD
— Sean Waltman (@TheRealXPac) May 18, 2023
There wouldn't be a Jesse "The Body" Ventura without the in-ring success and trailblazing showmanship of Superstar Billy Graham. One of my proudest wrestling memories was having the honor of being inducted into the same WWE Hall of Fame class as Graham. Rest In Power Superstar.
— Jesse Ventura (@GovJVentura) May 18, 2023
Condolences go out to the Superstar Billy Graham family. HTM and Billy met in Memphis many years ago. We became friends. Such a nice guy to be around. God Bless you!
— Honky Tonk Man® (@OfficialHTM) May 18, 2023
There was no wrestler in the HISTORY of the Business that was so Far Ahead of His Time than "SuperStar" Billy Graham. If you weren't around to see him—you really missed something. He was it, man. He was it.
— Vince Russo (@THEVinceRusso) May 18, 2023
RIP Superstar Billy Graham. 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. pic.twitter.com/XNVm0jdUZL
— Frankie Kazarian (@FrankieKazarian) May 18, 2023
This is one hits me hard as Wrestling Superstar Billy Graham has passed on to paradise at age of 79. He has been so kind and supportive of the work I do with students. My prayers are for God's comfort to his wife, family and all who loved him. He visited me when I lived in… pic.twitter.com/DfKKjrdkc5
— Marc Mero (@MarcMero) May 18, 2023
Sincere Condolences go out to the family of Superstar Billy Graham who has passed away at the age of 79 after a long illness here in Phoenix. He influenced many Careers in Pro Wrestling and was a Headliner around the world, #RIP Superstar. pic.twitter.com/416EhNW7u7
— Bryan Clark -WWF,WWE,WCW,SMW,AJP. Actor/The Lake (@RealBryanClark) May 18, 2023
It was in 1970 that Superstar Billy Graham “broke into the business” through Stampede Wrestling. He trained with my grandfather Stu in the Dungeon after playing in the CFL. Stu always spoke so highly of Billy Graham, particularly about his work ethic and his drive to succeed.… https://t.co/8h1THn9vZW pic.twitter.com/SpoMx7sYpX
— Nattie (@NatbyNature) May 18, 2023
RIP Superstar Billy Graham
At his 2004 Hall of Fame induction, he stressed the importance of putting bitterness behind him and praised the McMahon family for accepting his apology for his previous behaviour pic.twitter.com/Jn43jKnBgD
— On This Day in WWE (@OTD_in_WWE) May 18, 2023
Scott Steiner on Superstar Graham pic.twitter.com/U6pFZyRwlV
— Pro Wrestling Clips – WWE, AEW, ECW, WCW (@MagazinePics) May 18, 2023
WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer “Superstar” Billy Graham has passed away. We extend our condolences to Graham’s family, friends, and fans.https://t.co/Qpykpjv616
— WWE (@WWE) May 18, 2023
Stay tuned to WrestlingHeadlines.com for more.
Follow Marc on Twitter at @this_is_marc. Send any news, tips or corrections to us by clicking here.