I grew up a wrestling fan. Some of my earliest memories are of watching some of the greats of the squared circle–the Bushwhackers, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Sting, and–yes–the Ultimate Warrior.
I first became interested in “professional wrestling” when my uncle took me to my very first event at the Wheeling Civic Center in Wheeling, WV. I didn’t quite know what it was at the time he asked me if I wanted to go, but I knew I loved hanging out with my uncle. I was mesmerized in the same manner as many children by the thrill of watching two grown men beat each other to a pulp–yes, I later learned it was scripted but who really cares? I was a kid. The main event was a cage match between Macho Man Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan. I fell asleep while the cage was erected, but once my uncle shook me awake I was taken by one of the most exciting matches I witnessed in my childhood. I was hooked.
Over time, as I watched the various shows with my father the fast-moving, absolutely insane Ultimate Warrior quickly became my favorite. My parents bought the equipment necessary to receive Pay Per View specifically so that my dad and I could watch Wrestlemania VI, in which the Warrior wrested the championship belt from Hulk Hogan. This was the highlight of a significant part of my childhood:
When I heard that James Hellwig, the Ultimate Warrior, died just after his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, his appearance at Wrestlemania XXX, and a followup on Monday Night Raw the kid inside me died a little, as well. One of the most prominent figures in my young life was forever lost to me. I don’t cry often, but this particular loss hit me hard because of how important a figure he was to the young John Prager. I’ll admit I shed more than a few involuntary tears.
However, someone sent me something that caused him to die a second time in my eyes–something that will forever tarnish the memories I have of him. The man behind the mask is not nearly as heroic as the character he portrayed in the wrestling world, I discovered. I am specifically referencing a speech he gave at the University of Connecticut in 2005, in which his bigotry–his hatred–are laid bare.
I did not know of his views until today, and a part of me wishes that I had never seen this–but, unfortunately, I did. In the speech, Hellwig (he is no longer the Warrior to me) rails against the poor and the LGBT community. “Nothing subject to moral relativity is left out between these two extremes–that the bum is as legitimate as the businessman? That homsexuals and homosexuality…let me come down off my politically correct horse. That queers are as legitimate as heterosexuals?”
The rest of the speech is just as awful, and will forever tarnish him in my eyes. Some may mourn his passing. I mourn the death of a childhood hero–not the man, but of the positive figure he portrayed. I mourn the loss of someone–yes, a character–who influenced me to always do my best. Who inspired me. I mourn what he could have been had he lived up to the role model he portrayed, had he listened to his own message. But I will never mourn the death of James Hellwig any more than I will Fred Phelps.
The world is better off without him, and people like him, and I am glad he is gone. I am never one to wish death upon another, but I do appreciate that when someone like him passes the world becomes a better place. I’d like to think he changed over time–that he renounced his hateful views before he died. Alas, he did not.
The Ultimate Warrior died twice in my eyes, and I will not look back on him and feel sadness for it.
Watch the rest of the speech, below: