For the WWE, a large chunk of the 1980s was simply known as “The Golden Era” – this was a time where business boomed from territories to nationwide recognition. Behind the bold and brash Vincent Kennedy McMahon, the WWE was able to grab a larger audience by obtaining the best wrestlers in the country, putting on grandiose shows – like WrestleMania – while also bringing in celebrities to make pro wrestling not just a carnival or high school gym attraction, but relevant to the landscape of pop culture.
Thanks to this combination of ideas, the WWE took off in popularity and with that, more and more wrestlers became household names across the U.S. and to a lesser extent, worldwide. Amazingly, the 1980s are becoming more of a distant memory and for most of these wrestlers it’s been over twenty-five years since their careers peaked.
So, the question becomes; what has happened to all of those pro wrestlers that we remember from our childhood? Unfortunately, some have recently passed away, like Roddy Piper, Ultimate Warrior, and Dusty Rhodes, but for those who are still on this Earth, what are up to these days? Here are ten updates on some of WWE’s most popular 1980s wrestlers!
10. Iron Sheik
Hailing from Iran, The Iron Sheik became one of WWE’s biggest heels due to his love for his country, his anti-American rhetoric, and strong dislike for Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter. He was a well respected wrestler as then champion, Bob Backlund, refused to drop the title to Hulk Hogan, so Sheik was the transitional champion between the two, and was a big reason why “Hulkamania” became a worldwide sensation.
These days, most pictures show Sheik in a wheelchair due to the deterioration of his knees from so many years of wrestling, but his mouth still works just fine. He’s made a good living off saying insane things in interviews and on Twitter, and was involved in a documentary about his life entitled The Sheik.
9. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
One of the best talkers ever, Jake was a notoriously evil wrestler for much of his career (although he was quite popular as a face, as well), with the help of his python, Damien, Jake scared even the biggest wrestlers, like Andre the Giant. He was a staple in the mid-card, while sometimes jumping up to the main event to help put over big names like Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior.
Jake’s health deteriorated over the years, mostly due to drugs and alcohol, but in 2012 he moved in with former pro wrestler, now yoga instructor Diamond Dallas Page, to get clean and back in good health. After going through treatment for cancer, and a pneumonia scare that put him in ICU, Jake has his life back on track, enough to impress the WWE who inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 2014.
8. Jimmy Snuka
Known as one of WWE’s best flyers in the 80s, Snuka’s popularity skyrocketed thanks to his excellent in-ring abilities and finishing maneuver, the Superfly Splash. Whether it was jumping off a cage or taking a coconut to the head from his rival, Roddy Piper, for a few years Snuka was one of WWE’s biggest draws.
Sadly, today Snuka is in court for third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter for the death of Nancy Agentino, a former girlfriend that passed away in 1983. It was a case that stayed open all this time, and thanks to a reexamination of the case, Snuka was charged, now awaiting trial. He recently was diagnosed with stomach cancer (which was removed) and is being evaluated for dementia, to see if he’s even fit to stand trial.
7. Jim Neidhart
Alongside Hall of Famer Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Jim Neidhart was one half of the incredibly popular Hart Foundation, spending much of his time in the tag division, winning two titles along the way. He stuck with WWE through the early 90s, before jumping to multiple promotions and retiring in 2013.
Over the last few years, Neidhart has dealt with legal issues, including being arrested with controlled substance with intent to distribute, as well as an addiction of his own that has actually been followed on E!’s Total Divas. It’s a little weird they actually show his struggle, as he clearly is working through his demons, going in and out of rehab along the way.
6. Hulk Hogan
Well, he was just the biggest wrestling star in the world, who helped redefine the entire industry and its popularity by appealing to not just adults, but kids everywhere. Hogan’s biggest days were during the mid to late 80s, although, thanks to his surprising heel turn in World Championship Wrestling, he had a second major run in the mid 90’s.
Hogan signed a Legends contract with the WWE, helping them as a mouthpiece for anything WWE was looking to sell the public, but this relationship was short when it all came crashing down thanks to a racist rant by Hogan. WWE immediately terminated Hogan and has wiped his history clean off their website; everything was completely gone. Hogan is also in court against Gawker, a website the put a clip of his leaked sex tape from a few years ago – yeah, a sex tape. For a guy who was a hero to so many, Hogan has not aged with grace.
5. Dynamite Kid
An innovator that inspired future wrestlers with his high flying, hard-hitting style of wrestling, which landed him a tag title run with Davey Boy Smith. Much his popularity came in the tag division as The British Bulldogs were one of the most well received tag teams by fans.
Due to his style of wrestling, Dynamite Kid has had numerous health issues including; two strokes, a paralyzed leg, and back issues which have caused him to use a wheelchair to get around. It was said in his most recent hospital visit from a stroke he was calling spots, like he was in a wrestling match. He’s also named in a lawsuit against WWE for concussion-based injuries that he received while working for them.
Famously known as “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s bodyguard/man-servant for a majority of his career, Virgil’s purpose was pretty much to mean-mug the camera, protect DiBiase, and soften up any of his opponents. Eventually, he turned on DiBiase which was probably the peak of his career with heavy support from fans.
Once he retired from wrestling, Virgil continued to do autograph signings all across the U.S., although, his popularity dwindled to the point where he would just set up shop in subway stations and sign autographs for fans there. He’s also made noise on Twitter with outrageous tweets – very similar to Iron Sheik – and is putting together a documentary focusing on his traveling autograph sessions.
3. Wendi Richter
Thanks to the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” era, Richter became one of the most popular people in the WWE, winning the WWE Women’s title twice. Richter referred to herself as “150 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal,” but unfortunately Vince McMahon had a major falling out with Wendi due to contractual issues, which led to Wendi losing her title without knowing the plan ahead of time, this caused her to leave the WWE immediately after.
Wendi could have been big like Trish Stratus, but unfortunately, her major push was cut short. Even with the bad history, the WWE inducted Wendi into their Hall of Fame in 2005. Since leaving wrestling, she’s been a real estate agent and received a Master’s degree in occupational therapy.
2. Marty Jannetty
He came into the WWE in the late 80s and tagged with Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels, these two were known as The Rockers and became one of WWE’s biggest high-flyers. During an era of “bigger is better” these two smaller wrestlers used speed and agility to take down their opponents, gaining a solid fan base, although, they never won tag titles in the WWE.
All these years later, Jannetty stayed within the wrestling world, working for multiple companies, including ECW, and currently for Chikara. In Chikara, he’s wrestled from time to time and is one of their trainers for the next generation of wrestlers.
1. Tito Santana
Tito worked for the WWE for almost the entire 1980s, both in singles and tag team competition. While he was never the most popular wrestler, he was always a favorite of the fans, thanks to his likable demeanor and heart. He was a two-time Intercontinental champion and two-time tag team champion, eventually being inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2004.
Officially debuting in 1977, Tito is still technically not retired, as he is known to wrestle from time to time on smaller promotions and still trains other wrestlers. Outside of wrestling, he is a Spanish teacher and teaches middle school basketball, living a fairly standard middle class life. After going through some of these heartbreaking stories, it’s nice to see some wrestlers enjoy a normal life after being in the notoriously tough wrestling business.
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