The bodybuilder-turned-wrestling world champion was one of the most influential of the 20th century.”Superstar” Billy Graham has died at the age of 79. The WWE Hall of Famer is acknowledged as one of the most influential wrestlers in the industry, especially on the likes of Jesse Ventura, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair.
Earlier this week it was revealed that Billy had been in intensive care in hospital for a number of weeks following health complications.
A Go Fund Me page had been set up to aid medical bills, detailing that he was suffering from “a myriad of very serious health issues: a major infection in his ears and skull that may take six months of intravenous IVs, congestive heart failure, diabetes, hearing loss as a result of the infection, and the list goes on”.
Born Eldridge Wayne Coleman in Arizona, Billy first became a bodybuilder, winning the West Coast division of the Mr. Teenage America in 1961. He could bench press a remarkable 605 lbs, just 11lbs short of Pat Casey’s world record.
Graham soon befriended fellow bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a photoshoot of both men featuring in Joe Weider’s Muscle and Fitness.
He took the name Billy Graham – named after the famous evangelist – when be became a professional wrestler at the start of the 1970s, being trained by Stu Hart for Stampede Wrestling.
Graham tacked “Superstar” on to his name when he joined the AWA in 1972 and swiftly became one of the most influential and loved wrestlers of the era.
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On April 30, 1977, Graham defeated Bruno Sammartino for the then-WWWF Heavyweight Championship.
He held on to the title for over nine months, eventually losing to Bob Backlund, but his run included defences against the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Gorilla Monsoon and “High Chief” Peter Maivia.
Graham retired from in-ring action in 1987 but stayed in the business as a manager and commentator and – despite ups and downs with the McMahon family – he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004 by Triple H.