It was announced on Wednesday morning that the legendary former WWE Champion Bruno Sammartino has passed away. He was 82 years old.
The news was first reported by WWE.com and WWE’s Triple H, who tweeted this.
Devastated to hear the passing of a true icon, legend, great, honest and wonderful man…
A true friend…and one of the toughest people I've ever met.
My thoughts are with his entire family. #RIPBrunoSammartino #AmericanDream
— Triple H (@TripleH) April 18, 2018
One of the finest men I knew, in life and in business. Bruno Sammartino proved that hard work can overcome even the most difficult of circumstances. He will be missed. #RIPLivingLegend pic.twitter.com/PNDuQ31Phd
— Vince McMahon (@VinceMcMahon) April 18, 2018
As of this writing, there’s no cause of death reported, but CBS Pittsburgh reports that Sammartino passed away peacefully with his wife and two kids by his side while battling health issues for several months. Bruno was married to his wife Carol for nearly 60 years.
Bruno was the biggest name in the wrestling business in the era before WrestleMania. I was too young to really see him or appreciate him as a performer, but my dad and my uncles always used to praise him. He was their favorite.
Here’s some of what they wrote on WWE.com about Bruno:
Sammartino began lifting weights as a young man and grew to become one of the strongest men on the planet. After setting a world record in 1959 by bench-pressing 565 pounds, Sammartino caught the eye of Vincent J. McMahon, and became a sports-entertainer.
Bruno became an overnight sensation, connecting with not only fellow Italians, but also Latinos, Greeks and Jews, successfully bridging the gap in America’s melting pot of wrestling fans. His legend continued to grow on May 17, 1963, when Sammartino defeated Buddy Rogers in just 48 seconds to become the second-ever WWE Champion in front of nearly 20,000 fans at the old Madison Square Garden.
Bruno held the WWE Championship for nearly eight years, by far the longest reign of all time, and a record for all professional wrestling champions, no matter the organization. A household name all over the country, the beloved hero defended his title in legendary rivalries against WWE Hall of Famers Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon and George “The Animal” Steele.
In early 1968, Sammartino headlined the first wrestling event at the brand-new Madison Square Garden, just eight days after it opened. The Garden truly was the house that Bruno built, as he sold it out an astounding 187 times. When he lost the title to Ivan Koloff in 1971, grown men in the crowd were seen weeping, but on Dec. 10, 1973, Sammartino became the first two-time WWE Champion and held the title for an additional three-and-a-half years.
On Aug. 9, 1980, Sammartino defeated his former protégé, Larry Zbyszko, inside a steel cage at New York City’s Shea Stadium in front of more than 35,000 people. The heated grudge match broke box-office records for wrestling events, and Bruno retired from the ring the following year.
When Bruno left wrestling, he didn’t like Vince McMahon and he wasn’t a part of the company. Thankfully, in 2013 they brought him back to the company and he joined the WWE Hall of Fame in New York City at Madison Square Garden where he headlined so many shows. Here’s the Hall of Fame video for Bruno.
There will be tributes to him on WWE television next week and as you might expect, a lot of wrestlers and people in the wrestling business are paying tribute to him on social media as well.
Rest in peace, Bruno. He lived a tremendous life and was a hero to millions around the world.