In a saddening turn of events, we bid farewell to the legendary figure of professional wrestling, Eldridge Wayne Coleman, widely known by his ring name “Superstar” Billy Graham. This wrestling icon, aged 79, breathed his last on Wednesday, leaving behind a legacy that will forever resonate within the hearts of fans worldwide.
Throughout his illustrious career, Graham grappled with numerous health issues, a battle that intensified in February when his condition took a turn for the worse. It was the esteemed Ric Flair who broke the heart-wrenching news of Graham’s passing, a somber announcement that was later confirmed by TMZ, leaving the wrestling community in a state of profound grief.
Graham’s tenacious spirit and unrivaled influence on the wrestling world were acknowledged by Flair in a heartfelt tweet, as he expressed his gratitude, saying, “The Superstar Billy Graham Just Left US. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR INFLUENCE on My Career!” These words serve as a testament to the impact Graham had on Flair’s journey as a professional wrestler.
The latter stages of Graham’s life were spent in the intensive care unit, where he valiantly fought against various infections, organ failure, diabetes, and other ailments. This arduous battle necessitated emergency surgery earlier this month, leaving him reliant on life support. It was on Monday morning when Valerie, Graham’s devoted wife, took to his Facebook account to reveal that doctors had recommended removing him from life support. However, at that moment, she bravely chose to keep the flame of hope alive, refusing to surrender.
Graham’s name will forever be intertwined with the realm of professional wrestling, as he secured the illustrious title of world champion on three separate occasions. Notably, his most prominent reign occurred from 1977 to 1978, when he held the coveted WWWF championship. This triumph in the New York territory promotion, which would eventually evolve into WWE, solidified Graham’s place in the annals of wrestling history.
Recognizing his remarkable contributions, Graham was deservedly inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, a distinction that cemented his legacy among the sport’s elite. As the news of his passing reverberated throughout the wrestling community, tributes poured in from all corners. The Iron Sheik, a fellow wrestler, took to Twitter to pay homage, declaring, “SUPERSTAR BILLY GRAHAM. ONE OF MY FIRST TEACHERS OF THE HEAT. THE REAL LEGEND BUBBA. HE LOVED ME, AND I LOVE HIM. TOGETHER WE HIT THE GYM AND SHOCKED THE EARTH. I LOVE YOU FOREVER BROTHER. RIP.”
Before his wrestling career, Graham shared a close bond with renowned bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, entering the world of professional wrestling in the late 1960s under Stew Hart’s Stampede Wrestling in Calgary. For almost two decades, he showcased his extraordinary skills within the ring, until injuries and deteriorating health compelled him to step away in 1987. However, Graham’s passion for the sport endured as he transitioned into a commentary role, leaving an indelible mark in promotions such as AWA, WWWF, NWA, and WWF.
During his time in the AWA, Graham earned the moniker “Superstar,” a befitting title that encapsulated his larger-than-life persona. Notably, his reign as the WWWF champion in April 1977, dethroning the esteemed Bruno Samartino, stood as a testament to his unparalleled skill and dedication. Graham’s nine and a half months with the championship belt were an embodiment of his unwavering tenacity until his eventual loss to Bob Backlund in February 1978.
Graham’s magnetic presence and undeniable charisma left an indelible mark on the wrestling industry, influencing generations of future icons. Among those inspired by his larger-than-life persona were legendary figures such as Hulk Hogan, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Scott Steiner, and Flair, to name but a few.
Notably, Graham’s trademark use of the word “brother” in his promotional speeches became a defining characteristic that resonated throughout the wrestling world. This catchphrase would go on to become an enduring staple of Hogan’s illustrious career, forever intertwining the two luminaries in the hearts of fans.
Despite his own history as a steroid user, Graham emerged as a resounding voice against drug use, particularly during the tumultuous 90s, when Vince McMahon found himself entangled in federal steroid trials. This stance led to a temporary rift between Graham and the WWE boss, as he fearlessly championed a drug-free wrestling culture. Nevertheless, time proved to be a healer, and fences were eventually mended, culminating in Graham’s well-deserved induction into the Hall of Fame.
In the wake of his departure, Graham leaves behind his loving wife and two cherished children, who will undoubtedly carry on his remarkable legacy.