“Superstar” Billy Graham, Pro Wrestling Legend, Dies At 79
“Superstar” Billy Graham, one of the foremost professional wrestlers of the 1970s and 1980s, died Wednesday. He was 79.
Known primarily for his work with the McMahon family in the World Wide Wrestling Federation (later known as WWF and then WWE), Graham worked in professional wrestling on and off for more than four decades. Though he rose to prominence as the WWWF World Champion in the late 1970s, he also worked with rival promoters like the National Wrestling Alliance and American Wrestling Association.
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
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As the WWWF’s main draw at his peak, Graham’s physique and personality inspired many of the archetypes seen in professional wrestling to this day. As a professional bodybuilder and friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he brought a larger-than-life element to professional wrestling, which up to that point had featured more workmanlike heroes in main events. Graham’s persona directly inspired that of Hulk Hogan, who elevated the WWF to even greater heights in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Behind the scenes, Graham had a number of professional and personal issues. He was deeply involved in WWF’s steroid scandal in the early 1990s and sued the company and doctor George Zahorian, accusing them of forcing him to take anabolic steroids. He did not win the case, as he began taking steroids before his career with the company began. At around the same time, he also claimed that he witnessed WWF officials sexually abuse children but later admitted that he made the accusations in an attempt to extort Vince McMahon. He later described this as a low point in life and apologized.
Despite his issues in the business in his later years, Graham eventually reconciled in part with WWE and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. He made sporadic appearances on television for the rest of his life.
Because of steroid use and the physical toll of his work, Graham had many health problems later in life. Despite receiving a liver transplant in 2002, it continued to be an issue for the rest of his life and he later developed kidney, heart and respiratory problems as well. He reportedly died due to complications from cirrhosis and liver disease.
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